I've just got 'home' from my Autumn holiday travels in Yunnan province with other VSO volunteers from distant towns in Yunnan and the next province, Guizhou. The first challenge was actually buying the bus ticket to my first destination, Kunming, but I'm afraid I cheated and got some of my students to help me. Next challenge was getting on the right bus - this I accomplished solo so I sat back to enjoy the 7 hour journey to the province capital, stopping at rural toilets along the way. I know now to bring my own loo paper, hand-washing-without-water product and not to worry too much about the lack of toilet doors or the overpowering smell. All the Chinese girls hold their noses and get on with it.
We also stopped for a meal, included in the price, and my family would be at home here. It was a case of 'On your marks, get set, it's gone'. I thought I was a fairly quick eater but they raised bowls to faces and shovelled the food in with their chopsticks and slurped away. Making a noise whilst eating is not impolite here - it shows you're enjoying it.
We finally arrived very late as it was the eve of the National holiday and there'd been an accident on the road so it was dark and there were no taxis around so I had no option but to try out my very limited Chinese on a passing policeman. He did understand me and pointed out where I should go to walk to my hotel. Round the corner there were fortunately plenty of taxis so I hailed one and managed to give directions to the street I wanted but he didn't know the hotel. I showed him my map with the Chinese characters on it so all was not lost.
At the hotel I met the first of my fellow travellers and we spent the evening in the very nice hotel bar catching up on what we'd been doing. The second arrived for breakfast the next morning. This hotel, the Camellia, serves great Western and Chinese food so I had noodles, fried potatoes and lots of coffee. It's also a great place for international travellers and was full of backpackers, old and young gap -year people, empty-nesters, solo travellers, everything. You can also book bus tickets and trips there easily.
We decided to stock up with English books as they're harder to get hold of in our placements and managed to get the taxi driver to understand where we wanted to go (eventually) and I even had a 'chat' with him in Chinese. Good job it wasn't a longer ride because I think I'd said everything I know. We wandered around, bought our books, lingered over lunch then listened to the people singing in the park before the heavens opened, and they kept open for much of the week ahead.
That evening we went back to the bar where Jayne decided to make friends with the pet dog!! 'Ni hao, doggie'. Maybe it didn't like the English or she looked tasty - it bit her - and , to cut a long story short, we had to get to hospital for rabies jabs where we met the world's angriest nurse. VSO were brilliant and phoned the hospital to explain why these 3 weird foreigners were there and Jayne got the 1st of five jabs, even though she'd had 3 in England. She didn't stroke the dog again.
We moved to Dali (in Lonely Planet or Rough guide if you have one) where we met 2 other volunteers. The bus from Kunming to Dali actually doesn't go to historic Dali but stops in the new city from where you catch a local bus. We had a nice conversation in 'Chinese' with a lovely family who could speak a bit of English. Again they understood most of what I said so my confidence improved and they told us when we reached our stop.
From then on we had a fairly relaxing time in Dali, joining more VSOers, doing some shopping, walking and cycling. It's quite touristy now and we had culture- shock, seeing so many other foreigners, after seeing none for a month. It was great, though, to bargain for our bags and batik before relaxing with a beer, or two.... We also bought clothes and were shocked to find that 'extra large' only just fits! Maybe I should forgo the next beer.
Three of us stayed in Dali whilst the others who hadn't travelled so far moved on to Lijiang. We had a rainy walk in the mountains - certainly beautiful but not 'adventurous' as we were on a paved path which belied Lonely Planet's write-up on this 'adventurous walk'. The Chinese tend to pave any touristy ways through the mountains. We also got the cable car up and chair lift down so I'm probably not out of extra -large yet.
On the last day we went cycling, in the rain, beside paddy fields, through villages where women washed clothes in the river, past numerous children calling 'hello' to us and, in my case, breaking my way (accidentally) through an enormous spider's web full of, yes, enormous spiders. I was itching for ages despite assurances that I was spider-free. It was a good break, great to have a chinwag with people in other placements over a nice meal but, funnily enough, Wenshan did feel like home when I got back. I arrived back pleased that I'd tried out the language and now have got a teacher lined up here . I've also tried to use more of the language here with some success. Maybe I'll be fluent by the time I leave here. (2200?)
I'm already thinking about my next travels in the winter holidays and am finishing up in Vietnam maybe via Laos and Cambodia. Plenty of time and work to be done before then though. Oral exams for around 300 students to be slotted in by January - think of me with sympathy as I listen to so many and try to stay awake.