Tag Archives: Chinese Drivers

Guiyang to Chengdu 18 December 2014 – 01 January 2015

Time waits for no man and since our last blog post, time has marched on and lots has happened. We’re now actually back in Malaysia where we plan to be back on the bike in a few days time, but this post will tell you a bit more about our time in China and another post that will hopefully go up in a few days time, will tell you all about Tamar’s brother’s fantastic Han Dynasty traditional Chinese wedding.

Cool Guiyang, Colorful Guizhou, Beautiful China (taken from inside the bus)

Cool Guiyang, Colorful Guizhou, Beautiful China (taken from inside the bus)

In many ways, China has got under our skin, but in a good way. While the hooting horns still bring us close to committing a crime, the other universe that China sits in just continues to amaze (although sometimes shock) nearly every day. In the last blog post, our plan was to be on a bus the following day, going about 600kms north and out of the mountains. We were told to be at the bus-station for 11:00am. Sadly this information was incorrect and we should have been there for 9:00am for the once-a-day service from Guiyang (Guizhou province) to Zigong (Sichuan province). On discovering that we were a little late for that day’s bus, we considered a number of options such as going to another city, but then decided just to settle for travelling the following day instead, and we bought our tickets and made arrangements with the bus-station police crew for their help in getting the bike through the station and onto the bus in the morning. We found a local hotel for the night as it began to snow, and then in the morning everything went swimmingly and by 4:00pm we were in Zigong, 600kms away and about 10 degrees warmer, 1000m lower down out of the mountains.

It’s cold out there (taken from inside the bus)

It’s cold out there (taken from inside the bus)

The bike had to be split into two to fit into the luggage compartments underneath, but that was all fine and the bus journey was very straight forward. The bus travelled on the expressway (motorway toll-road) but from it we could regularly see the road that we would have been cycling on had we ridden the journey, and just like before Guiyang, the road went up and down steep hills at every opportunity while the expressway, regularly up on stilts, just cruised through and over the mountains. We crossed high points at about 1600m and the hills were covered in snow and it looked bitterly cold out there. Such contrast to Zigong when we arrived there at about 400m altitude, with the warm sunshine causing us to shed the thermal layers of clothing that we thought would be necessary. It would have been a tough 6 or 7 days on the bike from Guiyang to Zigong and we would certainly have not arrived in Chengdu in time for Christmas with Tamar’s brother.

Spinning rope out of rice-straw

Spinning rope out of rice-straw

Our route from Zigong to Chengdu was via the town of Leshan which is home to the world’s largest Buddha statue (carved from stone). I think in our travels so far, at least half of the Buddha statues that we’ve visited have been the largest in the world, when you fully read the small print, for example, the largest lying Buddha made with a wooden frame and covered with papier mache. But without doubt, Leshan’s “Da-Fo” (large Buddha) is pretty big at 71m tall and this makes his fingernails larger than the average person. The road from Zigong to Leshan took us through an area where lots of bamboo is grown and where lots of large specimen trees were sold. The root-ball of the trees was trussed up with rope. A bit later, we passed a workshop where they were making reels of rope and we stopped for a look and were impressed to see that the rope was being made out of straw. In the UK, straw is the bi-product of wheat or barley harvest, but in China it’s from the rice harvest. Three ladies were hand-feeding the straw into a machine that twisted the straw and wound it around a large reel. Then we put two and two together and worked out that this was the rope used on the root-balls of the specimen trees.

Buddha’s ears are apparently 7m long

Buddha’s ears are apparently 7m long

What big hands you have

What big hands you have

Leshan is a pretty town that sits on the confluence of two rivers – the Dadu and the Min. In the wet season, the turbulent waters of the confluence were a great danger for river traffic in years gone by and so a wise monk considered that if he were to create a giant Buddha statue right by the confluence, recessed and carved into the 100m high cliff, that would bring calm to the waters. Work began in 713AD and went on for 90 years and the extracted stone was discarded into the hollows of the riverbed so as the Buddha took shape, the turbulent waters were indeed calmed – all thanks to the calming influence of the Buddha. The statue is now in the centre of a whole temple complex and so, on our visit, our guide was able to answer lots of our questions about different facets of the temple and the Chinese Buddhist traditions and for a short while after our visit, we even knew our ying from our yang.

Ying & Yang hand-wash fountain

Ying & Yang hand-wash fountain

Oil lamps at the temple

Oil lamps at the temple

Arhat with eyebrows that show off his long life

Arhat with eyebrows that show off his long life

The Chinese text is actually instructing temple visitors to refrain from throwing litter

The Chinese text is actually instructing temple visitors to refrain from throwing litter

I mentioned previously about how much of Chinese life, goes on out on the streets – just walking around the towns and cities and cycling along lets us see so much of this. In a riverside park in Leshan, during the day, groups of people were playing cards while others were playing traditional Chinese instruments, and in the evening, a singing group got out their overhead projector and electric piano, poached some electric from the nearby lamp-post and then had their evening practice session. Who needs a village hall when you can just practice in the park? You will regularly see people dancing, or playing badminton, aerobics classes on the pavement or ladies with fans doing their traditional fan-dance in the park as we saw in Chengdu. All you have to do is walk around and be entertained.

Playing the Chinese Erhu

Playing the Chinese Erhu

Choir practice

Choir practice

End of a Fan Dance in a Chengdu park

End of a Fan Dance in a Chengdu park

The day that we left Leshan we had a great example of Chinese patience on the roads. As we cycled out of a small town we came upon stationary traffic. Being as we’re on a bicycle (albeit a rather wide and long one) I tried to weave my way past the hold up (Tamar loves it when I do this). There had been a minor accident in the opposite direction with a car’s nose sandwiched between two trucks – one truck had been stationary at the side of the road and the car went to pass it not noticing the 2nd truck already overtaking both truck & car in a single move, and thus car nose sandwiched. They were taking up three-quarters of the available road width so now traffic in both directions was trying to squeeze through the remaining space. With the holdup, people being delayed further back in the jam who couldn’t see the cause thought it would be best to overtake everything so that they too could get to the front. And so you end up with a full road-width of traffic, facing onto a full road-width of traffic. We managed to get the bike around one of the trucks involved in the car-sandwich so we were gone, but it was a long time before the other traffic held in the jam got through and started to overtake us.

Typical Chinese city centre Police car, or is it a golf cart?

Typical Chinese city centre Police car, or is it a golf cart?

Police centre of operations protecting the public at Leshan Buddha

Police centre of operations protecting the public at Leshan Buddha

We regularly witnessed another classic example of Chinese patience on the roads, but seldom was it demonstrated with quite the finesse as could be achieved by Tamar’s new sister-in-law. When queuing in a line of traffic at a cross-roads, waiting to cross the oncoming traffic into a side-turn, as the line of traffic moves off and begins to thread its way into the side-turn, if you perceive that its going too slowly or you don’t want to get stuck behind something, you just neatly jump out of the line, swiftly under-cut everybody and then deftly nudge your way back into the line further forward. The skill of your manoeuvre I think is best measured by the number of horns that you cause to have hooted at you and that’s where Tamar’s sister-in-law was definitely the master as she would smile and nudge her way back into the line-up without a squeak.

Our last campsite before Chengdu, hidden behind a derelict factory, amidst the allotments of cabbages and beans

Our last campsite before Chengdu, hidden behind a derelict factory, amidst the allotments of cabbages and beans

After Leshan, it took us two days to cycle north to Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan province. Chengdu has grown at a phenomenal rate over the last 10 to 15 years and now has a population of over 10 million people. Perhaps 15 years ago (I’m not completely sure of the dates of these) they created the first ring-road in the city. As the city grew they needed another a little further out, so they created the 2nd ring-road and then a bit later, the 3rd ring was developed. Then another, but between the 2nd and the 3rd, so they called it the 2-and-a-half ring-road. To deal with the still growing levels of traffic, over the last 2 years they have built an elevated ring-road directly on top of the 2nd ring, completely looping the city: 28 unbroken kilometres of elevated highway. Chengdu is also building a metro network. In 2006 work began on its first line and already 2 lines are fully operational with another 2 lines due to open in the next few years and if I recall correctly, 4 more lines currently being planned. China must be such an exciting place to work as a civil engineer!!

The rapid development has its costs however. Smog in the city can be crippling some days. It seems everybody’s smartphone is equipped with an app that tells them about today’s air quality. A measure of a certain particulate in the atmosphere (sorry I can’t remember which exactly) should ideally be below 50, but is considered safe up to about 100. During the 4 weeks we were in Chengdu, it was rarely below 200, often up around 300 and on one occasion nearly topped 400 and these levels were described as being “serious risk to health” and “hazardous”. With pollution at such levels, many would choose to only exercise when the count was low. We observed some very grey days where high-rise buildings less than a kilometre away could hardly be seen but we also had one or two very pretty days complete with blue skies and you could dance with your shadow as the sun was actually visible.

We arrived into Chengdu on Christmas Eve and Duncan (Tamar’s brother) was able to sort some accommodation out for us, close to his apartment. We were staying on campus at one of Chengdu’s universities and so there are lots of reasonably priced places to eat all around and lots of street food vendors, all tailored to the student market. Wraps or rolls, dumplings or fried potatoes, chicken’s feet or sweetcorn – it was all on offer. It was difficult to walk anywhere and not be tempted to try something else. That, coupled with the many great restaurants that we visited, have resulted in us returning to Malaysia perhaps a few kilos heavier than when we were diving on Tioman. Sichuan province has a unique peppercorn that is used extensively in the local cuisine and when eaten, is like a small nuclear explosion going off in your mouth causing a certain numbness. This numbness allows more chilli than might be reasonable in a dish to be added and so you end up with a mouth on fire, and numb, all at once. We dined on Sichuan hotpot, fish cooked at your table in a paper bag, wasabi laden salad that blew your sinuses wide open, Tibetan yak meat, to mention just a few of the highlights.

A tofu wrap sir?  Pop your money in the saucepan in front there please

A tofu wrap sir? Pop your money in the saucepan in front there please

You haven’t been to Chengdu until you had Sichuan hotpot

You haven’t been to Chengdu until you had Sichuan hotpot

Fish cooked in a paper bag – Duncan, Spring & Keith wait patiently

Fish cooked in a paper bag – Duncan, Spring & Keith wait patiently

A feast of delights laid on by Spring’s parents, seated with Keith

A feast of delights laid on by Spring’s parents, seated with Keith

One interesting factor though was the part the Chinese staple, rice, played in meals in some of the fancier restaurants. Our main reason for being in China was for Duncan’s wedding and we were lucky enough to be invited out to many more classy restaurant meals than we would normally allow ourselves. The lazy-susan in the middle of the table would get loaded with wonderful dishes – vegetables, meats, fish, tofu – but with so many great dishes to choose from, why would you want rice as well? And so there was no rice served. And as you dipped into each of the dishes and transferred some from each to your own bowl, it was frighteningly easy to lose track of just how much you’d eaten. And when the lazy-susan would start to look a little empty, more dishes would be ordered as the host became concerned that you might return home still hungry and they might be responsible for such a tragedy. It really was difficult to stop eating (for both of us) while there was still beautiful food on the table but our western approach of wanting to show our appreciation by eating everything, was proving counterproductive to our waistlines.

Traditional Sichuanese themed restaurant – the waitresses sing a song while the rice dough is pounded by the chefs

Traditional Sichuanese themed restaurant – the waitresses sing a song while the rice dough is pounded by the chefs

And later the waitresses pour alcohol down your throat whilst still singing – quite a party atmosphere

And later the waitresses pour alcohol down your throat whilst still singing – quite a party atmosphere

As part of standard wedding preparations, Duncan’s best man organised a great stag-night which began with an excellent meal in a Japanese restaurant with lashings of Asahi beer and lots of Sake toasts. The evening continued in a traditional vein as well with entertainment that included traffic-bollards and night-clubs. And of course on the morning after, most of the questions centred around how on earth did people manage to make it home.

Another glass of sake anyone?  Duncan 2nd from left, and best man Mark on the right

Another glass of sake anyone? Duncan 2nd from left, and best man Mark on the right

We spent a lot of our time in Chengdu, updating various other parts of our website (if you should care to browse the other pages). We began our itinerant lifestyle in April 2011 but our trip of 2011 seemed to sit in our heads as a stand-alone and not part of the trip that brought us to China and on into south-east Asia. But more recently as we meet people and tell them about ourselves we have begun to include that trip into the conversation of where we’ve been. So now we’ve taken the step of updating our maps and daily-stats pages etc, to all indicate the total number of kilometres that we’ve covered since leaving our home in Croydon. As we rode back into Kuala Lumpur from the airport last week, our records tell us that we’ve now done over 44,000kms.

Carved in a single piece of stone, about 1.5m tall – not cheap

Carved in a single piece of stone, about 1.5m tall – not cheap

We also made some time to do a little sightseeing around Chengdu visiting some temples, both traditional (Buddhist mostly) and modern (shopping malls mostly). In the streets and alleyways surrounding the Wen-Shu temple, there are shops and stalls selling jewellery and traditional crafts. You can get beautiful pieces in jade, amber, silver or gold. You can get a 1.5m tall Chinese ancient scholar statue carved in a single piece of marble, and you can even buy a severed tiger’s foot, and so some of the more shocking bits of China are found. As we walked past the stalls (yes plural) that had tiger’s paws for sale, when the stall holder caught your eye after you had spotted the paw, he would raise his hands to beside his shoulders, curl his fingers, and snarl his face, just so that you could be in no doubt about what the item on his stall actually was. It makes you fear that some endangered species don’t stand a chance – if this is in the open on the stall, what other horrors are available in the traditional medicine shops?

Tiger’s paws and trinkets

Tiger’s paws and trinkets

Half a screen is a disaster

Half a screen is a disaster

Tamar suffered a very personal tragedy while we were in Chengdu – her most beloved Sony E-reader (electronic book) died and had to be replaced without delay to limit the distress. A day of internet research and the wonders of Amazon on-line ordering and the void in her life was re-filled with a new Kindle Paperwhite just a day later. Using the internet as we know it, isn’t easy in China though. China has recently blocked all things Google, so the Google search page is off limits, as are Gmail, Googlemaps and all other parts of the G-world. Facebook has been unavailable for years and lots of other parts of what you might be used to using, doesn’t work either. This is where a VPN (virtual private network) comes in handy, but some days even that gets blocked and while you might connect to a server in Hong-Kong or Singapore, 10 minutes later it would stop working and you’d have to swap to a server in Japan or somewhere else, only to have to swap again in a further few minutes. Getting things done on-line was often tedious, but we survived.

Panda on a hot tin roof?

Panda on a hot tin roof?

Chengdu is also famous for the Panda Breeding & Research Centre just outside the city. This link between the city and the big bears can be seen everywhere and there’s even a massive one climbing onto the roof of a shopping mall in the centre of the city.

 
 
 

Could this be a Panda-car?

Could this be a Panda-car?

We would love to return to China someday and cycle from Beijing to Lhasa in Tibet and then on through to Nepal – sadly it’s difficult to predict when this might be possible owing to the heavy restrictions on independent travel in Tibet and the already short span that you can get a Chinese visa for. Here now are just a few more photos from our time in China and Chengdu. Another blog entry will hopefully go up within a few days or a week and that will cover Duncan & Spring’s wedding and time spent with parents over from the UK for the celebration.

You ought to get your ears cleaned out - scene from a Chengdu street

You ought to get your ears cleaned out – scene from a Chengdu street

Cigar sellers

Cigar sellers

A cool Chengdu dog ... or perhaps cosy and warm

A cool Chengdu dog … or perhaps cosy and warm

The sun sets while the bird lands – could that be a Chinese proverb?

The sun sets while the bird lands – could that be a Chinese proverb?

 

Tonghai to Mengla 29 March – 7 April 2013

Southern Yunnan: where the land is marked with contour lines….and the maps are not.  And where mangos, melons and pineapples are cheaper than apples and pears.  Happy days!

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Contour-lined hills in Southern Yunnan

We’ve spent nearly four months and covered more than 6,000 kilometres crossing China, and unsurprisingly the landscape has changed steadily as we’ve made our way from the arid bareness of the Taklamakan desert in Xinjiang province, down through the agricultural plains and steep, twisting passes of Gansu and Northern Sichuan, through the dramatic Tibetan foothills of Western Sichuan, and into the increasingly lush and agricultural Yunnan province.  As we’ve travelled south, and also as the seasons have changed, the amount of vegetation has increased almost daily.  We’ve now crossed the Tropic of Cancer and the hillsides are a dense green jungle, which provides welcome shade on the continuing climbs.  Banana trees and huge clumps of bamboo, some 15-20m high, line the roads.

Each banana tree has a single spike protruding from it with a dark red cone at the end.  A 'petal' of sorts peels back and eventually drops off to reveal a row of tiny yellow cylinders, which grow up to become bananas.

Each banana tree has a single spike protruding from it with a dark red cone at the end. A ‘petal’ of sorts peels back and eventually drops off to reveal a row of tiny yellow cylinders, which grow up to become bananas.

02b - 20130330-05_CN-BigBug - smlBut the most sudden change has been in the appearance of wildlife.  Gaudy butterflies flutter by, dragonflies dart and wheel around the bike, and heavily armoured invertebrates muscle their way into the tent.

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One of the few welcome intruders into our tent.

One of the few welcome intruders into our tent.

Since entering Yunnan we’ve noticed the quiet evenings being disturbed by an increasingly loud chirr of insect activity and now that we’re in the tropics we’re serenaded from dawn ‘til long past dusk with a veritable symphony of avian and insect music.  Hoots, whirrs, clicks, chirps, tweets, howls, whoops and shrieks reverberate around us.    There’s even something that sounds just like a small garden strimmer and something else that gives a very plausible imitation of a thimble on a washboard.   Can’t fault a bit of skiffle accompaniment when you’re slogging up a hill.

We’ve been predominantly following the S214 and S218 roads, finishing up on the G213 for the final spurt to the Laos border, which is now less than 50km away.  Traffic levels have been much lower than in other parts of China, which has made this one of the more pleasant areas to cycle in despite the long climbs.  There are still the same proportion of inconsiderate, incompetent and horn-happy drivers as elsewhere, but as there are fewer of them in number their impact on us has not been so bad.  I’ve actually gone so far as to take my earplugs out.  In fact, there might actually be a slightly higher percentage of nice drivers here in Southern Yunnan.  I think more people have managed to wave at us in a friendly fashion without resorting to hooting their horns or slamming their brakes on to the consternation of the cars behind them than anywhere else in China.  We’ve even been passed bottles of water on two climbs – which was very much appreciated.

Mind you, there’s always the occasional piece of comedy driving to leave us shaking our heads in disbelief: we were riding along minding our own business when a car that had just past us going the opposite way started reversing at speed up the road towards us and overtook us on its side of the road then swerved across in front of us and came to a halt – it was typical Chinese driver madness, except for the fact that it was an English registered car being driven by an English guy called John.  He had driven from England down through Turkey, Iran, Pakistan & India, then through Burma and then Laos and now into China, on route to the Honda factory in Japan to, as he put it, “take the car back to Honda”.  We chatted to him for a while and he told us that this trip had started 7 years ago, but he had spent a lot of time between India & Pakistan.  He apologised for his crazy reversing manoeuvre and we quickly forgave him as he was such a likeable guy and his trip sounded epic.

Keith and our Pino, John and his Honda

Keith and our Pino, John and his Honda

In general the road condition has been pretty good, with exceptions being a long, frustratingly sedate descent on bumpy tarmac into Yuanyang and a long, painfully slow climb for about 20km on dirt and rocks after JiahexiangBut even on good tarmac, with between 1000 and 1500m of climbing every day progress has been generally slow, and particularly so as our smallest chainring is getting very worn and slips badly when the gradient increases, forcing us to either strain in the middle ring (argh – lactic acid!!) or, more frequently, dismount and push the bike several times a day.

The climbs have had their rewards though.  One of the things we particularly wanted to see in this area  were the picturesque rice terraces of Yuanyang, so we made the 30km (1500m, five hour) climb from Yuanyang to Xinjiezhen to see them and were very pleased we had.  Even on an overcast and misty day they were beautiful.

A misty morning at the Yuanyang rice terraces

A misty morning at the Yuanyang rice terraces

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After admiring the rice terraces (and having our photos taken numerous times with a bus-load of tourists from Hong Kong) we headed off towards Luchun.  Our map showed us staying on the S214, but we ended up being directed onto a new road unmarked on our map.  This was great in one respect as it was a lot shorter and probably saved us a day’s riding, but a bit annoying in another respect as the new road didn’t go through many villages, and, after a day’s climbing we were perilously low on water.  We eventually reached a small village, but the tiny shack of a shop didn’t have much bottled water and the only drinking water available to the locals appeared to be in a limited container, so we ended up just taking a litre to keep us going and then a few kilometres later asking at a worksite where they gave us enough to see us through the evening and following morning.

The next day, we dropped down into the provincial town of Luchun where Jonathan and Annie, our Warmshowers hosts back in Kunming, used to live.  Jonathan had headed up the regional branch of World Vision there and he put us in touch with his replacement, Susan, who kindly agreed to meet us when we passed through.  We’d wanted to take her to lunch, but, as usual, we completely failed in our mission and Susan not only suggested a fabulous little restaurant (where she introduced us to the delights of bee salad),

Bee salad.  Quite nice actually.

Bee salad. Quite nice actually.

but she also sneakily picked up the tab whilst we were distracted by a colleague of hers who’d come to see if he could help us find a bike shop.  We are always on the receiving end of people’s kindness but fail miserably whenever we try to reciprocate.  Must try harder in future!

Susan & Toni at Luchun market

L-R: Toni & Susan at Luchun market

We spent the whole afternoon with Susan and her volunteer assistant, Toni.  We used their office wifi and then they took us shopping in the local market.  It was a whole new experience to go round with people who actually know what some of the things are that we’d often seen and wondered about (brown sugar comes in what looks like little blocks of brown soap).

We bought some mouthwateringly good preserved meat from this lady.

We bought some mouthwateringly good preserved meat from this lady.

We love the hand-held scales they use to weigh produce at the market. Oh, and see the man looking over on the right of Keith? I took several shots to catch the stall holder in the act of weighing and  whilst there's a changing stream of people walking by this guy is in ever shot, just staring at the apparently extraordinary sight of someone buying some apples!

We love the hand-held scales they use to weigh produce at the market. Oh, and see the man looking over on the right of Keith? I took several shots to catch the stall holder in the act of weighing and whilst there’s a changing stream of people walking by in the background this guy is in every single shot, just staring at the apparently extraordinary sight of someone buying apples!

When we showed Susan and Toni some of our photos, it turned out that the village we’d been looking for water in the previous day was almost certainly one of the three villages that World Vision are currently engaging with in the Luchun area.  It takes around two years to do a full needs assessment for a community , and then Susan and her team have to compete with other projects in China for funding, but hopefully the village we saw, and the others in the Luchun district, will benefit from improved sanitation, education, healthcare and agricultural practices in the coming years.

You can find out more about World Vision and its work here.

We met Susan and Toni again the next day.  They were going on a field visit to one of the villages further down the road, and they met us trundling slowly up a hill as they were driving back to Luchun.  Susan presented us with a box of ginger tea as she knew we’d been looking for some the day before but had failed to find any, and so she gave us a box from her own personal stash which she buys online.  I’m drinking a mug as I type this and enjoying it very much – thanks again for everything Susan!

Keith with Susan & Toni and some of their fellow World Vision colleagues.

Keith with Susan & Toni and some of their fellow World Vision colleagues.

After saying goodbye for a second time to Susan and Toni we enjoyed a 1200m descent for about 30km and then made our way along a river valley.  We saw an old lady and a child washing their faces at a roadside tap and asked if we could do the same.  They let us freshen up and then invited us for dinner.

Sweaty, hungry cyclists enjoy being invited to dinner.

Sweaty, hungry cyclists enjoy being invited to dinner.

It was mostly delicious….although they did insist on passing us choice bits of unidentifiable chicken parts which we had to swallow down with suitably appreciative noises despite the strange, gristly texture.  I really don’t want to know what the marble-sized, spherical object was that found its way into my bowl.

After dinner we said our thank-yous and goodbyes and rolled on to find somewhere to camp for the night…which ended up being on the verge at the side of the road, which had lost its nice tarmac topping and was once again climbing upwards.

Not our most discreet campsite....but thankfully there wasn't too much traffic overnight.

Not our most discreet campsite….but thankfully there wasn’t too much traffic overnight.

Sadly, this unsurfaced road was to continue for most of the next day, and it turned into one of our toughest days.

We climbed for nearly 20km and over 600m on a mix of dirt and rocks, struggling to maintain 5kph.  When we reached the top, we thought it was downhill from thereon….but were so wrong.  We descended a couple of hundred metres, and then re-climbed them (this time on cobbles – oh joy!) and then descended and re-climbed repeatedly for the rest of the day.  The road was never quite as bad as it had been in the morning, but a dearth of villages since the one we’d stupidly spurned at the top of the first climb (as it was only just after midday and Keith wasn’t hungry then) meant we didn’t have lunch until 3.30.  Luckily I remain my usual sweet-tempered self even when tired, hot and ravenous (ahem!).

Our last few days in China continued to be hilly but after that particularly hard day they thankfully always included some good descending where we could rest our legs, but even so we were both relieved to get to Mengla with a day in hand so we can recover a little before the final 50km push to the Laos border.  Northern Laos promises to be just as hilly as Southern Yunnan.

Much of Yunnan has been familiar Chinese territory to us, particularly in the towns: oblivious drivers; a preponderance of scooters and mobile phone shops; a cacophony of amplified electronic sounds emanating from each and every doorway; unashamedly rambunctious expectoration of an endless supply of phlegm; delicious and varied food and interesting markets.  But there’s also been a few things we’ve only come across in Yunnan:

A lot of the motorbikes here are fitted with loud speakers, and we speak from experience when we say that Chinese pop music is not improved by the Doppler effect.

Cigarettes are often smoked through huge pipes.

Two guys enjoying a good old toke on their enormous pipes whilst admiring the Pino at one of our lunch-stops.

Two guys enjoying a good old toke on their enormous pipes whilst admiring the Pino at one of our lunch-stops.

No self-respecting Yunnan lorry driver would be seen without an astro-turf dashboard.

Astro-dash with all the trimmings.

Astro-dash with all the trimmings.

Astroturf isn’t the only strange thing about Yunnan trucks….quite a lot of them have the engines exposed in front of the cab, with the cab facia, including radiator inlet and headlights placed behind the engine….wtf??

We just don't know what to say!

We just don’t know what to say!

Er hello?  Health and Safety?  Have you seen those exposed belts?  We saw LOADS of these chugging up and down the hills.  Check out the extra headlight mounted on the front of the engine.  Perhaps the ones on the bodywork are just for show.

Er hello? Health and Safety? Have you seen those exposed belts? We saw LOADS of these chugging up and down the hills. Check out the extra headlight mounted on the front of the engine.

Dog is on the menu – the next picture is a dog carcass being blow-torched in the market, right next to a cage containing three woebegone and listless mutts lying nose-to-tail around a bowl of rancid slop.  We don’t have an issue with eating animals, but do think they should be kept and killed in a more humane manner first.  That said, after being chased down the road one day by a particularly obdurate hound I did feel moved to remark “Bark all you like mate, you’re gonna be someone’s dinner soon.”

Dead dog :-(

Dead dog 🙁

We camped next to some rubber trees being tapped for their sap….at least in our ignorance we presume that’s what they were.

Are these rubber trees?  Is anything else harvested like this?

Are these rubber trees? Is anything else harvested like this?

Yunnan has some interesting public information signs.  We guess the text runs something along the lines of “Oi, peasant!  You steal government cables/shoot little birdies and you’re gonna get a righteous pistol-whipping and no mistake.”

Government cables sign

Government cables sign

Shooting birds sign

Shooting birds sign

And Yunnan has yet more traditional costumes, like this one with two large ornate flaps hanging down over the wearer’s behind…

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…and these ones with the brightly embroidered trousers and tunics.

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Automatic Mah Jong tables are the business.  Two sets of tiles are used – one in play and one being sorted within the machine ready to be laid out at the press of a button.  There’s also a handy money drawer on each edge to keep your winnings in.

Play was fast and furious around the mah jong table.

Play was fast and furious around the mah jong table.

And finally, we have no idea what this is but we call it the “Doctor Who fruit”.

Keith's hiding behind the sofa.

Keith’s hiding behind the sofa.

So, that’s the end of China for us.  It’s been a mixed bag of pleasure and pain.   We’re glad we’ve done it, and last few weeks in particular have left us with good memories that I’m sure will last longer than the bad ones.  And so we say “Zai Jian China! Next stop Laos.”

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