Up And Down Too Soon

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February 14th 2009
Published: February 14th 2009
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Dancing fountains Dancing fountains Dancing fountains

Outside new hospital

15th February 2009

I've been back in China a week now since a three week holiday in the UK. I wasn't going to write anymore of this blog but seeing that it was such an eventful trip, I thought I would write a little more. Anyway, it is 1 a.m. and I can't sleep. Ever since I've been back I've been unable to sleep properly; I go to sleep but then all too soon I am awake and can't get back. The other night I awoke after about ten minutes sleep and didn't get back to sleep until early morning. It's a good job I'm not working at present; start back to school on Monday.

My journey back to the UK was going to be a long one in any event but I wasn't prepared for how long. It started at 6.15 a.m. when we flagged a taxi to the bus station. All was fine until we got to the station when Crystal announced she had forgotten the bus tickets; there was twenty minutes until our bus was to leave. My initial response was internal panic. If I can't get the bus, I miss the internal flight and if I miss that I'll miss my flight home and bang will go the money I paid for it and the internal flight, and bang will go my trip home. I urged Crystal to go back by taxi to get the tickets, there was possibly time but she said the company should have a copy and went off to find out. I tried to brace myself to the possibility of not going back but it was almost too much to bare. Fortunately however, they had a copy and we could get the bus; well not a bus actually but a people-carrier, which carries six people. There were four such vehicles waiting amongst the real buses at the depot to got to Chongqing.

So at seven prompt we are off and I can relax again but only for a couple of hours when our vehicle slows to a stop on the motorway and doesn't move again; neither do all the other vehicles travelling our way for the next hour. There has been an accident ahead. Fortunately we have four hours to spare when we arrive at the airport, well we should have! After a bit I get out of the car to smoke a cigar and have a look at the mountain scenery. Many others have done the same from other vehicles, including two policemen also stuck in the jam, who walk ahead to see what they can do. It's not like in the UK where the cops would put on their siren and drive up the hard shoulder because they can't. Because Chinese motorists tend to use it as a third lane and in a jam will park on it, as did our driver. So there was no way through for any emergency services - this is China! God help anyone if their life was in danger.

As time goes by I realise that this might be a good time to have a pee but being self conscious Englishman I choose not to relieve myself in full view of everyone else. It was a decision I was to greatly regret. Anyway, after an hour we are on the move again. Our driver skillfully pushing his way through to the front, without a care for much bigger vehicles or anyone else. There were four cars involved in the accident and the only police I saw were the two who had walked through the traffic to get to the scene. Oh, and there was an ambulence on the other side of the motorway. Such a response to a four car accident!

So we were rolling again - for ten minutes, and then we gring to a halt again. Oh no, not another pile up! But this time, there are people from the nearbye village selling fruit and Chinese pot-noddles. This I am alarmed about. How long are we going to be here? Hours, days? Again I begin to have visions of missing my flight and the consequences. Crystal had told me that we were travelling on one of the busiest days of the period because of winter holiday which incorporates Chinese New Year. I would never get another flight from Chongqing, even though my flight to the UK was the next day. I have another cigar to calm me and notice there are masses of discarded pot-noodle containers and other debris alongside the road. This only fuelled my concern about how long we were going to be there. However, I needn't have worried about such because after another hour we are slowly crawling ahead, and the cause of our delay,
Kite sellersKite sellersKite sellers

Kite flying is very popular here
a toll booth. It takes the ticket lady nearly 30 seconds to give us our ticket, which is a long time when there are hundreds of vehicles trying to get through. Imagine this at the Dartford Tunnel?

And so we are off again, still we plenty of time to spare but now I realise that I should have had a pee on the road side. The total journey should have been three hours but we had already done that. Time goes by and my bladder is slowly filling to bursting point. I am getting anxious, knowing I won't make it to our destination. I try to ignore it but I can't, it is getting distressingly painful. The driver is now in a hurry because some of the passengers are going to miss their flight. How can I ask him to stop for me? Eventually I have to ask Crystal to ask the driver to stop. Thankfully he says he will stop in 15 minutes, which is a long time when you are bursting. I am so grateful when he pulls in at a service station, where the gent's loo is awash with water of dubious description but I don't care. What a relief!

On the road again, I can at last relax and have a little sleep. We arrive in time for my flight.

At Shanghai, I catch a bus to point, an hour's drive, where I will be met by Crystal's uncle. It is six p.m. by this time and the roads are very busy; we can't get a cab. I watch incredulously as a girl with two large suitcases is approached by a motorcycle taxi driver. Surely she isn;t going to ride pillion with two such large cases? But this is China! She does. The man, straps the largest case on top of his top-box at the back with ONE bungee and she sits behind him clutching tightly to the other case, and they are gone. God knows if her large suitcase ever made it with her.

After some while, Crystal's uncle admits defeat and points to a three-wheeled motor taxi; basically two seats facing backwards in a covered box behind the rider. It is our only choice. So we clamber in the small space with my two suitcases on our laps. The bike's small engine labours with the weight and lumbers through the
Down by the riverDown by the riverDown by the river

I just liked this shot
evening traffic. I am tired and long to get to my hotel; I just hope we get there! Eventually we get there, after driving past it twice and finding it on the third run. I had stayed there before several times and try to tell uncle where it is but I am not understood. I am somewhat frustrated at all this and am very glad to finally get in my small and windowless but nevertheless confortable room. I leave my cases and we go for a meal at a nearby restaurant. It is a delicious seafood meal.

Uncle comes for me the following day; my flight is at one. He is early and I am still not dressed when he arrives. He waits for me in reception. To save time, I decide not to bother with breakfast, I will get something at the airport. This time we easily get a taxi and there is a bus waiting at the bus station. So far so good.

At the airport I am relaxed and content; not too long until I am back on English soil. I notice the departure gate has been changed; this is a sign of the troubles
View from our apartmentView from our apartmentView from our apartment

At least you can see the trees and the mountain.
to come. I sit and wait. There should be two flights leaving through this gate and I watch as the passengers to Holland queue to show their tickets but there seem to be very few passengers left to get on MU552 to London. Where is everyone? Then a member of staff walks toward me. Am I going to London? Yes. I have to go the Information desk. I get there to find a Chinese man and his family remonstrating with the clerks. I want to know what is going on but he is occupying them. Eventually I make myself heard. My flight has been cancelled due to mechanical problems. I must go to a hotel. Which hotel? Where? How? I don't get answers. Another westerner approaches, who had also been waiting with me. I tell him the news. Eventually me, him and the Chinese family are lead away out of the airport to an awaiting bus and we are not the only ones; the bus fills up.

It is quite a long drive to our hotel somewhere in the vast suberbs of Shanghai. My thoughts of staying the night in an airport hotel were mistaken. Our replacement flight is
View from our apartmentView from our apartmentView from our apartment

The narrow street outside and small eating house
to be at two-thirty a.m. and we will be picked up at midnight, so we won't even get a night's sleep. At the reception are a pile of people, all trying to arrange their temporary rooms, including two westerners who are very unhappy at having to share. One of them, a young dark skinned man of Indian origin was on the phone complaining to someone. The man I met at the airport, his name is Wally, we agree to share, afterall it is only until midnight. We take our bags to the room which is spacious and comfortable before coming back down to find the dining room. We sit around large circular tables with fellow travellers to the UK.

With a name like Wally, you might think he is from the UK or Australia but Wally is actually Indian by birth but is as white skinned as me. He is a potter by profession and has been living in Japan for the last sixteen years and is now on his way to Spain via London, to stay and settle. Wally has been married to a Japanese girl but it turns out he is leaving her, having had enough of Japan and her. He has two grown sons in Spain. He is an interesting character and we get on well. It is his first visit to China and I am interested to see what he thinks of the food, which for the most part is very good and I am looking forward to a decent meal, having not eaten much all day. However, it is not to be here. After some wait, we are delivered stainless steel food trays with recesses for scrambled egg, boiled green vegetable and some boiled meat. Okay, several hundred folk have just descended on them in the middle of the afternoon, perhaps we can't expect too much at this time?

After a rest and a freshen up, me and Wally return later for supper, hoping for a better meal. We gather round the same circular table with our fellow travellers and wait. By now we have got to know the two westerners who had been complaining earlier at reception. The dark skinned youth is called Vaughan and whose family by coincidence originate from Goa, the same place as Wally's but Vaughan is second generation English and has no trace of an accent. He is
Pineapple sellerPineapple sellerPineapple seller

Pineapple sellers carefully carve out all the uneatable bits and leave a minor work of art to consume.
teaching English in Shanghai and when he has free time, chooses to cycle on a folding bicycle around China, on his own! This seems a crazy thing to do but he is young and adventurous. The other man is Dennis, a short man in his mid fifties, who seems to have spent most of his adult life living abroad. He now lives in the north of China with his Chinese wife. He is on his way home to visit his poorly elderly mother.

Our evening meal finally arrives on stainless steel trays with recesses for scrambled egg, boiled green vegetable and the same meat, just cooked a little differently. We are not amused. I persuade Wally that we should complain and go to find the manager. We find the assistant manager and with the help of member of staff who can speak a little English, we make our complaint understood. They tell us that the airline, China Eastern, only give them 45 yuan for each passenger, so they cannot give us much. I ask for the assistant manager's name and say I will be writing a letter of complaint. We go to find some food outside and enjoy some

This makeshift fountain was in operation for a week or so before it stopped. There are several much better fountains locally and none of the ever work!
tasty snacks and tasty beer in a restaurant across the road.

Back at the hotel, we try to get a little sleep before our midnight pickup but a knock at the door disturbs us. It is two members of staff from China Eastern, presenting us with eight hundred yuan each - for our trouble! It seems strange they were prepared to give the delayed travellers this amount and yet would pay so little to have us fed well. If we had had a decent meal, I would not bother about any recompense because I did not incur any extra cost. Anyway, I wasn't going to refuse it and it made us both happier.

The travel weary passengers settle into their seats for the flight to London. We are fed and the lights go out; folk settle down to sleep, or at least try to. I am awoken, as with others, by the lights coming on. I am in a daze, surely it is not mealtime yet? I stare with blurry eyes at the monitor showing where we are in the world. I see the name Shanghai and our plane pointing toward it. My fuddled mind tries to recalculate

It would be great if it worked
the map, we can't be that near Shanghai and anyway we should be pointing away from it. Then comes the announcement "We apologise to tell you that due to a mechanical problem, we will be landing in Shanghai in twenty minutes, please put on your seatbelts..blar blar." I groan inwardly. 'What can be wrong with the plane? Will we make it?' I check the time; we have been in the air three and a half hours. 'When will I ever get home to the UK?'

It's not long before Dennis, who in the hotel consummed four bottles of red wine with Vaughan, starts up. He is clearly drunk and very annoyed - "China Eastern are rubbish" he keeps repeating loudly and other derogatory things. His words are not what we need, when probably most people are already tense about the situation.

We land without incident but it is a long wait until the passenger corridor connects with the plane and plenty of time for Dennis to slag off China Eastern. At the door, he states berating the senior female cabin girl. I can see the shock in her expression and so step him to prevent him from persisting.

The fishtanks are a new pleasent addition to the plaza but some are empty of both water and fish now
He also wants to light up a cigarette. "If you keep on like this, you'll end up in a Chinese prison" I say firmly. He grumbles at me but backs down. After some while we can get off the plane and into a holding room for just such occasions.

Now everyone wants to know when we will get another plane and the airport staff have a job on their hands replying to the barage of questions. I send a text to Crystal with the news and to my daugher and son-in-law in the UK. It's strange how in such situations people smile and chat, whereas in normal circumstances they don't. We are drawn together in our confusion and concern.

Later I meet Dennis in the toilet, he is having a cigarette. He apologises for his behaviour but is furious with a member of staff who had remonstrated with him. "I'm not normally an angry man" he says in defense of himself. I am conciliatory and tell him there is a smoking room across the way.

Later I go to the smoking room myself and get chatting to another passenger who is travelling first class. He tells me
"Cor look!""Cor look!""Cor look!"

in Chinese of course
he was talking to the pilot; I suppose that is the sort of thing that first class passengers can do!. He says that there was fault on the windscreen heating system and was not working. He was told that over Siberia (where it gets to -80c outside), the windscreen could crack. And who knows the consequences? Anyway the pilot decided it best to come back to Shanghai - better safe than sorry. However, first the pilot had to dump the fuel. I thought it was incase we crashed on landing but John, my brother-in-law informed me later that it is standard procedure because these planes can't land with a full fuel load because they are too heavy. It will have been an expensive technical problem for China Eastern.

Some very unhappy folk who had travelled from Australia and had also been delayed out of Australia by another faulty China Eastern plane, were transferred to a Virgin Atlantic plane for the rest of their trip to the UK. They were taking no chances!

After 2 hours we are informed that another plane is being readied and we will fly out at 8.30. Eventually we are up in the air
Looking for fishLooking for fishLooking for fish

The pool is full of them
again in another but identical plane. It is another long tedious 13 hour flight to the UK but at least this time we get there without further problems; except that it took nearly ten minutes to get the passenger corridor to the plane and a further 30 minutes for our luggage to arrive on the carousel. I was very glad to meet Ray at arrivals and not to have to take the tube and train to Deal.

It felt a little strange that after this 'adventure', the people I had been in close contact with: Wally, Dennis and Vaughan, drifted away as if we had never known each other.

The first class passenger who I was talking to, was on his way to London for a meeting; he had to cancel and did not fly out again. Also, Wally who was on his way to his parent's wedding anniversary celebration in London before later flying onto Spain, will have missed it. As for me, I was in time for a delicious Sunday roast prepared for me by Jeanette, my daughter.

I booked with Virgin Atlantic for the return flight to China.

17th Feb 09

All good things come to an end and now I am back in China, and have started classes again. Whilst in UK I purchased some Sony video creation software and soon after coming back, installed it onto our PC at home; I also registered it online. A little while after doing this our PC crashed - big time! We took it to a repair shop and were told that all the stuff on the hard drive had gone, wiped clean!!! Unfortunately, like so many people in China, we do not have a copy of Windows XP that Mr Gates would approve of - a copy. It transpires that registering the software, lead to this nasty thing happening to the PC. Now we have almost a virgin computer again and of course minus much of the software, photos and music we had compiled. We had backed up much of the stuff fortunately but not recently, we got lazy - Mr Gates got his revenge.

Saturday 14th March

The sun forced its way through the morning mist to reveal Zunyi at its best. I put on thick socks and walking boots, as no local person would going for a walk and set out on my own. Crystal was teaching this morning and I have the morning off.

The plaza at Phoenix park was thronged with people trying out simple games and puzzles which had been placed along the thoroughfare. I didn't take my camera with me, so have no photos to show. High in the sky the traditional large red balloons decorate the soft blue sky. The stage is set in front of the municipal buildings but no performance is taking part.

I set off into the wooded mountains, climbing briskly the stones steps forever upwards. Soon I am enticed by the sound of a delicious singing voice and voilin resonating in the woodland. I climb up a steep slope to tradional stone and tile shelter where a woman is singing into a microphone and man is accomanying her on a violin. It is for no other reason than to practice. I stand for a while in the warm sunshine absorbing the beautiful sounds. On the nearby path, a contingent of students headed by a student holding a large Chinese flag aloft are collecting litter using improvised chopsticks. When I stop to eat an orange, I dutifully put the peel into a wastebin which states 'Love our homeland.' Unfortunately, judging by the large amount of discarded litter I sometimes see, many people don't think the same.

I bump into our American friends Steve and Jean, they too are out enjoying the pleasent day. We exchange our future plans. They have been travelling around China and tell me of the wonderful places they have visited; far better than Zunyi. They too are undecided whether to stay here, indeed China.

My walk continues, passing many other folk enjoying the day, until it is time to find a winding steep path back down to the busy plaza; Crystal will be bringing home our lunch soon. On the way down I encounter a woman coming up. We pass fleeting smiles but then she stops to talk but not in English. She seems determined to tell me how to find my way down, despite the fact I don't need such directions and telling her I don't speak Chinese. I thank her, even though I don't understand a word she has said; only her pointing gives me a clue.

Friday 27th March 09

I sometimes think I won't bother keep writing this blog but then I see something that I feel is worth remembering, so I decide to write it down; otherwise I'll surely forget.

I've just done the first lesson at school and am returning to my school apartment because I have a free period. Outside the housing complex is parked an army truck; nothing much in that but just inside the gate are two ranks of soldiers - People's Liberation Army, being addressed by a commander. Nothing too strange in this but for the fact that each soldier is holding at his side, a sweeping broom/besom; you know, the type witches and old fashioned gardeners are so fond of! Another soldier is taking photographs while they are being addressed. Is this just a publicity stunt? I ask myself. But in no time the soldiers are dispersing to start sweeping the streets.

I phone Crystal and she tells me it is a tradition for the army to help the people. This was clearly seen during the earthquake last year when the army played, and still are playing a large part in rescue and rebuilding.

Such a big contrast between the army of China and of the UK. Back in the UK, solidiers are only expected to train and prepare to keep civil order and for defence/war, and do ceremonial duties but here they are expected to role their sleeves up and work. As far as I know, the PLA have not been directly involved in a war since the Korean war back in the early fifties. I wonder how many wars our troops have been involved in during the last fifty years?

19th April

The part of the city where I live has descended into a giant building site and after thinking only a week ago I've never seen any road works, now they are everwhere. Also entire city streets are now having scaffolding erected on both sides, apparently so that the buildings can be dressed up and modernised. You can hardly walk on the pavement due to all this scaffolding and everywhere gangs of men and women are physical digging out great trenches in the ground. It is quite humbling to see women digging all this heavy clay from the ground and shovelling up onto small ancient trucks, and they often use shallow baskets, the type which have been used for thousands of years, to carry the soil out.

These holes in the ground are causing traffic chaos and bring out the stupidy of some Chinese drivers. At a nearby T junction, there is one such hole in the middle of the road. Last night, some motorists decided they didn't want to wait in the queue go round the obstruction on the correct side but chose the other side, the wrong side of the road, only to be met by traffic coming in the opposite direction. It meant neither could go forward or backward; I didn't wait to see how they sorted out the chaos. Motorists here have got to be the most impatient and stupid in the world.

I'm beginning to swear more these days, especially when a bus driver sounds his air-horn in your ear and for no other reason than traffic is slow in front of the bus. I have this fantasy of forcing his head and ear against the horn and getting someone to press the button - for a good long while! One of these days, I will swear so loudly, the driver will hear my cussing over the noise of his horn.

Monday 11th May

The green cityThe green cityThe green city

Everywhere they are refacing the buildings, it is a huge job.
birthday 😊 It was my day off today from the senior school; Crystal is standing in for me. Parts of the city have turned green, not due to spring/summer arriving but because many of the buildings are now shrouded in green netting for the workmen to start refacing the buildings. It is a massive job and the city is now difficult to get around for both pedestrians and traffic; holdups everywhere.

I went for a walk over the mountains to my cigar shop in another part of the city. Met a Chinese guy who could speak quite good English. Went to his apartment for Chinese dumplings. The mountains were alive with people out walking or exercising on this hot day. At last we have some sunshine, after days of grey skies and rain.

Brought a new teapot, a present to myself, to add to my small collection. See photos.

Mayday holiday weekend we went into the countryside with Crystal's sister and family, and some locals. We went to a large family house where we had a barbecue at lunchtime and another meal for supper. It was wonderful to get into the heart of the country. It was so still, not even a plane flying overhead. Went for a walk to the ruins of a fort, now heavily overgrown. The walls were made of great rocks. God knows how they got them into place and to fit so perfectly. Watched some of the country folk working in the paddy (rice) fields; my goodness they do work hard.

4th June 09 = Funerals - Chinese style

Crystal's grandfather passed away yesterday, aged 99. He had been in very poor health for a long time and had been in hospital for two years, being cared for day and night mainly by two of his daughters and a son-in-law. A week ago he was taken to an intensive care unit in another more modern hospital. I went to see him yesterday before he died and he was wired up to some of the most modern equipment available, awake but not receptive. I didn't stay long for I had to go my classes. Later Crystal called me with the news of his death and said he was being taken for cremation. "That's a bit quick" I said. I would have to meet with them to go to the place. Around
Knocking down the old hotelKnocking down the old hotelKnocking down the old hotel

Just muscle power used to bring down this old building.
6 p.m. Crystal's brother took us to the place but it wasn't as I anticipated. It turned out it was a place where her grandfather would be laid-out for a period of what I presume is mourning.

The place is the country surrounded by low mountains. It is very difficult to describe, best I can say is that it is like a cross between a smart business park and some historical place of interest. I took some pictures which are posted on this site. When we arrived, the room was completely bare. The temporary glass topped coffin was in the middle and relatives were arranging garments over the corpse inside. The large room/hall was completely bare, the walls of which were white and dirty. The only other furniture in the room were two wooden sofas, although one was no more than a bench and also there was a mahjong table! 'Strange!' I thought and I was not impressed. Outside relatives were gathering a few meters from where other relatives had gathered for another such laying-out in the adjacent hall. There are many such rooms on this complex of varying sizes, depending on how much money is to be spent
An outing in the countryside.An outing in the countryside.An outing in the countryside.

Spent the day at a family home, eating and drinking.
and how many people attend.

A little while later various people arrived and started decorating the room with black and white material. The old chap's photo was hung up and flowers were arranged around the coffin. While this was happening large circular paper flower weaths were arriving and were being stood against the far wall. These are tradition for all funerals. Crystal and I were both feeling really tired and decided to go for a walk around. It had been a hot day but now it was cool and pleasent.

A while after we returned we were summoned to go and eat. We then went with others to a large building which housed something like a work's canteen but with decent wooden chairs. The room was empty apart from those from our gathering. We helped ourselves to rice from a huge pot and waited for the rest of the food to be brought to our tables. It was all very ordinary and once eaten we returned to hang around outside the room which was by now fully decorated and looked much better. Most of the folk were sitting on blue plastic stools and eating sunflower seeds and peanuts.
Wet day in the countrysideWet day in the countrysideWet day in the countryside

So wonderful to be away from the city.
The Chinese love to eat sunflower seeds but I can't get the hang of opening them up, the seeds that is. I usually end up eating part of the husk and none of the seed within, so Crystal always feeds me with them. I always joke with her about them being bird food and that are far too much effort for so little reward. Some people are gathered around small tables playing cards and in the other rooms where bodies are laid out the relatives are playing mahjong. It seems quite bizaare.

Around 9 p.m. I am ready to go and ask Crystal if her brother-in-law and sister will be going soon. We are both in for quite a surprise - they are not going, they are staying the night, along with many of the relatives. What's worse, they will stay all the following day and next night until the cremation at 6 a.m.!!!! There is no place for anyone to sleep apart from the wooden benches, otherwise they will sit up all night playing cards or mahjong. Crystal and I have no intentions staying and fortunately there is a bus we can get from outside.

We catch
Enjoying our meal in the countrysideEnjoying our meal in the countrysideEnjoying our meal in the countryside

The old guy on the right is the owner of the family home.
an old bus outside the but there is no straightforward trip to the city. The coach has to stop at a place to take on some oil. We have to get off and wait while it goes off to top up with oil.

6th June 09

The cremation is put back until 9a.m. and Crystal asks me if I will go. It is her 40th birthday this day. What a way to start your birthday!! She says we will celebrate her birthday next month instead.

We have an early start to meet with some other relatives who had flown in from Shanghai, have breakfast with them and be collected at 8 outside Walmart. When we arrive at the crematorium, relatives are milling around having been there all night, infact having been there over thirty-six hours! The floor of the room containing Crystal's grandfather is thick with the debris of a heavy night's smoking and sunflower seed eating. The mahjong tables are diserted now. Upstairs are two other rooms where family members pass the night(s) away playing mahjong. The rooms are bare, without comfort and dirty - always dirty. Crystal tells me that it is usual to gamble
Old guy outside his homeOld guy outside his homeOld guy outside his home

He lived in a traditional house next to the family home.
during these sessions playing and a lot of money can be won and lost. What a way to go on! Around outside is an other funeral are taking place with music being playing by a very small military band. We wait until 9 when everyone gathers in the room to here some words spoken about the man and listen to some pretty awful music through a loudspeaker. It is very short.

We then wait outside. A man with a battered stainless steel trolley arrives to collect grandfather. He is soon wheeled out on the trolley in a body bag. We follow with the family carrying the large paper wreaths. We walk up the crescent to the imposing building at the far end of the complex which although quite new, is built in the style of something from China's past. We enter at the side into something which is totally at odds from the outside view. We procede down a large and high corridor, the walls of which are white but very dirty. The sounds of large machines like big fans meet our ears. The trolley is wheeled into a filthy side room and grandfather's photo is temporarily laid on a shelf on the wall. In the large corridor groups of mourners are hanging around, many wearing the traditional cream coloured cloth of mourning, wrapped around their head. The sound of the machines fill the air and occassionally outside their are repeated loud bangs which frighten Crystal. These are mini canons being fired to mark the departure of the deceased. The whole experience seems totally surreal.

Soon it is time for grandfather to be wheeled out and into a larger room opposite. Some of the family members gather round to attend to the body. In this room there are a number of doors which look like narrow elevator doors. Then with no more ceremony the family are ushered away, a door opens and a set of rollers are pulled out, the bodybag containing corpse is placed on the rollers and then in a moment is gone from view. At the this, many of the family members break down into crying and sobbing. It is a terrible sound. I feel emotions rising in me and fight back tears. I never really knew the man, certainly not in the days when he had his health but to see so many people
Crystal next to a tree 2400 years oldCrystal next to a tree 2400 years oldCrystal next to a tree 2400 years old

It's hard to believe a tree can be so old
in tears was difficult to take. Crystal too is fighting back tears having no wish to cry at this time.

The old man is gone but the comes the waiting - waiting for this ashes. The whole environment is like a dirty factory and I suggest to Crystal we wait outside away from the noise and grief. Walking along the corridor I notice that the lower parts of the walls are covered in dirty shoe prints. It seems that sometime or other people like to play a game of seeing how high they jump to leave their mark on the wall. It seems totally bizaare, especially as there are no children around - maybe it is what the locals do for entertainment.

It is a hot day, around 30c but some high clouds make the day a little cooler for the time being. After quite a while the ashes are brought out by one of Crystal's uncles. The appear to wrapped up in a cloth and no doubt still warm from the fire. After some discussion and some confusion Crystal and I clamber into a people carrier. The vehicle should seat seven but there are ten of us crammed inside. I am under the impression we are going for another family meal but apparently not. Instead we are to endure an uncomfortable hour's journey to another city, where we then head out into the country over mostly unmade road or should I say road that has disintergrated. We are going to another crematorium where the ashes will for the time being be kept. It is the old man's wish that his ashes be spread on some mountain near Zunyi but due to some bureaucracy, this is not permitted and so the ashes have to registered in another district where it is permitted. The whole procedure of getting the documentation and handing over the ashes takes no more than ten minutes and we are off again back to Zunyi. I'm pretty pissed off by this. We've come all this way squashed in a people carrier on a baking day over attrocious roads just for this. In fact there were others too travelling in another car. The whole thing could have been done by a few close family members travelling in one car. Anyway, enough of my whinging. Eventually we are back in Zunyi and arrive at a small restaurant where we eat lunch. It is now around 2p.m. Crystal and I head back to our apartment. Now I am developing a cracking headache, so take some medication and go to bed. I get up in time for us to go for another family meal in the evening.

Apparently in old days there was a full period of 7 weeks mourning and this is still so, except that family members only need to meet up the day of his death for 7 weeks to share a dinner together. This seems a good thing to me.

Crystal's grandfather Huang Shi Yuan like many old people in China has a had a turbulent history. He was born in 1910 to a wealthy family in Jiangsu province He first came to Zunyi with the People's Liberation Army in 1949 when the communists were flushing out the last of the opposition, the Kuomintang - Chinese Nationalist Party. Previously before joining the army during the civil war he was the head of Tax Bureau in anothe city and so he would have had a high rank in the army. Once the city of Zunyi was liberated, he and many others stayed on to establish order and local government. He set up the local Tax Bureau here and became the director. So all was going well for him until 1957 when Moa Zedong, the Chairman and leader of the Communist party called for a period of openness and discussion. He wanted to know what people thought and called on them to speak their mind but his motive was to flush out people who might have had opposing thoughts to his. Mr Huang spoke out and fell into the trap. His punnishment was that he would lose his position and be publicly hummiliated. He and others would have to attend long meetings where they would have to give lengthy self condemnation confessions. I have read that at some of these meetings people were viciously beaten but I don't know whether this occurred here. He was still able to work but in a much lower position. However, times were very hard for him.

In 1976 after Mao had died Deng Xio Ping came to power and everything changed. Mr Huang got his old post as director back but did little work because someone else was now doing his job. He had seven daughters but there is an interesting story about one of them. During a particularly bad time, she was given to a family to be looked after but they sold her to a couple who could not have children. She never came back to her birth-family.

Additional photos below
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View from fortView from fort
View from fort

It is incredible how the hilly landscape is all tiered for the production of crops.
Wall of the fortWall of the fort
Wall of the fort

Those stones are huge and so well fitting. I remember dry stone walling in Staffs but the stones were tiny in comparison.

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