fivetospare

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.


MiniMe


Call me BOSS


Rage


Ant-trail


Tribal Auntie by the Yellow Fruit Tree PuBu


What do you want replaced?


Gang of 4


Like that also can


The Anti-Mickey Establishment Sale


Sunday Market Barbers


Tribal Lady of the Unicorn Clan at An Ashun's Sunday Market


Flying Fox at Long Gong Caves, 30 yuan for 30 seconds


Assualt Boat Special Forces

18th July - San Jiang – Huai Hua – Kai Li

The San Jiang train station was so low down the pecking order that it was not allowed to issue allocated seats or sleeper berths. That left us and everybody at the mozzie infested station with the ‘no seat’ class. When the train finally arrived in the light drizzle and when we entered the carriage, we understood that ‘no seat’ class really meant no seats. At 2.50am, the train was filled with a groggy mess of bodies in varying degrees of unconsciousness. Men, women, children and babies were asleep or trying to sleep in the most comfortable positions they could contort their bodies into between the tables and the next body. The stuffy cabin stank of sweat, smoke and of the generous slimy layer of spit on the floor. It took quite a bit of getting used to but there were people sleeping on the floor under the benches. This ride could be survived.

For a few minutes, we stood along the aisle in the middle of the carriage, shell shocked. The trains in India were in much better shape. They were smaller but at least you could put your bag down on the floor without fear of the spit factor. The carriage was much bigger than those in India and to reach the overhead luggage racks, you had to stand on the seats! That ultimately meant placing your butt on a bit of someone’s spit.

Fortunately for Karen, a lady was kind enough to shift her children to leave some space for the bigger half of Karen’s butt. I stood along the aisle next to Karen, fully loaded, unwilling to let my bags touch down on bacterialand. I was still trying to make some sense of the scene. One guy was trying to get the ceiling fan going by spinning the blade with his finger. It did begin whirling after the kickstart…for a while. One lady wanted to lie down so her friend gave up his place, stood by the aisle and tried to sleep. Another guy let his head slip onto a lady’s shoulder and got a lashing. There was always someone going to the loo at the end of the carriage. Every time the door opened, a faint urine waft was sent down the carriage. There exists an unwritten rule in the ‘no seat’ class that once you have found a seat, no one in the world can take it away from you. I stood long and loaded enough for the guy next to me to offer his seat to me for a while. He, his wife and their sleeping baby son occupied the entire bench meant for 3 to 4 adults. I declined. Eventually I moved to the carriage intersection just behind the toilets, found a relatively clean space and sat down on my backpack. It wasn’t too bad, I had some other bags to lean on and the toilet didn’t smell as long as the door was closed.

It wasn’t too bad until one stop where the door behind me opened and a flood of people scrambled in. In the usual case, the train officers would be at their battle-stations long before the train came to a standstill to ensure that alighting passengers managed to exit the carriage before the battling ram of humanity came on board. Somehow, the dude in charge came late and I found myself stuck in the middle of the push-of-war. The simple logic of standing aside first for those alighting much alike our worsening MRT situation back home is simply non-existent. The problem was that unlike our wide MRT doors, the train doors limit the human flow to a single file. My saviour in a sloppy blue uniform barged to the stalemate, screamed, shouted, swore, shoved people and kicked their baggage out of the way till he reached the door to perform his bouncer duty with authority. People rushed out and people rushed in and I occupied my rightful space after the commotion. In this aspect, the Chinese and the Indians (and perhaps in due time, the Singaporeans) are one and the same.

As we entered Hunan, more and more people shared the space with me. They spoke with a funny accent much alike the Chinese in Penang. A bit tsao(2) siah(1) or run sound or pronounced with the incorrect intonations.

We arrived in Huai Hua at about 7am. All the carriage toilets must have discharged their shit all at one go for the station smelled worse than any Indian train station we’ve been to. At the exit, one man was quarrelling with a lady worker manning the gates. Both were shouting but the lady was doing it through her loudhailer which would otherwise be used for directing the human traffic.

Acting on the advice of the owner of our breakfast place, we decided to bus to Kai Li instead of the trains which he described as ‘very messy’. I believe him as there were 5 very long queues at the ticketing booths.

Three consecutive smoke-filled bus-rides eventually got us to Kai Li. The most interesting thing that happened was my only toilet stop. The round shit pit was slightly over a metre in diameter. You were supposed to squat on the two planks placed across it. Below was a sizzling mass of milk chocolate. The sizzling effect came from a writhing surface of maggots. The whole thing looked like a rock concert held in a stadium with the fat fly mothers watching their children eagerly from the side. None of us who went to the ‘toilet’ wanted our asses over a sea of maggots so we did our business on the grass.

In Kai Li we stayed in Petroleum Hotel. It was owned by Sinopec, a local petrol giant but couldn’t they think of a better name? It was quite an experience especially with 6 storeys and no lift. The cheapest room was of course on the highest floor. In the state we were in, we paid 10 yuan more for a bigger room on the fourth floor. Interestingly, no 200 yuan key deposit is needed here because, you have no key. On the third level there is a keymaster who will open the door for you when you return to your room.

Kai Li isn’t too bad for a big town but there is a Yangtze’s on every street showing porn flicks. And if you are too shy watching porn with a room full of dirty blokes, you can by them from the many pasar malam vendors. There is also half a street selling automated majong tables which can shuffle and set the tiles for you. I saw a motorcycle carrier (a cross between a motorbike and a pickup) loaded with ducks and geese. To prevent any escape, the birds were bound with masking tape. The human make up here is more complicated with quite a few tribal folks walking the streets in their respective garb. The accents are also increasingly difficult to understand.

For dinner, we had some splendid ginger chicken noodles (3.5 yuan per bowl) and tao(2) huay(1) soup. The latter was tasteless soya bean curd in a tasteless bean-sprout soup eaten with rice and an oily peanut-mutton bits dish. Hey, we are always game for new dishes! Dog-meat may be up next on the list…


19th July – Kai Li to Chong An

Next time I visit China, it will be with an oxygen tank. There were three smokers in front of us today on the 1.5 hour ride to the tribal village of Chong An and we had to be sitting directly behind the heaviest smoker of the lot. He smoke 4 cigarettes in total and the wind blew some ashes on to us.

*Ok I think you get the idea of how bad the smoking situation is over here so I won’t mention it again in the future but we suffer on every bus-ride.

Chong An follows a five-day market cycle and with our luck and reliable information from the tourist information in Kai Li, today was market day!

Although we arrived in the early afternoon, Chong An was still in a festive mood. Most ladies were in their traditional gear and the streets and stalls were abuzz with people in their large bamboo hats, shouldering their purchases in two baskets balanced on a bamboo carrying pole. Huge pieces of watermelons were the favourite snack and quite a few chickens were suspended from the poles. They accepted what was to come and did not struggle or cluck too much. It was a market for locals and pleasantly devoid of useless tourist souvenirs. Everyone around us looked like a farmer and here it was easy to tell that we were tourists.

In the poultry section, sheep eyeballs were up for grabs. ‘Very nice to eat’, said the butcher as he lopped the hoof off a leg. They looked a bit like tang(1) yuan(2) with an overdose of zhi(1) ma(2) stuffing.

They friendly folks didn’t seem to mind being photographed and the ‘photo charge’ was asked tongue-in-cheek always with a big smile or hearty laughter. The highlight was really seeing all these women (yes, it was again mostly women doing the work) interacting with each other. They were wearing four main kinds of head-dresses. Most common was a white scarf tied over the head to look like a kind of squarish cap. The second was like the first but with a brownish-purple silky wrapping. Women that wore these two types of headgear usually wore a sky blue long-sleeved shirt. The third was a white triangular volcano like cap with extended eves over the ears. A tuff of hair sprouted from the mouth of volcano so the overall effect is rather comical. The last was similar to what a nurse would wear but with more elaborate weavings and bright dangly stuff at the back. Stuck into the hair was always a comb. Women wearing the latter two usually wore black with a blue apron in the front. The kids here are shy, curious but not daring to come too close to us. In India, we would have been swamped with ‘one photo!’ or ‘one rupee!’ demands.

Ancient wooden houses lined the cobbled back-streets. Framing all doors were scarlet Chinese dui(4) lian(2) and posters of fearsome protector Gods. We wandered into a coffin-makers house. The short man was axing his third coffin into shape. They were the massive kind you see in the Shen Tiao Xia Nu series. He spoke shyly and gently, telling us that his poor house was on the verge of collapse. You should check out this guy’s biceps in the photo.

Dinner was had at the only sit-down restaurant in town. We thought our pork rib and vege hotpot was great until we saw the fish hotpot the other table was having. Across the river a farmer, his wife and daughter were herding their ducks for an evening bath.

Accommodation for tonight is at Xiao(3) Jiang(1) Nan(2) Lu(3) You(2) Fan(4) Dian(4), where the little sandfly-like insects that sucked our blood in the afternoon were thankfully gone in the evening. The moths and little cockroaches also enhanced the rural feel and the bath-tub in the external bathroom functioned as a big water container from which you would scoop refreshingly cold water to douse yourself with. Raise your hand too high and you will hit the lone tungsten bulb hanging from the ceiling. Well for 40 yuan, you can’t complain and the friendly uncle is kind enough to arm us with a bottle of insect repellent, one more bottle of green ointment and 4 mozzie coils. Dobry Noch!


20th July – Chong An to An Shun

At breakfast this morning, I was quite impressed by a two year old boy sitting at the opposite table all alone, eating his steaming bowl of noodles while his granny enjoyed her morning chatter on the pavement. He is the first two year old I have seen who could use chopsticks proficiently and who could tackle the health hazard independently. It was quite a joy watching and photographing the little one till the stall owner told us that his mother died in a recent car accident. He still doesn’t know the truth yet and lives with his granny while his dad works in Guangdong.

On the long bus-ride to An Shun, I scored a minor victory by politely asking a smoker two rows behind us to snuff it out. It was an air-conditioned bus and the majority of the passengers save one happened to be tolerant non-smokers. Maybe, I was in a foul mood as I was falling sick.

Yup it’s confirmed that I am sick. 38.6 degrees. Thank goodness the hotel is clean and cheap. Diving into bed now.


Me and Granma


just above the ground


If only, 1 bite


watching vcd


Wearable Brollies


Dentist, open concept


Relax for now


Prior Dog Meat stage


Women at Chong An Market, livestock section


Also one in hand


Hen Hao Chi Leh!


silent lucidity


Meat is King here


The End


Rub a Dub Dub


Probably the shortest woman in Chong An


His world go round


Backlane scene


Anti-thesis or Solution


The Patriot


Coffinmaker Biceps King of Chong An


The Two Year Old Chopsticks Kid


Oldstyles and new


Gruel Time!


Backstreet Boys


Cixi


Nets Transaction in Progress, please wait.


crossbreed


Tonight I sleep on a bed of nails


Of the Chinese Vampire Variety!

12th July – Gui Lin

Our breakfast of a bowl of smooth pork vermicelli was eaten by the roadside on tiny wooden stools and tables. The beige metal bowls remind me of those used by the prison inmates in the ancient SBC drama Wu(4) Shuo(3) Nan(2) Yang(3). Those in a hurry seem to slurp down the meal, bowl in one hand and shovelling chopsticks in the other. They did not even bothering to sit for their meal. On a table were additional ingredients of ground chilli, salted beans and preserved vegetables to which there was no consumption limit imposed. Two bowls of noodles and a bottle of orange came up to only 5 yuan! Finally, Indian expenses in China! Standards of hygiene must have gone up over the SARS period as all used utensils and bowls are carted away in metal containers to be sterilised somewhere else. We have seen bike-carriers bringing in fresh loads of disinfected utensils perhaps explaining our fascinating lack of the toilet scrambles!

The afternoon was spent in the Seven Stars Park, a huge beautiful green concentration of seven limestone peaks with a zoo and amusement park thrown in just to dilute the beauty. It seems that wherever you go in China, you got to get used to plenty of people. Again, ticket prices are bumped up from 15 yuan in 2005 to 35 today with a separate charge of 30 yuan to visit the neon-themed Seven Star Cave. (These guys could learn a thing or two from the Mulu Caves people.) Perhaps we should have taken the guide’s advice and sneak in before 7.30am with the Qigong gang.

On the climb up one of the seven peaks, we overtook a French family who immediately noticed my Team Italia singlet. They smiled so sweetly it was scary. The Gui Lin evening papers reported that Zidane head-butted Marco because he called his sister a whore! I wonder if it is true. If so, I think I will wear my singlet only to sleep. For those who are still guessing…yes, it is the same singlet since day one. Very good quality stuff from Europe, no smell even after a week.

Despite the stifling humidity, we walked along lovely tree-covered paths that snaked between the peaks. A black plastic pipeline also followed the trail, bringing water to an abnormally high number of fire hydrants along the way. I can imagine seven flaming peaks at the height of summer when dozens of cigarette butts are carelessly discarded. If only all the spit landed on all the cigarettes, that might reduce the problem significantly.

The peak of publicity was one called Camel Hill. From the front it did look like a huge camel that just survived a forest fire. From behind, it looked like a web of cables was holding the loose slabs together, without which the charred camel in question would have a significantly slimmer neck. The Chinese are really good at arm-bending imagination into a money-churning business. Across the Li River was the Elephant Hill which was an ordinary arch with the bridge that ended in the river being the trunk and the headland making up the body of the elephant. The whole riverside around this arch was cordoned off and tall trees are strategically planted to block the view from the park perimeter to encourage you to pay to see the ‘wonder’. Of course there are boatrides, cafes and photography sessions with river birds to enhance the experience. Yuck!

In the Seven Stars Park, we followed a sign that led to the ‘forest of steles’. This turned out to be a large overhanging area beneath one of the peaks covered with slabs of ancient poetry carvings. What I found more amazing was how the guides brought out the stories behind these stone desecrations to have their entire troop mesmerised. We didn’t stay long to eavesdrop on these tales. The overhang also trapped all the second-hand smoke from the countless of smokers.

On a tiny island by the park riverside, you could have your photo taken with a white horse, a white peacock, two luo ci (menacing-looking river birds which flap their cheeks to cool themselves) or a manacled vested monkey. Your digital photo will be printed out from an impressive workstation beneath a striking red bivouac which went rather awfully with the lovely bamboo clumps!

Despite all these perceived shortcomings of the park, it is a favourite among the old folks who sit at shady stone tables to gamble, keeping their minds active after the morning Qigong. Besides majong, the crowd also play a popular card game with cards in the shape of large ice-cream sticks, a little larger than the one doctors at home use to depress you tongue with. This versatile game can be played in pairs, in threes or with four persons. Someone told us that it was more complicated than majong! I guess the old folks at the Ang Mo Kio void decks back home are just trying to have a little fun.

After the Seven Stars Park visit, I think our NPB back home have gotten their basic concept of what a park should be like right. If only we had the space!

Sometimes we walk into the jaws of an overly posh place to be suckered of our money. Today was such an unfortunate day where the street heat drove us into the nearest air-conditioned restaurant. When ‘honey jasmine foam tea’ cost 15 yuan and tastes like the 5 yuan green tea on the streets and the 20 yuan 6-inch pork pizza takes 20 minutes to microwave, you know you have been had. But we needed the climatic change especially when your clothes are stuck to you. At Coffee Language, the stuff we had was really bad and no amount of excellent service could make up for that.

It was also from the papers here that we learnt that 7 bombs in Mumbai claimed more than 500 casualties. When we were in India there were threats of coordinated attacks on the major Indian cities, looks like they really hit home this time round.

We tried to extend our visa but the agency wanted 600 yuan for the job which would take a week. An additional 120 yuan will get it done in three days. We decided the try the Public Security Bureau or PSB instead. Dinner was the immediate concern for the friendly staff at the PSB when we entered the small office. Two of them were half naked tucking into the spread. When they finally found out what we wanted, one big guy with a crew-cut put on his shirt, wiped his mouth and sat us down at a table in another room. He scribbled down the address of the visa branch and advised us to take a cab there the next day. When we asked him to repeat the address, the BBFG (Big Blue Friendly Giant) exclaimed, ‘Hey don’t you guys understand Chinese (btw no one in China understands the term ‘Mandarin’)? Funny, I have watched your Chinese serials on TV!’ Yet another paiseh moment but the Chinese terminology for cheem stuff like tourist visa bureau sounds really complicated. Ask anyone where is the ‘Jing(3) Cha(2) Ju(2) or police station’ and you will get the blank-are-you-from-planet-China look. It’s ‘Gong(1) An(1) Ju(2) or Public Safety Bureau’ here.

It’s Goodbye Gui Lin tomorrow so the visa extension will have to wait.

The most interesting dish at dinner were 12 steamed glutinous flour pigs with a meagre meat stuffing, supposedly one of the regions’ signature dishes. The problem was that you could chew off the entire head and end up with a mouthful of tasteless goo. Three disembowelled pigs ended up on my plate by the end of dinner. For 12 yuan, you couldn’t expect too much. If you ever come to Gui Lin eat at Yi Yuan on Nan(3) Huan(3) Lu(4) near the Elephant Hill, the friendly waitresses here remember what you drank the day before.

At Yi Yuan, we also observed how the locals behaved in a restaurant setting. Some are very exacting in their demands on how the dishes are to be prepared, master-commandering the poor waitresses who must have found us extremely polite. The Chinese do not seem to say ‘thank you’. In India, the customer isn’t King. In China, there seem to be too many at meal-times. Most eat heaps of everything and dishes can be stacked on each other if the table is too small. A few idiots YELL for the bill and smoke after they have eaten! Smoking in air-conditioned spaces is strictly not prohibited.

Today, I also learnt that in China, a bunch of 8 bananas cost only 2 yuan (40 cents). Their water-mutant-melons are enormous and they do have durians over here.

I bought a Jay Chou songbook for 11 yuan. It had 44 songs complete with lyrics, tabs, chord diagrams, melody notation, timing and several pages of Jay’s history and photos which I am willing to sell to the highest bidder. We also visited the local music shop where very original looking CDs, VCDs and DVDs went at prices so low it hurts. This wasn’t the police-dodging disappearing majong table acts back home. They were the Poh Kim or CD Rama equivalent. When I asked the salesgirl if the stuff was original, she didn’t reply but nodded once or twice.

We passed the beggar on the rollerboard again tonight. I was wrong to say earlier that he had no legs. He had one leg in his trousers but it dragged after him like excess baggage. There is also a teenager who is always at the bus-stop outside the hostel. In one hand she holds a tin. The problem is that where the other hand supposed to be, is a stump.


13th July – Gui Lin to Long Ji (Ping An)

Gui Lin’s bus station was as efficient as Guangzhou’s and we were soon on board a bus to Long Ji (Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces) after a quick X-ray of all our bags. The ride was uneventful and Jennie’s present of the latest (and original) RHCP’s ‘Stadium Arcadium’ occupied my ears and mind for most of the four-hour ride. Flea (the band’s imaginative bassist) was right to say that this 28 track monster was the best the band has ever produced. It is the only music I have listened to in the past month and every time put on the ear phones, I hear something new and magical in the basslines. I sure do miss playing in a band. If any of you (Jamie, James, Freddie, Seng Kuan, Lai Yip, Alex, Hansen, Renjie, Sharon, Han Liat, Robbie Williams, Jay Chou etc) are reading this, it was great jamming with you guys!

A short taxi ride into Ping An (tourist capital of Long Ji) with English Language students Ann and Xiao Hua made us fast friends and we decided to do the Ping An to Da Zhai trek together the following morning.

Long Ji is a huge ridge whose terraced spurs and slopes go up to heights of 800 metres. From the air somewhere, it should look like a crouching dragon (with the tiger hidden) thus the name. Summer is the growing season for the rice and the hundreds of steps are covered green. In autumn, the ripe crops turn the landscape golden and in winter, the terraces partition the snowfall. Spring turns the empty flooded terraces into a million mirrors that yield stunning evening shots as the sun sets. No one really knows how the 700 year old terraces originated, perhaps a mythical tiger was scratching the dragon;s back as it slept.

Tourists were allowed entry into Long Ji only in 2003 so the villagers and villages are still sufficiently authentic to attract more to make it eventually unauthentic. Impressive 3 storey wooden houses cling to the steep slopes on a foundation of stone and 24 pillars each from a single tree. The roof is made of thousands of scalloped tiles blackened with age and moss. These tiles are just layered on wooden struts, no nailing involved. One unique architectural feature is that the floor area gets a little bigger as the levels go up.

The Yao women’s hair is all the rave here. At 1.3 metres long, silky black, bundled, twisted, bunned in the front and with the rest and worn like a turban on the head, it has never been cut and holds a place in the Guinness Book of Records! I think you can generally tell the age of a woman by the size of her ‘turban’. The short aunties (half a head shorter than Karen at least!) wear black knee-length skirts, a bright long -leeved blouse and thick silver earrings which lengthen their earlobes considerably. Like most farm women, they are super-strong, super-chatty, super-nice and super-hardworking. You never see any of them doing nothing. Break-time means time to do a little weaving or sewing. Rice stalks are transformed into slippers and colour is threaded into black cloth to form intricate designs passed down from mother to daughter without any pictorial references.

Tourism is welcomed as a boost in the local economy. Some of these aunties have turned to carrying tourist bags and suitcases in basket-backpacks up the steep slopes to the hotels for 5 yuan a piece. Worse is the sight of tourists being bobbed up the stone paths emperor-style in bamboo sedans borne by these aunties who are old enough to be their mothers or grannies. Others sell souvenirs and moonlight as guides to the viewpoints and neighbouring villages. They are not desperate for a deal and take rejection with a pleasant ‘Hey-brother/sister-I-am-still-your-friend’ attitude. They talk to you really nicely and that is what I would remember the good folks here by.

Our uphill slog to Ping An was made without super-auntie power and by the time we checked into Countryside Café, we were dripping. Ann and Xiao Hua found the rooms too expensive and headed off to find a cheaper option, leaving their bags in our room. We by now were accustomed to 80 yuan rates, too tired and deeply seduced by the rustic views of the houses and terraces from our windows to find anything cheaper. After a lazy lunch in the hotel’s café, the rain came down hard and long and it was almost dinner-time before we saw our dear friends again. For their resilience, they were rewarded with a 30 yuan room further down the valley. Hmmm, China could after all be as cheap as India. The views were on par but the room wasn’t as clean as ours.

Ann, from Guangdong is 23, very bubbly, very very opinionated and very very very direct. She is the kind of girl who will not hesitate to tick off the cook for not adding enough egg to the ‘Jiu(3) Cai(4)’. Xiao Hua who is a year older shows more restraint and tends to think a little more before she talks. She comes from Shenzheng. Both have very different accents and it was great fun communicating with them. In the past, all we could manage was small talk. In China, we could communicate, discuss and debate. That’s a real perk to rainy days.

Tibet did come up in our conversation and it took some convincing to get them to believe that Tibet was usurped rather than ‘liberated’ from a vicious and dangerous personality-cult figure known as the Dalai Lama. They didn’t know that there were so many Tibetan refugees in the world and felt that the re-education of the Tibetans did free their minds! They told us that in order for them to leave the country, they had to place a deposit with the government. It was also not possible for them to go to Taiwan and attend a Jay Chou concert. Fortunately, he comes to China.

Ann and Xiao Hua met in Yangshou where both of them were studying conversational English for a few months. Yet they were very hesitant to practice English with us especially after knowing that I used to teach English. Most of their teachers in Yangshou are foreigners and that alone is perceived as an advantage even though English may not be their first language. Unsurprisingly, some of their teachers were really bad. School fees averages 2000 yuan a month and the class size is capped at a healthy ten. The general feeling is that the teachers had a really easy time and did not prepare for their lessons! Sounds familiar and sounds like a Calling! Perhaps our friends were not hardworking enough. One lesson which I liked was simply walking down Xi Jie and identifying objects in English.

I spent the night in our first non-airconditioned room playing Jay Chou’s songs. At this altitude, it is cool and fresh. Tomorrow we start the trek at 8am.


14th July - Ping An to Da Zhai

Yay! Trekking time once again! The Da(4) Zhai(4) trek was great but putting variations of hundreds of rice terraces in words is unnecessarily difficult. Along the way, we met about 4 aunties who offered to be our guide and whom we politely refused. Ann’s refusal was stylishly curt, flat, fast and final. The fifth one was too busy closing a business deal on her clamshell phone to bother with us. Hey, it’s not the Stone Age anymore for the Yao! All of them gave us the same sing-song warning: ‘There are many cross-roads!’ That was true but we had a good guide - the Da Zhai power line above. Ha Ha. Tourists 1 Aunties 0

A couple of farmers told us that it was too far and we should have taken a bus to Da Zhai. (Sometimes we felt that they were pulling a fast one since the LP stated that it should take 3 hours.) We couldn’t even if we wanted to as the access road was blocked by a recent and severe landslide, some vehicles were still trapped in Da Zhai. What was supposed to be a 3-hour walk became a 4.5 hour one. It seems that in these parts, aunties with turbans do it in 3 hours while youngsters take a little longer. Tourists 1 Aunties 1 (but we were still not even).

Thanks to the rain yesterday, the day was sunny and clear and we were pretty much alone for most of the trek. Each terrace came up to my chest level and the overall effect of several hundred huge steps weaving across the landscape is belittling.

We met one friendly farmer with a fly problem so he went around with his horse with his hat to his crotch whenever ladies were present.

Da Zhai is more ping an than Ping An and Ms Liang (our hotel owner) is a great cook, an excellent host and had a romantic story to tell.

The Story of Ms Liang as told by Ms Liang and as understood by me with some double-checking with Karen who took CL1 in the distant past:

Once upon a time Ms Liang was a teenager. One day, Miss Liang cycled to a village market with her friends. The market not only sold foodstuffs but had other stalls including one stall ran by a young man where you could read storybooks for 2.5 cents. The young man also repaired bicycles as a sideline. As fate would have it, Ms Liang’s bicycle broke down as she was approaching the market and she had it repaired at his stall which was actually just a canvas sheet placed on the ground. There was one particular storybook entitled ‘Yuan(1) Jia(1) Lu(4) Zhai(2)’ [Capulet and Montague in a Backalley of sorts] which caught her eye but she did not have the time to finish it there.

*Of course you should know by now that the ‘young man’ would eventually be her husband.

The young man said graciously, ‘Just take it home with you. I am always in this area. We will meet again if fate permits and you can return the book to me then.’

Fate did permitted a second meeting six months later at her cousin’s wedding. He showed up as a guest and managed to get his storybook back. Her friend told her, ‘That guy has a very tough life. He lost his father when he was five and his mother when he was twelve. He also has a younger brother to support.’ Ms Liang felt very sorry for him but didn’t meet him until six months later.

The next time he came to her house was with his uncle to ask for her hand in marriage. To show his sincerity, he gave her a piece of jewellery his mother left behind, probably jade. It was certainly the most precious thing he possessed. Ms Liang was touched and thought that someone who could endure so much hardship and who live in such poverty would be a better husband and treat her better than her other richer suitors. Like all Chinese stories go, her parents and relatives raised strong objections that no daughter in that era could disobey.

Ms Liang, when he visited again returned the gift. The young man broke down in tears in front of her parents and this moved Ms Liang sufficiently to defy her parents and relatives. Who says real men don’t cry? Soon they were married. Her parents, like all good parents gave in to their daughter when they saw how resolved she was but none of her relatives attended her wedding.

‘It wasn’t a marriage of love,’ Ms Liang reflects ‘We met only 3 times in one and a half years. It was a marriage of pity.’

Intermission: Take 5 to wipe your tears.

Ms Liang moved out, stayed in a room at her husband’s uncles place and had her only son at 20. They had a very hard life. With a combined income of 10 yuan, they had to support a family and see his younger brother through school. They survived with the help of Ms Liang’s parents who gave them some money and food.

Like all streetwise kids, Ms Liang’s husband was quick to learn and resourceful enough to learn the ropes of construction and interior design from his uncle for whom he worked for. Soon he struck it out on his own, dabbling in all sorts of small businesses along the way and eventually tapping into the tourism market. That led him to Da Zhai where, with financial help from Ms Liang’s sisters, he built a 250,000 yuan hotel. Ms Liang didn’t elaborate on their rags-to-riches phase.

Ms Liang and her husband managed to put his brother through school and now he is a teacher. It wasn’t easy. His re-examination cost them an additional 700 yuan which was a staggering price to pay it forward then. Well, right now, it is pay back time. His brother works in Long Sheng now, a town a few kilometres away and takes care of their son who is studying there.

Ms Liang has nothing but praises for her husband and he in return proudly declares that she is the kindest woman in the whole village. I believe she is when she shoos off the neighbour’s dog with claps and foot-stomps meant more for children’s songs. Our stay at her hotel including lunch, dinner and breakfast only cost us 50 yuan per person. She must be a kind soul.

End of Story

It is times like these where I actually do regret not having the opportunity to suffer. It’s like singing ‘My Way’ when you can’t really mean ‘My Way’. It is also times like these where I really appreciate what a great job my parents and their parents have done! I try not to worry too much about what kind of a job I will do in the future…Heh heh.

Viewpoints in Ping An and Da Zhai are numbered 1 to 3. In the late afternoon, I decided to hike to viewpoint 3. Xiao Hua and Ann decided to come along and made it about three quarters of the way before calling it quits. Karen, perhaps the wisest of all, chose to stay in the hotel to shower, sleep and blog. At the viewpoint was a professional photographer from a nearby town, a lady, a father and son Czech team and their local guide.

The local photographer was half naked and shouting to position the lady for scale reference several terraces below. He was shooting with his film camera because he had forgotten to bring his CF card for his Nikon D70! That’s where I came in useful. I lent him my spare, gave him my email and promised to send him his shots later. He was eternally grateful and promised me a beer.

The Czech team were professional photographers for a travel magazine back home! Dad was 58 and his son was probably just a little older than me. Were they surprised when I greeted them in Czech! ‘Dobry Den!’ Dad with his thick moustache had a striking resemblance to Chief Vitalstatistiks in Asteriks and he didn’t speak a word of English. Fortunately his son fared much better and we spoke fondly of the Czech Republic. I got along really well with their guide who was probably in his mid-forties and played the translator for a while. He actually complimented me on my Mandarin!

We went down together after taking all our photographs. When we reached the halfway mark, Vitalstatistiks discovered that he lost his shirt somewhere along the way. It happens when you drape it over your backpack. The guide promptly went back up without complaint, returning 15 minutes later, equally jolly with the shirt. He found it very near the summit. Vitalstatistiks who couldn’t keep up but followed him nonetheless, flushed when I told him what he put his guide through. I wagged a finger and told him that he owed his guide a beer. During the break, his son and I discussed photography. They were purists and frowned upon digital photography as cheating. They prefer the ‘beautiful surprise’ they get when the film is developed. I guess they must be the one-shot-one-kill kind of photographers. Most of us keep only 10% of what we shoot.

We spent the evening talking to Ms Liang on her veranda by candle-light beneath the stars. There was no electricity and there will not be for at least two more weeks as the landslides that obstructed the roads also tore down the electric cables. As we listened to her story and told stories of our own, a small part of the sky erupted in fireworks! Someone was celebrating further up the valley.

Here’s just a run through of what we talked about:

Population Control
You have to stop at one if your first child is a son but it’s a girl, you get one more chance after which you will be sterilised. Yet the government is trying to promote the equality of the sexes.

Hair
The women use a kind of wheat formula with the water to keep their hair shiny, smooth and jet-black. New business opportunity for SK-II wannabes!

Tradition
In the past, if you can’t sew, you can’t get married. All the Yao women in Da Zhai sewed and each family has a unique design passed down from the previous generation. They sew this on to black cloth solely by memory. No instruction sheet. Some of the traditional clothes take 3 years to sew. I can sew. I sewed my berms back when a miscalculated squat tore it down the middle. With more and more children attending school in the towns now, they have less time for traditional crafts and soon the art may be lost forever. Ms Liang’s son for example only visits once a month. He’s only in secondary two.

Ching Ming
For Ms Liang’s side of the family, each household contributes 50 yuan to a study fund each Ching Ming when they gather to ‘sao mu’. (Family graves are incorporated into the terraces.) This is used to help see their needy relative’s children through school as well as to reward those who have done well in their studies. Those who do well are presented a certificate to remind them to be grateful of their reward. University graduates from the village are rare and when the break-through does happen once in a long while, it is great cause for celebration.

Fate
A feng shui master once told the Liang household that they will be extremely intelligent and successful. But they will not live a long life. So far it has been proven true on a couple of occasions. One chap died at 28 and another at 42. The prophecy continues.

Army
Getting one’s son enlisted used to be an honourable thing. The whole village would celebrate and he will be sent off on a horse! NS used to be 3 years in China and there is a quota of soldiers for each province to be met. In schools, all students are given basic arms training - a response to the Jap invasion where some people had guns in their houses but didn’t know how to use them in combat.

Some days are just so packed!


15th July – Da Zhai to Ping An

Against trekking tradition, we bussed back to Ping An after a restful sleep saving 4.5 hours of walking but losing some status as a seasoned trekker. Ms Liang said that heavy rain was expected today and the sky did look very cloudy. Farmers do get accurate weather forecasts over their handphones here!

Back in Ping An, Ann, Karen and I did a little trek to viewpoint no. 2. Xiao Hua was too car sick from the hilly bends. Along the way, photo-kiosks were erected over the edge of the hill where for 10 yuan, you can have your family photo taken with local girls dressed in their tribal costumes against the gobsmacking terraced backdrop below. It is always the women who are all decked up, not a single male. The men operate the cameras and printers.

From the top, the patch of black roofs showed how big Ping An actually is. There must be at least 100 large houses altogether. The default souvenir shops, cafes, photo-kiosks and the tourist ruckus soon drove us back down to a quieter hotel for a drink on their private balcony overlooking the terraces.

Here, Ann told us about her life, work and dysfunctional family. We have hardly known each other but she speaks openly, confidently and without embarrassment. She’s quite a girl. In China, many people work in the wealthier provinces and do not go back home till the Chinese New Year holidays. Some of Ann’s former colleagues haven’t seen their parents for 5 years. They do not earn enough to justify the cost of flying home.

Our gang of four decided to join financial forces to have dinner at the hotel Ann and Xiao Hua were staying at. The star of the night was a fantastic bamboo chicken slow-cooked over an open hearth (see photo). The supporting cast consisted of potato soup, vegetables fried with eggs and another leafy vege dish. Conversation flowed from talk shows to Stephen Chow movies to travelling to the popularity of MacDonalds and KFC in China. I decided to give our two younger friends a treat since they were not working. It all came up to only 80 yuan. It was nice to part, knowing that we had two more friends in China now. It’s just too bad they have no access to our blogs!


16th July – Ping An to Cheng Yang Bridge

It was raining the whole day. We left Ping An in a steady drizzle and while waiting for the bus to Long Sheng, a posh van from Sheraton Gui Lin pulled up into the carpark. From it emerged the fattest and biggest man I have ever seen. The American (I think) had a friendly smile and looked extremely wealthy. A pair of suspenders held up his pants of elephantic proportions. His short Chinese aide was trying unsuccessfully to shield him from the rain, you’ll need Yao Ming with 3 brollies! After one look at the dreary landscape, he was back in the car in less than 10 minutes! He certainly gave the giggling and chucking long haired aunties something to yak about especially since he emerged with an attractive Chinese lady a seventh of his size.

While waiting, I found out that a sedan ride up to Ping An costs 60 yuan which would be divided equally by the two bearers. That’s considered good money.

At Long Sheng, I found the shop of the photographer I met at Da Zhai and transferred his photographs. He wasn’t there (so no beer!) but the girl in the shop was really jolly, grateful and polite. Just below his shop was the public toilet. The smell was overwhelming but I went in to pee and to experience the legendary ‘doorless’ Chinese toilet. The yellow-stained urinal drain which was encrusted with something yellow followed the length of the wall and on the opposite side were 4 low-walled open cubicles with a common drain running through them. You could do your big business, watch others do their small business, chat face to face with your friend and compare the shades and textures of your stools! When the toilet reeks of week-old urine, I kind of miss the Indian ‘toilet anywhere’ culture.

The next ordeal was the 3.5 hour ride to San(1) Jiang(1). For most of the 50 kilometres, the muddy pot-holed road was under maintenance so the ride wasn’t exactly smooth. We have had plenty of rough rides before including a 5 hour epic in Cambodia with 16 other people clinging on to each other at the back of a small pickup going through dusty dirt tracks. But this one was a ride surrounded by a bunch of inconsiderate chain smokers. The problem is that smoking in confined spaces is perfectly acceptable over here.

The last 20 km to Cheng Yang Bridge was done in style after our smoke chamber torture. We paid 35 yuan for a private taxi. It was evening and we will visit the 78 metre covered wooden bridge tomorrow morning. It took the Dong people 12 years to build and they did it without nails. There are also 8 Dong villages to explore in the region. Bamboo water-wheels are constructed by the river to draw water up to the rice fields. They range from 4 to 8 meters in diameter. Try to imagine how water is drawn to the top. The folks here have a very simple way of doing that.

It is very peaceful here and we had our dinner on the hotel veranda which overlooks the river and the Cheng Yang Bridge in the distance. The rural folk are very friendly, hospitable and do not overcharge. It is still raining and I am really glad I brought my guitar with me this time. It’s back to more Jay Chou’s and Wu Bai’s songs again!


17th July - Cheng Yang Bridge back to San Jiang

If some days are just so packed, today is just so laxed.

If there are any nails in the Cheng Yang Bridge, they must have been very well concealed. We walked the length of it twice and the only metal we saw was the hook holding up the fire-extinguisher. The bridge was a work of art, made even more beautiful by the serene surrounds and the solitude of the early morning.

Our 11.30am onward journey to Zhaoxing, was ruined by a landslide so we rattled in a motorcycle-taxi to the San Jiang train station hoping to catch the next train into Gui Zhou. The poorly maintained San Jiang train station isn’t exactly Garde Du Nord and the only passenger train arrives at 2.40am towards Huai(2) Hua(4) in Hunan. From there, it seems we could catch a connection to Kai(2) Li(3) in Gui Zhou. Well, it seems that we were going to Gui Zhou after all but now we were stuck in a tiny railway town for one whole day.

For 20 yuan we got a room complete with mozzies, a bed too small for two, a small fan that kept you from sleeping and a view of the curious construction workers in the opposite building. So my afternoon activities rotated between sleeping, playing guitar, doing the laundry, eating and blogging. Fortunately the bubbly motel owner was a skilful cook and kept us happy despite our living conditions. I found it odd when she asked if we wanted rice or beer with our dinner dishes. Well, the two men at the next table were just having rice in liquid form with their meat and vege dishes. They also ate five century eggs between the two of them which they cracked on the floor.

You can’t really sleep at night having slept in the afternoon and having to wake up at 2.00am to get your train tickets.


Green Green GREEN grain of Home


Early Bird


Lone worker


Morning Creeps in on Ping An


Big Hillside houses


Long Ji (Ping An)


Landscaped Garden