Love and Hate in China


Hello everyone...I've wheeled into the town of Lincang and decided that it's nigh time for a Christmas entry....a quickie while I'm on the road, photos to follow. Happy Christmas to you all! Hope you're all having happy holidays and enjoying the sunshine.


It's almost 7000km since I left many of you on that snowy Mount Wellington. Three thousand kilometres ago I was standing over the sausages of a suburban Darwin supermarket deli, talking to a friendly Maori woman. We got talking about where we were each from, and where I was going. She ended with 'Well, if you keep smiling like that, you'll be OK!' I took it to heart and almost got knocked over from all directions in Thailand, where every person seemed to be as happy as Larry and keen for a laugh. Laos was similar, perhaps the most laid-back place I've been. Outside the main street of Luang Prabang, which felt more like Provence than Asia, the locals sat on their stools and watched the world go by. Unfortunately Luang Prabang was alos memorable for the worst case of the trots imaginable, though after a week I was still alive, and eating again.


Coming down hills into villages I had to dodge people, chooks, pigs and potholes; suddenly I was in China. All the blue trucks in the world appeared to be on the road from Laos to Jinghong, and when I had the bright idea of taking a side road to Jinghing they were on it too, only it was steeper and more narrow.


The man in the internet cafe in Jinghong wasn't so friendly. He simply said 'maiyo!' 'Don't have' and shoved his hand in my face. There were plenty of computers free, but he wasn't going to let a foreigner use one, nor explain why. 'Well!' I thought, 'what sort of a country is this?' I was furious and stalked out, and so began Love And Hate in China, as Ester, a Dutch cyclist I met summed it up. I tore myself away from Jinghong's two travellers' cafes and headed out up the lesser western road towards, eventually, Dali.


In this part of China the hills build up the further north you go, from one-thousand and something to 3000 plus metres here. They're covered in magnificent terraces of tea, fallow rice paddies, sugarcane in blocks, veggies, a tumbling stream or two and a road winding its way up to one of a variety of passes. That's the Love in China bit. It's magnificent.


The Hate bit is down in the valleys, which contain polluted towns entirely of new buildings less than 50 years old and ubiquitously clad in white bathroom tiles. The people are less friendly and more likely to simply turn away when you stop at an intersection feeling rather lost. It's frustratinga and baffling...I kept going and found sanctuary in tiny mountain guesthouses, like the one under the pass at Fuyong, where I was waved over in the dusk to sit by their fire and warm my knees, and my hands with a cup of tea. It was jolly cold that morning, and I set of down the road in two jumpers and trousers.


The road - by then it had turned into cobblestones after a previous incredible day bumping, winding, ploughing my way over gravel, around potholes, pits, piles of gravel, landslides and two-inch thick dust that came up in clouds from my wheels as from a puffball fungus. Coming into a hotel that night they laughed at me - and in the mirror I was eyebrows to toes covered in muck, just like Sputnik the bike. That road was hard, awesome fun. The cobblestones were crap. My personal hell would be an eternal uphill on a cobblestone road. You creep along in you lowest gears putting half your energy into a monotonous jarring up-and-down. Ah well! I got there.


The last few days have actually been incredibly hard. The attitude of so many people to a traveller coming through has been to stare and call out 'Helloooo!' in the tone reserved for talking to a parrot or a small kid...in one town yesterday looking for a feed I cycled up the main street to find people pulling their friends out from the shops to get a better view of the travelling freak show...and all the way down they laughed. Horrible.


Hats off to the man in Quannai, father of the cook who was stir-frying up a storm of a late lunch. He had terrible red teeth, enormous ears (they stuck out at least 3 cm, and flapped as he spoke) and must have been about 70. He sat and watched me eat, with a smile on his face and chattered away to me in Chinese. He must have seen that I liked the tea, as he wouldn't let me leave without stuffing a handful of leaves in my handlebar bag. With the leaves he gave me the feeling that, perhaps, China was possible after all.


About five days to Dali and a Christmas break. I'm looking forward to getting up into the big mountains. A huge hello, and Christmas hug to everyone. Thanks to everyone who's helped me out with emails, texts, advice (yes, Gav, I'm keeping my knees warm) and support.


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