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Spoke Notes Stamp

Peter Snow Cao
Spoke Notes

Out in the Boonies
Copyright © Peter Snow Cao, 1998.

Skip to:   Travelogue Index | China in October | November in Yangshou | Road to Taijang | Killing in Kaili | Grinding in Guiyang | Out in the Boonies | Land of Eternal Spring | Dali in December | Tiger Leaping Gorge | Doing Dali Again | Train to Guangzhou | Goodbye China!

Out in the Boonies

Sitting here Asian style (squatting like I was going to take a dump) while we wait for darkness to fall so we can attempt to find a place to sleep. The day’s sights included both young and old men smoking what appeared to be tobacco from 3-foot tall bamboo bongs (a kind of water pipe made from a 3" diameter section of bamboo that allows the smoker to put his mouth inside the hole with the bong resting on his checks). It is hygienic, but it reminds me of my college days.

We also saw many coal mines and ponies running "wild" through the fields. We are travelling through an arid high-elevation landscape, with a hot sun during the day, and cold nights. We also got many thumbs-up from truck drivers. The kids swarming around us in some towns are becoming pretty much of a nuisance. We stopped in one town for lunch and the lady charged us the outrageous sum of 10 yuan for noodles and rice. She was definitely part of the consumer world with a ghetto blaster, color TV and a large refrigerator.

"There are no secrets in China"

My own observations on the Chinese observing us.
They don't miss a trick.

The landscape looks like the southwest US; red earth, white rocks, few trees. The difference is that the mountains are almost entirely terraced for growing crops. It is hard for me to imagine where all the people are that created and tend to such a vast area. We only see a few villages, and there is very little machinery.


Today is our one-month anniversary in China and another great day! After a relatively cold night (but not below freezing, thank God) camping in the woods beside the road, we got off to an early start. Rainer and I had our best talk to date under the canopy of the stars, in which we discussed many issues, but mostly pertaining to our relationship and personalities.

Yiyuan CoinOur ride was good, fairly smooth roads, not too much traffic, mostly coal trucks (which also ran along the railroad). It seemed like a waste of resources not to use the tracks instead of trucks to move all that material. We passed the remains of yet another accident; two trucks hit head-on, one full of coal, the other empty. We laughed when we saw it: it seems we pass one everyday. When there is an accident, the Chinese leave everything the way it was until there is a full investigation, even if it blocks the road.

The hills have finally flattened out and we hit a long stretch of gently rolling hills and a bit of a headwind. But this was still preferable to the mountains we have come through.

We passed some more young women singing in the fields, their voices sounded so fine. Yesterday while going through a very small village on market day I saw a local "dentist" at work on a patient on the side of the road. He had his cloth laid out on the shoulder of the road with a few tools; pliers, mirrors and about 100 teeth, presumably from previous patients. It was quite a sight.

The other sights that I enjoy seeing are the chariot riders standing on the horse-drawn wagons going at full trot down the road to work. On the way into town, several Chinese cowboys were herding about 20 ponies to market.

We also saw an amazing packing arrangement of large ceramic jars stacked about 10 feet high cushioned with straw on a trailer pulled by a "walking tractor" also heading to market.

The carrying of the dried corn stocks is another magical sight, particularly when it is a beautiful young woman doing the hauling. The bundles appear so cumbersome, they are about 6- to 8-feet wide, 5-feet high and the woman are bent over at a 45-degree angle.

The Chinese carry loads on their backs, unlike the Indians who use their heads. Even young children, no more than 4 years old will be outfitted with a miniature basket on their back following their mother out to the field. It seems everyone in China works hard.

We arrived in Qijing about 5 PM and we asked for the guesthouse. We were directed to a cigarette factory hotel. There we met Hongmei, one of the English interpreters who told us there were no rooms available. She said she would take us to the government hotel in town.

Yiyuan CoinThe city was quite large, she said 800,000 people. The government hotel wanted to charge us 40 yuan for a room. Hongmei said they automatically double the price of the room and for the food in the restaurant for foreigners. She said there was another hotel that charged 20 yuan, but when we got there she called back to the company hotel and asked once again if they had a room. They made space for us in the storage area. On the way back we stopped and had dinner at her friend’s restaurant. We had a very good meal there with a sweet rice dish for desert. She said the meal was 13 yuan, but she wouldn't let us pay. So when she wasn't looking, I put 15 yuan in her pocket. She was a very nice woman, 29, who taught herself to speak English. She worked first as an English teacher in a middle school before getting her present job as an interpreter at the cigarette company. She hopes to be able to go to England to study, but getting the money together is very difficult because her wages are so low. In order to go, she has to buy British pounds on the black market. I feel almost guilty by my good fortune of being raised in America. So many Chinese have such a burning desire to go abroad and only a few will realize their dream.

After we got settled in our room, showered and washed our clothes, I went out and visited Tony, the Frenchman, who has been working here for a few months. Every 3 months in China he gets a month holiday in France. He has been doing this for 2 years and says it is a very lonely job. He was with his interpreter when I arrived and we had a pleasant hour-long chat.

Shilin (Stone Forest)

We had a leisurely morning laying around until 9 AM before leaving. Our ride was basically flat but with a 10- to 15-kph headwind and a bright, glaring sun in our eyes all day. Because of that, I was unable to view much of the countryside, which was decidedly less interesting anyway than the previous days through the mountains. There were not any of the spectacular views we had been seeing since Guangzhou. But riding on the flat terrain was definitely a nice change. We decided to take the long way to Kunming in order to stop and see the Stone Forest, which was recommended by the people we met in Qiping. It was a long ride and we didn't arrive here until after dark.

Today's memorable sights: a freshly dead cow laying in the road with its throat slit and blood all over the place. Gross! We saw some older women that had their feet bound when they were young wearing tiny slippers and teetering down the road. We saw many pony drawn carts that look like miniature covered wagon from American history books. They generally have several people in them and look like a wagon train crossing the prairie. There were the remains of a head-on bicycle-bus accident. The participants weren't around, only the vehicles left in the middle of the road where it happened.

We are taking a much needed break from riding today at my request. I am sitting in the quiet side of the Stone Forest. Few people come out this far. I have been living in the past for a while looking at my calendar and remembering each day of the places I have been. Maybe it is true I will be ruined for life, never being able to stay in one place for very long. However, I have been living in the future as well, thinking about what it will be like when I go back to the States.

I spent the day walking around the Stone Forest and watching the Chinese tourists having fun dressing up in costumes, getting on horses and camels and taking lots of pictures. The Stone Forest is a unique rock formation that consists of tall narrow monolithic grayish limestone. It was impressive, and the Chinese had constructed a number of paths through it.

As with all Chinese tourist attractions, one was never far away from someone selling something to eat or drink. Also it was ironic that they had gone to great expense to keep people from falling into the water, but the paths high up through the rock formations were to my way of thinking much more dangerous. They were narrow, slippery and had very little in the way of protection. The reason for the water protection is probably related to the Chinese universal fear of water because most don't know how to swim. However the rest of the park is very much the Asian way of doing things: look out for your own safety, there is no one to blame but yourself if something happens.

I feel like I am losing my mind. I have lost the 26.80 yuan worth of stamps I just bought. Maybe I left them at the Post Office. I don't know what is happening to me. First I lost the toiletries that I bought last night, and now the stamps.

Later, I went back to the Post Office and they had my stamps. I am very lucky they were so honest. The value of the stamps is worth several day's pay to the Chinese. After that I came back to the hotel, took a nap, and then went out and bought the same things I got last night and lost. The clerks must think I am nuts. Then I came back to our room and started cleaning out my packs and found the items I thought I lost. Now I have two of everything. Great!

On to  Land of Eternal Spring

Skip to:   Travelogue Index | Introduction | China in October | November in Yangshou | Road to Taijang | Killing in Kaili | Grinding in Guiyang | Out in the Boonies | Land of Eternal Spring | Dali in December | Tiger Leaping Gorge | Doing Dali Again | Train to Guangzhou | Goodbye China!

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