...a bucket of disinfectant

Trip Start Jul 20, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of China  ,
Tuesday, November 20, 2007

There is unquestionably 2 distinct sides to China. Almost like a gifted but lazy child, the countries report card would read 'serious potential but must try harder.' On the one hand its steeped in history, the scenery is stunning, the people are open and friendly, and you would embrace them as the worlds next superpower. At the same time, its past remains only as various amusement parks style attractions, the scenery is masked by pollution that reduces visibility to under 200m, the people can be incredibly rude, and if China's the future Carlton Parmer thought he was a cultured left winger for England. Over 5 and a half weeks, China's good side has slowly eroded in our minds until only its big dirty ugly head remained and we screamed 'get me out of China.' That was at Lugu Lake and its taken 5days and about 70 hours of traveling to travel from the south west to the north east and board a boat to South Korea.

I haven't morphed into Germaine Greer when i write that China's problem is its men. At a conservative estimate 99% of them chain smoke all day with complete disregard to the health of those around them - were passive smoking 60 a day. They wait for the optimum  amount of people in their vicinity before offering a cigarette to every other man present and sparking up. For example, they sit on a stationary bus for half an hour before chuffing away the moment it start moving and the other passengers can't avoid choking. Another conservative estimate: 100% of Chinese men enjoy hocking up flem (how on earth do you spell this?) from deep within at least 30 times an hour and spitting it in the most visible place, i.e. someones shoe, the train floor, the bus window. I can't decide if people are ignorant to how disgusting this behavior is, or Chinese culture is ignorant of the phrase 'antisocial behavior.'

Lugu Lake is home to the last matriarchal society in the world and it was evident the women wouldn't stand for the usual behavior, and for the first time we saw 'do not spit' signs and no smoking rules being obeyed. The local authorities use matriarchal culture to attract its share of visitors from what is an insanely huge domestic tourism. This is a further problem of visiting China - there are 1.2 billion people in Chinam who almost exclusively holiday in China, and nearly always as part of a tour group. An enduring image is the sight of 40 Chinese leaving a tour bus, wearing matching orange Nike caps, following a bellowing guide frantically waiving an orange flag. Only far into the Himalayas and Tiger Leaping Gorge could we escape it. At Tiger Leaping Gorge, the deepest gorge in the world (apparently, but this could be Chinese propaganda to attract tourists) we trekked along the top of a mountain for 2days gazing down at the 30 or so tour buses congregated by the Yangtze river nearly 3000m below.

After trekking for 2 days i climbed down onto a rock to take a photo of a waterfall. I slipped on the rock and a current of  water gobbled me up, span me around, and spat me out 5m below, leaving me waist deep in water clinging to a grassy bank to avoid falling another 5m down the waterfall. At the time, the adrenaline rushing through body numbed all pain and any feelings of being scared; looking back it was probably the scariest moment of my life. Only after clambering out of the waterfall did i realise i couldn't move my left leg. Luckily after 3hours of trekking we were just 100m from a village and a guesthouse where i led prostrate in near unbearable pain for 45minutes. While discussing with the owner the easiest way to reach the nearest hospital (about 4hours drive) a 60 year old Malaysian tai chi expert offered his assistance. Using his thumb and index finger he pushed hard from my back down my left leg to my ankle. As he did this the second time he pointed at the blood clot he was pushing out of my groin. His diagnosis was that the impact of the fall had twisted my back, which had caused the tendons in my groin to twist. After his assistance my leg could bend at the knee, but it took about 10 days to be able to walk properly again. I consider myself extremely lucky that the only long term damage is the broken camera that was in my pocket.

In the previous entry i suggested Zhongdian should be named after Disney. To qualify this, Zhongdian is like EuroDisney, an amusement park that is ultimately a disappointment when compared to the real thing - Disney World. This is how best to describe Lijiang: a quaint rebuilt town in classic Chinese dynasty style and tailor made for tourists. We stayed here for 4days to help me recover and it deserves all the income it takes from tourism because it is a delightful little place that if you had the time you would stay for months. What did we do - nothing - there's not much to do apart from enjoy hobbling around the streets.

After reading what i have just written maybe I've ripped into China a bit too much and i don't want to give the impression we didn't have an amazing time. However, after 5days on buses and trains going 3000km across the country, with nothing to look out but smog and spit, our love for China has disappeared. It needs a big bucket of disinfectant thrown over its head. But to finish I'll mention 4 little things that made traveling in Sichuan and Yunnan provinces amazing.

Breakfast - The problem with cereal is that you get all excited, pour them into a bowl, open the fridge and realise your house mate has drunk all your milk - and milkmen have long disappeared due to all the ambitious married women that run away with who are essentially glorified takeaway drivers. Not in China. On every street corner there is at least 2 old women selling small meat and coriander dumplings eaten with an egg hard boiled in Chinese tea. 10 dumplings and 2eggs costs about 30p and fills you up for hours.

Chillies - The countryside is awash with huge fields of chillies drying in the sun which will eventually end up in every meal you eat. Unlike in England where they takeaways water down the Sichuan style beef with tomato puree instead of actually inserting any flavour, the local Sichuanese (is that right?) are incredibly liberal and your eyes will water by the end of every meal.

Himalayas - Hardly a little thing, the only thing their smaller than is the forehead of Dec 'I've presented every crap Saturday night TV show in the past 10years' Donnelly. But they are amazing.

The hours of daylight - In England we have the stupid outdated concept of putting the clocks back in Autumn in order to make sure its pitch black when everyone finishes work and people get so depressed they have no choice but to watch crap TV like Hollyoaks. Why should it be light an hour earlier when everyone bar the postman is in bed? The whole of China runs on Beijing time (GMT + 8), which means that in Sichuan and Yunnanm 2500km of latitude to the west, it doesn't get light till nearly 9am in November. Amazing. It then stays light till at least 8pm the whole year.
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