A rickety way to board the boat
Watching the Olympics on TV reawakened memories of a trip we made to China a few years ago. The main purpose was to take a trip up the Yangtze before much of it was flooded by the opening of the Three Gorges Dam, but it also included spending a few days in Beijing.
Apart from the day we arrived, the weather was pretty appalling, low clouds, drizzle, grey skies which washed out the unique oriental scenery of the Yangtze and iconic landmarks like The Great Wall and Tiananmen Square. The funny thing is that I only know that because of the photos we took during the trip which, incidentally, were bobbins (my defence being that I was more interested in my new mini video camera at that time).
The truth is that the weather didn’t figure highly in our memories of the trip just a series of unforgettable experiences of an incredible country. I could wax lyrical for hours about them, but don’t worry I’ll summarize:
Eating smoked eel for breakfast in Beijing whilst Andy stuck a chunky slice of bread in the do-it-yourself toaster setting it on fire.
Being approached by a business man in the hotel bar who bizarrely asked us to check his translation of an email about what was clearly a secret business ‘takeover’ proposal.
A Chinese diner in a restaurant buying everybody in the restaurant a glass of ‘special’ Chinese wine at £80 a bottle because China had just won a World Cup qualifier.
So that's 3 scorpions, 2 worms and a fried centipede?
Watching a chef at the Beijing night market reach into a steel drum filled with scorpions, centipedes, silkworms and all sorts of creepy crawlies, stick them on a skewer and frying the lot on a wok beside sparrow kebabs.
On a rainy night, following a white uniformed sailor down a dark alley (no jokes) and across a Joining the Yangtze riverboat by way of a series of wooden planks across a muddy approach where other crew members in equally pristine uniforms held out umbrellas – very 1950s
The shock of finding that the alarm system in the cabin went off at 6am, when what started as quietly jaunty Chinese music got louder and louder.
The bigger shock of finding out that there was no way to turn the dammed thing off; softened by the amusement of a bleary eyed Andy cursing and smacking every impotent button on the bedside cabinets.
Being invited to partner a Chinese girl in a traditional dance which involved her putting her skirt over my head (I can think of worse traditions).
Asking another passenger, an Irish dentist, whether he thought that they’d be showing Manchester United’s Champion’s League qualifier on TV to which he replied;
“That’s the problem with you Manchester United supporters; you think everyone is going to be interested in Manchester United. We’re on the Yangtze for god’s sake; they’ve never even heard of Manchester United here.”
Within thirty minutes of the conversation we alighted at the city of Chongqing to be faced by a billboard with…David Beckham and Ryan Giggs’ faces plastered over it. HA!
The fact that the Yangtze River was brown and the cities on the banks were not straight out of ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’, but were industrial and grimy black with coal dusk.
Huge empty white cities built above the existing cities, capable of housing a million people, just waiting for the new dam to go into operation when the lower cities would be completely flooded.
The ship’s alcoholic doctor, who tried to prescribe cough medicine for an infected insect bite on Andy’s leg.
The ghost city of Fengdu, where boats wouldn’t dock in the night for fear of spirits coming on board and where shopkeepers kept a bowl of water at the till, where customers had to drop their money(ghost money floats apparently).
Undergoing a series of mystical tests in the King of the Dead’s palace in Fengdu the result of which a) Andy and I will be together for eternity and b) we both became immortal – a good result I thought.
Finding out that you need to be skilled in mountaineering to scale the Great Wall, so steep are its steps.
Causing havoc during an exhibition of Chinese medicine by fainting for the first time in my life when undergoing a medical examination; the diagnosis? “Fear of white coats”.
The emotion of standing in Tiananmen Square.
Ditto for the Forbidden City.
Seeing a real live panda and being told that said panda because of its lack of interest in having sex with its ‘girlfriend’ was being force fed a diet of porno movies…featuring humans to give it some idea of what to do!!!
Discovering that Beijing was probably the most modern city I’ve ever visited.
Tiananmen Square - an emotional place
Noting the differences in politics and attitudes between tour guides of different ages. The one in her mid forties was very defensive about Mao Tse -Tung – obviously a supporter of his cultural revolution; I bet she still had his little red book. Whilst the other, in her mid twenties, had a more balanced view about China’s past and criticised some of his policies. Mind you her other main topic was David and Victoria Beckham – she wanted to know if reports of what they earned were true, but didn’t believe us anyway when we told her they were.
In the Forbidden City, jokingly trying to guess which burly men were the ‘Secret Service’ agents who were no doubt following our every step to ensure we didn’t stray from the official guide. When we got back to Blighty and sat through six hour of video we noticed the same little Chinese woman, pulling a child, sticking close to our group in every single location; In Beijing, in different riverside cities, Chengdu, Chongking – clever.
There were many, many more, but that’s more than enough for one blog.