Shuhe, Kunming and Yuanyang

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May 12th 2010
Published: May 21st 2010
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Hard Sleeper ClassHard Sleeper ClassHard Sleeper Class

Hey, its better than what 80% of the other passengers get to sleep/sit on
Day 36

We wander off to find dinner in Shuhe, and meet an English speaking host. We sit down at “Snow Flower Restaurant” on the suggestion of The High Commissioner. I have found it incongruous, maybe even slightly arrogant, that so many Chinese want to introduce themselves as “Belinda” or “Ken” rather than what I would consider their real name. It’s like they only want to reveal a tiny part of their personality, the bit reserved for Westerners, and hide the rest, lest they not like us. The restaurant is named after our host, and she is a delight. She fusses over our kids, introduces her husband and children, listens carefully to how we want our food, grabs the beers, takes an order and then disappears into the back of her house. Her 13 year old daughter is the only assistant; her husband busies himself loitering with the other men of the street.

“Snow Flower” can get her husband to arrange our overnight SOFT sleeper class tickets to Kunming - this really is not an issue. Come back tomorrow for breakfast “and my husband take you to train ticket office” she proffers. “My husband bus driver”, “he deal with
Buses, buses, busesBuses, buses, busesBuses, buses, buses

A quick snap at the Kunming South Station. Probably over 100 buses, maybe 150 all lined up
many western tourists”. What a delightful town and host.

The old town is built around a simple principle of running water. It lies on a very gentle downward slope. At the top of the town, water from a main stream is captured into multiple canals, and channels. These channels form the capillaries of daily life with a constant flow of water into every single street and alley. At regular intervals, at the start of a new channel, three pools are formed flowing from top to bottom. The top pool is reserved for sourcing clean water for household use. The middle pool used for washing vegetables and food for preparation, the bottom for cleaning of dishes, clothes and general waste. Unseen, I have to imagine one separate set of capillaries deal with the grimmer sanitation. Houses are built almost over the top of some channels, and for many owners, the stream is used to create a gorgeous entry way or patio at the front of the house, or in the case of our hotel, redirected to provide a running stream around and across the courtyard. Pleasantly, I find little to grow cynical over and it really is a cutie.
Sleeper BusSleeper BusSleeper Bus

Molly had been keen for us to do a sleeper bus
What’s different here, is that it’s still alive as a community. Live fish cages and beer are left in the stream to cool or wait for a buyer. Women wash clothes, shoes, sheets and all manner of household items all day long at every turn. Restaurant staff come out with buckets to fill with clean water. Measured plots of land exist among the buildings, and are intensively covered in numerous green vegetables. I pause at lunchtime, and watch an old lady, in her gumboots and fatigues, stoke green vegetation onto a smouldering bonfire on her land. Acrid smoke billows across the 10 metre gap to a row of restaurants and shops, poisoning the air . The fire must have been going a while, as only one poor couple is desperately attempting to dodge the fug, as they finish lunch. The rest of the seats are empty. The ability to co-exist in such conditions would be lost on us. Outrage at the affront would quickly escalate into verbal and physical abuse. But here in China their makeup is different and a surreal calm exists over this tiny battle between the traditional but poorly timed rights and the needs of today.

The train ticket purchase is a doddle. So easy, I let bus driver husband conduct all the negotiations. I check the tickets for date, time and destination, and any other clues in English, and retreat back to enjoy our last day in Shuhe.

Consistent with the Chinese rush in development, the rail to Lijiang has only been open 6 months, and it’s a monstrosity. Over 20 minutes from Lijiang, at 9.30 pm we are greeted by a double deck train, our first in China. Curiously, our soft sleeper carriage is not mid platform, but a walk of a hundred metres or so for us. It’s way past bed time for a couple of kids and we enter a heaving carriage, struggling with our gear. While new, the carriage is clearly not soft sleeper. Hard class awaits for the first time on the journey! That’s 6 bunks per cabin (triple stacked) no door, no air conditioning, no luggage storage, lights and speakers on at the conductor’s discretion and no headroom. Mutiny threatens, so I assail the conductor to pay for upgrades, to no avail. Eventually, we resign ourselves to our “snow flower” fate, and scale the heights to levels 2
One of many hilarious momentsOne of many hilarious momentsOne of many hilarious moments

A drop off on the way to Yuanyang. Sadly this fellows precious liquid is spilling all over the road. Desperate attempts ensue to capture the last drops.
and 3. What the Chinese couple on the lower 2 bunks made of us remains unknown, but with a few terse words to some very exhausted kids, quiet eventually arrives, even if sleep is intermittent. While hard class is pretty tolerable travelling alone, throw in some children, 5 bags, Lauren waking to demand cuddles, security concerns, Bernard fitfully trying to enforce the no smoking rules, and Molly recording the hoiking count, it all adds up to a memorable night. Excellent stuff for family character building I say!!

Offloaded at 0715 hrs, we have Kunming sorted. I know there is a West Bus Station, a Long Distance Bus station, an Inner City Bus Station, so assume there are others. A five minute walk to the Inner bus station, and we are looking for a bus to Yuanyang. A highly persuasive informant suggests we must go to the “East bus station”. Her smile and English wins me over and we are off, but not before we stock up on bananas, water and chips for breakfast…. Settling into the cab, we hoe into the bananas. I sit next to the surly driver and look to pass the skin back to FJ. He
Road buildingRoad buildingRoad building

So much labour. Rocks get moved by hand
leans over and gesticulates to dispose of the skin out the window. My western culture kicks in, and I convey shock and horror at the prospect of littering. He is not only amused, but delighted at these weird foreigners. He simply cannot understand why I won’t add to the work load of the street cleaners. And in a way, I can’t work it out myself. Of all the impressions of China, the sheer scale of population and mass of humanity is the biggie. Human labour is so plentiful that work is seemingly created for many of them. The littering and waste has bothered us for four weeks, but it shows the dilemma China faces. Legions of people are employed to sweep, collect, sort, recycle and dispose of rubbish. We have travelled through villages, where the local industry appears to be recycling, by hand, through masses of waste. In Fenghuang, the little ladies all dumped their buckets at a central spot where people in gloves, masks and canvas shoes would trawl through it all, separating and sorting the human detritus. In Lijiang, I followed a rubbish truck, playing a “Mr Whippy” tune, as it meandered along the road. At every building
Our balconyOur balconyOur balcony

Top floor of our Rice paddy Guest House
an occupant would come out, not with the week’s garbage, but with a small bucket of waste, maybe the day’s, maybe only half a day’s. Once spotted, these trucks become common, the tune recognisable like a night cart. Littering is just part of the employment cycle of China. At present there is no incentive to change; the little old ladies would simply be unemployed.

Our front seat exchange spurs our man from a mental paralysis and we embark on an exhilarating ride along Kunming’s motorways. Passing everything in sight, and spurning Chinese fuel saving techniques of driving at less than 1000 revs and coasting in neutral, he demonstrates that his little VW Passat is his mark of superiority. Terrified, we bail out at the East Bus station. Molly threatens to puke, it’s hot and we are tired. Predictably, (you know what happens here), we are directed to the South Bus Station, a good 30 minutes away!

By 10.00 am, we are ticketing and ready to board our 1040 bus to Yuanyang.

Bus and train travel is pretty big in China. They say that, at any one time, 10 million Chinese are on the rail network. If that’s true, there must be 100 million on buses. The number, the range, the dependence on buses is vastly different from home. They also say that 600 people a day die on China’s roads. Given the low car ownership ratio, one only hopes that bus deaths are not a disproportionately high ratio of total deaths! Based on our experience, 600 a day is a pretty good achievement. Oh, for the time and space to harp on about the following three bus trips. However, I am mindful my audience is not all interested in as much detail as the Pavlovich readers. The delight, the drama, the humour, the hopelessness, all combine to provide unforgettable hours as we delve into an area not well frequented by foreigners.

Our Lonely Planet guide is our only reference for accommodation. I spot a description I like, “In the middle of the rice paddies, in Duoyishu’s Pugaolao village, ….. Try to contact them first (although English doesn’t work if Auntie is alone), you’ll need to wander through the fields to get there”. Oh boy, does this sound like me! On arrival at Yuanyang, I thrust the name under the nose of a tout, she realises there is no prospect of a dollar with us, so holds up a local bus, departing the station. We are bundled like rag dolls into the bus, luggage spread along the aisle, and set off for an hour, into an unknown destination, with no booking or idea where we are going. Her parting words, “no worry, driver will help”. A surreal hour passes, with the bus lurching through increasingly spectacular terracing. In the middle of no-where, he stops, opens the door, smiles and urges us to alight. Our host awaits, and we stumble for 20 minutes, down a track to a partly built (slowly deteriorating??) village guest house. Its very basic, English is almost non-existent, but 20 hours after leaving Lijiang, we have a glass of Great Wall Red in hand. Our first glass of wine for 5 weeks. The views are stupendous. The local ethnic people are Hani, of Tibetan origin, and over many generations they have transformed this Red River valley into an amazingly productive area. Words can’t do it justice; maybe some of our photos can capture some of the beauty - almost all taken from the roof terrace of our guest house. It’s Mother’s Day in NZ.

A glass of Great Wall Red. Not yet to be recommended
Dinner is prepared in a farm kitchen in gas woks, we are served at a table inside the kitchen with four plastic stools to perch on. Lauren and Molly disappear for 30 minutes, allowing FJ and me an all-too-rare moment to stop and contemplate. The girls write a delightful poem, they wrap some pineapple lumps in a tissue and cut and colour a paper heart. For just half an hour we could be anywhere, as the girls delight in making Frances’ day extra special.
We loiter as long as our visas allow, but our last day in China cannot be avoided. A three hour bus journey becomes 6 ½. It is a classic. I sit for hours, a smile stretched from ear to ear, wedged in the centre of the back seat, with smoking, dribbling and puking passengers all around me. Molly is in the suicide seat up front, oblivious to the circus with her i-pod on. Frances is perched on the driver’s tool box at the base of his seat, facing the back of the bus, Lauren asleep but sweltering for hours, slipping and sliding over a vinyl seat. The conductor gives up his seat and comes back to perch on the edge of a single seat shared by 2 children. He happily takes on fathering duties for an overworked Mum. I write crazily in my head for kilometre after kilometre the amazing array of events that unfold in this one journey. I could fill a book, and scribble notes furiously as the occasional stop allows.

We arrive at the border, perform some basic rites, shoulder our bags, and leave. We cross a “friendship” bridge, and slide effortlessly into Vietnam. Sapa is our destination, an hour away. Tired, maybe even exhausted after no food since 7.00 am, we again get shafted on the transport. We pay 300,000 VN dong. Six days later it costs us 60,000. Half way to Sapa, the lady in the front seat turns and engages, “you want hotel in Sapa, I have hotel you want?” She is a picture of Vietnamese elegance, how can I resist???

Additional photos below
Photos: 27, Displayed: 27


A little village near our Guest HouseA little village near our Guest House
A little village near our Guest House

It was grotty, smelly, open sewage in te gutters and full of stomach turning smells. The people were as friendly as the smells.
Farm truckFarm truck
Farm truck

Surely these are left over from the Red Army days?
6 1/2 hours of this6 1/2 hours of this
6 1/2 hours of this

Bus to Vietnam border

23rd May 2010

the photos are beautiful- more rice paddies to be seen in Vietnam- I did a 6 week trip in Vietnam before kids and just loved it completely- I look forward to seeing where you go...what an adventure you guys are having

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