25 July 2010

The Tulous

The two hour bus journey to Nanjing County was a breeze.  Once there, Audrey tried to contact the tour guide who was going to show us around the Tulous.  I was day-dreaming for a few minutes, and before I knew it, she had found three other Chinese ladies who were to do the same tour, and we were all in a dodgy cab on our way there.  The four of them were squeezed in the back, while I lounged up front.  The three of them were from Heilongjiang, in the far north east of China.

The driver was a lunatic.  And very loud.  Actually, the Chinese in general are quite loud, especially when talking on the phone.  But only in Chinese, they normally talk much quieter in foreign languages.  Must be something about the local tongues.  But the driver was a particularly strong example.

Anyway, he thought nothing of overtaking on the outside of bends, where we could barely see the crest of the corner, never mind the bend and what may be lurking around it.  The road was narrow, long and winding, going up and down steep valleys and mountains.  It looked like it may have been wider in days gone past, but the jungle/forest looked like it was trying to reclaim it.

Turns out this may have been true.  Audrey had neglected to tell me that the reason we were on this road of death was that the new road was flooded.  This journey on the new road would normally be 20 minutes, whereas this one, without any mishaps, would take more than an hour.

After about 40 minutes, the car broke down, on a corner, with a great drop to one side.  No petrol was making it to the engine.  Despite our drivers best efforts, he couldn’t get it going again.  Cars hurtled past us on this road, more than once there was nearly an accident.  Audrey and the others called the tour guide, Shau Hui, who we were due to meet.  Eventually he arrived, and drove us from there.

He drove a little more cautiously, and talked quieter.  When he overtook on a corner, he used his horn to indicate this.  Actually, he used his horn almost constantly over the next 24 hours driving around with him (mostly when he was driving on the wrong side of the road for prolonged periods of time).

As a tour guide, he did a great job, and gave us a great background to the local area, talked knowledgeably about the sights and brought to delicious local food.  What more do you want from a guide?  On top of that, due to all the flooding, the places were quite quiet and empty, so we didn’t have to compete with loads of camera-toting locals.

Farming was everywhere, in complete contrast to Russia.  Every single bit of land was used.  Slopes were crafted into steps of rice paddies, and when it got too steep, they then started planting row upon row of tea bushes.  Thin valleys here looked like they created infinitely more produce than a huge open plan in Russia.  And the work looked back-breakingly manual, with hundreds of people hunkered down among the vegetation.

Audrey spent a large part of our time conversing with the north Chinese girls about contentious issues (prodded sometimes by me).  What do you know about the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989?  What’s the point of the Great Firewall?  Censorship?  Do you think the government is doing things correctly for the people?

As usual, we got no interesting answers, as they mostly towed the party line.  “It is not right for people to speak out against the government.”  “As long as everyone is doing ok, then it isn’t a problem if a few people have to be silenced.”  We disagreed with most of it.

We got another bus to a town called Yongding, where we would be able to get a train to Guangzhou and, subsequently, Hong Kong.  At the train station, we discovered the ticket booking system was not working.  We would have to come back that evening to get a ticket (by which time they could all be sold out).  One of the China Rail officials took pity on the dopey looking foreigner, and did promise us that we would get a sleeping place on the train.

We arrived back about an hour before the train was due, as that is when the ticket office opened again.  The ticket system was still down.  They herded everyone, with or without a ticket into the waiting room.  The official appeared again, and told us not to worry, he’s speaking to the people on the incoming train, he’s sorting it out.  Lucky Audrey, I was thinking, to be with a foreigner.

He then took us out of the (crowded, hot and stuffy) waiting room, into the officials office, so we could sit in the coolness of an air-coned room.  This was getting better.  When the train pulled up, he brought us over to a separate carriage, and we piled on.  We gave him a little souvenir that we had for his help (which is at first refused, might be considered as corruption).  Turns out there were no sleepers yet, but one should be freed up at the next stop, 30 minutes away.

That was the last we heard from him, and anyone he knew on the train.  We went to the restaurant car for a seat.  Audrey asked the guy who was in charge of the sleeping car we got on in, and he said there was no possibility of a berth.  We then overheard a conversation with an important CCP official, who’s just got a bed, and he’d been waiting for 6 hours.

To stay in the restaurant car, we had to pay for a meal or you get kicked out, which we asked not to be served, as we had no hunger.  I got a couple of beers out of them instead.  Then I had a few more, played a bit of Championship Manager 3 while Audrey slept with her head on the table.  So much for the special treatment.

We arrived in Guangzhou at 7am, and took the first train to Hong Kong.


Katie said...

omg your wife never told me all those juicy details like all those almost-accidents and stuff on your way to the tulous!

wow, all those special treatments you were getting!!! must have been your beard. hope you enjoyed your beer!!! =D

Ada & Rhodri said...

I think Chinese talk loudly because there is always so many people around you have to raise your voice to get heard. We also think loudness creates atmosphere!!!

Never noticed they are quieter in another language tho... and Rhodri agrees with me on this one.

Have a good wkend, A