Hello to you all from a fellow volunteer's flat in Simao, Yunnan province. The current photo has nothing to do with the trip but I haven't any new pics up-loaded at present due to: a) travels b) broken digital camera c) borrowed camera is not digital. Hope to add one later.
I'm on the first third of my Spring Holiday adventures. This part is the solo tour of Yunnan, taking in the other VSOers on the way round. I started with a flourish by booking a sleeper bus to Tengchong near the Myanmar border, and nearly missing it. In my usual manner I set off with time to spare for traffic jams and earthquakes but didn't allow for not being able to find the right bus station in Kunming, in the dark. With the confidence of having done it before I arrived at the Long Distance Bus Station and asked for the bus to Tengchong. It wasn't the right place! They pointed and, from what they said, I worked out I should turn first right but reality wasn't so easy. Remembering childhood advice, I asked a policeman. After conferring with his colleague for a few minutes, with me looking helplessly at my ticket and my watch, they told me to get in the police car. (Thinks - maybe I confessed to some crime in my bad Chinese and they're putting me in clink). It wasn't that, and I arrived at the correct bus station, with police escort, and was taken onto the bus by one policeman and one employee. The policeman even carried my brand new 30 yuan (2 pounds) rucksack. What an entrance. Everything but the sirens.
The sleeper bus was an experience in itself. We eventually set out about an hour late and there were the usual officious frequent stops for document -checking, brake -checking, police checks, army checks..... Flashing my 'foreign expert' card has possibly avoided me having my bag searched. Other usuals were the hawking and spitting and the lovely loos en route with good views of other women squatting to do their business.
Next hurdle was the arrival. My masterplan was to leave my rucksack in left- luggage and just take hand- luggage round Tengchong. It was dark, around 7.30am, and, no, you couldn't do this, so my next step was to find a hotel. The Lonely Planet told me that I had to catch the number 2 bus to the centre 5 km away. It didn't say that towns don't come alive at 7.30 am and that it would be impossible to tell where the centre actually was. So I randomly got off somewhere 5km approx away and consulted my wholly inadequate map. Lonely P doesn't tell you that none of the streets are named in pinyin! Anyway, I did find a hotel, woke up the staff who came out yawning and tousled, and did get a room, but I don't reckon we were speaking the same language.
After a little while I ventured out with my LP, along streets with no readable names when there was a cheery 'hello'. I'm used to this being the full extent of their English knowledge but on this occasion it was a lovely 15 year old Middle School student who became my guide for the day. What a treasure she was. We went everywhere. Up the local Wen Bi Ta, to her school (closed for New Year), and to Heshun, a historical village, where we wandered amongst the cobbles that were being dug up, learned about the anti-Japan war and Burma in semi-un-intelligible English from a very enthusiastic Chinese guide and ate 2 kuai noodles. I couldn't have asked for a nicer guide.
The next lap was to be Baoshan to see a fellow volunteer. No problems there. I met up with the other Baoshan volunteer and his lovely Hong Kong born wife. She was a treasure as her Mandarin is very good and her curiosity even better. She could find out things that I couldn't hope to with my level of Chinese so was a great source of information. We all four headed off for Ruili. again near the Myanmar border, the next day.
The trip to Ruili was huge fun. We hadn't booked the express, if there was one, and so were amongst peasant farmers, one with literally a closed box full of chicks. Another was, I think, calling Beijing or maybe Inner Mongolia without the need for his mobile phone. .... We stopped for a meal but Chiu advised against having one in the fairly sordid-looking cafe there, so we bought 'Pot noodles' Chinese style. They were surprisingly tasty.
I'll stop now as Jayne's finished her orals and we're heading out into Simao. More instalments later but I'm really having a tremendous time so far on the first lap of my travels.