China is increasing train fares by an average of 54%, a move that, paradoxically, may benefit foreign travelers, who will no longer have to pay significantly higher ticket prices than Chinese passengers.
Up to now, official policy has been to force foreigners to pay a great deal more than Chinese citizens for the same ticket. Fares for foreign passengers now will be "unified" with those for Chinese, a significant reform in keeping with China's drive to gain admittance to the World Trade Organization. Dual pricing is forbidden for WTO members.
The change is part of a nationwide fare-increase decree, according to Reuter's news agency which quoted China's Economic Information Daily.
Average fares on no-frills "hard seat" trains will rise to about 15 cents from roughly a dime per person per mile, with a similar increase for packages and baggage, the official newspaper said. Fares for "soft sleepers" have been too low and will rise by an even greater percentage, the paper said. It gave no figures.
Along with raising prices, the reform abolishes a complicated system of booking surcharges, handling fees and station construction fees long used to squeeze extra cash out of Chinese passengers. This could soften the effect of the higher fares.
Yucatan Resorts Unscathed by Opal
Hurricane Opal, which was headed toward the U.S. Gulf Coast and Florida Panhandle at press time Wednesday, apparently caused no damage when it earlier swept through the Mexican resort towns of Cancun and Merida on the Yucatan Peninsula.
Opal began as a tropical depression, then became a tropical storm while it was over Mexico. Cancun and Merida had significant rain and wind but there was no physical damage, according to the general managers of both the Hyatt Cancun Caribe and Hotel Los Aluxes in Merida.
Volcano Warning in Italy
Authorities in Catania, Italy, told visitors to stay away from the top of Mount Etna Tuesday after fumes and small lava flows were seen coming from the summit.
Reuter's news agency reported that officials issued a statement saying, "Tourists are not advised to travel to the summit." Mount Etna, in eastern Sicily, is the highest active volcano in Europe.
The authorities noted "a lively lava flow from the northern crater and copious amounts of ash" but said there was no immediate cause for alarm. However, experts were at the scene monitoring the situation.
Storytelling Fest in Hawaii
Storyteller Makia Malo, who has been called Hawaii's Mark Twain, will take the stage Saturday as part of "Bankoh Talk Story Festival" in Honolulu, Hawaii's largest celebration of storytelling and oral history.
The free festival takes place 7-9 p.m. Friday and 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday. Performances will be held simultaneously on four stages scattered among the shade trees and reflecting pools of McCoy Pavilion at Ala Moana Beach Park.
The event takes its name from the pidgin phrase "talk story," a cherished Hawaii custom that means to take time to chat and share experiences. Now in its seventh year, the annual gathering has been largely a local secret, drawing standing-room-only audiences while retaining an intimate feel.
"It isn't routed into a tour package," said festival director Jeff Gere, "but if a tourist wants to get a shot between the eyes about what it's like to live in Hawaii, this is it."
To get to the festival, take City Bus Nos. 19 or 20 from Waikiki to Ala Moana Beach Park, which is across the street from Ala Moana Shopping Center. McCoy Pavilion is in the center of the park, between two sets of tennis courts. Parking is very limited. Food will be available and picnicking is allowed. Programs may be obtained by phoning (808) 592-7029 or faxing (808) 596-7046.