Monday, July 7, 2008

Hong Kong

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.

Biking along the Yuong

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.

Dragon Backbone Rice Terraces

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.

Walking in Guangxi

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.


I took the bus to kunming. A cute little girl tried to speak english with me. Her mother told me she was very excited to see a westerner. She said, "Hello", and "What colour do you like?". Sitting the other side of me was a friendly twenty something woman who lent me a nepalese music CD to listen to on the bus. In Kunming she allowed me to share her taxi and directed the driver to my chosen hostel, called The Hump. What a wonderful girl. She got nothing from her helping me. It was a genuine warmth. Perhaps she got inner well-being and good karma. I hope so.
In The Hump it was very lively. Some reggae music was pumping. It was a change from my weed smoking chilled out week in Dali and I couldn't adjust quickly. I met a korean guy who was friendly but everytime I met him and asked him how he was he would say, "Bad". He called himself a christian but practiced the life of a womanizing clubber. He was upbeat and friendly but I wasn't interested when he tried to evangelize me. I spent my one full day in this city walking around its colouful and clean centre, modern in almost every way.

There was a fashion show in the street, with a crowd gathered around the temporary tent. When the sun was getting low I ambled to Green Lake Park and saw a couple of musicians practising in the open on their violins, not as buskers but presumably because the venue had a nice ambience and feng shui.

I saw lots of that open sharing of music in China. Carried on to some back streets full of eating venues and looked for a night club I'd read about called Speak Easy. The students I asked didn't seem to know it.

Ligiang and Dali

The old town of Ligiang was densely packed with chinese and foriegn tourists. To meet some locals in their natural habitat and to marvel at the species would have required some wandering or cycling to outer areas. Being tired from my walking in Deqin and at the Tiger Leaping Gorge, along with the recent heavy drinking, I decided to take it easy, reading a little and walking. The streets were cobbled and the buildings had the old style ornate facings, curls and swirls of colour from the sides of their sloping roofs.

The local Naxi tribes people, were being out done on the business side of things by entreprenurial Han chinese selling their products. They still had their customs being somewhat preserved in such things as their traditional Opera, with players of the traditional instruments being as old as eighty and one over ninety, grand and proud in posture but with humble faces and whispy beards.

On the main bar street for tourists, young women sat in the upper floor windows, in traditional dress and sang across the street a ritualistic chant about love. People from across the street, divided by a stream that ran down the middle of its length, replied in a rehearsed fashion the words of this mock ceremony. The girls appeared to be having fun but, having to do this every night, might have been just putting on a good show. Drunken chinese tourist would join in the melodious chants. This tourist gimmick stemmed from a genuine practice of this ethnic minority, one of the 56 indigenous to China. For this reason I found pleasure in seeing it. How intriguing it would have been to see these things for real, amongst these narrow, twisting, disorientating cobbled streets and quaint rooftops and bridges, with a mountain range backdrop showing whitened crests perhaps half the year. Frail sinous old ladies laiden with the fecundity of the distant slopes walking by. It would have been dream-like.

I stayed in Mama Naxi's guest house. Two french guys happily gave me twenty minutes of their time to guide me there, after they saw me dithering in the street and trying to figure out some options from a map on a wooden board.

Mama and Baba ran three buildings under one name. The hostel rooms, for 15 rmb (one pound), included free use of the internet and washing machine. In the evenings a banquet was laid on for all the residents, at a cost of 10 rmb per person. Each table of about eight people would have six to eight dishes... vegetables, chicken, beef, copious amounts of rice... and us hungry "nomads" would greedily indulge. On the wall was a quote from the biblical prophet Isaiah, expounding upon the idea that God had known us before birth and would carry us. If these owners were Christain they were fulfilling the ideals of such beliefs, choosing service over profit. Considering the amount of people finding this place to stay in due to it's mention in Lonely Planet, they could have easily increased prices significantly.

When I left they gave me a pouch of herbs, wafting a pleasant aroma, on a string, to go around my neck for good luck and two bananas. They also took me and some others to the bus station free of charge. A generous gesture. I took the bus to Dali.

Dali is situated on a plain, close to a large lake called Erhai, which has a 30 kilometres or more diameter north to south, and with a mountain range that abruptly announces its presence to the west. I settled into a lovely guest house, in a dorm room of three beds. At the beginning of my stay I was sharing with a school teacher from Kunming. He showed a little loneliness and desire for chat but was deligent in planning his holidays. I'd see him a little in the evenings. Language barriers prevented deep conversation.

I met some western friends in this touristy town. One afternoon we went to an american writers room, who told us she was writing a book related to dating and the Orient. We sat on the bed talking relaxed and jovial chat. In the evening the five of us went out to eat Peking duck amongst other things and drank beer. I told them of a night club I'd popped into on my first night in town and so we all decided to go. As we stepped into the main room, two girls were dancing on chairs and, opening a bottle, sprayed its contents in a couple metre radius, hitting me. They were in a group of about eight, all extremely wild. After we'd settled at a table and got our drinks, the other guy in the group went onto the dance floor, which was a raised stage at the front. The girls were without restraint and began pushing up his shirt and rubbing against him. A woman took the microphone from the DJ and began making sounds of an orgasm over the music. Another took hold of my arm to drag me from my seat. I resisted and took hold of the side of our table but she wouldn't be turned down and pulled until our beers began to topple. I gave in and got on the stage. Three or four writhed up against me and let their hands stroke down my body. One of the women told us her breasts were clasped by these nymphs. Sitting back at the table I said that I thought they must be prostitutes. But when they all abruptly left together we thought that maybe they were just girls from the city somewhere, on a wild night out.

I made friends with an Israeli guy and a chinese female student from Beijing. The three of us shared a dorm room. We decided to take a trip together, along with a young business woman from Shanghai. We cycled 24 kilometres, mostly along a busy road of trucks and the odd horse cart. To the right were rice fields with dozens of workers and the lake behind. Arriving in Zhoucheng we wanted to rest up for the night. After agreeing to stay in a guest house for 10rmb, knocked down by our chinese friends from 15rmb, we then watched as the girls found out that the showers costed extra. After some chinese style heated banter we left, Tal and I putting our trust in our new friends.

A lady sitting on the side of the street, selling cobs of corn that were piled on a small tarpauline-like spread, told us that she knew of a place and led us to a three star hotel that was undergoing some renovation. Unbelievably we got a room with a double bed and TV, which we decided was for the girls, and a twin room with TV and shower (the lads room), for only 15rmb per person. We happily dropped our things in the rooms and passing the splendid granduer of ornate carvings and decor that filled the downstairs courtyard/dinning area, went to find some food. The girls treated us with their knowledge of oriental food, from a mongolian couple run restaurant. We payed pennies! Then we went to the local store and bought plum wine. I fancied a little more than the rest so got myself a small bottle of baijiu and another mini bottle of something fruity and alcoholic.

We planned to catch a ferry across the lake in the morning but the girls had different plans, which they didn't candidly share with us. The business woman wanted to buy stock for her shops. She wandered the main street, looking at cloathes and other products. She took us into a dye factory, which was interesting to see, with it's Bai people in traditonal dress as they worked, sewing and stirring vats of purple dye, assorted products hanging on lines drying or else on display for people like our friend. The Israeli and I hung around as this searching for products for the womans business went on, but after a couple of hours we began to get frustrated. The Israeli said he'd go on alone.

OK, after warning the girls, we left, cycling down a track through a rice field that we thought would be a short cut, and then coming to the end of any paths and balancing ourselves clumsily as we tried to navigate through these plantations beside muddy water channels. I got my feet wet. Down by the lake we found a local fisherman and asked him to take us out on his boat a little. He charged us 5rmb each for about twenty-five minutes of him rowing us out and back again.
We then had tea with him and his grandson. He smoked from a bamboo instrument. Cycling on we stopped a few times, once to look at a market and another to buy a melon. It was good to get back to Friends guest house. We met the girls again in Dali in the afternnoon and they were friendly. The business woman showed me the many bags of cloathes and shoes that she would sell for a big mark up in Shanghai.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Tiger Leaping Gorge

I arrived in Qiaotou and took a room in Jane's Guest house. I couldn't sleep and sat outside my dorm, at around 2am, dragging on a cigarette. The lights were out and from my bench seat I watched as a party ended and people filed out from a room upstairs and onto their motorbikes or into their cars. Before closing up Jane came over to my table and sat down. I offered her a cigarette and we chatted briefly. She asked why I was up. I told her I couldn't sleep etc. Then she got up to go and she touched my face in the dark. An unexpected gesture. I thought of this Jane, as a very sweet lady. She walked off to bed.

The following day a middle aged English couple arrived. They were interactive with me, which I reacted to, as they informed me at noon that they were going to start on some beers. Their friends were going to arrive sometime during the afternoon. Another couple from England. They turned out to be a little younger. The woman being mid-twenties and the man possibly early thirties. I joined them for this debaucherous day activity. I bought a smallish bottle of baijiu and consumed that with lemonade, which lasted me until sun-down I guess. But the drinking went on till past mid-night, with myself moving to bottles of Tsingtao beers. At our peak us three men were singing heart felt renditions of the Queen song, containing the line, "Mama just killed a man...", and the chorus of "garramoosh, garramoosh won't you do the fandango", harmonies included. At some point during the night I brought in my air guitar. Crazy drunken english! As the place was beginning to thin and it was getting late, the man of the younger couple went to bed. Then the older couple shared a cheeky toke or two with me and went off to sleep, or whatever.

It was me and the young pretty English girl. My left leg rested against hers and I enjoyed the leaning of our heads close together as we listened to Frank Sinatra and tried to sing along. After three or four of these close up croonings, it seemed appropriate to end the night. As we were going to depart our separate ways she turned to give me a hug, and her stringy body was pressed into mine and I tucked my cheek in close to her ear.

The next morning I doused my cells with caffeine and then joined these two couples for the beginning of a walk along Tiger Leaping Gorge, following in the steps of the great Michael Palin in his Himalayas series. The couples were slow but I lagged with them. I wanted to go on ahead. I had nothing to say with my hangover taking away any desire for interaction. Stopping for some lunch, after what would have taken me perhaps one and a half hours walking max but in the group about three hours, the older couple dropped out. The woman didn't feel she could make it and decided to sleep over in one of the guest houses along the way. As they discussed this together I climbed a rock and squatted and then stood surveying the valley below, the wide and slow moving waters, as they were at this point, running by a road far below.

I bid them farewell from my vantage point and then about ten minutes on in the walk called back to the other couple that I would go ahead. So I launched myself into my most energetic of hiking rhythms, passing numerous people on their slow ambles. I strode up what is called the twenty-seven bends, or a number close to that, as it snakes up the slope. The scenery was impressive but less than what I'd experienced in Deqin and I was fighting my alcohol logged body. It was a walk to be completed. I stayed in a guest house called half-way. The English couple arrived about 40 minutes after me and that evening I drank with them and three other English people. I went through the motions of talking with them, and heard some interesting tales of their travels, such as eating rats in Vietnam and seeing the dogs caged in markets. But in the morning I was glad to get away alone. After just over an hours walking I'd dropped down onto the lower road and from there walked back to Jane's guest house, a gruelling three hours in the heat, clambering over a recent avalanche that had blocked the road at one point. At Jane's I had the finest cheese sandwich I've ever tasted and some strong coffee, before showering and catching the bus to Ligiang.

Getting back to Deqin

In the ghost-like town of Xidan we found a shop to buy green tea and cigarettes and got directions for the pass. After a rest we set out up what were little more than goat trails, until we got onto the more regular paths. I was having a rush of energy and enjoying the strain. Brook was a little weaker, partly because he was mostly living on boiled rice and fresh tomatoes. We met lovely locals who pointed us on in the right direction. But it was always up and up. We thought we could get over the pass within the day but as it drew close to 5pm we decided we really needed to find accomodation. At a kind of supplies cabin we asked if we could stay. They said no. We thought it a little mean. But I guess you can't count on the hospitality of others. So we walked on, Brook looking quite dejected.

At another supplies cabin we asked again. Fortunately there was an english speaking young woman who translated for us and arranged that we could stay there for 10 rmb each. The man of the house offered me a kind of rice whiskey, which I gratefully consumed and the woman fed me a watery egg soup and large bread dumplings. Brook ate rice. We both purchased beers from our hosts and drank away. The five year old grandson of the couple taunted us with his sling for a little while and then became quite friendly, and a male friend of there's sat around the table with us, making it a company of six.

The man of the house sang traditional tibetan songs and then asked us to sing. I sang Dylan and swing low sweet chariot. Then he showed us a knife that he told us had been passed down through eight generations. Expecting a cold night we were pleased when our hosts brought out rolled up matresses and blankets and we lay on the floor, with the smokey fire bringing some extra warmth to the mountain cabin. I guess not having a chimney keeps more warmth in the room.

In the morning, after some yak butter tea, a chunk of cheese to dunk and some old salted fatty pork, I was set for another days walking. We set off waving to the enthusiastic young grandson. From our nights rest we walked over the pass, an hours walk, and then dropped half an hour to Yubong. We were intending to stay there but feeling tired and not much like hanging around, we pressed on from this quaint mountain cluster of dwellings. Followng the river and valley getting back to Xidan would either take three or eight hours, depending on who you asked. We took the gamble.

We walked through a wooded area and then followed the river as it steeply dropped into a gorge. It was spectacular. Sheer cliffs rising above us. Rocky paths and bolders beneath our feet. Up slopes and then looking down on the cascading waters we came to a split in the path. We chose the upper path which after 10 minutes began to fade. We retraced our steps and then dropped down towards a tiny scratch on our eyes, which was a distant bridge, stopping to grab crab apples on the way. It was wonderful but our fourth day. Feet and legs were aching. Brook wisely succombed to my offer of sweet biscuits, breaking his veganism for some very much needed energy.

We crossed the bridge, stumbling on. I started to get optimistic and made predictions of Xidan being just around the next corner. " We'll be there in no time.... forty minutes!" The path then rose and became a ledge. To the left and above us cliff face, to the right a steep and long drop to the river below. Our ledge ranged from 1-2 metres wide and water droped from above and joined our course, sharing the ledge. The waterway huged the inner part of the path but in places spilled over and down 60 metres and more to the river below. In these places I opted to trudge in the water sometimes up to my calves. Brook lunged on in his heavy walking boots, stepping where he could on dry compacted stone and shingles, in some places six inches from the edge. He didn't want to get wet feet.

This part of our journey was dangerous and exhilerating. Fantastic views. A guide book would never advise this route. We took pride in our adventurous spirits.

A couple of locals passed us on the ledge going the other way. "Xidan zai nali ma?", I said after greetings. Hoping it meant, "Is Xidan this way?". They seemed to say, "Yes, about two hours away". This turned out to be an over hopeful prediction, possibly designed to not cause loss of motivation. Say what people want to hear. We came to a section where the ledge had slipped away in a mini avalanche. However the incline was such that Brook could stomp over, digging his boots into the shingle and earth mash. In my trainers I eased over, pushing grooves into it and then trusting my weight on the holds.

After about five hours walking from Yubong and six and a half for the day, we met a local who accurately predicted that it's another one and a half hours. We pushed on with Brook losing morale. I felt unusually well within myself, enjoying the inner determination which was overcoming the pain in my legs and feet. Being refused water from a local dwelling we came to, or miss-understood, we took some from the mountain slope and continued. I saw a silhoetted horse on a jutting out rock and wanted to take this majestic photo but was too tired. We were both on auto-drive.

In Xidan we forgot the lay-out and couldn't find a phone or shop. We were now beginning to get frustrated. Still very few visible people in this town. I wandered around the back of a house to look for somebody that could help us with a phone to call a taxi or advice on where to stay. A woman with a load on her back didn't understand what I was saying. I got back down to Brook and was glad to see that he'd flagged down a van which could get us back to Deqin for 60 rmb each. We began to try and haggle but then realized that firstly the driver wasn't going to budge and secondly we desperately wanted to rest up. Not keeping to our initial plan of walking all the way back to Deqin I gladly drank some coca cola I got from a shop we were taken to, and smoked a cigerette. Before setting off, the van driver dropped off his chinese tourist passengers and Brook and I helped a little with taking some boxes off the roof of a local bus, being a little taller than the locals. It was a lovely feeling to be involved. I don't think I could have walked another day.

Revelling in Mingyong

Upwards on a dirt track, boulders pitched above us to the left, the drop to the river on our right, we walked until we came to a fork in the road. "Now which way?" We sat a little dejected and finished up the last of the water we had. A car approached and stopped. What seemed like man and wife and three teenage and up daughters got out and began preparing a meal, sitting by the road. Don't expect much from my chinese. With the little I knew, in twenty minutes I'd worked out which track to take and that there were places to stay up there. So we trudged on up another hour. Always hoping the next corner would bring dwellings in sight. Brook decided to walk on ahead, which I respected, as it was the best way to cope with his exhaustion and would, as it turned out later in our trip, give me the freedom to do the same.

The first homes and guesthouses we came to didn't seem used to westerners. One lady was very friendly but insisted she didn't have any toilets or place to wash. I got her in the end to show me her tap outside and a trench that drained off out onto the mountain side. Others just laughed and said we couldn't stay at what clearly seemed to us to be guesthouses. Finally we found an old man sitting in a chair thirty metres up from the road. Seeing us look at the guesthouse sign he called us up. He showed us the room with two new looking single beds. Outside was a salted pig carcus and straw and farm intruments lay around. This old Tibetan man reminded me of a cornish farmer, with his fat cheeks and side-burns. Rugged and independent. He had a cheeky laugh when I asked him where the toilet was and where I could wash. He said he didn't have either by his head shake and hand movements. OK. We made it our prerogative to piss off his roof overlooking the village and later I shat in his barley field.

After an evening of looking up at the stars, with some baijiu ("white alcohol"/whisky) in hand, we got an early night. Our farmer had fed us scrambled egg mixed with tomatoes but Brook again stuck to rice and a little tomato. We both drank green tea. A little musing and we were out. In the morning we awoke, aware of the chore ahead of us. With our aching muscles it felt like a chore but there wasn't much to be said for sitting around. So after some noodles we set off. We re-gained eager moods, which transcended our physical states and we stomped up the mountain path, this time having left our packs in our room. We would return later. The goal today was simply to get to a glacier, which came down to 2900 metres altitude, on the side of this monster, Kawo Karpo. The peak being approximately 6700 metres. And then return for some rest. Other tourists ambled up, stopping for breathers and some took rides on the many horses offered by the local mountain people. The desire to get there and back pushed me on and we continued to pass the "average" man and woman. For one and a half hours we drove our legs into the slope and then we came to wooden steps which helped us climb to a viewing structure in front of the glacier. It was worth the effort. The sun was shining on our smiling faces and we shared the experience with mostly chinese people, who took photos of their companions before the natural wonder, with their hands raised in victory signs saluting the future viewer. The clouds parted for a lucky view of the peak some 3800 metres away as the rocket shoots.

We allowed our bodies to be guided down the mountain by our feet, skipping past stones and places of mud. The remainder of the day was for resting. But after some of the said, and our bellies filled, we wondered what joys awaited us in the one street of Mingyong. We ambled out of our home and bought ourselves some bottles of beer. The local wooden hut/shop was playing music from some three foot speakers. We sat down on the pavement and chatted as the village life went on before us. Horses began their descent from their heights of work to a more auspicious altitude for rest. Old women passed with large bundles of four foot sticks strapped on their backs. Two young women passed on the road and looked our way and some more sat across the street on some steps. Mini tractors with trailers, that had carried rocks from a nearby road and cliff-face all day, swung in near to us, for the last stop at the store before their trips home. And then we were told by an attractive woman in her twenties that later there would be some dancing on the street and that we were invited to join in. We sat some more and then got invited into the hotel nearby where this woman and some other friendly people were conversing. Brook and I mostly spoke between ourselves.

We were told that it was time for the dance. The local women did a traditional dance in a circle and attempted to teach us. I couldn't follow the fairly basic moves. I was more interested in the pretty woman who had first told us about the event. She was smiling pleasantly with me. But my poor dancing, which eventually turned into something that the tambourine shaking Bez would do, as Brook teased me, seemed to be putting her off. So I sat down, drunkenly talking of my failure.

After the dancing we were invited into the hotel again and sat with an english speaking chinese man, an elderly japanese tourist and his english speaking guide, a retired traditional opera singer from the Naxi tribe, and the pretty girl who turned out to be called Fing. She sat between me and the opera singer. He had a wonderful talent and shared some traditional Naxi songs and then encouraged Fing to sing from her repetoire. Her crying voice was full of emotion, which cut through me and made me feel the folk art in her.

Brook and I were drunk and after the others moved off we sat playing cards. It took the english speaking chinese man to tell us that they must close up for the night before we left. Fing waved through the window, sitting on the stairs to her room. Brook stumbled on down the road and fell over. I helped him up and he fell again. We got the 100 metres to our guest house, but had to climb some steps passed the farmers barking dog which was always mad with rage. I came close and tried to show some affection, which I'd taken to doing on each occasion. The fact that he was tied by a rope to a post giving me some confidence. I felt some friendship with the beast. But Brook hadn't got over his appearance and ferocious bark. He stumbled off the steps into the mud two metres below to the side, catching the asbestos roof to the pig sty and breaking a peice off it.

Walking towards Mingyong

The bus came to a holt on a cliff hugging dirt track, with a snow capped mountain just visible in the distance. We got out and took photos and urinated. It seemed the vehicle had some problems and thoughts of being stuck atop a mountain pass were present. But those ideas of adventure were short lived and the engine came to life again. Back in our seats a group of young chinese men and women tried to converse about their hiking plans. They told us that Brooks walking plans were too unusual. Hardly anyone does that. It was too far. They with their professional mountain walking jackets, drinks cannisters, walking sticks and maps. We with little more than our thoughts of achieving something that would put a sense of pride and purpose in our existense. You have to make your own reason for living.

Deqin was a pleasant little town, with the usual square, where men and women would go in the evenings to dance together and beam smiles, where children would bounce or kick balls. We stayed in a tibetan guest house and watched women's volley ball on our rooms little TV. We ate fried noodles and checked out a lovely bar, which I wanted to be successful because the woman owner was so lovely but only had us as guests at that time.

The following day it was wet and we got up late but by the afternoon their was some sunshine and we made a reckless decision, a mode of action which I was beginning to enjoy, and decided to walk up the mountain a little in search of a sacred lake. We thought we had enough time to make it their and back before dark. We tried to get directions as we took the towns climbing roads. Out and up onto dirt tracks we stomped. We passed rice fields with the sound and sight of trickling waters. The hill we traversed stood proud and we tackled it using the snaking track. Up and through a little village where dogs barked and a child staired. Passed a woman and her donkey. And then downwards. We didn't know if this was right but the ground became boggy further down and we thought this could lead to a lake around an unknowable amount of corners.

In the end we came to a group of tibetan tent dwellings. We intended to walk on and passed, but waves and offers of hospitality persuaded us, and we stopped for some nourishment in one of their tent homes, around a warm fire on the ground. Brook had decided to go back to veganism so couldn't take the usual tibetan milk tea, with yak butter, and bizzarely (I've never heard anyone else mention this) cheese which they dropped into my cup together with the beverage. Cheese and tea!!! What cheese in your tea?!!! It went down well. I ate this with rice and a big fried chilli like vegetable, the sting cooked out of it. The man of the house offered me a piece of his mushroom, with cheese and pepper on it. Brook had to stick with just rice and tea without the fatty sustenance. We couldn't converse with these hospitable people. We understood the offer to sleep in their tent if we wanted. We didn't want to ruin the purity of their giving by offering them anything in return. Really I mean that. Genuine giving goes beyond anything a small offering of money could repay. We thought if we passed this way again we'd like to bring some gift. To get back before dark we'd have to forget the idea of reaching a lake, and so with great pleasure at the thought of how wonderful simple human friendship and kindness is, we pushed on back to Deqin.

The next morning it was raining again but with Brooks inspiring words of how easy it is for things to dry out tied on the back of your backpack and advice on what to bring... "take the big backpack, it helps you walk"... we set out leaving most of our things at the Tibetan hostel, saying we'd be back in a week. Up hill we stomped for 10 kilometres. This was hard enough with a back pack. The rain was still coming down but we talked of Bob Dylan and I sang a litttle, the eccentric finding freedom in me. We considered stopping the night up on the mountain at this point and waiting for the rain to clear the next day but the places seemed pricey and the talk of the guest house staff, that making it to Brooks planned destination of Mingyong was impossible, only inspired us more. "We'll walk on and see what fate brings", we agreed. "If needs be we can hitch out of trouuble."

We were still using a road used by the occasional passing of local trucks and pick-ups. As we descended a little on these winding roads the clouds began to clear and far below we could see an opening in the mist. Tiny specks of dwellings lay somewhere down there on the flat valley, beside a brown winding river. Wow, beautiful! We walked on happily. On these roads, a small distance of what looks like 800metres as the crow flies, takes hours, as you rhythmically step on and on atop the winding mountain hugging track, stepping aside for trucks that groan up the slopes at what seems like 10 miles an hour. We stopped and looked up and down at a past avalanche which had clearly blocked the road at some point. We walked over it after taking some photos.

After perhaps 15 kilometres of descending a pick-up stopped and asked us where we were going. We said Mingyong but weren't sure of the best way to get there. Could we cut down over the mountain side, not using the road? They told us to jump in the back and we rode for a few kilometres to a path dropping down to the left. They lit our cigerettes and bid us farewell. The afternoon sun was beginning to burn. Hot and tired we let the weight of our bodies and backpacks push us down the steep stony path. Only directing my body as it descended I was going too fast and slipped, grazing my palm. That was a note of caution to us as we continued on. I wasn't used to walking so far. Brook encouraged, "We can get a good days walking in today. Tomorrow will be tough. By the third day you'll be feeliing good."