Monday, July 7, 2008
Caught an afternoon ferry from Macua to Kowloon...walked the wide streets to Chungking mansion where I got a room for $150 (ten pounds), on the fifth floor. The single lift serviced the seperately owned hotels on each floor and therefore was incredibly slow. Queues of people, sometimes thirty or more, waited on the ground. People from every continent searched the markets stalls. Taylors, Indian take-aways, porn movie stands. Many just stood around, time on their hands, living in this conglomerate of opportunities.
After easing my backpack off my shoulders and lying for some moments on the bed, wishing I had air-conditioning and a view, I got up and wandered the avenue of stars. Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee were among the heroes remembered in statue. Other legends of Hong Kong cinema I didn't recognize. I caught the tail end of the nightly light show over and above the skyscrapers on Victoria Island. Classical music blarred from speakers along the promenade, enhancing the visual display. I remembered a budding photo journalist I'd met in Longsheng saying to me that the view from Kowloon across the harbour was one of the wonders of the world. It was serene. The people here were predominantly tourists, like myself, and we took in the beauty in mostly hushed voices, dampened anyway by the water sounds and the chug of old boats. Couples canoodled on benches.
While in Hong Kong I visited victoria peak, on victoria island, which over-looks the man-made erections. I had a few drinks in Kong Kwai, a touristy bar district. The trip across the harbour which I did many times was enjoyable. The breeze blowing into my face. Wetness from the machine made surf. The people in happy mood. Heat eased as we rode the constantly stirred waters.
One night I went for some drinks on kowloon. After twenty minutes three middle aged western men walked in. They introduced themselves to me. Guys on an english teaching holiday. One told me he came every year. We played darts together and got quickly inebriated, mixing our drinking of pints with a glass of whisky and green tea, the passion of the canadian. Soon I was left with the englishman and he said he'd take me to a karaoke bar. I scoughed the free mixed raisin and nuts and sang away.
We went on to some other bars. A live band was playing. I danced away and my one night friend left. At one moment the lead singer saw me singing along and pushed the mic into my face. I blasted it fully with the air from my lungs and the spit of my mouth. Later, slave to the moment, I pulled the mic close again, a look of surprise on the singers face. The idea of karaoke fixed in my drunken mind.
Stanley, on Victoria island was a nice seaside town, with a street market and a beach. Along the promenade at night, jazz played and fat toursists ate western burger and chips and swigged beer. On the bus there I sat next to a philipino middle aged woman who told me where to get off. Her friendliness and smile cheered me.
I got off the over night bus with a polish couple. We'd chatted a little and they had used my torch for some reading. But now I moved off again on my own. The resolution being more natural, after two and a half months in China. I can make it on my own. I passed through immigration and walked out onto the glimmering peninsula of casinos and banks and posh hotels. Seeing the poles again we agreed to share a taxi to a cheaper part of macau, an old style portuguese area where one of the scenes of Raiders of the lost Ark had been filmed apparently, and which was in years gone by at the heart of the red-light district. It now looked quiant and lively with the bussle of the local sellers of handmade candy, portuguese cafes and tourists from Hong Kong and the mainland wandering.
After finding a hostel I tried to haggle for my room price. It was a very basic place with partition walls for the rooms only going three quarters of the way to the ceiling. After some debate the receptionist guy took me to see another room which looked identical and said I could have it for 100 macua dollars, a 20 dollar reduction. I found out later why this room came cheaper.
I wandered around the streets and then soon up to the main casino area to find some texas hold'em poker. It took me a few hours to find the only casino that had anything at all. Four semi-computerized tables which took away the need for a dealer. I sat on a $5/10 blinds no limit table and made myself about $500 by patience and not much flare. After leaving the temple to mammon and it's glitz and glamour in brazilian and russian dancers, and common to macua philippino cover bands, I went out into the night.
It was beautiful with the colonial influence of the portuguese in the architecture. The ruins of the church of St Paul lit up at night, above the cobbled streets which entwined their way around each other below. The people bright smiling and happy but mostly in their own circles of association. I saw the young sitting by the church, some drinking, one holding a guitar. A group of retired men sat together chatting and imbibing the ambience of the sexy latino girls and the shine of the lights from the church. I thought what a nice pass time. I was doing the same but on my own.
Past mid-night I lay in my room and read some from a book about the affects of Pol Pots regime on a reasonably well-off family in Cambodia. The inconceivable trials and the deaths he inflicted touched me. When I tried to sleep I could hear the woman in the adjacent room. She was making love and I could hear her deep breathing and sighs, the bed moving and even the slop of her body fluids. Then she finished and after some light talking and somebody leaving her room I heard her pottering and then sitting to eat noddles with little slurps. She spoke with an elder lady and her voice was sweet and fragile. A little later in the night I heard the same. Her pleasing a man and I realised why I'd been given the room a little cheaper. She was a working girl left over from the "glory" days of this street. She seemed OK but my heart went out to her too. The suffering in the world was weighing on me a little but she seemed to be upbeat enough as my days in Macua went on. I never saw her face but heard her every night and heard her talking with the older woman about money in a relaxed way but beyond my understanding of mandarin.
Outside a bar called Moonwalker, where a cover band played, I saw a group of about ten philippino girls standing together. They were not invited in to chase punters but allowed in if someone was buying them drinks. I thought back to my entry into this autonomous region of China, seeing a girl from the same country being interoggated as they viewed her passport. A guy beside me had said with compassion, "They're only looking for work". I hoped these vunerable creatures would find their way. I would have liked to have helped these girls but these needy souls can be man-eaters. I thought on the subject and drank my stella for $60 (four pound) a pint and enjoyed the show.
Each day I went to the Star World casino and played to my obsession, calling on the staff for free drinks and snacks, as and when I wanted them. I picked up some money from the other tourists as they over played their weak hands, looking to get lucky. On my fourth day of play some business men were playing for the thrill of the gamble. One guy was going all-in nearly every hand. I didn't hit much. I went all-in with kings against him. They held up. But eventually that day I went bust. I decided to quit while ahead. I'd made about a hundred pounds in all. I wanted the pride of saying I'd made money playing poker in Macua.
Dave and I decided to take some mountain bikes along the Yulong river. We saw great scenes of rural life, the sharp hills standing against the rice fields and sun reflecting river. We found a spot where we could lean our bikes up against a tree and take a swim. There was a crossing point, a ridge of concrete, which allowed water to spill over it's lip and roll down in a half to one metre waterfall fashion. The length of this ridge was probably 50 metres, along which the locals would pass carrying loads on their shoulders and walking with nonchalent ease. We tried it and were close to falling on the slime, as did a young dog which had the same problem. When we saw a western women on the other bank attempting to take her mountain bike over we warned her not to. There was no doubt that she would have fallen having to carry that also. Dave, who spoke some mandarin, conversed with an elderly chinese lady and told this tourist where she could find some rafts-men a little further down. The tourist walked away, rather frustrated, and without a word of thankyou for us probably saving her from an injury.
We cycled on through some cool old style hamlets and along rough paths, enjoying chasing the setting sun. We got to a bridge just passed Baisa, which supposedly had some significance in that locality, and looked out at the karsk scenery, before heading back along the main road to Yangshuo as darkness set in. Back in our town of residents Dave and I sat at a table by the road and ordered the same as our neighbouring eaters, it looked nice, and drank beer.
In the evening we sat back at the guest house, drinking some more. Two french girls joined us and when our bottles were empty we told them that we were going to get some more from the local shop and did they want some. It was now gone mid-night and the girls were to be leaving the following morning. They would forego the invitation. Dave told them to shout if they changed their minds. Thrity seconds later one of them ran after us and shouted to make it two bottles for them.
Walking on with Dave I saw a cutely dressed chinese lady, with fluffed out black hair, a tight top, puffed out shorts that looked like a mini skirt, pink socks to just below the knees. She looked funky. Going the same way we nearly caught up with her and Dave said quite quietly from behind, "Hi!". She turned quickly around and was immediately engaged by my friend in conversation and invited to have a drink with us. She was already drunk from a night out with her work company and was keen.
This kinky chinese thing wanted to play drinking games. We decided not to return with the beers. We found a roadside table and began by playing a game in which one counted "one... two... three" and then called out the predicted total of fingers held up by oneself and that of the other player. If you got it right the other player had to drink a glass of beer. Then the girl sent someone to get a deck of cards, which she payed them for, and we continued on to a card game involving incredibly vast amounts of alcohol in a short time.
This woman was interesting. She was in Yangshuo on holiday with about twenty other work colleagues. She hadn't been enjoying the night with them and so had left the bar. She said she was glad to meet us and told some of her story. She had a managerial role within a construction company. Her role was connected to advertising, earning her 8000 rmb a month, a very good salary in China. But she hated it and it's confines. You could tell by the way she dressed and her tattoes on her thigh and back and between her breasts running down to her stomach that she wanted freedom. Apparently she enjoyed the pain of receiving the images and told us how she'd watched a porn movie while having the one down her sternum. She talked of how she hated money and insisted on paying for everything. Money was what held her to the confines of work and in some kind of act of rebellion wanted to chuck it away when she got it.
I woke to find Tim's share of the price of the room left by my bed and a message of good luck for my journey. We'd said our goodbyes the night before, not expecting to see each other the following day. After this lie-in I got myself to the bus station. The feeling is of exhiliration, as you haul your backpack over your shoulders again and stride out onto the street, leaving behind you good experiences and excited about what may come.
My plan was to make it to Longsheng, to view the Dragon Backbone rice terraces, as they were called. An unhelpful bus station attendant told me that there were no buses. I was convinced that there must be a way and finally found out that there was one going to a place called Sanjiang, which was more than half-way there. I sat on a step close to my bus, to be sure I wouldn't miss it. Some young male fellow passengers came and began chatting to me in mandarin. I was able to tell them that I was english and where I was planning to go. The smiles and body language were welcoming, which cheered me on my way.
I was expecting an easy journey on a major road, which my guide books map seemed to suggest. Instead it was probably my worst in China. The roads were mostly dirt tracks but with stones that kept the vehicle in a continual state of noisy vibration. It was five hours, passing through hamlets, villages and towns, a beautiful lake with the glimmering reflections of small fishing boats in parts, chickens screeming their entrance to the vehicle held upside down by their feet.
The rural life was good to see but it meant alot to finally stop shaking in my seat as we pulled into Sanjiang. Asking how I could get to Longsheng, the ticket collector kindly led me to a tuc tuc type, three wheeled taxi, and coming with me directed the driver to drop me off at the correct onward bus station. I gratefully waved goodbye to him and found an attendant who again was willing to show me to the correct bus, which would be leaving in another fifteen minutes. It's amazing how things work out. I thought of the two extremes of, "it's not my problem" attitude and the willingness to go well beyond ones duty to strangers. Some people were so happy to help.
After a couple of hours I arrived in Longsheng, where I payed a crafty tuc tuc driver 2rmb, about 14pence, to take me around a corner to the Riverside Hotel, where I was going to stay. I shared a chuckle with him and payed the money. After settling down to a beer and some food, I met a french guy and we decided to go out and look for a club. He said there wouldn't be one but I said there would be somewhere, if we could only find it. In the main square there were young boys and men breakdancing, and older folk and women doing traditional dancing together. Typical sights in a chinese city or town square. We walked on and passed a hairdressers for adults, with its distinguishabe pink sign, offering extras by young attractive women, through the tassled doors. Then on some more and I spotted the Tiger beer sign down a side street.
There were some good western beats and after a while some young chinese people came to break the ice with the usual, "cheers!", and butting of bottles. We went and drank and smoked mostly on their hospitality. A cute girl asked me for my lucky neck pouch, which I'd been given when leaving Mama Naxi's, in Ligiang. OK. But then she asked me for one kuai, 1 rmb. This seemed odd and I didn't want to go along with this. She then gave me her number on a sheet of paper, with something written in chinese and the symbol for 1 rmb. I didn't give it. She left a little later.
The following morning I caught a bus towards Pingan, a village in the hills of the rice terraces, but was dropped in the valley, where various tour groups were waiting for a bus up the hillside. I got impatient with asking for directions or waiting for a bus, and didn't want to be mixed in with a tour group. I started walking, my way being confirmed by an old couple, and continued up the hill for about six kilometres.
The village was misty and rain was continuing to gently spit. It took me some time to get out of the village and on to the right paths towards Dazhai because of the poor visibility. And for the two and three-quarter hours of hard walking I saw little of the hoped for golden snaking hills. I enjoyed pushing myself in the drizzle and spit but this walk was mostly about achievement. I needed to get to my destination before the final bus departed back to Lonsheng.
At the splitting of paths I had to guess. Passing through a hamlet in the hills I was directed on in the right way. The residents beamed smiles and were glad to help. A young boy seemed to skip on ahead of me, as if showing me the way, but when he turned towards a dwelling I asked him if the onward path to the left was the correct way to Dazhai, in my basic of basics mandarin. He shrugged his shoulders as if he didn't know. An old man hearing my question confirmed that I was heading the right way. I made it to the bus collection point with twenty-five minutes to spare.
There I met two young chinese women from Shanghai. One worked for Marks and Spencers, the other for Pinkies, a french company. They spoke good english and I conversed with them a little. Then a middle aged chinese man interupted our conversation, again in clear english, telling us of his coming from London, where he had a chinese medicine business, to visit the venue of some work done by one of his favourite photographers. It was surreal in this outback of China to meet these english speaking urbanites.
After noodles and fried egg, cooked up by our host, Tim and I hit the road. We drank a pitifully small cup of perculated coffee from a streetside cafe and then just caught the bus to Leishan as it was easing out of the station. From Leishan we caught another onto Conjiang. Between buses we met a student girl from Kunming, who was going the same way and became our translater. She was called Caiting. She spoke good english, having studied in New Zealand.
On the bus I listened to the Magic Numbers - buying that CD was a wise and inspired decision - watching the yellow rice terraces, dotted with shacks, rising and falling in my view, as the bus chugged up and then whipped down and around corners.
In Conjiang, as foriegners, we weren't allowed to stay in the cheapest hotels, so Tim and I took a hotel twin room for 100rmb. It was nice to have the comfort. Caiting, being chinese, got a room for 20 rmb just down the street. We arranged to meet for the evening meal and then again in the morning.
I'd read about a place called Basha, where the tribal residents dressed in cloathes going back to the Qing dynasty. With Caiting's help we found a group of young men on wide handle-barred and chrome shining motorbikes, waiting at an intersection. We arranged a fee and got on the back of our three motorbike taxis. They carried us up the hillside, rushing air and sharp cornering bringing excitement. At about 10 kilometres from the city we got to the entry gate to Basha. My driver went to stop, their being some men hanging around expecting a fee of entry but the other drivers whizzed by. We followed.
We saw men in dark blue, almost black, trousers and jackets, which we found out were made from cotton, dyed with what we think was a mixture involving fermented leaves (we saw leaves soaking in bubbling barrels, the liquid a deep blue), and duck egg-whites which gave the material a shine. It looked a little like PVC fake leather. The men had their hair in topknots and a few carried very old fashioned rifles and knives on their hips. The women wore brightly coloured tops of yellow, orange, blue, and purple. They were almost like bibs. Underneath were the deep blue jackets and pleated skirts to just above the knees, leggins to their calves. Some wore shoes or sandals but we saw other working women with loads spread on a pole across their shoulders, stomping and skipping briskly in their bare feet.
After wandering the mostly deserted cobbled and mud paths around the stilted wooden dwellings, bizarrely many with satelite dishes contrasting with the rural setting, we came to a clearing in some trees where perhaps thirty of these anciently dressed Miao people were sitting. As the predominantly young men and women, along with a few elders and a little girl, walked to leave the area, they asked us if we wanted to see a show of some of their traditional ceremonies. It turned out a chinese tour group had arranged and paid for the event. A lead man sneakily asked us for 10rmb each, which we agreed to pay serrupticiuosly later.
After waiting some time for the guests to arrive we joined them in the clearing and watched the enthusiastic dancing and bamboo flute playing. They stomped in wide legged stances and shook their bodies, with rocking of their torso back and forth, the men blowing through their instruments of sizes ranging from two feet to one central flute of about eight. A mock wedding was performed, in which a young Miao woman was carried into the clearing sitting side saddle on a beam, carried by some men, and clasping another held just above her shoulder hieght. She dismounted and men on one side took hold of her arm and tugged on her, she going that way, and then women rushed to take her other arm and pulled her back the other. This continued a few times until she settled with the husband to be in the centre. On this occasion a chinese tourist became the groom. At some point a skirt front was added to the bride to show that she was now no longer available. More songs and dances were carried out. The two beams were taken up by two opposing teams of men and what seemed like a mock buffalo fight was acted out, the pieces of wood being butted against each other. Then as a digression from the wedding theme a sharpened hooked blade, about a foot in length (rather like a mini sythe), was used to shave the hair of a Miao male, leaving the topknot in place.
Near the end of the event two girls came to Tim and I and held out their hands. We joined a circle of people where we held hands and tried to immitate the rocking movements and steps, to the rhythm of the flutes. A gangway of men was formed and we were led in pairs down this aisle, girl in hand, dancing to the end. Smiling at the experience I turned to clap and thank my partner but she was back talking with her friend and looking the other way. As a finale the men with rifles lined up and in turn fired their ancient firearms with their loud bangs and smoke. The whole occasion had an air of authenticity and the Miao folk clearly were having fun, the young apparently flirting and sweet talking each other.
After getting back to Conjiang early afternoon, the three of us decided to visit a town called Xiaohuang. We found a taxi for 120rmb, which we shared between us. It was an hour long journey to cover the twenty-seven kilometres along the dirt track. We passed villages of the Dong tribe, in which there are drum towers perhaps forty feet and up in height. We learnt that traditionallly they were used to warn of danger, such as an enemy tribe attack, or maybe fire. We passed the workers in the fields, bringing in the rice harvest and some walking the track weighted down with the produce on their poles.
The destination village was full of activity. Their were old ladies reeling in cotton which stretched fifty feet down the street, painstakingly keeping the many strands seperated and neat on the 8 inch diametre and foot and a half wide cylindrical wooden intrument. Three women worked around this device, one holding it tort and turning it, the others aiding and keeping the storage neat. Other women sat beside the road, outside their houses, hammering cloth with wooden mallets, which seemed to be to bring out the shine or to establish the dye within the fabric. It gave a constant rhythmic tick tocking to the town. Men were chiseling and shaping wood, contributing to the many building projects which seemed to be in progress. On one street corner was a gang of mostly older women shoveling and doing some kind of road work.
Old men sat smoking pipes on benches, looking out at the activity and dreaming. One stripping pieces off a long bendy strip of wood as a kitten restlessly sat at his feet. Two-wheeled carts passed, dragged by men, women and sometimes horses. This Dong town was full of similar colours to the Miao village we'd been to earlier. The dye for the cloaths fermenting in barrels, dyed cloth hanging on beams sticking from the wooden houses. The arched bridges reflected in the green brown water, which silently passed through the midst of this activity. And as we looked an inwardly centred man, cone hat tipped down over his brow, crossed a beautifully crafted wooden roofed bridge, load on back. Later a horse stumbled over followed by its owner.
We met some art students from a city called Guilin, at least a days journey away by bus. They were sketching the architecture and the faces of the people, trying to catch the ambience. Two asked to join us in a streetside noodle shop which only had one small table and foot high stools. We sat waiting for the kindling beneath a pot of water to do it's work, the simple flames licking the implement. We breathed in the moment. The wait meant something. We each got our bowl of noodles in turn, the two young women workers asking us what to add, from chilli to a little pork. We looked through the two artists sketching pads and congratulated them.
After school had ended young kids skipped down the hill from their classes, happy and simple, little backpacks hanging from their shoulders loosely. Back to mums, dads, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles.
After another little walk around we found our taxi driver waiting in his car and took the ride back to the city. On the way back, as we came around a corner, a group of eight or so Dong college girls, walking the long dirt track back to their homes, screamed a giggle at the approaching vehicle and moved to the side. Playful and supportive of each other. This rural life made me think back to my childhood and my simple upbringing, walking to and from school with my brothers and sisters. I have a memory of the first time, probably at about five years old, when I went to collect water from the stream for my mum.
The early days when I began school and my face and lips swelled up with the sharp air on my two mile walk along the route of moorland scenary. The hand-me-down cloathes. The free roaming of the countryside as I got older, sometimes with brothers and sisters and our endeavour to see if we could create an adventure and get ourseves lost. "You silly sausages", a woman who knew the family once said and took us home, spoiling our fun. Tired and sitting in the taxi I thought of the young boys we'd seen in town, perhaps four of them around one clapped out bike and its punctured wheels, pushing the lucky individual down the gently sloping road. We're the same the world over.
I decided to move on from Kunming and booked a train ticket to Kaili, in Guanxi provence, one of the poorest. Here the terrain was mostly little jutting hills of rice terraces and melon plantations and the like. As I neared the city I saw the odd labourer and his mate, bicycles rested against a bush or on its stand, out in the sticks working away. In kaili I wandered up and down a street, looking for a cheap hotel that was mentioned in my book. After a while a young guy offered to help me. He took me to a hotel that was reasonably cheap but was full until somebody checked out, maybe later. The guy took me to a noodle shop and at the table a mother and daughter came and sat nearby. The daugher, a fourteen year old ray of light, started talking to me in near perfect american accented english. The young guy said he must leave, probably because he saw I'd aquired two new helpers. They said they would take me to a cheap hotel and walked out, paying for my noodle soup before I realized what they'd done. The mother, a teacher at the local school, lead us to a hotel whose staff weren't sure whether they could accept foriegners. After some phone calls they told me I couldn't stay there.
They took me back to a more upmarket one on the street I'd been at before and spoke with the receptionists, getting me a reasonable rate of 60rmb for the night. Sunny, the daughter, helped me carry a bag up to my room on the fourth floor. She reminded me to lock and bolt the door at night. I shook her hand and thanked her for her help. "Nothing", she said, and asked me if there was anything else she could help me with. The wonderful hopitality some people show to strangers. I hope she makes her dream. She told me she wants to be rich. I expect she will be.
After a sleep, I wandered around Kaili, bought some shoes and ate fat noodles with beef and peanuts. Got a haircut for thirty pence (5rmb) and then drank a few beers, sitting on a bench watching the capitalitism going on around me, in this communist country. I thought about going to a night club but realized that I'd probably only get interest from prostitutes and that that was not what I really wanted. So I ambled home to my hotel room, passing a tassled doorway with a dozen or so women in tight skimpy cloathes sitting around and a young man outside, waiting to invite people in.
In the morning I took the mid-day bus to Xijiang, which is apparently the biggest Miao village in the world, with over 1200 homes and 5000 people. I sat at the back of the bus and was surprised when a young man carrying some kind of cased stringed intrument, along with his backpack, got on the vehicle as it was waiting to depart. I hadn't seen any western looking people since leaving Kunming. We introduced ourselves to each other. I shared the three hour journey with this australian, called Tim, chatting a little and looking out at the drizzle falling on the abrupt rice terraced hills. The bus wound along the winding roads. Inside with us were colourful miao people, the women with their hair in buns, held by large silver push-through pins, and some with what looked like towels wrapped on their heads. Outside babies were strapped to womens backs, as they walked the roads in large companies of labourers or friends. Wooden stilted huts sat alone in the hills, with pine trees ruling where rice land hadn't been cultivated.
Getting off the bus and standing for a few moments, as we surveyed the village, a woman came and offered us a room for 20rmb each per night. We followed her down the street and up a concrete path between the stilted houses. The narrow path went over a stream and up some steps, twisting some more. We were right in the midst of this traditional tribal village.
Tim and I were given some green tea and a key to the front door. We were told where to leave it outside when we left, so that whoever could get in later, and off she went back to her restaurant work. The lovely venture capitalist, she. We wandered the village a little. People were relaxed with us being there, giving us the usual extended stare, beyond western protocol, but nothing more. We took a route up some steep sloping and winding paths, which in days past must have been extremely muddy but were now pathed with a concrete mix. We took time to look at a sweetgum tree, which is totemic for the Miao, offering their homes protection. A plaque told us that the mother butterfly had been birthed from it and had layed twelve eggs, one of which gave rise to a famous ancestor of the Miao. At the top of the hill we were directed on by a friendly old lady but weren't sure where she meant us to go. We dropped down the other side, back and forth along the paths, with views of the terraces, trees and homes. On to the main street again we walked on out of town, beside the river, but turned back when dusk started falling.
Our host introduced herself in the evening, having cooked a meal for us and another tourist woman from Taiwan. Our cook was called Xiaomei and was friendly, instigating chat and keeping our tea-cup sized bowls filled with mijiu (rice whiskey). I hadn't had large amounts of this for some time and being in the mood for intoxication drank seven bowls of the stuff, talking rubbish as you do at such moments of inebriation. Going to our room and lying on my bed was the catalyst to a culinary projection. I managed to roll over and vomit on the wooden plank floor before turning back and falling asleep. I was content to have missed my sheets.
We'd arranged during this revellry, on my part at least, to hire Xiaomei as a guide for a hike through some of her local villages. I survived by drinking plenty of cola. We spent most of the day walking at a slow pace. We first stopped at Dawushao on the way, and witnessed some kids playing basketball on their court atop a hill in this very rural of places. They have them all over China. I made it known that I'd like a few shots and expected them to pass me the ball but it seemed as if I must gain control of the ball myself. I don't think these children were being intentionally unwelcoming but after a minute or so I lost interest.
We walked on and arrived at Xiaomei's parents. They were very friendly. Her mother had captivating cheek bones and generously protruding lips - a natural pout - and sweet intoxicated eyes. Her long vowels and tone governed sounds, with rising and lowering volume, was musical. She looked with open eyes and heart, sucking her tongue between her teeth as she listened to why I couldn't drink the mijiu they offered... because I'd been sick yesterday. Her and her husband laughed the knowing respectful laugh as Xiaomei told them of the night gone. We finished our meal and the father went back to his cigar smoking and watching. The mother took out some more mijiu and this time indicated that it was important for Tim and I to partake. She gave us both two shots of the spirit, holding the bowl in her hands and tilting it for us each time. Then she took the bowl in both her hands and looked at us to confirm the significance of the act, before taking two shots herself. When we were leaving their home both parents stood and took hold of our hands, heartily wishing us well. "Man zou", they said. Walk slowly. A chinese bidding to take care.
Walking through Paile we passed young men hanging around, sitting on motorbikes. A few sat down from the bridge we crosssed, by the river. Late afternnoon we neared Jidao, where we planned to see a bull-fighting festival. It seemed from what we'd heard that there were many of these, on a regular basis, and that they fulfilled something akin to that of the weekly football matches, which crowds converged on in England. A flash car passed us on the road and a young woman rolled down her window and shouted something. Xiaomei translated it as, "Call me, call me... I don't need your money". As she said these words the mystery woman beckoned with her hand and then the car was gone.
The bullfighting was awesome. A circle of hundreds of people formed a ring on the pebbled beach-like edge of a river. Others stood on a wall and many across the river on the rising roadside. Perhaps there were over two thousand people. The massive animals stood on the stony riverside, held by a ring through their nose and the tug of the masters hands, waiting their turn to fight. Each beast had a number painted on its side. When the time had come the two creatures were bought into the clearing and encouraged to lock horns. Sometimes they would see the other and immediately charge, the handler allowing the rope to slip through the nose ring as they did. Other times some tugging and pushing to put these males face to face was needed before they would lock heads and horns. They would push and shove, disturbing the loose surface beneath them, and then twist or flick the head to unbalance the other. There would be moments of great force matched with great force in which they were paused in stationary positions. Then a rush of adrenalin, a flick of the interlocked part and a step forwards. The other animal would stumble and be pushed down and back. Then a moment of fear and he would turn and run straight towards the crowd, which would scatter, and the beast plunge into the calm water, the other weighty piece of meat chasing behind. And all would be calm. The handlers came to take hold of them, splashing them with water to cool them down.
I watched the first fight as part of the ring of people but got enough of an adrenalin rush when I was confronted with having to move out the way when they came crashing passed me for the safety of the river. I'd already seen a group of germans concerned and standing beside a small ambulance, in which was one unlucky or foolhardy tourist photographer, who'd been knocked in the head before we'd arrived. Later I noticed a miao older man who had a partially healed over gapping wound in his upper lip and nose area. It was safer to stand on the wall.
In the evening we ate with some relatives of Xiaomei's and I managed to avoid the mijiu again by getting our guide to tell of my incident the night before. Tim drank a little and spoke some mandarin with the four other men we sat with. Then we left them to their drinking and went to see an event at the village meeting point, which doubled up as a basketball court. The young, mostly girls about ten to fourteen years old, did some karaoke and dance routines, which they were marked on by a handful of judges who raised their score cards. A middle aged woman sang a traditional miao folk song, which included a yodel in its very difficult vocal expressions. A dance was performed by about twenty women in miao traditional cloathes, some playing bamboo flute like intruments which sounded similar to bagpipes but with only a few notes.
We returned to the home of Xiaomei's relatives and woke the host lady to get in. It turned out that Tim and I would be sharing a double bed, in a room at the top of the wooden step ladder, above the kitchen. My legs could not fit stretched out on the bed, so I lay curled up on my side facing away from Tim and my feet up by the pillow end.
After breakfast and turning down some more of the home brew whiskey, we ambled down to the centre of town and watched part of a basketball game between Jidao and another local village. Some officials from Kaili pulled up in their shining cars, by the riverside, and were received with fanfare, the bamboo intruments being played by four older men in full miao garb. We walked a few kilometres to upper Langde, where another bullfighting festival was taking place. A happy old drunk, classical chinese whispy beard and cloathes, who came up to me speaking his foriegn words, which Xiaomei translated, told me of his poverty and asked for money, laughing to himself and some other old men.
We looked around the picturesque village, with its tiny duck pond in the centre, bought noodles and watched some of the fights. Xiaomei treated some women she met, perhaps half a dozen, to food, it being her duty being with foreigners who obviously had staggering wealth in comparison to the locals. We walked on back to lower Langde, hoping to get a bus back to Xijiang. The fights ended soon after and as we sat in the centre of town, by the the road, streams of people walked passed and stood around, like us waiting for a bus. Motorbikes and mini-vans were hooting. I closed my eyes and rested my head on my knees. After an hours wait in this chaos we got a two hour bus ride back to Xijiang and Xiaomei's home, where we ate with her husband and a friend of the families, Tim speaking a little mandarin with the men.