Wednesday, 18 June 2008

I CAN see dead people!

So, first thing after breakfast, I went to see a dead guy. Chairman Mao Tse Zhong (pron. Mao Zedong) died in 1976 and was the founder of the communist and still current ruling (only?) party in China.

The powers that be decided that it would be a good idea to embalm the body in the same way that Lenin was and he's still laid there today, 30 odd years later.

The impression that I get is that most chinese still revere Mao and when you enter his Mausoleum, which is a disporportionately big building in the middle of tiananmen square, you're through the front door, down either side of the dead dude and out the back before you can say long live the revolution.

I have to say I wasn't that impressed, but the chinese (many offering flowers to him) obviously are. I don't know if this is through ignorance of the bad stuff he did and a cover up by the party, or a genuine belief that he did the country good. I am fortunate enough to be able to have seen both sides of the coin and it has certainly made me appreciate the great freedom we have in the West, so very much more!

After this, it was off to the Indoor Market where I thin I've successfully managed to take my backpack over the weight limit with gifts for you lot back there! Then I visited a cool taoist temple, where their law, similar to buddhism in many ways, is divided into 'departments'.

You'd better watch out kids, they've got a department of implementing 15 kinds of violent death, a dept for demons and monsters, a punishment department and also a department for controlling evil spirits.

All is good in the hood when these boys get to work I can tell you.

After that I trekked up to Factory 798. An awesome arts 'town' on the site of a huge (we're talking a few city blocks here) of an old electonics factory that fell into disrepair. Now the town literally is filled with artists and every corner you turn, there's a new cafe, gallery, or other unusual installation to ponder over - really fantastic stuff. Wes, you'd especially love it and boys, the rest of you should give these things a go every now and again - never hurts to open the mind a little...

So, that's it! I'm home tomorrow - fantastic!

Not sure this is my last ever post, but it certainly will be the last for a while...

I'll let you know how I get on and stay tuned. I'm sure this site will get busy again in 2009 for the 'big' trip!!!

See you tomorrow folks! xxx

Tuesday, 17 June 2008


So, Just got back from the story of Chun Yi, the warrior monk who's as hard as nails but falls off the wagon when his mum dies. He gets back on it soon enough, wins the battle against the bad guys and then becomes the abbot after his mentor hands over the ceremonial staff and lights his own funeral pyre. Hard, Weird or Stupid?

All exciting stuff, and so you're up to date on the plot and that's without even seeing them.

They're hard as nails.

All of them.

I was in the cheap seats (five rows from the front!) so had a great view.

Two sharp spears in the neck? No problem, I'll even bend the wooden poles I'm that hard.

Oh, you've found another one? Tell you what, stick those two in my thighs and one in my neck and lift me up off the ground. Look I'm flying and not bleeding.

What's that? Forward cartwheels using your hands? Why bother when you can do it no handed and use your head instead (this really had to be seen to be believed).

Their martial arts were fantastic too - synchronised everywhere and their hand and foot speed was simply astonishingly, blisteringly fast. They're all massively flexible beyond belief, not an ounce of fat on any of them, just pure muscle (bit like me really, but with a bit less hair), baggy trousers and some kung-fu slippers.

Then the guy pops out with a long thin chain with a small flag on the end. It's flinging round so fast, it's just a blur, but he's got it so it's making a noise as it rips through the air. His mate pops up with two and does the same thing. Then they get one spinning like a helicopter above their head, the other one lower down and basically do what I can only describe as skipping whilst seated on their bottom - one chain above, the other below and every time it passes under them, they simply 'pop' and lift off the ground unaided by their legs or arms and land back in time to pop again on the next high speed revolution. I think I'd manage one revolution before whacking myself in the twins and performing a self-castration.

I haven't even got to the breaking stuff! Wooden poles breaking across the kidneys, arm, leg, chest or head? Yes please!

How about some iron bars? They look like a heavy duty steel 'handheld file' that you'd buy at B&Q. All his mates do one over their head, he grabs three. 'TWANG!, Shatter, Crash' as they hit the floor after doing them all at once.

And to top it all off, I'm that hard I'll lay on three steel swords, slap a double sided bed of nails on top of me, get matey boy to lay on that, put a great big concrete slab on him, and sonny-Jim, yeah, that's right, you smash it with that sledge hammer over there. Lovely.

Needless to say I enjoyed it! I could still Krav Maga all their arses anyway. ;)

I hope none of them read this blog in the next 48 hours...

I can't see dead people

So, set off on my bike first thing for the natural history museum to see dinosaurs and preserved human cadavers (well, you don't get that in London do you?) but alas, it was closed :(

Then cycled up to Janshing park, for great views over Beijing and the Forbidden City. Then even further north to climb the Drum tower - fantastic. There was a miniature drum display (mum, I'd forgotten how much I loved that drum show we saw!) and only one original drum left. They're 1.4m in diameter and made from a single ox hide. I think they've also got the biggest drum in the world too at 2.6m diameter also one single ox hide - can you imagine the size of that cow!?

The drum tower was used to tell the time across Beijing before watches and they'd be struck every two hours (something to do with lunar cycles, but they only had 12 hours in our 24) and they also had a water contraption that they used too! Very interesting stuff.

Then I got lost and it took me ages to cycle back here so I'm a little saddle sore, but am off to see a kung fu show tonight, so that should be good!

Lots more 'alternative' Beijing planned tomorrow (I'm templed out to be honest).

Noodle time for me now!

PS had fantastic Peking Duck for lunch today - they carve it at your table - yum!

Monday, 16 June 2008


Saw a bloke eat a scorpion last night down the night market - nutter. I reckon they're just there as a tourist gimmick. Didn't see any locals eating them...

Climbed the great wall of china today, well a section of it at least from Jianshinlang to Simatai. Just amazing. It's huge, interspersed with towers and runs along the mountain tops. Quite how they built it is astonishing. It's very high, quite wide and just astonishing. Well made (restored in places) and really rough and hard steep going in others.

It can't actually been seen from space either, but it is still amazing nonetheless.

Sunday, 15 June 2008


Last night I had Bullfrog for dinner. Yum! Tastes like chicken, but the bones are a bit smaller and to be honest, I wasn't too keen on the look of the skin.

Some of the gang also ordered (through a breakdown in communication) 'soft' chicken cartilage. A stir fry dish of chicken bits (no bones - bonus!) and long triangular bits of cartilage. I have to say, that the taste was ok, but the sound of it crunching inside your own head and the texture was more than a little off-putting.

Ended the evening after a wet day's exploring of a park and a big pagoda with a rose garden (smelt nice) and an echo wall, which unfortunately you're not allowed right up to anymore. The theory behind it is, that you can stand at one end of the chamber, your friend at the other and then you whisper something along the wall. They're supposed to be able to hear it. Too many shouting tourists for anything to work, but the ones stood in the middle clapping looked funny!

Ended the night with two Dutch couples that had just come over on the Siberian express with an English girl in my hostel and the frog (the dish that is, not some french traveller). Watched too much football again (and we're not even in it!) before rolling in silly o'clock again.

Today I went on a bike ride, the VERY best way to see Beijing. Slow enough to stay cool, fast enough to actually get around. Cycled around the Forbidden City which was allowed, an amazing place surrounded by a 10 metre high wall made of 12 million bricks. It's just amazing to look at. The surrounding wall was so long, I couldn't see the end.

Talking of which, I'm off to climb/trek the Great Wall tomorrow. I'll be going from Jianshieng, to Simatai - I hope the weather's good as there's also a cable car and a zip wire to play on too! Look out for me on Google earth!

Friday, 13 June 2008

Olympic fever

This kid's taking the games very seriously.

Uncle Russ, Chairman Mao, The Equalizer

Another one for the Colfe's boys...

Tiananmen Square

Firstly, apols for the spelling, I've seen it spelled so many different ways, but this is the way it's spelt over here...

The view over the square...

Think America's woken up cos it's taking ages to load photos...


Well, I'm in. It's enormous. Seriously. Far eclipses london in every single way. It's just absolutely monumental.

Spent the morning looking for another hostel as the one I was in, whilst located in a cool 'hutong' (traditional backstreet area) just had no character) and finally checked into the Hostelling International place opposite Beijing Central Train station. I'm slap bang in the middle of town, I guess the equivalent back home is having a hotel opposite Kings Cross/St Pancras.

There is a constant haze everywhere, it's just not very nice. It doesn't feel dirty, but everyone's got an irritating cough and you can even see the pollution on the INSIDE of big spaces (like a shopping mall). No wonder they all really hock up their phlegm.

Caught the bus to Tiananmen Square (spelt Qianmen in Pinyin) and climbed the famous gate of Heavenly PEACE where Mao watched up to a million TROOPS march past. Ironic huh?

Anyway, it's amazing. The smaller square out the back is as big as Trafalgar Sq, the main one is just immense. You can hardly see the other side and down the edges are two buildings. Again, they're just so vast! Anyway, it started to thunder off in the distance, then the wind picked up and then the rain came, so I think they called off the regular raising/lowering of the china communist flag at dusk.

Beijing is SO big, it's just not an easy city to 'do' if that makes sense. A taxi is most convenient, but the traffic pace (10km/h) is not much faster than walking - at least they're air-conned and sealed from the pollution. Walking is out - stuff is just so far away from everything else, then there's the heat and pollution. The heat. Tested myself today. Sat down, did nothing outside (there's no shadows due to the haze) and tried to rest. Nope, its impossible and official. I'm sweating here doing nothing, I simply haven't acclimatised one bit or I just haven't shifted my English winter 'insulation' or as Donald would say 'plumpness'.

Hair Party

So, the hair's got a bit long over the last few months, the sides were starting to go curly, and it was just too hot for this weather. Plus I was told that Beijing was hotter (it is) and well, that's no place to be sporting a mop.

So I went on the search for a barber's shop... I went past one on the bus and it had the prices and names of haircut in english, so I thought I would be in with a fighting chance.

The name of the barbers was 'HairParty' and it had flashing lights outside.

Whilst some of the other hairdressers I've been past aren't actually hairdressers (they take you upstairs for a different type of wash and blow dry), this one was. I thought I'd keep it simple and go for the clippers option.
"I'll have a number two on the back and sides, and a number four on top" I requested all the while pointing at the various parts of my head.
"You can have a 3, 6 or 9"
"Three on the back and sides, then, six on top"
"Are you sure? Three is very short?"
"OK, let's start with a six then" I think, fully expecting him to have to go back over his hard work with the shorter number.
"Fuck! Stop! where's my hair gone!? That's a six?" I ask with my scalp clearly visible on one side of my head.
"Nine on the back and sides, and just scissors short on top please"

A quick flash of the mirror at the end and it all looks good (well, it always does, doesn't it?) and it's cost me less than a fiver.

After closer later inspection, there are a lot of hairs that missed the clippers and I can safely say this is the worst haircut i've ever had. Stray ones everywhere... Plus of course it's shorter on one side than the other.

I can' wait to get back and have the Turkish boys in New Eltham sort things out. They really know how to cut hair - they singe your earhair, trim your nose and eyebrows, head massage and lemon aftershave, the lot.

Made it

Yo, just a quickie and it looks like I'm finishing on a high note, managed to get a room at the beijing city centre youth hostel - slap bang in the middle of town, not much personality here granted, but the location makes up for that!!

Back on the China mob again for all those that want to text/call 0086 15814 797476

Also got internet connection in the room which is nice, so i should be able to do some decent posts at decent hours... ok, off out for lunch

Thursday, 12 June 2008


Is Enjoying a lovely meal hosted by Agnes, an American Chinese who is possibly the most travelled person I've met and then hitting a bar with Steve and Sarah. Two bottles of nice red wine later, the random purchase of a load of copy DVDs from a deaf/mute guy (that was interesting negotiation!) and then watching the fantastic Chech republic vs Portugal in 'the british bulldog pub' with a kick off at midnight, followed by several pints of Kilkenny, and the first half of Turkey vs Sweden at 02.45 (don't worry Oz, I was there yelling TURKIYE!) before rolling in trolleyed with Steven at 4am, turning off the alarm I'd set for 8a.m. and then reawakening at 10.00 when I have a 12.45 flight - that's stupid!

Despite the hangover, lack of any sort of wash and the fact that I'm still drunk, you'll be pleased readers to hear that I'm at the airport (after telling the cabbie I was late and wanted to get there the quickest way - I stopped looking after we sailed past a 50km/h sign with his speedo resting on 120... ) writing this on my new mac laptop with a wireless net connection - turned out nice again!

Wednesday, 11 June 2008


Got up just before 07.00 to climb The Peak today. What a stupid idea that was!? Boiling hot (already), 100% humidity (always) and then a ridiculously steep hill that just keeps on going! Sat here dripping with sweat (getting used to this feeling now) with the air con on, trying to get my core temperature back down from something resembling the surface of the Sun to something more human. The only thing that kept me going was seeing the old grannies on their way down, having already achieved it!

Bought a Mac laptop yesterday (Wes, Greg, Adam, if you're reading, get ready for loads of bone questions from me) so should hopefully be able to play around with all my photos and videos soon.

Spent the day computer shopping yesterday with Sarah, enjoyed an amazing lunch (bangers and (wasabi) mash!) on the harbourside. My stomach has definitely shrunk over the past few weeks as I was unable to finish, and then had a Nepalese curry last night with Steve and Sarah and their friend Chris (a keen hillwalker and documentary maker) which was very pleasant.

Considering getting a haircut this morning as it's getting a bit shaggy and too long for this hot weather and some book shopping/browsing.

OK, time for a cold shower, though I'm not sure that's going to help!

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

PS for all the callers, I'm back on the HK number for now...

+00 852 6939 8439

Civilisation! For Now...

Back in HK - was surprised at how fast they drive, but then again, there's some semblance of order on the roads here which is a breath of fresh air (as fresh as it gets in HK anyway).

So, I leave Ruili early doors yesterday and head to the airport in Mangshi (pron. Mang-SH) and used to be Luxi (another grandad stopping place). Before an hour's flight back to Guangzhou (near HK, but still in China) via Kunming.

Im sat next to a funny couple - him, a bit tubby but dressed all in Nike sports wear (and then he keeps getting his gut out and rubbing it) and her who actually looks quite glamorous until she decided to squeeze a spot on her fellas face! In a packed aircraft and then wipes the excretions on his arm - "Air Stewardess! Sick bag please!?"

Land at the airport late (16.30), get bags, go through arrivals, wait 30 minutes for a bus to the East Train Station, get a 1 hour bus across town, buy a ticket to Hong Kong (19.11 train), it's supposed to take 1 3/4 hours, it takes over two, queue up for customs, get through, get the MTR (the tube) to Central on HK Island to meet the delightful Sarah (a friend of Ruth's) who's fella's back at the flat having ordered me pizza as it's now past 10 at night...

It's really nice to meet them both (and the two cats, Bonnie and Chloe), they're fantastic hosts and it's lovely of them to invite me into their home! Sarah's an aussie, Steve and Irishman and it's nice to have a catch up in a full speed conversation! Stayed up chatting until the early years and they've organised a curry for me tomorrow night which I can't wait for! Ruth, if you're reading this, thanks for putting me in touch.

Not much doing in HK - bit of shopping, catch up with some old friends/acquaintances and I head off for China (Beijing) again on Thursday so it's an action packed couple of days!

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Some pics from TLG

This is our path, and believe it or not, there are people in this photo - look closely!

This is a classic Chinese photo 'pose' - what is it with the Vees and Chinese and photos? Looking SouthWest down Tiger Leaping Gorge. How nice is the weather?

What a view!?

I hope this doesn't collapse...

The End?

So, I made it!

After handing over more than 1500RMB to 'Mama' of Mama's guest house (no, that's not a knocking shop either!) I'm one overnight bus ticket to Ruili and one air ticket to Guangzhou better off.

This post reaches you from the town of Ruili - it's just started torrential raining here and the shop across teh street has blacked out, so not sure how far I'll get with this...

Ruili, a 'has been' border town with Burma. Has been the best place to mix with gangsters, trade in Green Gold (Jade), hard drugs, gambling and prostitution. Now about all that remains are the hookers (none of which I've seen yet, but arriving here at 07.00, they must've had a pretty bad night to still be 'open for business' if you'll pardon the pun). Tonight doesn't look any better for them given the weather!

So, I took an 18hour sleeper BUS from Lijiang to Ruili. It was actually better than I thought. The best way I can describe it is as a mobile prison (but a nice one) - silver bars everywhere to stop one rolling around, and the bus doesn't have seats, just individual berths. It's three berths across with two walkways and about six or seven deep (long). You can lie down fully or prop yourself up on the pillow and duvet provided atop the soft matress for a seat.

Views our of Lijian were amazing as we came through the hills (we must've taken a different route in, as that journey was unremarkable). Three hours saw us back to Dali where grandad had visited and a stop for dinner. I get pointed in the direction of a street and given the chinese sign for eating (it's not the knife and fork action you'd do at home, rather a hold the bowl in the left hand and chopsticks in the right type mime) so after a wander, I'm invited to join two of my fellow travellers for dinner. Very kind of them and they ordered so much food for two women! They wouldn't let me pay and didn't speak english, but it's that sort of hospitality that I think is really nice of the chinese - would that happen in England?

Dusk saw us driving into the rolling hills and I slept surprisingly well, waking up only at Baoshan (another stop for grandad) in the middle of the night and then again, 10 minutes before rolling into Ruili.

Today saw a pointless taxi ride out to a hostel and guidebook recommended hostel that's now just a pile of rubble, so I decided to chance it and hopped on the local minibus to the border town of Wanding. This IS where the official crossing is and where grandad would've crossed too. I wasn't sure how I'd feel about getting here (and was having a bit of an emotional downer on the bus last night too - what's the point? What have I achieved? etc) but on arrival it was great. The place isn't special particularly (it's just a bridge across a 20m wide river with a load of official buildings on the China side!) but it's special to me. I didn't cross (but I thought about it) and there's a place further downstream where I filmed the locals just wading across after rolling their trousers/local burmese sarong type garments up. I felt elated to have made it here and have enjoyed recreating a trip that my ancestors travelled in much harder, harsher times. I did it in five weeks, about the same amount of time as grandad, but I had four days at the TLG and was sightseeing, whereas he was with his buddies and travelling across a much worse infrastructure than I have been privvy to.

The two countries have changed almost beyond recognition since those days, but the scenery is the same and this has taken my breath away. It's funny he was in the navy as it's the seas and waters that have felt the most 'real' places for me. We can build so much on land, knock buildings down, lay freeways through mountain tunnels and erect skyscrapers, but it's those rivers he crossed and travelled, those same seas he sailed where I have felt closest to him.

I'm glad I've made this trip. I've had ups and downs, laughs and homesickness too - all emotions he would've experienced, but I guess his were in more extreme circumstances. I feel I've made some discoveries of the places he saw and also some blind wanderings in places that have changed beyond recognition. I feel closer to him yes, and I wish he was still alive as I have so many questions I'd love to ask him! It's taught me more about making the most of life when you have the chance, and to listen to people when they talk. Really listen.

I wish I'd video'd grandad on that day in the summer when he told me his life story, and had known more and been more interested than a normal 15yr old grandson that day back in 1993. I've opened a can of worms now and have so many more questions now that I've scratched the surface a little.

So, is it the end?

Are you kidding? Contacting any surviving members is now my number one priority as soon as I get back and then there's the trip back out here in 2009. Add to that the RAS journal, the book, the movie etc, and I think I'm going to be quite busy for a few years to come yet!

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Next day was a three hour bus journey to Lijiang, north of Dali. It's not on Grandad's route, but it's an amazing town and also the start off point for the trek down the Tiger Leaping Gorge (so named, because a bloke chasing a tiger made it leap across the gorge - yeah, right, as if!).

Lijian is more touristy than Dali, but it's bigger and more attractive. The architecture here is amazing and the old town is a maze of cobbled streets that all look the same. It's impossible not to get lost (despite the purchase of a map) and I take a wander the first night after checking into Mama's guesthouse. It's more like a mad-house, all run by this woman that barks her 'Chinglish' at you and you can't help but lover her.

The next morning I'm up early for another three hour minivan trip to the gorge. To be difficult I want to start at the far end (the gorge runs along a north east axis) and to walk in a south west direction. I'm in the car with two Londoners funnily enough - Neil, who's tattooed pretty much everywhere and Luke, who looks like Neil from the Young Ones. We're about to set off and Mama bundles a bemused looking Canadian (Kaitlin) into the car too - "but I want to go with my friend" she says to Mama - " No matter, you all go Gorge" she says.

The drive is unremarkable and we enter from the southern end of the Gorge. Kaitlin decides not to wait at this end on her own for the other bus to turn up also means I've got a trekking parther, which I'm much happier about. Neil and Luke are just exploring the lower path (which is basically a semi-metalled road) along the bottom. After a quick power lunch at Tina's Guest house, we're off up the hill and what a slog - sweating again - and I'm lucky as the sun has come out, the skys clear and the views amazing! It's a steep hard climb, but then levels out and the path winds in and out of the spurs of the gorge with some of the most amazing views I've ever seen. There's a buddhist temple along the way (quite how they built that there is another amazing feat of hard labour and design) and a refreshing waterfall before reaching Halfway House. It's more like a hotel and is really nice. I check into a great room (more like a hotel) with views overlooking the gorge. The owner - 'Freddie' looks younger than his 43 years and I can see why - he runs an amazing place and has lived in the gorge all his life. He reminds me of a Chinese Michael Palin, which is a little ironic as I think this guest house (or more specifically, one of the squat toilets with a fantastic view) was featured in Palin's latest travel documentary.

You can't hear the river and rapids roaring away below you (too high up now) and the mountains opposite are snowcapped when they reveal themselves from behind the clouds. After dinner on the rooftop terrace, the clouds cleared at night to reveal the stars, slowly moving satellites and more than a couple of shooting stars. Just fantastic, and the electric blanket to warm my bed topped off an excellent day.

Had to deal with a rather large spider in the shower in the morning and then it was off early (08.30) as day two was the longer trek. Overcast and cloudy today, but the views back down the gorge are still impressive and the cooler weather is nicer. There was one long climb, but nothing too strenuous to reach the high point and amazing viewing platform before descending the '28 bends' to the next village. I was glad to have done the route this way round and not have had to climb these bends on the first day. We passed a shop in the middle of nowhere, and the owner accosts you with "Have a rest (sounds so enticing!), drink tea? Eat banana, snickers, mars, walnut? Smoke Ganja?" It seems that the hippy travellers in this neck of the woods have created quite a reputation for themselves as pot-heads. Needless to say, I declined (I want to walk off the mountain, not fly off it!) and head down to a traditional Naxi family guest house at the next village for some lunch.

It's more descending after lunch and the track gets better, leading one down past farms into the village of Qiatou (pron. Chow-toe - ironic pun huh?). Here is the spot for a well deserved cold beer and a rest at Jane's guest house before catching the bus back and a celbratory meal out in Lijiang.

So, I'm writing this in Mama's guesthouse lounge, a little hungover after post-walk celbrations and waiting for the 18 hour (!) sleeper bus to Ruili. This border town is my last stop in China, and next to the crossing at Wanding where grandad crossed into Burma (needless to say, I'm not going there) before passing into India. I'm a day behing schedule, so not too bad and should be flying back to HK on Monday now instead of Sunday, where I'm looking forward to staying with Ruth's bridesmaid Sarah, doing some washing... and being back in some form of civilisation before my week in Beijing. It's strange to think that in two weeks I'll be back in the UK (I'm really looking forward to coming home to my loved ones) and that I have recreated a respectable trace of grandad's route in just over 5 weeks. I think the bus journey will give me time to reflect on all this before my next post.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

One for you Rick...

Classic Ricky pose (I'm nowhere near this stalagtite...)

And look at how small this lady's feet are!?

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Fishing done properly

So, I arrive in Dali - the OLD Dali, except I never really feel like I've left Xiaguan (Saikuan in the diary). Journey here was kinda cool - we descended out of Kunming for such a long time - the mountains are spectacular scenery and we must've been so high up as the road drops steadily for about an hour and a half. Then it's across a plain (grandad refers to as the Muti plain, which is rice allotments as far as they eye can see) and towards the distant mountains. A slow climb back up to these and you arrive in Xiaguan - a nice looking city, except I'm not staying here. It's a bit confusing as Xiaguan is the new name for Dali. Except everyone still calls it Dali. There's also a Dali up the road, which is where I'm headed for. That's Old Dali or Dali Gucheng.

It's a pretty old town, with a wall surrounding it and impressive reconstructed gates at the four compass points.

I have a quick wander the first afternoon and am sadly unimpressed - just tourist tat in all the shops and hordes of chinese tourists wandering the main strip and side roads. I seriously consider leaving the next day.

I'm having a great breakfast with Hash Browns (god I miss them!) when Chun Fei, or 'Alfie' sits himself down and asks be to buy him a coffee. Seems like a nice guy so I oblige and he's interesting to talk to.

Turns out his brother's a fisherman - "oh really? so's mine!" I say, and the next thing I know, we're negotiating prices for a day out with him. Y130 later, and we're on the bus to his bro's house. Then a boat, probably 4m long made out of old oil drums and 5 Cormorants perched on the side. After a few yards rowing, he kicks the birds off the side and they're off! In the water, so close up they're amazingly fast. They've all got a piece of straw tied round their neck, not too tight though, so that if they catch a small fish, they can eat it. The bigger ones get stuck in their throat and after enticing them back to the boat with a sprat and grabbing them out the water (by beak, neck or wing) you simply open their beaks and out plops our lunch!

10 fish and a few Bai (local people) fishing songs later, and we're back at his bros for lunch.I have to say, I was a bit unsure about the hygiene, but they way they dissect the small carp with their chopsticks (tail off, dorsal off, pinch the meat off the top the spine, pull the head back and the rest comes out in your rice and you're left with the classic fishbone with a head attached, which the dog under the table was grateful for!

Then it's off to a local house, where I partake in a traditional tea tasting ceremony and try moon, wind, flower and snow tea - all good stuff.

Then it's up the hill in the cable car to visit some more caves with a pretty disinterested guide who can't be bothered to speak english and just points out the signs for me... Not amazing, but interesting all the same.

Back to Dali and it's a cheeky beer with Alfie to say thanks for a top day where I write this.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Chinese french fries...

They're actually really tasty and the closest thing I've had to chips over here...


So, whilst the readers at home are getting to meet Donald (and each other), I'm in the net cafe (next to Wal-Mart!) in Kunming.

I leave for Dali tomorrow so thought I'd better drop in a quick update! Got the bus from Guiyang to here - not loads to report to be honest. Leave Guiyang (and the smell) behind and the karst scenery that surrounds the city becomes more sparse as you break through. One or two peaks close to the roadside and then it's more rice paddies and china's favourite allotment sites.

Crossed a couple of gorges, but no real treacherous hillside stuff as the road now tunnels through most of the hills. Stopped early for lunch and saw my first Chinaman using a squat toilet without a door. He didn't seem that fussed puffing away on his ciggy, but I obviously didn't hang around and left before I wretched from the (existing) smell again. Outside was the biggest dog I've ever seen. The locals have obviously managed to mate a long, black-haired alsatian (German Shepherd) with a horse - I was just glad it was tied up!

A freeway is underconstruction for the short part of the route where we went on the old road (rest of it is new freeway) and we descended one side of a gorge before climbing up the other. This was something else, as across the top were two huge suspension wires spanning hundreds of metres across the top. There's no road there yet, just a few monumental pillars (easily 200 feet high) and these massive cables. I've no idea how they got the cables, or how they're going to get the actual road across...

Into kunming and I like it here already. Lots of english spoken (good for me) and they seem to have embraced the tourists too and are friendly like Guilin. The hostel's great too. Day 1 is being shown around by Keegan (but I think I've mentioned that already?) Very little of the old Kunming exists, literally just an intersection of two streets with buildings that are falling down and also in the process of being replaced, albeit with 'traditional' architecture. Had 'across the bridge noodles' which is basically a bowl of really hot chicken broth, you scrape your ingredients into it and the hot water cooks them... Chicken soup - ta da!

Day 2 and I hook up with Matty (female) and Philip (two American's I bump into at the bus station, trying to organise a trip like me) for the Stone forest. En-route, the driver manages to wangle another Y140 out of us and adds in a trip to Jiuxiang - gorge and cave network. This is our first stop.

OMFG! The gorge is awesome - looks like something straight out of Indiana Jones - the walls are straight up out of the water, which has a 15m marker scraped into the wall and it's a step back in history. Until you reach the ford that is which is like a mini version of the Thames flood barrier. Then it's into the caves and these are breathtaking. You've got your ususal 'guess the shape' and the chinese sure have a vivid imagination when it comes to naming some of their rocks, but Rick I've got a cracking photo for you mate (the old 'finger on the top of the object' shot) and some amazing video too. you descend a gorge, and the walls get higher and closer together at the top until they form the cave (named the Bat Cave - seriously) instead. Then it's off on a wander among dodgy neon lights (but they do make he formations stand out) and next to underground waterfalls and rivers. The circular holes are my favourite (ooh, er missus) - created by a whirlpool and a smaller stone, the look like they're made by man, not nature. A cable car back up to the top sees us back in the car park and on our way to our original destination - the stone forest.

A UNESCO World Heritage site, I was expecting it to be similar to the pinnacles in WA - not at all. They're sandstone and yellow and small, these are enormous, made from hard rock and are much closer together. Eroded by millions of years of water pouring over them, we leave the main path and descend into some claustrophobic places, tight squeezes and 'one at a time' cracks to make it up to the top (via a very precariously balanced piece - on all fours here) for a photo at lotus flower peak. The view from the top is even better. It really is magical and I'll post a photo or two when I get the chance. We're still on paths, but it's not for the faint hearted, or fat, or people who don't like heights, rock climbing or a feeling of danger (though they had carved steps and handholds into the rock for you...)

We reached the viewing pagoda, highest point in the centre of the park at sunset, and it was magical - no shouting chinese, crap music blaring through mobile phones or small women hocking up a huge grolly to spoil things, but it only left us with 20minutes of daylight, so we made our way back to the car, where happy f*cker tried to tap us out of anoher Y120 for the road toll (otherwise we'd get back at 11PM he threatened). 21.30 and we roll into Kunming via the old road for free, so he can shove his toll.

A cold beer on the veranda and I take Philip and Matty to the night market for dinner as we're all starving. "Erm, we've kinda been on a Western kick" says Maddie when I ask her what she wants - admittedly, I find this a little strange given her chinese roots and the fact she lives and studies here and they've also been on the road for three weeks, so I order a plate of maggots for them - nothing like jumping in at the deep end! The food here is great; fresh, cooked well, no bones and is all really tasty - including the maggots "Mmmm, they're just like french fries!" exclaims Phillip, scooping up another load in his chopsticks - I couldn't agree more.

Bit of a chill out day the next day, visit the Kunming museum of history and whilst all in all it's pretty unimpressive, the fact they've got a Yunnanosauras and Sheczuanosauras (which look remarkably like two dinosaurs I've seen in the museum of Natural history) the guide there is convinced they're unique to the two areas. I wonder if I could discover a Bexleyosauras or a NewElthamadactyl if I dug deep enough!? I take the discoveries with a pinch of salt, but they've got some excellent other objects, stones and wooden carvings on display.

The guide (Nina) is very helpful and also shows me round the local 1200year old temple as well. There's a platform covering a cave with two dragons in it and the central pagoda is surrounded by walkways and a huge pond. People put fish and terrapins as an offering to Buddah into this pond, and it's then that I notice it. A small terrapin stands out from the rest because of a funny marking on its back. I zoom in and some joker has only painted it up - it's got a picture of the disney character 'Tweety Pie' (you know the yellow bird) with the text I thought I saw a puddy cat!? across its back. Made me chuckle, but I'm not sure the locals will get it and my Grandmother will be distraght - imagine the shock, horror if that happened to Farthing Nan!?

Kunming is important as it's the start/end (depending on which way you're going) of the old Burma road. Not much to look at now I'm afraid (just another 8 lane slow road Dick) covered with buses and ready for much more traffic than is on it, but I catch some video of it and it's back to the hostel to make plans for the trip to Dali.