Saturday, July 4, 2009

Ahem...Raw China

We hadn't been decided what our next destination would be, but the turn in bad weather meant we opted to plump for a flight out of Songpan to Chongqing. The flight itself was an experience as the airport is at 3,500m surrounded by mountains, and is apparently the third highest airport in the world....Getting off in Chongqing it was clearly a lot warmer (breath sigh of relief) and we lucked out by being able to purchase and walk pretty much straight onto a plane to Guiyang, in Guizhou Province in South-East China. The guidebook says people often ask why you would go to Guizhou but we had high hopes for it... although our arrival wasn’t easiest!!! Straight off the plane we joined a taxi queue as we had been aiming to get a bus to take us an hour and a half away to a place called Anshun. No taxis were coming and with people queue jumping, we wondered if we would ever get out of there, so decided to jump on the bus... just as it left. Which meant we lost our place in the taxi queue and now had to wait for an indeterminate time for the bus to leave? Of course this is when loads of taxis turned up and the queue dwindled. Having only 45 minutes left to make the last bus we decided to forego our bus tickets and jump in a taxi. It wasn't until we were on our way on the motorway that I realised the taxi driver was saying he would charge us 100 yuan (the guidebook said it should be 50). When we said no and told him to stop covering up the meter he promptly took a right straight off the motorway into a massive traffic jam. We knew the journey was only 8 km and therefore should take about 20 minutes so we quickly realised we had the bad fortune to get a complete prick of a cab driver who was blatantly just trying to push up the fare by taking us the wrong way. Sadly my basic Chinese does not really extend to explaining we knew what he was up to, I tried my hardest and Adam tired to chip in too (although I couldn’t understand what Adam was saying either. However we both soon realised that swearing in any language is pretty helpful, as is loud sighing! An hour later we reached the bus station, which was after our bus was supposed to leave, but paid less than was on the cabbies meeting so Adam felt this was a small moral victory.

Walking into the bus station I suddenly felt like we were in “real china” almost as if everything previously had been easy. This felt completely impossible! It wasn't really clear who worked there or who was selling tickets, eventually I asked an old man who brought us to a lady... who proceeded to look as though as I was asking for a bus to Timbuktu as opposed to a town 30 miles away, and rattle off lots of incomprehensible things in Chinese.... I got the jist- no buses! But it seemed to me that there was never going to be a bus going from here to the town we wanted... so what next? As we tried to figure out our next move a school girl was summoned from somewhere with much better English than my Chinese, who explained that we should get a bus to the station and then get the train... bearing in mind the guidebook (which I was slowly starting to hate with a passion) had said there were no trains we figured what the hell... managing to somehow get on the right bus, which we actually got for free as the driver gave up trying to explain the payment method and bizarrely wouldn't take our money for (yes- another one back on Guiyang!!) we headed to the station. Guiyang even looked more like the raw china I remembered, fairly ugly buildings all bundled together, people absolutely everywhere, terrible traffic.... no where to be seen where the designer shops of Chengdu or Guangzhou...

Making it to the station it was by now about 8 pm at night. All Chinese stations seem to be incredibly busy and there were loads of people everywhere. One more trait of the Chinese populace is their unnerving ability to queue jump. Even if you are at the counter speaking to the ticket seller you can guarantee someone will stand behind you shouting to get their attention.... this of course happened here, but I somehow managed to ascertain there was a train going to Anshun but it wasn't until 23.55.

At this point, hot, sweaty, completely overwrought, I started to think everything which could go wrong was going wrong. Mainly because I realised if we got this train we'd arrive at 1am- not appealing in rural china! As if by magic I saw over the square of the station a rising tower block with the wonderful word “Hotel” emblazoned across the front, and decided this was the next best thing to Anshun. Chinese mid-range hotels have a wonderful way of making themselves appear very posh with large flashy marble foyers, but when you get to the room it's a little bit dingy and not everything works. This was no exception, but an extremely welcome one as it cost a mere £12!! It was a god send.

It may sound as though I am moaning about China and the Chinese here but I am just trying to describe it as best I can, it's with total affection as I actually find all this sort of stuff an exhilarating challenge! Besides, Guizhou has a warm place in my heart now as once we freshened up we ventured out and discovered lots of different street stalls everywhere and a bustling city. As cheesy as it sounds it v much felt like being in real china, where things are a bit confusing and not that easy, but that is part of it's charm in many ways – a charm which is disappearing as completely justly the country modernises and English seeps in.

We sat and ate noodles from a street stall and enjoyed a delicious cold beer and were grateful for the warmth which had escaped us in Songpan... We saw a place selling dog which I have always claimed I would try... but the site of a dog’s backside and tail sticking out is enough to turn even my stomach so there will be no do eating chapter in this blog that is for sure (Wilx, Nick and Bish- I don't know how you did it!).

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