It's been a while since I went to Ba Mei and I've been pretty busy since, trying to help with the classroom methodology teaching which I'll take over with the final graders for a few weeks soon. They're a little reluctant, at present, to project themselves but I'll do what I can to get them moving.
I visited Yanshan, where 'Wenshan' airport is located. It boasts a spanking new building with doors proudly marked 'Domestic arrivals' and 'Domestic departures' but there seemed to be one basic commodity missing. Not a plane in sight! Rumour has it there are planes to Kunming, nowhere else, but not often, it would seem. Apart from that, Yanshan is a typical Chinese town full of bull-dozed buildings, new ones going up everywhere, a street market selling dubious meat and wonderful vegetables. The bus ride was the best part of the day and if I haven't got avian flu yet I'm probably immune. There was a hen or two under my feet and whatever it had for breakfast obviously disagreed with it, judging by the look and smell it left all over the floor by my feet. Makes a change from the spittle.
We've just had a week off for Wenshan Prefecture's 'Birthday'. Yes, another week off. I went off again to discover more local Yunnan haunts, solo and with students and had an amazing time. It started with a trip, with one of my students, Megan, to Luchong, a scenic spot near Kunming with an enormous lake where you can swim and go boating. We got there via Kunming, a number 50 bus out of town, a bus to Cheng Jiang, and a minibus to the lake. Easy when you're with someone who knows the ropes. We stayed in a local hotel for 30 kuai a double room (£2), with squat loo, shower and clean bedding and ate some fresh fish (very fresh), cooked in a special pot. The next day we moved on to her hometown by minibus again, same driver, via a fossil museum, where Megan's brother picked us up to take us the rest of the way - on his motorbike. He got on first, then Megan, then supposedly me with my back-pack, Megan's luggage being already strapped on the back. The space left for me made it a little tricky to get my leg over, so to speak. Being more used to it, Megan swapped with me and off we went up an incredibly bumpy track for what seemed like forever. My body's not built for all the back-jarring and I was glad to arrive, meet the parents and have breakfast/lunch with them at 10 o'clock. Rice, mounds of vegetables, various kinds of tofu, a pig's blood concoction (always a favourite), potatoes, the lot. The house was clean and welcoming, my bedroom, Megan's usually (she was to sleep with Mum that night. Don't know about Dad), was full of sacks of grain, rice and corn but fine to sleep in. I tried to drink little though as the thought of needing the loo in the night was not atttractive. As usual it was a shed outside, this time with a worrying number of flies hovering around. I went in and was horrified to hear a scuttling noise. Thinking it was a rat, I aimed to get out as quickly as possible but then I saw, through a hole at the bottom, the snout of a pig snuffling about in the shed behind. Still didn't want to go to the loo in the night though.
We visited friends, neighbours and various brothers, cousins, uncles, aunts and a granny. She calls her older cousins her brothers and sisters, which was confusing with the one child policy. That doesn't apply in the countryside anyway but a government worker having more than one child is a sackable offence. Homes in her village were mainly basic, with simple furniture, concrete floors and little else. The local crops were tobacco as the main wage-earner plus fruit trees, sunflowers and some vegetables. It was a picturesque area with pine trees and a lake where people wash clothes but where farmers work long hours with little rest. I was made very welcome and was pleased to be able to communicate a little with them though Mandarin isn't the language they speak they could understand what I said.
I thought I'd seen the last of the motorbike but oh no. Brother was going into Cheng Jiang so would give us a lift. Cousin was also going so would give the other one of us a lift on his motorbike. Whew, more space, but it was still a forty minute bone-crunchng ride till we reached a road. Incredibly beautiful scenery apart from the gigantic chemical factory (S2?) in the next village which bussed employees in from neighbouring areas.
In Cheng Jiang we had a two and a half kuai breakfast of rice noodles, which I'm addicted to, before going to the bus station to enquire about buses to the next stage of my adventures, Jianshui via Tonghai. It was 9am. The next direct bus to Tonghai was at 2pm! Looking at my map we looked at the options and Megan found out I could get a bus to Jiang Chuang, then another bus to Tonghai, then another to Jianshui. Piece of cake! Students look after me here so she wrote copious notes to drivers telling them where I wanted to get off, to show me where to get the next bus and so on. Feeling like Paddington Bear (Please look after this teacher, she's from darkest Foreign Country) I waved goodbye and boarded my bus to Jiang Chuang. No hens this time but loaded with enormous parcels, mainly of tobbaco, in every available space. The driver dutifully told me when we arrived and I sounded like I knew what he was talking about when he dropped me off at some random roundabout in the middle of nowhere and told me where to catch the bus to Tonghai. I didn't understand one word but followed the direction he was pointing and found the bus station.
Next challenge, solo travel. No ticket office. Consulted my map to find the Chinese for Tonghai and asked where you bought tickets and the many curious by-standers told me I could get it on the bus. Great. No problem. On arrival at Tonghai Megan had said there'd be only one bus station. Hmmm. Couldn't see a bus to Jianshui. Asked the driver who told me to get back on the bus and drove round a couple of corners to the other bus station or different part of the same one, pointed to the Jianshui bus and I got on, squeezing myself into the available 'space' facing backwards, luggage on my knees. It wasn't long before I was beckoned to move to the front, between the driver and a local lady farmer who tried to make conversation with me. Great fun but with my British back that requires support rather than a Chinese one that is happy, at any age, sitting on a low stool, I was glad when we arrived in Jianshui for the next stage. After asking the driver where there was a cheap hotel, I booked myself in, for 40 kuai, which I was later told was expensive by my Jianshui student who'd paid 25, and tried to phone her. More about this in the next instalment. Let's see if this one saves.