Published: August 18th 2009August 14th 2009
Blog 11: Death defying feats and tremendous acts of heroism!*
After a very long trip on a bus, which went overnight, had no toilet and involved a random midnight stop for a bowl of rice in a restaurant (don't ask, I have NO idea...), I got to Hong Kong, they let me out of China and into Hong Kong. It felt nice to be back. I got to my hostel where I had treated myself to my VERY OWN room for the night. Well. It claimed to be a room. It was a bed, with a door. My suitcase had to go on the bed for the door to close. There was a wee raised bit with a toilet and a shower head and the room was the actual size of the bed. Very odd. But, cosy nonetheless. I slept most of the afternoon; all-night buses with no toilets are NOT the best places to get ones head down for sleep.
That night, I went up the road and found the Indian quarter. Its absolute bedlam and there’s hoards of Indian men thrusting restaurant flyers at you trying to get you to go their place to eat. I had
already decided I was having a curry that night so it was simply a case of finding the man with the friendliest looking face. I found him, followed him up in the lift and got to his curry place. I sat down to tuck into Daal, garlic naan and pakoras. It was delicious. I sat there with a massive smile on my face all the way through whilst watching Indian love songs and the craziest videos ever on a DVD player. Then feeling rather full, wobbled back to my cell and was promptly sick. Very bizarre. I hope this doesn't foretell that all western food I eat when I get home that I’m not used to eating will make me ill....?
So in the morning I got up early and caught the train to the airport to pick up my brother. It was good to see him! We got the train back, checked into out twin room which happily had space between the beds and a fair sized bathroom, and he produced birthday presents and cards - thank you everyone and Sazzle, a FABULOUS homemade effort, and then, from out of the depths of his rucksack, he produced a
block of cheese. Mature English Cheddar nonetheless. I managed about half the block before we decided to go out and into Hong Kong. In all my days, I’ve never enjoyed cheese so much. I was a little scared it may make me sick - not eaten real cheese for such a long time now, but I powered on through..and it was fine. Happy days.
We then trekked off to the Visa office to hand in my passport where I was told I could only get a 1 month extension. Bah. Spent the rest of the day mulling this over whilst traipsing round HK. A massive thunderstorm hit, and soon the roads were quite deep and fast flowing rivers as HK is rather hilly...at the time we were walking up a particularly steep side street and it was just inches deep and pouring down the street. You can’t help but just stop and laugh like a deranged fool - hot, torrential, tropical downpours - I love them, and didn’t realise it was Edgar Snr’s first, and he was loving it too. We were absolutely soaked to the skin and took refuge in a bar. On the way, Chris spotted a
kitten being washed down a drain and managed to catch it in time and return it to its grateful owners. He's my hero.
After a few beers, it was dark and time to go up Victoria Peak. Those of you who have been paying attention will remember I did this once before, but THIS time, it was properly dark, and the view is nothing short of breathtaking. The light show had started so all the main buildings fire lights off their rooftops, coupled with a stormy cloudy sky, the lights bounced off the clouds and looked really moody and intense. It’s an awe-inspiring sight and I think that the view, at night from the top of Victoria peak, is easily in my top 3 of best all time ever sights. A small boy was climbing over a railing and Chris spotted him in time, just as he was about to tumble over the edge. Jumping catlike, he grabbed the boy’s ankle and managed to drag him to safety. He’s a handy guy to have around in a crisis my brother.
The second day in Hong Kong was a tram trip and a walking tour, taking us to the
Western market (where we saw lots of silk) to Chinese herbal medicine shops (where we saw dead creatures) to a teeny temple (Edgar Snr’s first). It was a good walk, and after we went to pick up my passport we then proceeded to grab a few beers which took us into the evening...we went to Temple Street night market and were sorely disappointed. The typhoon warnings were getting higher, the weather was wet and the stalls were all closing so there was hardly anything there. We ate some kind of prawns of the like I’ve never seen before - with intense armour plating but tasty meat inside - and then went back to the pub.
We woke up on the third day, typhoon level 8 was hoisted but this isn’t as scary as it sounds.
Level 8 basically means: Gale or storm force wind is expected or blowing generally in Hong Kong near sea level, with a sustained wind speed of 63-117 km/h from the quarter indicated and gusts which may exceed 180 km/h and the wind condition is expected to persist. Winds are normally expected to reach gale force generally in Hong Kong within 12 hours after the
No.8 signal replaces the No.3 signal.
Action - Complete all precautions now before gales commence. Lock all windows and doors. Fit bars into positions and insert reinforced shutters and gates if available. Adhesive tape fixed to large window panes in exposed positions will reduce damage by broken glass.
Do not stand near windows on the exposed side of your home. Move all furniture and valuables away from these areas. Make sure you have a safe place to shelter, should windows be broken. Now is the time to decide which rooms you will use to shelter if the windows on the exposed side of your home become broken.
Owners of neon signs should arrange for the electricity supply to their signs to be switched off.
...so luckily we didn’t have any plant pots to worry about and Chris wasn’t planning on going wakeboarding here and the bulbs have gone in my neon signs anyway.. so with the wind gathering speed and the skies looking miserable, we left Hong Kong on a bus to go to Shenzhen back in the old PR of C.
They let us both in.
Shenzhen is officially the armpit of China. It’s an absolute
dump, and even though it pertains to be one of Chinas richest cities (due to its proximity to Hong Kong) it’s a dive. We were only there for a few hours, during which time we had my extra heavy suitcase grabbed by a man who insisted on carrying it to the bus station and then wanted payment for it, (10Y) and when we got to the bus station, we asked if we were at the right place (yes), 15 minutes before our bus was due to leave and no sign of it we asked again - and were very swiftly marched to the bus station at the top of the road. Lucky it was within fast marching distance away otherwise we would have missed the sleeper bus to Guilin, our next destination.
The bus was a standard sleeper - I’m an old pro at these now and we trundled into Guilin at around 6.30 the next morning.
We dropped our bags at the hostel, but it’s the same old story - cant check in until later...so we went for a walk around the city, walked through the park, watched some old men singing and playing their instruments (described by
Edgar Snr as Chinese jazz free styling) and sat with an ice-cream dangling our feet into the river for a couple of hours. It is the cleanest water I have seen so far in China. I could see the bottom and I wasn’t afraid to let it touch me, which is actually a first! There were LOADS of people swimming and fishing and we sat in the sunshine, extremely tired, watching everything go by.
We finally got into our hostel - nice room, and had a few hours well needed sleep. By the time we were up and clean, it was time to head out for dinner. In the hunt for a restaurant, a lady with a bike and her little girl started chatting to us. She was on 4 years maternity leave and used to work at the tourist office and liked to practice her English whenever she could, so she took us to a restaurant she recommended and helped us order our food. She was very nice. But with the incident of the man with the bag in Shenzhen fresh in my mind, I find myself wondering if I let this person help me, are they going
to want money at the end of it? And it just makes things a bit awkward. I don’t like feeling like this, and I think most people genuinely want to help...I’m just putting it down to cess pool Shenzhen.
After dinner, we went to have a gander at the two pagodas that are in Guilin. We had seen them during the day - (had a little photo shoot session there in fact with some Chinese women...I heard them say “American” in Chinese to which I promptly said, “boo shu. Women shu Ingworen” - my phonetics - means, “no, we are English”), but by night, the pagodas are all lit up. One is gold (sun pagoda) and one is silver (moon pagoda) and when we were there, the moon was out so we managed to get some really nice photos before we lost the moon to cloud. However, I should perhaps mention, that the sun pagoda was nearly lost to a fire from a carelessly flung cigarette if Chris hadn’t noticed some smoke coming out from a downstairs window and acting with what some would describe as superhuman speed, ran inside and subdued the flames, freeing an 87 year old
grandmother from where she was trapped and would have certainly have died.
The next day, we took a trip.
We got on a coach at 8.30am and were told in no uncertain terms by our Chinese tour guide, that no one was to get lost. We were on our way to the Dragons Backbone Rice Terraces. Stopping firstly in a local village at the bottom of the terraces where the Yao, a minority group were living in peace and quiet (due to there being no roads) until about 15 years ago. Now, thousands of tourists pour through their village every single day...but they open their houses, let you have a wander through and put on a long hair show and as such, have earned themselves a fair bit of dollar and have rebuilt some really very lovely new houses.
The long hair show.
The Yao girls keep their hair covered until they are married. If a Yao girl shows you her hair, it means she likes you. Then, once they are married, they never cut it and the hair is wrapped up on top of their heads like turbans. There are 2 styles, one for woman who
are married and have children, and one for those married but without children. It’s very impressive, some of the hair is nearly 2metres long, and they gave a demonstration of taking it down, combing it, and then piling it back up on top of their heads again.
After the hair show, we went higher up the mountain in a shuttle bus, and then walked up through another village to get some lunch. We had the local special - bamboo rice and chicken, where they shove rice and vegetables into a big wedge of bamboo (and another for chicken) and cook it over a fire. The man then comes along, chucks your lump of bamboo at you and cracks it open and away you go. It was VERY tasty. After lunch, we walked to the top to see the rice terraces. We had been seeing them all the way up, but looking at them from the very top was amazing. They are about 600 years old and you can’t imagine how people even started trying to make them...you need to see the pictures..but they are simply beautiful.
It was a long old day, and we were tired by the
time we got back to Guilin and getting hungry, so we went in search of food on sticks, and by golly did we find it. Meats (various) and vegetables doused in some kind of chilli sauce...mmmmmm.
After a bit of a lie in, we were back on another bus to our final destination for the trip - Yangshuo. This was the place I was looking forward to the most, and it didn’t disappoint. Our lodgings were well out of town deep in countryside and down an old farm track. The hotel was a restored farm so was a series of small buildings around a courtyard. It was beautifully done and our room was gorgeous. If someone could stop the roosters crowing at dawn (there were chickens running around EVERYWHERE) and maybe turn the crickets down, it would have been faultless! We checked in, picked up some bikes and cycled into town. Yangshuo is THE tourist area in China it would seem. I have not encountered anything like it. It is full of bars, restaurants, menus ALL in English, western food, banana and Oreo milkshakes, people walking around trying to sell you river trips, boat trips, Bruno DVD’s, postcards, its
holiday central. And it was ACE. We had some beers, walked around the town, had a banana and yoghurt pancake (!!!) and after filling me up with beer, big brother clipped a bicycle light to my handlebars and off we went. The main road was ok - it’s not dissimilar to cycling in Manchester really, you just have to keep your wits about you and hold on tight. Once we got off the main road and into farm land though, it was PITCH black, no way could we have done it without lights...but within the darkness you can feel the huge silent masses of the hills around you (the limestone geography in the area lends itself to high, steep, tree covered mountains like islands poking out of a sea with paddy fields and dead flat land in between) and their yawning presence just grounds you on the flat - it’s a bizarre and wonderful feeling.
So, no time for lounging around, we were on a bus (with our bikes in the boot dangling perilously out the hatch attached by a piece of elastic) up to a town a few miles north. Once we were there, we got onto a
bamboo boat for an hour or so of cruising down the Li River, which is beautiful. We saw the spot where they got the picture for the 20Y note and floated to the next town downriver. Once there, it was a case a cycling back...which did take FOREVER, but we were going through villages and paddy fields and saw a ton of water buffalo, some working, some just ambling along the road, and some in their little pools licking their noses. I want a water buffalo please. They are lovely creatures. Just massive hunks of beast, and they gaze at you with these enormous eyes and seem so gentle...and the baby buffalo I saw was just the sweetest thing ever. We eventually made it back to Yangzhou hot, dusty, and disgustingly sweaty...but managed to get to a bar and drank pineapple beer - possibly the nicest and most refreshing beer in the world yet discovered. We also found enormous gin and tonics for a pound, so took full advantage...Martain (Dutch man from Beijing) and his sister were also around so we met up with them and it was nice to catch up and hear the experiences of the trials and
tribulations of another English teacher...later we wobbled back to our farmyard...
Still, powering on we were up again the next day, this time to climb up Moon Hill, one of the large limestone hills that has a big hole in the top so it looks like the moon. It was hot. My legs don’t work so well now after the Huang Shan incident, and from the car park we were being tailed by 2 old Chinese ladies, frantically clambering after us and fanning me, which was actually very nice. When it became apparent that they had fully attached themselves to us and there was no shaking us, we were resigned to the fact that at some point we would have to buy something off them and/or pay them, but they were very sweet, so that was ok. We got to the top, but not the real top, and I was again, as per usual, a big sweaty mess. Even Chris was surprised. He hadn’t broken a sweat, even when jumping up several steps in order to catch a pregnant lady who was about to topple of the edge. So my little lady was frantically fanning away at me, which
was nice, but wasn’t really helping the me exuding excessive amounts of liquid - even Chris was surprised. I am really beginning to wonder if there is something wrong with me... Anyway, you can take your photo of the view here, or if you’re REALLY hard core, you can free climb to the VERY VERY top...which of course, we did. It was one of those moments where you think, I could VERY easily slide right off the top of this here mountain and that would be it, me done for...and then you just have to keep going and try not to think about it too much. Nice view from the top though!
After the climb up moon hill, I got fanned all the way back down, (yes we bought lots of drinks off the nice lady and gave her LOADS for the mango juice - she did pretty well out of us for her stint up the hill), and then we cycled down the road to the water caves. You get shuttled in on a boat through a very low rock into the hill, and there are nice limestone formations everywhere. A guide took us up and down and
round shining her torch on bits of rock that all had ridiculous names..”this one look like girl in river...look here. Here is Great Wall of China. And here, here is a tortoise climbing out of a fire. And over there, there is a man watching a fish, and over there, the fish..” and so on. But the real reason why everyone was there, was to go wallowing in the mud pool! Which of course, we did. It’s not very deep, and it’s a bit odd, but you can float on it! I’ve never floated in anything quite like it! But your pants fill with mud and try to come down and it’s a bit gritty and then you start thinking about all the other hundreds and thousands of bodies that plough through here every day and the next thing you’re out and under the shower and trying to get the mud off!! After the mud pool, there is the hot spring pool. Although I think hot is a bit of a stretch. It is apparently 40 degrees. I found it tepid at best. Not a place to linger for ages, she who likes the shower so hot it takes the
flesh off your bones. Still, it got a lot of the mud off!!
After wallowing, we swiftly departed back to the ranch, and as we turned the corner to get there, we saw hot air balloons! I had seen them advertised, but didn’t realise they set off right in our back garden! We stood and watched them for a while, all getting filled up and then off they went. They are quite something to see. Not that I would choose to be up there in one though, although I’m sure the views are fabulous. The little river our farmyard is on is smaller than the Li River and I think a lot nicer. We were going to investigate this in the morning...
China waits for no man, and it has become apparent to me over the past few months that sometimes, China really is best seen before many other people have managed to get out of bed. And so with the alarm set for 5.30am, we were up bright and breezy on our last day, for one final cycle ride. We caught a bamboo raft across the river - and when I say bamboo raft, it was 6 logs
of bamboo strapped together and that was it. You had to crouch on and just as your legs start to go dead, you get to the other side. We got the bikes off, and off we went. The river was dead flat as the tour bamboo rafts hadn’t started yet and as the sun came up, it was beautiful. We cycled for what seemed like forever, through villages and along off road tracks. My arms were aching, my hands hurt and my bum certainly knew I’d spent the last 3 days on a bike. Our aim was the Dragon Bridge, and we finally made it there at about 7.30am. As luck would have it, the Dragon Bridge is also a mooring point for more bamboo rafts, so we made the executive decision to float a good half of the way back. Same affair as before, just 6 bamboo logs strapped together, but these had 2 deckchairs lashed on, so with the bikes on the back and our man with a big stick paddling, off we went in the early morning sunshine. It was glorious, and there were several little weirs to go down which made me squeal on the first
one but were fine after that when I realised that a) the boat wasn’t going to sink and b) the bikes weren’t going to fall off the back. It was a glorious morning, we were both tired and it was nice to plod along on the river getting very ready for a nice breakfast once we finally made it back to our hotel. This was our last day here and we had a bus to catch later that night. After packing our stuff we went into town - we had a lot of hours to kill, so after a pineapple beer and some gift buying (haggling to the max) we went for a foot massage. I don’t know what it is about having someone with little fingers dig them into my shoulder blades but its sooooo nice. We were both pretty much asleep by the end, but a nice finish to all our hard work of the previous days.
The time came to get to the bus. We had bought our tickets earlier in the week and were told to go to the travel office, and not the bus station that was literally, just 5 minutes down the road.
After the usual panicky phone calls by various Chinese who you’re never sure may or may not be working at the travel agents or not, and lots of discussion about my MASSIVE case, it became apparent that we were to be shipped to the bus via motorbike. My case was already being strapped to the back of one, and a bike came up to me. I was not happy about this. Not happy about this at all. Why could we not have just gone to the station like normal people? I’ve seen the way they drive in China. That’s bad enough. But the BIKES are another matter entirely. I know CHINESE people who won’t go on the back of a bike...and we had LUGGAGE!! Chris bravely took the larger backpack, while I had the 2 smaller ones, on this day of all days I had decided for some unknown reason to wear my skirt, which meant I had no option but to go side saddle, hope my flip flops didn’t fall off and balance as best as I could. I could have cried. We were weaving in and out of traffic, dodging cars, careering down the middle of the road,
I wasn’t sure whether slow or fast was better and as my life flashed before my eyes I thought to myself, I can’t do this. I actually have to concentrate so hard to stay balanced on the back of this thing with nothing to hold onto other than my bags, I will actually lose my concentration any second and roll off, and that will be it. And mum will be REALLY pissed. After what seemed like an eternity, we rocketed through a petrol station and ground to a halt by a parked bus. I waited for Chris to arrive. He did. We got on. Off we went. It was very random.
The next morning we were in Guangzhou. We found the hostel I had stayed in before, had showers, grabbed some food, got my train ticket (to Kunming the next day) and Chris’s to Hong Kong and before long, it was time to take him to the bus station.
I’m rubbish at saying goodbye. It’s not like I won’t be home soon. But saying bye to my brother made me feel so very sad I could barely look at him. I had to disappear around the corner and
then come back when a bit more composed. I watched the bus pull away, and as it disappeared around the corner I was swamped by a wave of misery and loneliness. It was all I could do to not cry as I retraced my steps back to the empty hostel room, back to my things, back to being me, alone again, in China. And all I could hear in my head was the one line of a song whose title escapes me... “One is the loneliest number you'll ever do....” and I went back to sleep.
*Edgar Snr said that he didn’t mind what I wrote about him as long as I made him sound like a hero. I hope that this entry is deemed satisfactory on all levels.
There are more photos below