Cheng Chin Yuen

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

21st July - An Shun

37.6 degrees. Spent the whole day snoozing, purifying my pee and watching TV.

22nd July – Still stucked in An Shun

37.3 degrees. I think I am considered recovered though I did eject from my right nostril a dark green bloodied booger the size of a ten cent coin. Yup, the kind that running water from the tap wouldn’t dislodge from the sink. You need to tick it off with your finger.

Spent the morning watching the women’s-only Chinese version of American Idol. The judges are all really diplomatic even when they criticise the contestants and all losers go home not feeling too rotten. This is a popular nation-wide contest and contestants are welcomed to do something extra like sing snippets of their traditional folk songs, speak in their undecipherable dialects, take part as a duo and play their own musical instruments. There are quite a few great singers and quite a few more terrible ones, especially those trying to sing English numbers. Avril Lavigne’s ‘Complicated’ sounded really complicated. The preliminary rounds are held at a provincial level and contestants actually migrate from one province to another to compete again if they didn’t get through!

Felt really good to be walking the streets after an entire day of hibernation. An Shun’s not too big and polluted but it is quite boring. Sat at a bus-stop watching life go by. ‘Life’ was a diverse blend of people. Workers in their cheap green canvas shoes carried all their gear on bamboo poles and baskets. Mothers bore babies on their backs in woven carriers with a cross-strap in front that severely partitioned their breasts. So far, I have only seen one man carrying the kid. Almost all women wore skin-tight translucent socks. Men almost always wear work shoes with socks pulled up. Trousers are rolled up to the knees when it gets too hot. It is very rare to see a family of four. One guy riding a motorbike was wearing a basket as a helmet. Other motorcyclists had thin plastic hard-hats which would probably do little to save life in a collision. At one corner, a cluster of tents sheltering low tables formed the unofficial open-air gambling den. No cash was used openly, just chips, chess pieces and majong tiles for the stakes. Attracting a slightly larger crowd are the chess players. The old minds battle it out on the chessboards while the young ones do it in cyberspace. Huang(2) Se(4) Wang(3) Ba(1) or Yellow Internet Bars is the label for where all the cyber-porn is happening.

China is a real wasteland when it comes to English books or newspapers. I have been reading more of Jay Chou’s lyrics than anything else. Karen bought a Chinese version of To-To Chan for 17 yuan today. It’s the definitive teacher’s bible. Some of that pre-WW2 philosophy could well be applied in Singapore schools today.

Su O messaged me just now to ask if we were ok. There was an earthquake in Yunnan but we heard nothing of it even though we were in Gui Zhou, the adjacent province. Thanks for your concern! It’s great to have friends like you!

Tomorrow’s waterfall day.

23rd July – Anshun to Huang Guo Shu Waterfall

In China, always get to the departing bus as soon as possible. Your ticket doesn’t promise you a fixed seat and you could be paying full fare for a small plastic stool on the aisle. Most of the local buses theoretically seat only 23 to 25 but the higher ‘rubber’ limit is closer to 35. Today was such a day when there were 35 blokes on the bus to the Huang Guo Shu Waterfall, Gui Zhou’s main tourist bait. Today was also such a day were our sardine can of humanity met with the can-opener. It was just a lone officer sitting on a chair by the road but the quick eye of our driver spotted him as he rounded the bend, giving him nanoseconds of reaction time to shout a warning for everyone standing to duck. The passengers response was the kind sadistic BMT sergeants fantasize about but SAF recruits could never achieve. We who had seats were spared the drill but it was quite hilarious to see a crowd of standing bodies become a huddle of illegal migrants, even the young female bus-conductor was not spared as the bus trudged on. At least the law is taken semi-seriously here.

I was sitting just next to the door and at one stop, one rascal in army fatigue flung his body into the crowd to be the first to get up the bus. From where I was I saw one body being thrown out of the way by the impact and then pure uncivilised chaos. It was a survival of the fittest kind of thing and the aunties knew this well for they stood furthest from the door. Still a seat was found for the oldest lady behind the driver.

Today is also Sunday. Not a good day to visit the waterfall that Gui Zhou is known for. But for once the ticket prices were less than that stated in the LP, 90 yuan instead of a crippling 150! It was nice to find a short queue at the ticketing hall as most tourists were on package tours. At An Shun this morning, we were offered a tour of the waterfall and 2 other sights for 200 yuan per person. This included entrance fees, transport, guide and lunch. Hard to beat even on a DIY trip.

Although there were hundreds of tourists here, the park like most in China was big enough to swallow us all. For the first ten minutes, the human flow went through rock and bonsai gardens. The former being carved up blocks of stone and stood vertically to form giant decorative garden pieces. The bonsai here were closer to saplings rather than miniature trees. No one gave these fillers too much of their time.

From the gardens we came to the side of a wide gorge, the splendid views spoiled only by The Great Ladder (a very long covered escalator) slammed into the vegetation. You could see the river but not the waterfall so onward along the path with the flow of eager bodies. Some Chinese ladies visit waterfalls dressed for a wedding. I managed to save one from a bad tumble down the steps when her dainty be-fake-jewelled stiletto caught a crack in the rock. Instead of thanking me, she yelled to her hubby, ‘Hey, this path is really difficult to walk!’

As we approached from the side, the waterfall seemed to gradually get bigger AND BIGGER as we got to the viewpoint directly in front of it. For an 81m wide and 102m high wall of thundering water, naming it after a Yellow Fruit Tree seems a bit humbling. All part of the dramatic build-up perhaps. Taking photographs is a pressurising affair as there is always someone trying to get where you are except for some points where I balanced on the handrails to get an unobstructed shot. The next problem was the spray kicked up by the titan. We were about 100m across the gorge and our lenses got wet almost immediately.

What could be a better stamp in your memory than a walk behind the great wall of water? You can trust the Chinese to desecrate nature and tunnel a passage in the middle complete with viewing balconies to admire the crashing of water from behind. Here, you could see a rainbow in the spray below and everyone who were by now quite wet, went wild. The final viewpoints took you, over a long suspension bridge* and down to the river level where you could better judge what 102 metres was like.

*The recommended load of the bridge was 30 persons and there was a sign asking people not to wobble the bridge. Neither warning was paid any heed especially the ‘Do Not Shake The Bridge’ rule. Those who made it across were rewarded with a sausage stand and they could enjoy their deep-fried bangers on The Great Ladder if they were by now too exhausted.

No attraction in China is complete without its farewell party of souvenir shops and these lined the park exit to the carpark. What do you make of ‘natural’ attractions in China?? I think most countries are guilty of some modification to the ‘natural’ part of their natural wonder. Just look at the big playground at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. But I think those in China would have gone through some ‘extreme makeovers’.

Karen ordered some Huay(2) Guo(1) Rou(4) or ‘Return to the Pot Meat’ for lunch and imagine the stunned silence when a plate of fat slivers landed 10 minutes later. It tasted like bacon but with only the tiniest bits of meat still attached. Since it cost us 20 yuan, it all went down the plumbing, most of it down mine. Look on the bright side, the salt did wonders for my sore throat.

Sunday market was in full throttle when we went back to An Shun. There was supposed to be human hair on sale but we didn’t see any. It was an authentic market for locals by the local tribes so the items on sale were of the practical sort like 3 storey bamboo poles, mousetraps, rice baskets, farm equipment, carrying poles and baskets, ducklings, chicks, baby pheasants, dogs, kitchen ware, clothing, shoes etc. Roadside services included dentists, cobblers and barbers. One dentist was smoking in his den. What attracted me were all the folk dressed up in their tribal gear. The dominant tribe had a white strip across their heads and had they ears covered by two small curtains of hair. At the back was a false bun of sorts with one or two jade pieces to hold the bun in place. Blue-top-black-bottom again seems to be the favourite colour combination again and some ladies wore really colourful shoes.

At a rest stop, we notice that most of the locals put a piece of newspaper or plastic beneath their bums before sitting on the benches in the park. Toddlers wore pants which was purposely split from bum to crotch for all those ‘emergencies’. The no-nappy solution! Why don’t we have this baby fashion back home? Save parents tons of cash, just need a little basin or plastic bag and some water.

Dinner was steamed jiao(3) zi(4) or dumplings which was eaten with a black wholesome unpolished porridge or noodles.

24th July – An Shun to Long Gong

The plan to go to Zhi Jin Dong, or China’s largest cavern was aborted as we woke up not feeling too keen to make the 4+ hour trip there which also involved some expensive taxi rides. So at our hotel auntie’s recommendation, we visited Long Gong, a 20 km system of subterranean rivers that liked several grottos together. 1 km of these is accessible to tourists and we liked going through caves in boats.

We were the ones on the aisle stools on the 1 hour ride to Long Gong. Somewhere in the middle, a group of ladies with 6 or 7 children between them flooded the bus. One kid decided to throw up just beside me but that was fine. He was a small kid who ate a small breakfast so the damage was minimal.

The whole gang got off at Long Gong but unlike us they marched in the park ignoring the guard’s pleas for them to pay for their tickets! ‘Hey would you come back here and pay for your tickets please!’ None of them turned back and the guard just let them go in the end. I guess they won’t be on the boat-ride. But I observed this phenomenon a couple of times here in China. Just ignore the guard and they will be too lazy to chase after you. Anyway, one armed guard does not stand any chance against the verbal firepower of 5 aunties. That's why the underground get them to man the porn-flick booths in Kai Li. However, we and two other tourists paid the hefty 120 yuan ticket. This place must be good.

This place was not good. But because, it wasn’t good in a funny way, in a way, it was good. You know what I mean?

After a long walk that skirted around a huge padi field, we finally saw our boat which motored down a short stretch of the river to a landing by a road. There was nothing really much to see and the OBM washed over what the guide’s commentary. From here there were signs pointing to Guan Yin’s Cave but no cave-boatride that we were looking for. Along the way, aunties tried to sell us red incense sticks. When we reached Guan Yin’s Cave, which was as religiously touristy as it could get, the monk on duty woke up from his nap and tried to sell us saffron incense sticks. Which will get me to heaven faster?

The path led up and down finally into a cave of sorts. ‘of sorts’ because of all the cement stalagmites that formed a rail as the steps led up and down the chamber which was lit with randomly placed lights of 4 or 5 different colours. Emerging from the light-show, another two aunties tried to sell us more incense sticks. Was there a Monkey God Cave coming up? This was followed by a small stall selling drinks and noodles.

Wandering onwards, the path, now well out of the darkness wound up to a platform where for 30 yuan, we could do a flying fox over a valley in 30 seconds or take ‘1.5 hours’ to trek across it. We took the bait and were soon flying across the valley. That was quite nice for an adventure buff even though the trek looked more like 30 minutes. It was the first flying fox I have flown with a brake included. I was too caught up with the scenery I was flying over (and making sure I did not drop my slippers) to remember to tug the brake rope so I body-slammed into a thick padded wall at the end of the line. Karen braked too soon and had to be towed the last few meters back to base.

So far, we had a ‘go through motion’ boatride, a religious station, a cave as kitsch as it gets and a go at China X-games. Long Gong really aims to cover all senses.

Next was a cultural one, after a small medicine garden planted with small plants with impressive 7 syllable names was a playground, restaurant and a ‘cave settlement’ which was a very poorly maintained and contrived attempt to recreate what a Chinese Caveman’s home would look like. I think they called it ‘10,000 household cave’. You could squeeze 3 elephants under the overhang at most.

Finally, the second boatride. We were supposed to get three. Remember the first one didn’t really count! An auntie armada had just emerged from the cave and ready to land and attack. One of them broke her shoe in the boat and wanted to shed some blood. There must be some universal law governing aunties in a group. They cacophony they make! They got out. We stood at a respectful distance and watched their poor guide being clobbered for the broken shoe. We got in and zoomed off. You will be surprised how quickly a boat can go through the cave! The oars are used on the walls to propel us to the exit where lunch was waiting for our hungry boatmen. So our cave-boatride was thus expedited.

The last boat-ride was done right contrary to our expectations even we didn’t really knowo what we could expect from Long Gong anymore. The pace was relaxing and there were so many colourful lights to gawk at. We emerged after about 10 minutes and severed all ties with the tourist trap. If you want to see some proper caves, go to Mulu. If cave-boatride is what you’re after, go to Trang in S. Thailand. Those come real and without ‘disneyfication’.

The problem is that the locals genuinely enjoy what we paid 150 (plus flying fox) for to understand China’s strange concept of ‘attractions’.

In the minivan back to An Shun, there was a boy with double eyelids so pronounced be looked evil. He wasn’t evil of course, his father was. He allowed his son to bring a full bowl of Cheng Ting on board just as the van was ready for take-off. He also chain smoked in the tiny van, killing Karen, me and his son a little faster.

At An Shun, we ate a really tasty goose noodle soup and sliced-pork glutinous rice.

After a good rest, wash up and dinner, we boarded the night bus out of Gui Zhou to Kun Ming in Yun Nan.

The MTVs that were made in China by the local singers really really cannot make it. The quality of everything, especially the song-writing and singing is very childish. You get lyrics like ‘I love you like a mouse like big rice!’ Try translating this and have a good laugh. This is of course made worse when those made in Taiwan come on. So you have FIR, Wu Bai, Jay Chou, ok…even JJ against some uncle like ‘Black Dragon’.

The 12 hour ride was made in 11 with only 1 official toilet stop and no supper break. It seemed to be the norm as no one complained and no one but us requested for additional toilet breaks. We thought we had the best seats, just behind the driver until he started smoking when the co-driver came on, he too smoked so it was all that fantastic but we made it to Kun Ming in one piece.

25th July - Kun Ming

Kun Ming is freezing at 6am in the morning. We are putting up in an 8 bedder at The Hump hostel where Wifi comes free! Dorm beds are 25 yuan.

Today we ate the famous Going Over The Bridge Noodles. It's basically a throw in your own ingredients noodle soup in a huge bowl. The meat is sliced really thin and the broth is rich, MSG laden and yummy.

Dinner was simply Steamed Pot Chicken and rice. Also another Yunnan speciality. Tasted like chicken boiled in salted vegetable broth. Nice but well, a little too salty. With rice, all went down good.

There is a small shallow wishing urn set up in the middle of the ultramodern boulevard. One kid jumped in to pick up some yuans and got smacked on the head by a policeman. His mum was around and I am quite sure she was smiling when he was in the act of becoming wealthy.

Kun Ming is tree-lined, filled with flowers and wide pavements with almost as many dustbins in Singapore. The cool weather at 1800m make her appeal even greater. What's best is that the people here don't seem to spit and smoke too much. So we check out and head for Da Li tomorrow.


Anonymous zhaohee said...

I visited Yunnan in June 2005 and its a very nice place. The places that i still remember vivdly there were Lake LuGu and LiJiang Ancient city(not very "ancient" now of course).Did you manage to visit them?

Guo Qiao Noodle to me taste like Fish head noodle in Singapore - the singapore version taste better, no doubt.

I always wonder how to do a DIY tour in China as the tourist attractions are sometimes up a mountain and take a few hrs bus ride to reach. Any tips to share?

And isn't blogger ban in China?

2:55 PM  

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