China II: Week 18

25/07/2011: Day 15

Instead of getting up early for sightseeing reasons, this time I needed to get my morning train to Kunming. Only this time my own stupidity gave several me obstacles which almost made me miss my train.

Firstly, I searched for my missing phone, almost certain that I wouldn’t find it. I didn’t. Then, during my search, I put down my locker key somewhere. The locker contained my laptop, wallet and passport. So, frantically I searched for the key and even resorted to using all the spares in the reception to try gain access to my locker. Time went on and it was now only 45 minutes before my departure. Trying not to panic I seeked assistance from one of the hostel workers. He tried all the keys he had before pointing out that someone had handed in my key earlier in the morning. Phew. This meant I was able to get all of my belongings from the locker and make my way to the train station. All that the delay cost me was the price difference between a taxi and a bus.

I was finally on the train and noticed that there were many beds despite the fact I had a seating ticket. Noticing that all the beds seemed to be spare I took the opportunity to lie down whilst I waited for the journey to commence. A short time afterwards one of the ticket inspectors told me to get off the bunk and sit on the bottom bed with everyone else. For some reason people weren’t allowed to sit or lie on the empty beds. This meant that each of the bottom beds was full with 4 people sat bunched together whilst space above us was needlessly wasted (on the bed opposite me there were actually 5 people, if I count the baby who was permanently attached to its mothers exposed breast). A little baffled I worked out that of the 20 rows of 3 bed bunks (60 beds) only 20 were in use. This meant over 80 people were sharing 20 beds on a 7 hour journey. Once again there is only one word suffice to describe this…China.

Thankfully for me all three of my bed companions got off at the first stop, only two hours into the journey. I was even luckier to have no one on to replace them. Therefore my eye-rolling at the lack of logic on the train ended as I was able to lie and sleep to the noise of a baby sucking on a middle-aged womans nipples.

As is inevitable when continuously going from air-conditioned transport to the baking heat of the sun whilst sleep deprived I developed a little bit of a cold. This meant that I arrived in Kunming with a bit of a runny nose. I hate having a runny nose.

Upon my arrival in Kunming I knew exactly what to expect from the city. As a result I didn’t let the people or the traffic bother me…much. I managed to get to the hostel in good time and get myself a nice rice based dinner. I came to the conclusion that my cold was an indication that my body wanted a rest and with my budget in mind I decided to have a chilled out evening with the cheap beer in the hostel and catch up on this blog…writing whilst traveling has become quite difficult.

26/07/2011: Day 16

So this day was my second day of travel back to where I came from. It’s fair to say the return journey doesn’t stimulate the same enthusiasm, fear or excitement that the original leg does. However, its something that had to be done in order to meet james, say goodbye to my loved ones in Foshan and Guangzhou and pick up the remainder of my luggage.

My first role of the day was to get up and unblock my nose. My pillow was covered in dribble because apparently I must sleep with my mouth open when I get the slightest bit of cold. I then used the spare hour and the good internet connection to add some photos to Facebook. Although I didn’t want to add to many (I have taken far too many on this trip). Much like my last experience of travelling, many of the photos go straight into the memory bank that is my external hard drive.

Once up and washed I decided to waste a little more time before, quite characteristically, leaving for the train station at a time that others would deem to be ‘pushing it’. Once day I will get caught out.

When I arrived at the train station I used the 10 minutes I had to spare to queue in a shop for tissues (for this nose problem) and a litre bottle of water. This items became significant later.

I then positioned myself on the top bunk sleeper I requested and mentally prepared myself for the 24 hour journey ahead. 24 hours on a train! In comparison the adventures and excitement of the last 16 days I was itching for some drama or activity…but its hard to find that on a train.

Instead I decided that it would an ideal time to catch up on my sleep so put my head down for a bit. The lad on the bed opposite me seemed like he had a similar idea. Then, just as the train was about to depart a group of chinese students took over the bunks below us. This would normally be great, but they were music students who are apparently in a very tone death choir. Nonetheless, I managed to get some sleep during the early afternoon (although time seemed to be lost on the train).

My packet of tissues contained 25 sheets. I worked out that this would allow me one tissue per hour with a few to spare for my morning toilet because of the hours that I was sleeping. (I was reading Around the World in 80 Days and decided to think like Phileas Fogg for the journey…sometimes I need to rely on my childlike imagination on lonesome long journeys). However, I woke up to find my tissues missing, a possession I valued more than my passport at that moment in time. As I scanned the area I spotted the tissues safely nestled on the table of the bottom bunks. I guessed they had fallen from my bed but were safe now. Then, out of the blue, one of the Chinese students removed one from the packet to wipe her apple. The cheek!. Then, if that wasn’t enough, 3 more students did exactly the same. I had lost 4 tissues in a matter of seconds because the thief’s have an irrational fear of dirty apples. Could they not have used one tissue to wash all the apples?

I guessed that it was an innocent error and tried to think of ways of getting them back without consulting a chinese phrasebook.I did not feel like befriending the crooks so got my spicy instant noodles and sat at the table below. The spice giving me an excuse to ask for a tissue. When I did so I hoped I would be greeted with ‘theyre actually yours’ but instead the response was ‘you can have one’. I asked for my own tissues! At this point I had given u and decided to use the two hours of battery life that my laptop had to offer. I placed my water under my seat as I used my laptop.

After two hours of laptop fun I felt a little thirsty but my water was not where I left it. I once again scanned the area and spotted my water beside one of the students…half full. I asked if it was mine and he said it might be and gave it back…it was mine. Within hours I had lost my tissues and most of my water…the students were not my friends.

Other than that, and I am not crazy, the journey was smooth and comfortable and I was able to catch up on my sleep. I actually really enjoy train travel in China, and some of the sights we passed through are nothing short of incredible. It will be great to share such sights with someone once James arrives. But for this trip I have loved being my own boss and met so many people along the way. I can’t wait to continue.

27/07/2011: Day 17

For a long time I had been dreading the 24 hour train journey back to Guangdong. However, given that I had a full night to sleep, the journey did not seem as epic as the number of hours suggested. In fact, when I woke at around 9am on the second day I felt back to full strength (even the runny nose was clear). The only thing I really needed was a shower.

I also discovered that the train would be stopping at Foshan before it arrived in Guangzhou. Thus, I was able to cut off half an hour of my journey and avoid a long and tiring metro ride home. In essence, just about everything about this trip had turned out for the best, as it normally does. I am beginning to believe that I may have mistaken good decision making with luck. There is no way so many things can go right for one person. Am I due for a big fall? I hope not.

Anyway, once off the train I got on the bus that I was familiar with and I began to feel like I was home. In fact, I surprised myself when that thought entered my head. When I frist arrived in Foshan in March with no job or money I would never have thought I would ever refer to it as home. But for now, and the next couple of days I will have to savour the city, and more importantly the people I have met within it.

So, my first stop was my old workplace; Sunshine Elite. Despite my dislike for the job and the principles of the school there were several people who I wanted to see before I left; especially Kiran and Carol. When I arrived I was met by Frank who offered to take me to a sushi lunch with Katrina. I agreed despite by smelliness, being one never to turn down free food. One the way we were lucky to bump into Kiran and we had a nice catch up over lunch. Despite the fact that I write about most of the things I do I find it very hard to talk about my adventures when people ask. Kiran was genuinely interested in where I had been and what I had done but I didn’t want to talk too much about it as I feel like I am bragging…of course I am nuts.

After a short stint in the bank where I tried to gain access to the deposit that I lost for my trip to Tibet I returned back to the apartment. Thankfully, for her nostrils, she was out. This meant I was able have a great shower and do some proper laundry (up until now I had been washing my clothes in the shower to save money by avoiding washing machines). I was then able to begin sorting out the clothes that have qualified for the next stage of travel. As it was still cold when i arrived in china I have several pairs of jeans and jumpers that have not been used for weeks. As a result I has been put in a bit of a dilemma; take all my winter clothes travelling and have a heavy bag or leave the clothes behind and have no winter clothing when I arrive in England in September. I decided that since I have had the same winter clothing for a few years (they call me Mr Fashion) it is about time I bought some new clothes. New sweaters for me this winter and a lighter bag…perfect.

I then used the remainder of my day to meet with Cameron (inevitably) and a few others for a few drinks. We met with Mike in Little Italy before Danny arrived with his 12 year old private student. The boy practised his English through a series of card tricks to 6 foreigners. He was great at both English and the card tricks. What was more amazing was the pride on his dads face at seeing his boy converse with so many foreigners with no problems. Perhaps what we teach these kids is rememebered…I hope so at least.

We ended the night playing pool with Fat Chris, Alice, Danny and Luping. Although no one appeared to be able to pot a ball. As a result we called it a night (except for a cheeky beer with Cameron at peasants). Little did I know that this was to be the last time I see Cameron in China. We hope to travel together sometime soon though.

28/07/2011: Day 18

Once again I had an unsuccessful meeting with the bank on this morning. It appears that the details I gave to the Tibetten agency for my refund were of my old account, which means the transfer got interrupted. This means it’s a race against time to set up a new transfer and receive the money before I leave China.

I couldn’t hang around banking all day though because I had arranged to meet my friend, Eliana, in Guangzhou. Eliana is a beautiful woman from Bolivia whose first language is spanish (sound familiar?). Naturally, having lived in China for a while, Eliana was an hour late for our scheduled meeting. Naturally I have come to expect this and wasn’t too bothered as Eliana is great company. We walked around for a while and got very wet when we got caught in a storm before we reached our destination…the brazilian restaurant in TianHe, Guangzhou. The south americans love their meat.

WoW! The food at Latinos was incredible and it’s always great to have bone-less meat served directly to the table…and there was a lot of meat. In fact we were in the restaurant so long that we were beginning to push it a bit fine for my return to the metro. It was important that I made the metro in time as I needed to see Cameron before he left for England, not only to say goodbye but to obtain the key to his apartment for me and James. What made this a little more difficult was that I still had no phone and thus not means of contacting him.

As it turned out we arrived at the metro station too late to return. Not the end of the world but it would have been nice to see Cameron before I left. Quite kindly, Eliana allowed me to stay at hers despite her electricity being cut off (she was all packed to leave for Shanghai on business in the morning and so didn’t need to pay for any more electricity).

So, despite not being the most eventful day it was nice to experience one last meal in Guangzhou before James arrived. But being in Guangzhou meant I had a busy morning ahead of me.

29/07/2011: Day 19

Since I was now in Guangzhou I had a very busy morning if I intended to do all that I needed in and still meet James at 1pm back in Guangzhou.

Therefore I left with Eliana to head for the metro to Foshan (she apparently needed to have her nails done before her flight which, in keeping with her laid back nature, she later missed). This was around 6:30 which meant I could reach Foshan at 8am. I think I slept through most of the metro journey as I can’t remember much of it. Perhaps all my Guangzhou-Foshan metro trips have blended into one mish mash of Chinese noise. Thankfully I was able to remember the way to Cameron’s apartment without having to contact him. When I did I managed to get through the security and knock hard in the hope of waking him up. No matter how hard I knocked I got no answer. As it turned out he and his girlfriend had already left and my chinese friend, Alice, had the key. Since she had nowhere to stay it was probably best that she had the apartment over the summer as I only need it for two days.

I then returned to the apartment to have a much-needed shower and to pack my bag for the day (a book and the laptop because I knew James would not turn up at 1pm). Still tired and feeling a little fragile I got on the Guangzhou-Foshan bus. I just did not fancy returning the way I came. I had promised to meet Judy before I left, although I had quite a bit to do…she wouldnt take no for an answer. I met her at 11am, as previously arranged and we ate some noodles. I desperately needed a haircut and had intended to have one before I met James. But apparently Judy was intending to stay with us all day (and had even bought James a birthday present, and forgotten it…Chinese).

So I now had a companion for the bar that I had arranged to meet James in. I arrived at 1pm, as promised and we sat with a beer in hand (this bar has happy hour all day…if James was to be too late it could have been fatal). Judy decided to order some sandwiches despite having just eaten. What annoyed me more was that she didn’t intend to pay for it and I didn’t want any….nor did she. So some sandiwiches sat awkwardly on the table for a while whilst I questioned why they were there. In actual fact though, I was quite pleased to have some company whilst I waited for James as we were there until about 5pm before he arrived.

JAMES ARRIVED! My two worlds meet! It was very surreal to see James of Torquay arrive in Guangzhou, China. The first thing that I noticed, as with all subsequent people today, was his height. James is a tall boy. It was great to see him.

We sat and caught up over a beer, which he appeared to need. I was so glad, and quite relieved, to hear that his first impressions of China and the Chinese people fascinated him. I was worried that the differences would just appear trivial to him. However, his first encounter was a bus driver hitting his own bus with a hammer…good.

After a beer or two Judy decided to join some other friends in Guangzhou. I think she left quite an impression on James. Both me and James stayed for about an hour after her departure.

Then, with the time in mind, we both got on the metro to Foshan. James, as expected, was greeted with ‘woooow’ or ‘so tall’ from the Chinese. He, like Iain, is more of a freak than me and it means the attention on me is reduced 😦

This journey was a little more entertaining that the normal metro trips. This is probably because I was trying to see China through James’ eyes. Its amazing.

We managed to reach the apartment at around 8:30 and James was introduced to Danny and Simba introduced himself to James, much to James’ displeasure.

After a quick shower and refresh I took James out for a Chinese dinner not too far from the apartment. I wanted James to experience some of the great food the Cantonese offer but was unsure about how his tastbuds would react. Luckily he seemed to love the flavours and he, like me, fell in love with the fried dumplings. I was a little afraid that James’ first chinese meal would turn out to be my last. We have a few days to ease my fears.

We were now full and satisfied. But James could not leave Foshan without visiting peasants, the bar offering 30p beers. We sat there for a while before joining some others in Lazy Mamas. There, as if James hadn’t had a long enough day in a crazy new country, we went to Grammys, the club not far from the apartment. Here, with Alice, Ali and some others we stayed for a while but decided to call it a night quite early given the length of both our days. This did not stop James handing out a few business cards to drooling Chinese girls. One in particular seemed quite keen on the tall man.

I think it would be fair to say that James’s first day in China was very eye-opening for him. He was certainly enjoying the attention on him.

30/07/2011: Day 20

Starting today I have 2 full days to show James Guangzhou and Foshan. And I hadn’t really prepared anything to show him.

Despite my inability to play host we made our way to Guangzhou by bus (this being the day that we had chosen to visit Guangzhou). We didn’t arrive until around lunch time so my first duty was to recommend somewhere to eat. Starting as we mean to go on I suggested the muslim noodles…where else. I particularly wanted to take James to one of these as I find the way they make the noodles from scratch with their bare hands in front of you fascinating. Thankfully, also, the noodles never disappoint.

James seemed to enjoy the food despite getting most of the sauce down his white top, but his chopstick are far better than mine were a couple of days in. After lunch we walked around a settlement on the outskirts of a busy shopping area. I lead us both to a dead end.

Following that we walked along the artificial canal towards Changshou Lu (I wanted to show him how busy that street can get). I also intended to show him the food market containing dogs etc, but I couldn’t recall it from the map in my memory.

After what had been quite a bit of walking we got the metro to TianHe, the centre and most expensive area in Guangzhou. Here I intended to visit Tony for the last time before our departure. I was quite disappointed to find that he wasn’t inside his apartment. Of course if I hadn’t lost my mobile I would have known. Instead I left 3 postcards and a book on his doorstep. I thought Tony might enjoy the book and the postcards might be of interest to his classes. James, however, felt that it was a bit creepy to leave random items on a doorstep with no forewarning. Tony later confirmed his confusion.

Given that we were in TianHe and James was sporting a Chinese shirt (albeit covered in sauce) we decided to go to the stadium. As we got to the correct station we noticed that several shops had been shut down and all the interior removed. It seemed as though the chinese public feel this is an invitation to sign the walls and write love notes. James, quite predictably, wrote ‘Birmingham’ as high up the wall as he could.

We then arrived at the stadium but were denied entry. As a consolation there were a group of martial artists performing whatever martial art they specialise in. As we walked around the stadium James noticed a few basketball courts and expressed hs desire to give it a go. We both went in and watched a bunch of chinese lads play basketball for a while. After a few minutes we plucked up the courage to ask them if we could play for a bit. They jumped at the chance and were a bit giggly, as can be expected, about playing with foreigners. I am rubbish at basketball, James is not…it showed. We only played for a few minutes but James described playing basketball in China (the place of Yao Ming’s birth) as ‘a box ticked’. It was a first for me too.

From there we needed to get to line 5 of the metro before we could head home. With a desire to avoid using the metro as much as possible I suggested we embark upon a half hour walk to the nearest line 5 metro stop. This happened to be Zhujiang New Town, the stop I first chose as an experiment on my first week. We walked for a while and got some steamed dumplings (not as nice as fried) and made our way towards the TV tower. However, we wer initially walking at a leisurely pace but the sky began to make noises.It seems as though storms give quite a bit of warning before they arrive here. Nonetheless, we were still quite a distance from the metro.

Thankfully we made it back in time and were even able to take a couple of pictures. I avoided having any more pictures with the tower as I defiantly have been too many times. As soon as we hit the metro station the rain arrived. It was almost as if the storm had waited for us to become sheltered….thank you storm.

We then made our return journey to Foshan, knackered. This was to be my last visit to Guangzhou and there was a small part of me that felt I hadn’t given it a proper goodbye. The rest of me realised that Guangzhou is a city not a person.

Despite our late arrival I insisted that I took Danny out for one last meal before we leave. She has been my saviour since I arrived in Foshan and the least I could do for her was to buy a pizza. I decided to take her to the Little Italy in the hope that I could also get the chance to say bye to some friends, many of whom regularly eat there. was still quite surprised that she accepted.

When we walked into the restaurant I was amazed that loads of people I had hoped to see were there, including Kiran, Kat, Miguel and Danny (other Danny). Despite their myself and James stayed with Danny (my Foshan mum Danny). We both shared a pizza whilst James ate a tiny bit of pasta. I think he regretted that order. I think Danny appreciated the meal and for the first time since I knew her she started to tell me what she felt about my late nights or nights I didn’t return. It appeared that she quite encouraged it, whereas I had spent the last 4 months pretending I had come home earlier than I did and tiptoeing around.

Danny retired home after dinner but Myself and James continued to meet up with Kiran and the others at Lazy Mamas. It is not my favourite place in the world but since there were people there I felt it necessary to visit once more. We then went with a couple of others to Grammys, again not my favourite venue. James, however, was having a great time and I believe he was falling in love with everything Chinese (including the women). This was especially evident when he was trying to put a cardboard box on their heads.

31/07/2011: Day 21

My original intention for this day was to show James the city of Foshan. However there were two things in the way; 1. there is not much in the way of ‘things to seen’ in Foshan 2. the things that can be seen I have already seen at least once.

As a result we took up on a drunken offer from the girls the night before…to go for a massage. Never a dull moment at a chinese massage, especially if the client is 6ft 7in. As both Kiran and Sarah were having pedicures in the morning, myself and James decided it would be best to give that a miss and pack. Once that was done I returned to Sunshine Elite to show James the school and hope that I could bump into Carol one last time.Unfortunatly Carol was not working and I had to make a final conversation with Frank. Hes a nice guy despite not being a nice boss.

It was then time…massage time. We met with Kiran and Sarah as planned and made our way to the parlour. Both myself and James didn’t really know what to expect. Once inside we were separated from the girls and placed in our own room beside each other….let the awkwardness begin.

First, a small woman walked into the room and approached James’ bed. She told him to remove his shoes, thus revealing his veruka. Then, by a stroke of luck, a slightly more attractive woman came to do the same to me. Both woman then started to punch our feet like it is the most normal thing one human can do to another. From this we should have realised that it was to be no ordinary massage.

Once again I had allowed my feet to get quite dirty…which meant I had the embarrassment of having them cleaned before the masseuse went any further.

Myself and James lay on adjacent beds watching a friendly match between Man Utd and Barcelona…as if coordinating both our masculine and feminine sides. However, things became a little awkward as our little chinese ladies began caressing our calves, and then our thieghs in the full view of the other. Of course, once the theighs were nicely caressed and relaxed both women would then beat each leg individually.

During this time I found the only way to hide/mask my embarrassment was to laugh or make conversation with my lady. As she spoke no english I tried out my chinese and tried to find out her age (how rude of me). I guessed that she was about 23 given her fresh face and cute manner. She then revealed that she was 40 and had a young daughter. Both me and James refused to believe this throughout our ordeal.

In fact, as if the beating of our feet and legs wasn’t bad enough, both women tried their best to make us scream with pain as they worked their way up our bodies. Of course we got dozens of punches in our arms and our fingers crushed and pulled…but who wants to relax during a massage?

The beatings got more and more brutal (excepted when she rubbed her hair in my palm…that was weird) but the worst was yet to come. We were turned onto our backs and beaten again, this time with our heads in a pillow. Both women then decided their hands were not adequate enough to complete their jobs so stood up on the bed and walked up and down our spines. Of course they made sure they hit the spots that made us cry out in pain. What made this more terrifying was that the football had already finished and we had no idea how much time we had remaining being beaten by women….plenty was the answer.

Next we had to sit on the end of the bed crossed legged. This is a position I associate with meditation, and therefore peace. However the pretty women who were seeking to destroy us then, quit out of the blue, performed some sort of wrestling move on us to get us into a position that made us beg for mercy. to create a picture; James’ masseur was probably about 5ft 3in and perhaps wieghed 40kg. She was on her back and lifting a 6ft 7in man twice her weight in the air using only her legs. It was incredible to see and had us all in fits of laughter…including the women. I think the fact that we were laughing and joking indicated that we were enjoying the brutality so they continued to try all their moves on us. My favourite probably being the ‘back-breaker’…one can imagine.

It turned out that we had actually paid for 118 minutes of ‘massage’ but the women finished a few minutes early. Mine decided to use this time to play with and tickle the hairs on my stomach…a bit weird. Eventually it was over. Despite the beating I definitely felt better for it and in truth found it quite an enjoyable and memorable experience. I think James did too.

On return to the apartment we were greeted with what has become one of my favourite smells in the world…Danny’s Homemade Dumplings! And she knows it! She wanted to cook some for my last meal with her. Shes an amazing woman! Who else would allow a smelly, disorganised and excitable young Englishman for such a long time? I owe her so much. This time I think I enjoyed the dumplings more than I ever did before. Danny had even cooked too many so that we would have some for the train. Sticking by what is expected of me, I left them behind.

So , after dinner and a quick shower it was time to leave Danny’s apartment for the last time. I know that I will miss her and Momo and I know that she now considers me one of her family, Therefore saying good bye to her was actually quite hard. I owe her so much and hope I can stay in contact. It felt so weird to think I may never return to the place I have called home. Even writing about it now I realise how much has been done in the last 5 months and how it would not have been done without Danny. Big thanks to her!

We then arrived at the train station where we waited for our boarding. Naturally we were made a fuss of for being foreign. I think people would kick off in England if the Chinese got preferential treatment. .

Anyway, boarding the train meant my Guangdog experience was once again over…but I said that last time. Will I be back? who knows. All I know is that I wouldn’t change a moment of this experience either.

We then had a sleeper train to Nanning accompanied by a Nanning under 12 girls football team…giggling away at the foreigners and contriving english sentences between them. Still, we were able to have a good rest after being bullied by small chinese masseuse. Good bye Guangdong….Hello next leg of the journey.

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