Market Economics on
Huang Shan Mountain.

Huang Shan, the Yellow Mountain, is one of China's top beauty spots offering views that are normally only seen in Chinese art - precipitous peaks, trees in strange shapes, mist. An odd place to test out theories of market economics one might think.

We passed up the chance to spend $35 each entering the park and taking a return journey on one of three cable cars to the top. Instead we explored the mountain edges by public transport.

A three-wheeler 'bus' with room for 8-10 on bench seats took us from our parking spot at the Li Tong hotel the 2 kms to the town of Tang Kou. Cost: $0.12 per person. A minibus taxi with a negotiated price of $1.25 per person took us the 3.5kms to the Mercy Light Temple.

Then it started to get more difficult to strike a bargain. A further minibus taxi transported us to the Yungu cable car stop, 8.5kms for a negotiated $2.50 per person.

Yungu was rather naff and we soon decided to go back 'home' to our van parked at the Li Tong hotel. A (real) taxi seemed a good bet as this would take us directly to the hotel and should not be much more than the negotiated price of the last minibus taxi. The first taxi driver we approached laughed at the idea of a metered ride (de rigeur everywhere else in China in our experience) and offered to take us the 10 kms for $12.50. We told him where to get off. $12.50 is not even a decent opening offer not least when there is a long line of taxis doing nothing, and no sign of the tourist hordes.

The price came down soon after but was still far too dear so we approached one of half a dozen buses that were standing in line, every one empty. The price to town was $0.16 each and the bus departed in 15 minutes at 11:00 said the woman 'conductor'. Fine.

As we sat on the bus, the taxi price came down a little more (to $5.00, but only to town) as three taxi drivers boarded the bus vying for our custom. We stayed resolute till the bus driver told us he would not leave at 11.00: his take-away lunch and that of the 'conductor' arrived to prove it. We protested but he pointed out that he was the driver and it was up to him, not the 'conductor'.

By now the price of the taxi was $4.00, but only to town. As the driver offering was not the offensive extortioner who first suggested $12.5, we agreed to go with him, at which point he boarded the bus and deposited $2.50 in a large metal safe.

So that's the game! A buyers' market is hi-jacked by a cartel of taxi and bus drivers.

We walked off the bus and away towards the town telling the taxi and bus drivers what we thought of them. Realising he'd lost his fare, the taxi driver quickly retrieved his $2.50 from the bus. Within a minute he was back next to us in his taxi 100m up the road, urging us to board quickly for $4.00 - "To the hotel, not the town" I insisted. And he agreed.

Did the market work after all?

Les Brook.

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