Miss Piggy's porky pies


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February 12th 2011
Published: February 12th 2011
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Longchang, GuizhouLongchang, GuizhouLongchang, Guizhou

Miss Piggy and i
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....the human mind cannot remain a blank sheet as it prepares to visit a new place. It fills the sheet with preconceptions, half-remembered comments, snippets of things read &, when that's not enough to cover it, the crudely scribbled imaginings of what it MIGHT be like. The resultant image almost always bears no resemblance to the location. The plan is simple. After a couple of days in Nanjing with Greg & Linda, get on the train to Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province, where Miss Piggy will meet me & take me to meet her new boyfriend & his family. Never expect a smooth run. As you know already if you've read any of these newsletters the simplest plans can quickly go awry in China. .....

…..a light flurry of snow this morning. Exciting for Linda, who has never ventured out of Australia before. Luckily the internet is working at the school & I have time to check my email before I leave. The hotel I booked in Guiyang does not accept foreign visitors! I have time to book another one before going to meet Greg & Linda at the Ramada & go to the
Glass Painting, NanjingGlass Painting, NanjingGlass Painting, Nanjing

Painted on the INSIDE
West Bus Station.....

…..there are so many buses to Nanjing it's almost straight on board to spend the next hour seeing how many cars have spun off the freeway, rear-ended or rolled over. Quite a lot, a dozen or so on the 75km trip.....

…..I manage to change their train tickets in Nanjing so they can leave on Friday instead of Thursday. We enjoy looking around the Fuzimiao district craft shops. Just look at the photos of the glass vases intricately painted – on the inside. The artist also does bottles & glass spheres large & small. Linda is managing culture shock really well & is becoming an expert with the chopsticks.....

…..some great little restaurants in a street just across from the hotel, good service, great food & a bill amounting to about Au$3 or $4 each. Greg & Linda become interested in the history of Nanjing & want to see the Massacre Memorial. I have been before but it's interesting to go again with them. It's a sobering experience but an essential part of Nanjing's & China's recent history.....

…..I return to the hotel around 11pm after taking some night photos. The girl on
Sun Yat Sen Mausoleum, NanjingSun Yat Sen Mausoleum, NanjingSun Yat Sen Mausoleum, Nanjing

Every journey starts with one step
the desk thinks it's a strange time to check my email. I tell her Chinese people go to bed too early! I have just finished checking when she tells me, very nicely, “Is time to sleep now”.....

…..we are not far from the Mausoleum of Sun Yat Sen, the father of the Chinese republic, founded in 1912 on the demise of the Qing Dynasty. One thing to remember about places of interest in China, they rarely skimp on steps. If the number is any indicator of eminence then Sun Yat Sen is certainly revered. Bear in mind the steps are often very steep & in winter can be slippery & it's definitely a cold, grey winter day today.....

…..I make someone's day. The man who runs the tiny bakery in a little stall opposite the hotel is ecstatic when I not only return for the second morning in a row to buy some sweet sesame seed pastries but bring two more foreigners with me. He is beside himself & gives us free pastries, despite the price being less than a kuai each, (less than 20 cents Australian).....

…..Nanjing, two things to consider. The taxi drivers all appear
Baker, NanjingBaker, NanjingBaker, Nanjing

Ecstatic with three foreign customers
to change shifts at exactly the same time, around evening rush hour, so no taxis are available then. If you want to go to the museum look carefully for the modest sign that reads: “Jiangsu branch for the Office providing Export Procedure of Culture Relics of the People's Republic of China”.....

…..what a brilliant idea. Instead of carrying bags, small backpack, camera etc. why not take your big (BIG) suitcase, put everything inside, then take out things as you need them for smaller trips. Firstly because the damn thing doesn't fit in all the taxi boots. Secondly after being told the waiting room is up the escalator it is discovered that the soft sleeper passengers wait two floors below. There is no down escalator.....

…..on the train &, after the usual initial discussion & confusion which I don't understand, in my compartment there is a young quality control man from a Nanjing steelworks, a lady who speaks good English travelling to Guizhou for the first time & a piano student from the Music Conservatorium who has a guitar. The lady sleeps most of the time. The muusic student is too shy to talk much but sings loudly, a
Winter fashion, NanjingWinter fashion, NanjingWinter fashion, Nanjing

Pooh wards off bugs
lot. After a play a few chords I get him to play some songs. Between visits to get hot water from the end of the carriage for packs of fast noodles or milk tea the other guy holds the song book. It breaks a long journey & is more cheerful than the dismal towns shivering across the patchy snow & dark, muddy winter of central China.....

…..after such a succession of desolate towns suddenly, around 7.30pm on Saturday we pass a lake, or bend in a river with an amazing display of illuminated temples reflected in still water, changing colour as we pass by, too quickly to get a photo.....

…..Miss Piggy calls. The call is interrupted as we go through a series of tunnels. Snow in Guizhou. Cannot meet at station. I have already booked a hotel as the train arrives late, so she can come the next morning. Surely her suburb is not so far out of the centre that it's snowed in.....

…..you'll have to catch a bus. OK, no problem, maybe get a taxi. Oh, no, it's too far. What? How far?....

…..the train arrives in Guiyang at 11pm. Taxi drivers quote
Train to GuiyangTrain to GuiyangTrain to Guiyang

New friends
ridiculous prices to drive the 3km to the hotel. It's apparently up a steep hill, it's freezing, (so much for my sojourn in the semi-tropical south), so, ¥70!! (Au$11 !!). I tell them to insert their.....it doesn't matter, no one speaks that much English here.....

…..another hotel, cheaper, only ¥138 a night, no heater but warm covers on the bed. No shower screen, allowing convenient cleaning of the whole bathroom when you take a shower. Ingenious.....

…..in the morning, back to Miss Piggy. Where exactly do you live? (I now have a Chinese map of Guizhou province with the city of Guiyang on the back). Go to the bus station. Take the bus to Longchang. It will take about four hours. What?! You told me you lived IN Guiyang.....

…..Definition: Porky Pie: rhyming slang for “lie”, possibly of Brit. extraction but more commonly used in Australia. Often referring to small distortions of the facts or “white lies”. I think she was afraid that, if she told me all the facts I wouldn't visit....

…..the house is not as good as my parents' house in Jiangyan. You mean the one I stayed in last year, that's due
Longchang, GuizhouLongchang, GuizhouLongchang, Guizhou

Kitchen corner
for demolition in a year or so? Yes. C'mon, Miss Piggy, you really are having me on.....

…..the bus station at Guiyang is across the river & on the western side of a small mountain range that appears to divide the city in two. I have seen big bus & train stations in China but this is the biggest so far. Fifty ticket booths, all 20 or 30 deep with waiting travellers, only a week & a half from the Chinese New Year. They've erected a big marquee outside as well, as a temporary waiting room. Out the back, 80 terminals each 2 deep with buses plus huge parking areas across the road. Freezing cold, waiting in the mud for the bus to Longchang, one hour late.....

…..off up the winding, treacherous looking mountain roads, ever upwards, through muddy, medieval towns. Cars, buses & mobile phones but everything else appears to be from the middle ages.....

…..no smoking on the bus loosely policed out here. When the young guy in front of me lights up I cough at regular intervals, accompanied by a vigorous forward movement of my knee into the back of his seat. He gets
Longchang, GuizhouLongchang, GuizhouLongchang, Guizhou

Grandpa and Uncle
the message.....

…..another call. Tell the driver to drop you off at Wang's (?) house. Don't worry, he'll know. He does & an ecstatic Miss Piggy is there, with a kid who appears to be about 11 but is actually her 16 year old future brother in law. Up a muddy track lined with unmelted snow. No, not the first house & no, not the second. It's actually more than 2km up what ends up as a goat track over two big hills. What a brilliant idea. Why not take your big (BIG) suitcase.....

…..the house indeed is not as good as the one in Jiangyan. In a village of ten or twelve houses on an isolated mountain in rural Guizhou it has electricity but no running water. The farmyard out the back is part of the house. Leave the door open & the chickens roam in & out, the pigsty is 2 steps away, right next to the room I am to sleep in, more like a dusty shed. Time is spent in winter huddled around the coal stove, a cylindrical device with a large, square steel plate on top which gets pleasantly warm. The 3 lids
Near Longchang, GuizhouNear Longchang, GuizhouNear Longchang, Guizhou

Trying the local fried potato and doufu
in the middle lift off in concentric circles allowing more coal to be added or, with all three removed, sweet potatoes to be baked on the rim inside. That's about it. The motorbike parked in the kitchen has a great sound system, common on most of the muddy motorbikes here, & there's an old TV on playing endless Chinese sitcoms & police chase thrillers.....

…..washing is splashing whatever skin is already exposed with water heated in the kettle & poured into a plastic bowl. It's too cold for anything more until spring. The winter cold thankfully dulls, but doesn't totally eradicate, the smells from my neighbour, the pig. The outside toilet is, well, I'm sure your imagination is adequate to fill in the details.....

…..an immaculate, stunning Chinese lady in high heels chases bank robbers, or gangsters, through glitzy hotels & around gleaming new apartment blocks while, under the TV in the neighbour's house, a chicken & her brood of chicks pick at their feed on the floor.....

…..they speak a dialect here that even Miss Piggy doesn't always understand. Ye Ye (Grandpa) speaks to me a lot & I do my best but he doesn't understand
Huangguoshu Falls, GuizhouHuangguoshu Falls, GuizhouHuangguoshu Falls, Guizhou

China's biggest waterfall
my Chinese & she can't translate his dialect. Her future mother in law is also struggling hard to understand. Her boyfriend, a crane driver, is currently in hospital, awaiting an operation to remove a pin from his leg after a work accident.....

…..apart from an outing to a nearby town, an hour's walk down a muddy track which leaves my already gigantic, by Chinese standards, walking shoes doubled in size. With some young guys from the village as guides we partake of some local street food, fried potatoes & doufu with hot chilli on a tiny stool at the edge of the muddy street. Squalid, tasty, exotic & filling. It's great to get out in the fresh air. The two days spent here are mostly spent huddled around the stove & trying to make sense of grandpa.....

…..I mention the issue of the “porky pies”. She says she didn't know how to explain in English. I tell her I have plenty of help to translate from Chinese if that's the case. I tell her I have to go as I can't buy tickets back to Yangzhou from here. It's true, though I probably don't need to buy just
Guiyang, GuizhouGuiyang, GuizhouGuiyang, Guizhou

Old and New
yet. Please stay another two days. A visiting uncle (see photos) from the village has already welcomed me as a very honoured guest & the first foreigner ever to visit the village. It will apparently look a bit rude if I leave before the husband to be returns. I have to press the issue of the tickets, while simultaneously avoid having to drink the baijiu (rice wine, or rocket fuel), from the grubby jerry can with a blackened rag stuffed in the spout in place of a cap.....

…..a prayer: Please let this be my last day here. Let it not snow or freeze. May I walk the long, muddy track out of Longchang without falling. Let there be a bus back to Guiyang & may it arrive soon.....

…..all ends, sort of, well. On my third day at the farm I now have a ticket back to Guiyang. Dad has carried his son, on his back, up the long track to Longchang. He looks about 15 years old. He sits on the edge of the bed & lights a cigarette, offering me one. They're all amazed that I don't eat pork or smoke. So I get to
West Guiyang, GuizhouWest Guiyang, GuizhouWest Guiyang, Guizhou

Illuminating buildings taken to a new level
meet him & take some photos before my suitcase is strapped to the back of the motorbike & ferried down the long & still muddy path. Luxury.....

…..a crowd gathers around the burning truck that has tipped over the edge of the road as we pass by on the bus......

…..Guiyang. Ru Jia (“As if home”) hotel, near the railway station, clean, comfortable. A shower, with hot water. I go to check my email at a nearby Internet cafe. ¥2.50 (about Au$ 0.40) per hour. It only takes about twenty minutes. I'm given ¥2.00 change on the way out!.....

…..at ¥458 per head, picked up in the morning at 6.35am at the hotel, a tour to Huangguoshu Falls, China's largest, including a detour to Long Gong Dong, (Dragon Palace Cave) turns out to be money well spent. A grey, miserable winter's day plus nearly an hour lost on the freeway due to a multiple pile up but still the scenery is fabulous. The lighting inside the Dragon Palace Cave is tacky but travelling in a canoe over the glassy water that penetrates deep into the cave is still quite a sight. Not enough light for good photos
West Guiyang, GuizhouWest Guiyang, GuizhouWest Guiyang, Guizhou

42 storey apartment blocks
from a moving boat unfortunately.....

…..as often happens here the main attraction is often matched by the “support acts”, the things you see on the way. The Buddha Cave, full of beautifully painted statues with the backdrop of natural rock faces. The walk through partly landscaped, partly natural, path to the waterfall is just stunning, stepping stones through innumerable shallow pools reflecting the rocks & trees around in crystal clear mountain water. A ride down two colossal elevators, walk round the corner & there is China's biggest waterfall. The piece de resistance is the “Water curtain cave”, a tunnel that runs behind the falls with openings where you can look through the cascade from behind.....

…..back in Guiyang, a fish restaurant where you choose your fish from the ones swimming in tanks facing the street. Even the smallest is too big really but, oh, well, yes, that one. This will have to be the meal of the trip. They have erected a marquee with about thirty tables on the pavement to accommodate the overflow of customers. The fish is killed & grilled, then placed in a bed of Sichuan spices, noodles & vegetables & kept hot by a bed of burning charcoal under the tray. Not just for the taste buds, it's a whole body experience. Just looking at the colour, (damn, I don't have my camera). Not for the faint hearted or those with a weak digestive tract but if you're in Guiyang you MUST try it.....

…..last night the bus dropped some of the tourists off at a hotel in West Guiyang. I couldn't believe the lighting display on a cluster of new commercial towers. I have to go back with my camera to take a look so, in the afternoon I catch a bus across town. I have often written about the unbelievable amount of construction going on in China & of course after a while it becomes the norm. To quote a great line from Thomas Pynchon's “Gravity's Rainbow” the new developments in West Guiyang were, even to me, like being “whacked on the head with a Swiss Alp”. Where in Yangzhou they are busy erecting 16 & 20 storey blocks of apartments here they are 30 & even 40 storeys. It's like a new Australian suburb where each single or double storey house is replaced by a thirty storey apartment block. I can't say it's beautiful but it is, in a way, awe-inspiring. I read in a recent China Daily that in 2011 the government plans to build 10 million subsidised apartments, up from last year's 5.8 million! That's not including all the private developments that are going up. I also recall a recent discussion in Adelaide about whether one ten storey apartment block in an inner city suburb might be taking high density housing a bit too far.....

…..tomorrow it's off to Chengdu, in Sichuan. No, I hadn't planned to go there, any more than I'd planned to go to a remote, isolated farmhouse in the middle of Guizhou. Miss Piggy was apologetic, even as she tried to get me to stay for a week. Since I had a shower & have seen some of the sights of the province I've (almost) forgiven her! I'll get all the facts first next time though. I'll tell you about Sichuan next week.....

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