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Published: August 30th 2009
In February, I bought a book. “Vietnam, Cambodia & Laos”. During the whole semester, it has been fighting for place in between of the fat, uninspiring Chinese grammar books. The original plan was to make use of this book in March. But somehow, I felt so happy about being back in China after my work-holiday in Norway - why go anywhere?
I dislike tropical landscapes. Or maybe not really dislike. But I find them less intriguing than the vast steppes of Siberia, the crisp, shivering air in the Central Asian mountain ranges, the calm softness of the Mongolian grasslands, the dense, cool taiga or the slim, gracious birches in Russia; Silence. Melancholy. The introversy of the landscape. That’s my thing. So what am I going to Cambodia and Laos for?
Mindwork: From procrastination to action
Lately, the campus have turned in to a ghost-town. The small streets are overflowing with green, lush tropical plants, heavenly smells of magnolias and even the rain have been less aggressive. Personally I have been sitting around anxiously waiting for news about my scholarship. Where will I be next year? Days have come and gone orderly; nothing bad, nothing good. Bo!
Ring! In between of my tai ji lessons, I’d be in bed, listening to Buddhist-chanting; “Om mani padme hum. Om mani padme hum”; “Oh diamond of the lotus” - an ancient mantra. Should calm my mind. Make me focused. Focused perhaps, but the campus was nevertheless still, slow - almost like a fat lady who has been eating too much; and now she has just rolled over, being vulgar, lazy and immovable.
Then suddenly, as if stung by something, I decided last Saturday to hit the road. My intuition said clearly: “No!” But after all - what is the point of that book I got? And would the whole meaning of this summer be to stay in the lousy dorm together with the janitor? Pros. Cons. A quick glance at the map. Sea! Cambodia has a coastline. That’s it!
One hour later, I stood in the centre of Kunming with a airplane ticket and a visa for Cambodia. Exit Kunming.
Cambodia. Laos. What I know about these countries, can be summed up in a few breaths; Angkor Vat, French colonialism, Pol Pot and the dreadful Khmer Rouge-era. That’s pretty much it. As the airplane took off an early morning,
I fished out the book. The day was fair. The mood was great. I would arrive early, I had a plan for the day.
In Nanning, however, the not too rare Chinese mess changed my day.
An aborted start
- The flight is delayed. Wait here!
We were only two passengers. The official seemed bothered by our presence. After an hour in the freezing cold lounge, we were allowed on, took almost off, before we came down again. Four crewmembers sat casually around in the cabin, joking and stretching out in the seats. They could definitely see the coming of a day off.
- The airplane is destroyed, the ground staff giggled a little as they informed the little guy and me.
- Ok. I see. So when can we fly? I asked, remembering the last delay I had in China, being locked up in the cabin for more than six hours before take off.
- I don’t know.
That generally means tomorrow. Anyway, I wasn’t too sad at first, because the machine was an Airbus, and lately a few of those machines have been falling down too frequently. As China
Eastern has no office in Nanning, I was forced to rely on the local staff. To make a long story about lousy service short, we were taken to a nearby hotel, more dirty than one can imagine - all complete with a heavy whiff of cigarettes in the rooms. What a start. I called China Eastern in Shanghai. Could there be any information? Could I use the phone in the hotel to inform the hotel in Cambodia about my delay? Could I have any kind of compensation? After 20 minutes of explanation, the conclusion was apparent: Had I not got food in a papercontainer for free perhaps? And a hotelroom? If I wanted also to make use of the phone, even if in China only, I would first have to file a formal complaint - written on my dictation to the woman on the helpdesk. And I would have an answer from their department after 2 weeks. Or so.
- So, look, even if I want to use the phone to call Kunming for a few minutes, you say your company cant be responsible?
- Ma’am, you have to write a complaint first. Then you’ll know in 2 weeks time.
There are times when you really would like to shoot someone. With a not insignificant effort, I calmed down, while chanting “Om mani padme hum” to myself.
Watch out - parents everywhere!
Hanging up, I tried my luck at the hotels information desk.
- Eh, how can I go to this nearby village?
- I recommend you not to go there.
- Because it is late afternoon, and tomorrow you will have to wake up early to catch your plane.
- So what about the massage? How much is one hour? I pointed at the hotels glossy brochure. The mere photo of the massage-parlor brought peace to my soul
- Sorry, there is no massage.
My mood was rapidly getting dark. But as I wandered around the hotel, I discovered a fantastic pool - finally something that could bring some light to this day. I ran swiftly back to the reception.
- I see you have a swimmingpool. . .
- Yes. We have. Guests can use it for 10 yuan per person.
- Ah! Wonderful. Should I pay before or after?
- Sorry. You can not use it.
- I said, you can no. . .
- WHY NOT?
My voice was about to burst. I sniffed. Why was life so evil today?
- It is not possible. Bu keyi.
The girl just shrugged her shoulders.
I finally got it. Nothing would happen. What was left now?
- Okay, well, then please, can I have my supper now? I was told I could at 16.30. Now it is a quarter to five.
- I am sorry ma’am. You will have to wait till five.
- Okay, I’ll wait in my room. By the way, this key does not work, can you recharge it please?
- Sorry. It does not work because it is not a key.
- Not a key?'
- No. It is for the electricity. When you want to get into your room, our staff will let you in.
I tell you - Faulty Towers is a five-star luxury resort compared to this. I could not help feeling I was surrounded by parents who forbade me everything. And it is not the first time I meet with the weird forms authority can take in this place.
No other way than the Chinese way
Three days ago, I found myself waking up at an absurd hour. The night before, I had indulged in a baijiu-marathon, topping it with a wide range of creative drinks. A few days before that, Miss X in office Y - who is responsible for the foreigners in my university, called. She was desperate.
- Miss MiRee. I must ask you a huge favour. You know we have this conference coming up soon, so we will actually have a rehearsal on the opening ceremony. We need some foreigners to be present. Will you please, please attend? It would mean a lot!
The morning was sunny, I was exhausted - but along with Ionela - my next door neighbour at the dorm, we were lining up for the ceremony. Turned out we were two out of several hundred “volunteers”. Policemen were swarming about. The area was closed for visitors. The ceremony started. The first part lasted for about 20 minutes. Turned out all the board on the podium was fake. The audience was fake. The speeches were fake. But it was a rehearsel nevertheless. Ionela and me went away during the break.
- What was that all about, Ionela?
- Have no idea.
But Ionela has stayed in Beijing for one year before, and she told me how there were a five year school for Olympic games-hostesses.
- Every day they put a book on their head and walk around. But after the games, God knows what kind of job they will get, she said.
Later on Mrs X gave me an explanation.
- You know, it must have been terribly boring for you, but this is the way we do it in China.
- What do you mean?
- My boss told me to tell you, so I did. There is no other way.
Peace in my soul - now!
Tired and sweaty, I watched the captains and the neat air hostesses parading as their flights were coming in. Outside the rain shot down from the sky like angry bullets, reminding me about it is currently rainy season in Cambodia. “Travel on the region’s mud and laterite roads is difficult and sometimes impossible by June and July, transport will be slower and cease altogether in some parts. It is also impossible to do outdoor activities in June and July because of the rain.” That’s what the book says. And when I walked in to the consulate in Kunming, the overfriendly secretary looked stunned. Would I really like to travel to Cambodia now? Fine. I’ll have the place to myself; humid, hot and gloomy. Great! I take solace in the next passage: “However, the area is at its’ most beautiful then”. At its’ most beautiful. What wonderful words.
When the food arrived, it turned out it was all worth the waiting. Huge, steamed mushrooms, crispy celery, tomato-salad, sticky rice - and chicken feet soup - complete with four feet sticking out, nearly poking my nostrils.
I have been to Nanning before, I came running back from Vietnam. Nanning is the main city in the Guanxi province, but the real gem here is of course Yangshuo - not Nanning. But since there was nothing else, I headed into town, found a park and calmed down.
Initially the plan was to go for a run when I came home. But let me put it like this: from the main road to the hotel, it is less than one hundred meters. During this distance, I spotted a fat rat, nearly crashed with three bats at the entrance, found a monster-insect waiting at my doorstep, and when I took a shower I discovered I had got flee-bites all over, making me look like a pizza bolognese. Om mani padme hum. Om mani padme hum. OM MANI PADME HUM! ! ! Peace in my soul now! I say it as fast as I can. But it seems very hard to melt into accepting the conditions of life today. I think a shotgun would express my feelings more accurately. But. What the heck. Tomorrow is a new day. Who needs a shotgun? With a few more “Om mani padme hum’s”, I am sure it will be as great as ever!
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