Tag Archives: Yunnan

Day 41: “Fresh Prince of Huizé…” – Huizé, China

Thankfully the ride in the death car only lasted about 30 minutes. I’ve never been so terrified in a car before or since and at one point I genuinely prepared my body for the crash that seemed inevitable.

The maniac skidded his car to a halt at a junction off the highway and we both stepped out with ashen faces, our limbs visibly shaking. I probably would have kissed the tarmac if I’d had time, but no sooner had we retrieved our bags from the boot when another car pulled over and the 30th hitchhike of our journey thus far was secured.

“Ah hello, hello, hello! We can talk and be friends! You are my friends!” the young man said, as he helped us put our bags into his car.

“My name is Ryan. I learn a lit’ English from teacher many year ago. Sorry please!”

Ryan was undoubtedly one of the nicest, most welcoming and generous people we’d met (and that’s saying something). He was short and ever so slightly chubby. His face was a Chinese version of Carlton Banks from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. He also had a strange habit of sniffling all the time as if he had a steady stream of dust flowing into his nostrils.

“Will you come with me to my home town, Huizé?” Ryan asked us, between sniffs.

“Yeah sure,” I said, looking at the map. “Huizé is between Kunming and Zhaotong, it won’t put us too far behind schedule”, I said to Michael.

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That night Ryan took us out to his favourite restaurant with his friends. We walked upstairs and were seated in our own room at a large circular table. To picture the scene that unfolded before my eyes and ears, just imagine the board game Hungry, Hungry Hippos. Now replace the hippos with Tasmanian devils and you get the idea.

Barely had the food settled on the table, when all of a sudden there was a whirlwind of frenzied activity: chopsticks, mouthfuls of food, spit and whatever else spewing in all directions.

Whole new ballgame … Hasbro's Hungry Hungry Hippos is to be made into a film

Eventually it all got too much for me so I had to nudge Michael on the arm and whisper, “Michael, slow down mate, no one else has started eating yet”.

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Once eating had commenced for real, Ryan asked us if we would like some “white wine”.

“Yes please,” I replied enthusiastically, rubbing my hands together.

But to my surprise, instead of wine glasses, it was shot glasses that were handed out among the ten or so guests around the table and a clear liquid was poured into each.

“These don’t look like wine glasses”, said Michael.

“Cheers!” said Ryan, much to the delight of his Chinese friends.

“Gambe!” I said, and we downed the drink. I shuddered it down my gullet and washed it down with a torrent of saliva that had surged into my mouth.

“Doesn’t taste a lot like white wine does it?” Michael said to me through his clenched teeth.

What we were drinking, we later discovered, was baijiu, a 40-60% AVB Chinese liquor that is usually distilled from sorghum, a species of grass. The taste is very distinctive and is apparently highly valued in Chinese culinary culture. Tourists, however, usually compare the flavour to paint thinner, rubbing alcohol, or diesel fuel.

“That’s bad,” rasped Michael, “I don’t think I can manage another one. My throat is on fire”.

One second later someone yelled “gambe!” and our glasses were filled again.

“That’s it,” said Michael, breaking out in a light sweat, “No more, I’ll be sick.

Exactly one second passed.

“Oh screw it,” he said, before roaring “GAMBE!” and we had another.

“Was that necessary?” I spluttered, after an ominous baijiu burp.

“Sorry mate, it’s contagious. Give it go”

“No. I’m trying to enjoy my fo- oh okay, screw it, GAAAMBEEEE!”

Everyone cheered and we continued in this manner until all the food started to taste like paint thinner, rubbing alcohol, or diesel fuel.

“Stop spinning the table Richard!” slurred Michael.

“No one is spinning the table, Michael,” I replied. “And that’s a plate of egg noodles you’re talking to. I’m over here mate”

No matter how much we ate and drank, the food and drink just kept on coming. Just as I was considering a tactical chunder to make some room in my stomach, the desserts were served and the banquet ended. Ryan insisted on paying the bill, in spite of our pleas, and all rolled down the stairs, down the street and into a Karaoke bar to have a few beers.

We walked in amid yelps of excitement from the locals and the whole place started buzzing at the prospect of performing their songs in front of westerners. As soon as the bravest one of them, apparently, so Ryan told us “the toughest man in Huize”, came over to us with a couple of beers, our table was soon surrounded by everyone in there.

Beers, shots and cigarettes were offered to us from all directions and the now familiar war-cry, “GAMBE!”, rang long into the night.

I think by the early hours of the morning Ryan had grown slightly jealous that we weren’t giving him our full attention and he suggested heading back to his flat to chill out.

“Fair enough,” Michael said to me, “He picked us up. We’re his westerners”.

Just when Michael and I were settling down for a night on the couch, thinking that Ryan was the most generous man we’d ever met, he told us to get up and he ushered outside and into his car.

“Another bar?” we wondered.

Huize China

No. Ryan evidently hadn’t finished yet. He drove us to the best hotel in town and paid for our rooms for the night.

Once inside, we both collapsed onto our beds and fell into a drunken stupor. Our brains were overwhelmed by the Baijiu, our stomachs were overwhelmed by the banquet and our hearts were overwhelmed by the extent of Ryan’s hospitality. Legend.

Day 40: “The gooch scraper…” – Kunming

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As we’d managed to knock off 543 km in one go, we allowed ourselves an extra night in Kunming, a large city of 5 million people with historical origins dating back 2’400 years. For most of the day we wandered around trying to find somewhere to wash our clothes but, because everyone charged per item, the prices were extortionate. So we gave up and decided to try and find a spa to relax in instead. If we couldn’t get clean clothes, we reasoned, we may as well get clean bodies.

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We asked our receptionist where we could find a ‘clean spa’, meaning not a brothel. She gave us some vague directions to the part of town she thought it was. We followed them and eventually found a spa-like place. It was ridiculously cheap, and even though I doubted it was the one the receptionist had in mind, we went in anyway. After getting very naked, we walked in and were instructed to have a shower.

Once showered, we were ushered into a large Jacuzzi where, being the only ones in there, we started to relax. It was at this exact point that my memory was ripped out of my head and irrevocably scarred for life. Just 20 meters ahead of me, at eye level, was one of the most horrific sights I’ve ever seen. At the side of the Jacuzzi was a middle-aged, fat Chinese man, getting exfoliated by a small, prepubescent Chinese boy, perhaps 12 or 13 years old. What was particularly gruesome was the fact that the man was lying on his back, with the soles of his feet facing me, legs shoulder width apart, while the boy was exfoliating his perineum.

“Are you okay, Richard?” asked Michael in response to my look of open-mouth horror.

“No. I’m not okay. I don’t want to play anymore. I want to go home”.

The contorted look of determination on the boy’s face, while he scoured away at that man’s crotch, as if he was a squire scraping the rust from a suit of armour’s cod-piece, will haunt my dreams for many years to come. Just as I was gulping down a mouthful of vomit, a member of staff came over to us and asked if we wanted a ‘beautiful girl massage’, for five times the price of a normal one.

After such a vision, though, it was highly unlikely that I was about to be lured into soliciting any sexual services that may have been on offer. If it was my joint, I would certainly have moved the gooch scraping kid into a back room somewhere, out of sight of the other customers. It seemed to ruin any kind of erotic vibe, which would have been difficult to establish anyway, considering I was sitting in a Jacuzzi opposite a naked, lanky version of Willow.

Reading my thoughts, Michael explained that we were only after a ‘normal massage’, not a ‘beautiful girl’ massage. Eventually the man led us upstairs and my spirits were brightened somewhat when they forced Michael to wear a strange pair of see-through plastic underwear, whereas I wasn’t required to do so. His look of indignation was priceless.

While he was putting on his little plastic pants, one of the little kids started drying Michael’s back with a towel.

“Cheers Rich,” said Michael, thinking it was me

“That’s not me Michael. That’s the gooch scraper.”

“I thought it was a bit weird that you were drying my back.”

“Yeah well, to be fair, there’s very little chance that I’d be dabbing your back dry while you’re slipping into a see-through plastic thong”

“Why is the gooch scraping kid still drying my back? He’s been doing it for five minutes now. It’s been dry for ages”

“Yeah, it looks pretty red. Plus he’s using the same towel as the one he used to dry that bloke’s rotten crotch. That’s blatantly his gooch towel. I can tell because it looks and smells like he’s just rubbed a wet skunk with it”

“I want to go home now”

Day 38: “Cock blocked…” – Jinghong”

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“Are you alright?” Michael asked me

“Yeah”

“Why are you walking like that?”

“Like what?”

“Like you’ve shit yourself”

“Heat rash. Too much heat, sweat and walking. Need to find some baby powder”

“That’s nasty”

Despite the considerable discomfort of my heat rash, we were really happy to be entering China. It was a country we’d both been excited about seeing since day one. This said, we approached the Chinese border with trepidation. While researching the journey, I’d read many accounts of the fastidious nature of Chinese immigration officials. Our first impressions, however, were great and it turned out to be a very easy and friendly crossing. The border patrol guards chitchatted with us using the little English they knew.

“Ahhh England?” said one.

“Manchester United!” said another.

We then had a 10 minute conversation which mostly revolved around naming football players. It was when they greeted the name Marvin Morgan, a Shrewsbury Town player, with the same reverence as David Beckham, that I started to suspect they were perhaps humouring us.

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We made it to a nice, tropical looking town, called Jinghong, in three short hitches, including a few kilometres in the back of a painter and decorator’s van with 30 or so Chinese workers.

Jinghong is known in China as ‘Green Treasury’ and ‘Gene Pool of Species’ due to the large area of tropical rainforest. There are oil palms, coconut palms and mango trees, as well as various other tropical plants, displayed in the parks, on the sides of the streets, in front of or behind the houses. This scenery, combined with the relaxed and affable attitude of the local people, made Jinghong one of our favourite places in China.

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We were walking down one of the many palm tree lined streets when we saw a sign for tourist information in a European style cafe called the Mekong Cafe. The owner, a lady called Lee-Jeung, spoke perfect English and was able to translate for us our hitchhiking mission. I cannot overemphasise how essential this translation became for us on our journey through China.

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That night, at the hostel recommended to us by Lee-Jeung, the Dodo Hotel, we met a nice American couple called Hill-Billy, or ‘Hillary and William’, as they perhaps prefer to be known. Hillary had a bit of a Gwyneth Paltrow look about her and William looked like Steve the bar tender, from Sex and the City.

We were walking along the promenade, next to the river, sharing travelling stories, when we stumbled across some live rock music being pumped out of a buzzing venue.

“It must be a wedding!” said Hillary, as we were ushered to sit down by a few people in tuxedos. We were sat at a bench to the left of the stage while the wedding congregation were all revelling in front it. The band that was playing seemed as drunk as everyone else and a few members of the party went up on stage to have a go at singing.

“We did exactly this the other day,” chuckled William, “We were walked past a wedding party and the bride and groom invited us to join them”

“We were the guests of honour! Everyone is so friendly here,” added Hilary.

Once we’d sat down and the beers were ordered, a young man approached us with a camera.

“Hello!” he said. “My name is Du Yao, I’m the photographer. The bride wants to know if she can have some photo with you. Is okay?”

“Sure sure!”

“No problem”

“Bring her over”

Soon a large crowd had gathered around us and, after one of them had heaved a crate of beer onto our table, complements of the house, they all had their photos taken with us, some of them in groups and some individually. It would always end the same: once the camera had flashed, the person would yelp, “Gambe!” which basically means ‘down it!’ –the method of drinking favoured by the Chinese, especially when with foreigners.

Once ‘gambe’ had been called, our excited companion would start glugging down their drink as fast as they could without so much as a glace to confirm that we’d accepted the contest. The fact that in China we felt like we were representing the entire western hemisphere made it very difficult to reject such challenges. The trouble was, as soon as the first ‘gambe’ domino had been tipped, this set off a chain reaction, and just as we’d squeezed that last drop of warm, frothy Chinese beer, another guest with a cheeky smile would be at our side yelling “GAMBE!”

It didn’t take long before we’d had to ‘gambe’ with every single guest at the bar and very soon we were all as wrapped up in the happiness of the occasion as the guests were themselves.

Towards the end of the evening, after more ‘gambes’ of beer then my mind will allow me to remember, I was busy trying to impress a pretty Chinese girl that Michael and I had decided looked like a glasses wearing version of Chun Li, from the computer game Street Fighter II (1991). I’m sure you can imagine the scene: there I was, oozing charm from every conceivable orifice, when I spotted Michael, across the table, giving me envious glances because he was stuck in a conversation with a girl that we had decided looked a bit like E. Honda, from the computer game Street Fighter II (1991).chun-li-e-honda-1

Mwah ha ha, I thought, with a smug look of self-satisfaction. Spinning bird kick for Richard, 100 hand slap for Michael. Perfect. Just when I thought my prospects couldn’t get any better:

“So, Chun Li, would you like another drink?”

“I really shouldn’t, I feel drunk already,” she tittered.

“Double gin and tonic it is. I’ll be right back.”

Upon my return with a triple gin and tonic, to my dismay, that snake Egan had somehow managed to slip out of his chair and, in Grinch-like fashion, had slithered up next to Chun Li, who he was now smoozing with his despicably potent charisma.

I sat back down on the other side of her and just when I was about to regain her attention with a stunningly witty anecdote, Michael leaned across her and “whispered”,

“Hey mate, don’t forget I’ve got your crotch power in my bag if your heat rash is flaring up again”

The whole table seemed to stop for a few seconds and turned to me. My jaw fell open and I turned a crimson red, half from embarrassment, half from rage. I aimed a series of vicious kicks at Michael under the table and, just as I was about to administer my finishing move, a lethal toe-punt to his left testicle, Chun Li turned to me and, no word of a lie, said, “Richard, why are you kicking me?”

 “Sorry, Chun Li, I don’t know what came over me”.

“For the last time my name is not Chun Li!”

I sighed in resignation.

“Michael, pass me my dam baby power”

I snatched the baby powder and trudged off dejectedly to the toilets under the glow of Michael’s beaming ‘Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland’ smile.