So we were off! Flights and hostels booked, bags packed and fingers crossed for good weather.
There was no sleep to be had the night before as we had an early start, but with good intentions of sleeping at the airport ruined by a talkative monk with an interesting array of music on his phone of which he felt compelled to share with us at four in the morning, we near passed out on the plane. What a sight we must’ve been to behold…
First stop Chengdu, having already pre-empted my ability to sleep on almost all forms of transport and considering I’d still been doing parents meetings til well past ten the night before, we had decided to splurge and get a pick up from the airport. This was not something I would normally do but it had been decided that this holiday was a treat, not only had the previous two weeks been epicly bad but I was getting a whole year older. I’d managed to make lots more mistakes and find myself in more trouble since my last birthday and yet here I was still around to see what else I could get myself into and hopefully back out of.
A lovely man stood at the arrival gates with a sign, written on it was perhaps an indication of things to come, ’Emily Lazybones.’ I liked the sound of it, it sounded like a plan. The hostel was called Lazybones in case you were wondering, it was only the first time they had met me. I think we had been there maybe three minutes when Addie and I were pondering how to move to this gorgeous place, it was so green and people looked so happy, we clearly belonged here. Some plans were quite depraved and I think our driver may have understood a touch as he stifled a giggle at some of our more absurd ideas.
Anyway, moving on, we arrived and I went into my usual planning mode. Dump bags, check out the bathroom, eat and then a plan was to be formed! I’m consistent to say the least, we made an action plan and put it into motion, first stop – a quick wander up the road and round the corner to the Wenshu monastery and the nearby surroundings including an old folk handicraft street (some shopping was to be done). After a very confusing start, turns out by ticket office they meant hole in the wall, however Addie and I both being tall walked past it three or four times because it was somewhere near hip level, we had a gentle meander around. Stunning buildings, beautiful, luscious gardens, an amazing dragon fountain, turtles and singing birds, not to mention some very intense, funny men arguing and playing games were our first scenes to be captured in Chengdu. We had arrived and having successfully got ourselves fed and watered AND successfully navigated a map and seen some sights. Feeling quite proud in our sleep deprived and befuddled state we wandered back to the hostel with enough time for Baileys and pool (not the swimming sort, the cue and balls sort) before the opera. Our first day was done in style. I love theatres and operas so my excitement was barely containable, especially as fire had been mentioned and I have some pyro tendencies, (you can blame my mother, she is a fiend when it comes to playing with fire). It was amazing. I took hundreds of pictures and nearly cried when the Erhu player was performing his solo, he was enchanting. I took a video, he was fantastic and I was riveted, unlike the little old, Chinese ladies next to us who had fallen asleep at some point during the evening and were quietly snoring to themselves. I was like a child who had had injected a mixture of skittles and speed directly into their blood stream, by the time the face changing performance came on I was ecstatic. Everyone in the minivan was subjected to my awe and hyperactivity, there were some faces in that van that looked like a smile may crack their exterior shell and something truly horrible may have crawled or oozed out, but at least Addie and the driver found me amusing.
The following day, it was all about the pandas! Now I’d seen pandas before in the Chiang Mai zoo but as I am mentally around six this didn’t do anything to dampen my excitement and Addie, who had at this point never seen a panda, could barely control herself. There is something bizarre about pandas, in the sense that they just look like humans wearing panda suits, they have strange human movement and definitely some teenage lethargy, however, I have to give it to them, they can eat a lot more than me. It’s an astonishing sight, watching a panda who is so lazy that he lies on his back while continuously shovelling bamboo in a constant, non-stop motion into it’s mouth. Even I would have to top to take a breather, but no, these guys are hardcore, this is a conveyor belt system to eating that left me impressed, even my family dinners couldn’t compare. And if they’re not eating, they’re sleeping! It got very hot and Addie got very red, I had taken whitewash with us on holiday but as the day had started out somewhat bleak I hadn’t thought to put any on, not a problem for me, two years in Thailand makes the skin a little hardier, however Addie started the day the colour of porcelain and by midday had turned into a pink apple! We returned to our hostel and continued with the pool and baileys theme we had begun (I had previously been silly and forgotten how long it had been since I’d had a ‘real’ drink and tried a JD and coke, I was a little tipsy after one so returned to something a wee bit more gentle.)
Off on a wander again we decided to split up for a bit so we could see some different sights, but we had lost track of time and the galleries we had wanted to see had closed early. We must remember for our next excursion that in the south things seem to close earlier. I went for a wander with the map, Addie had not brought hers which led to some interesting phone calls later, however, we both managed to get to People’s Park, me first.
I went for a nice quiet wander with no interruptions, listening to Greensleeves being played as lots of little old people danced some sort of waltz. Then a bizarre scene struck me as a particularly energetic, geriatric man in a wife beater shook his thing to some upbeat dance tunes while some ladies of pensionable age looked on with a disturbing look of lust in their eyes. I have to confess it was a bit creepy. I called Addie as I felt this was a necessary sight for her to experience but by the time she arrived I think he might have pulled and had left. And here is where I made the realisation that I have stern teacher face when I am concentrating or thinking which in turn deters strange things from happening to me. Addie, however still has the look of innocence about her and does attract, for lack of a better term, some right weirdos.
Walking along, trying to explain the dance moves that had just unfolded in front of my eyes through fits of giggles, a man walks up to Addie with a rooster. No, I wasn’t drunk, it was perched on a lovely, beautifully carved, white cane of some sort, this is strange yes, but the film crew following him was stranger. As I sat on a low wall killing myself laughing, Addie was subjected to a bizarre ritual of hoisting said rooster over her head and conducting an equally strange interview. And yet this was not the end to our adventures in People’s Park. Once again we had managed to get talking to a very sweet Chinese man who clearly revelled in the opportunity to practice his English and show off to his friends that he could talk to the giants. He had told us to quit our jobs and move to Chengdu, he was sure this was possible. Now that it had been determined that we weren’t monsters and were actually quite friendly this led to yet another bizarre eventuality. There had been some immaculately dressed old ladies strutting their stuff next to us, these ladies were brimming with confidence and I bet after a few drinks would be the sort with the most debauched, outrageous tales. The smallest of the group, with a great air of confidence strutted on over, took Addie by the hand and made her parade up and down with them on some sort of imaginary catwalk for an unspecified amount of time, once again I was a mess of giggles but not so much that I couldn’t film it all happening. Unfortunately, i am a rather loud giggler and was subjected to the same strutting performance, the difference being Addie can actually dance and took it all in her stride with rhythm and grace, I just giggled and lumbered through as a tall, lanky-limbed creature with the same skill as a giraffe on drugs. After this we decided that was quite enough for one evening, I have expected fairies or goblins to appear.
The following day after a three hour bus journey with an unconscious Addie asleep on my shoulder (how heavy is the human head by the way?) We arrived at Leshan. Addie woke up five minutes before we arrived declaring what a short journey it had been. I did inform her that not only had she been out cold nearly solidly for three hours but also that she had an unusually heavy head.
By the way, they are not joking when they say giant Buddha, he is huge!!! Queues in China are always a source of amusement, not only do the Chinese not really queue, you can always rely on the Chinese to push and shove even when there is a fatal drop just inches to the side of you, but you get the intense feeling you are being stared at. This is because you are, and being photographed and having your every movement documented on film. My favourite incident was the man in front becoming quite frustrated by trying to take our picture, either over his shoulder (at which I turned round each and every time I heard the clicking noise so he got an excellent view of the back of my head, hehe) or when he was pretending to take a picture of his friend who was behind us but with the camera pointing directly in our faces and not even in a semblance of the same direction his friend was actually in. He gave up with the subtle attempts in the end, I had now developed a ridiculous fit of the giggles and he decided just to ask us if he could have a picture with us. Fatal, schoolboy error, say yes to one, and you find yourself posing for an inane number of pictures, however the queue was long and I had remembered to bring chocolate in my handbag so we were in a good humour and found it all very funny. The others who had managed to get ahead of us in the never ending line had quizzical looks plastered on their faces, we explained this happens a lot to us especially as Addie has curly hair, it had only been ten minutes earlier while attempting to get a good spot that I had been subjected to having my picture taken by some strange man with a camera as he wouldn’t move to let Addie take a picture for me until he had one of me too. So as I gripped in terror to the railing at one point as a charming man tried to squeeze through a gap a mosquito couldn’t get through, I was amazed at the scale and beauty of the Buddha. We had made some lovely friends that day, the hostel put on an evening of dumpling making, so we joined in ( I ate more than I made, I’m going to leave China looking like a dumpling) and as we were to fly the next morning early to Kunming Addie and I had resolved to have an early night. However we were not as resolved as we should have been, so we agreed to a drink or two to celebrate little old me getting even older (yes there was a cute guy involved in this persuasion!) and after an impressive coup by Addie who had managed to organise a cake, singing and margarita drinking without me finding out and killing her before it was too late ( I get terribly embarrassed and actively avoid situations where people sing at me) we went to an Irish bar. This was the beginning of the end as we crawled in at three in the morning thinking that one of us would wake the other in time to get moving in case we didn’t hear our alarm. Only problem is we both did this and I thankfully woke up at five on the dot when we were supposed to be leaving. In a crazed and slightly manic state we, both hungover, hijacked the minivan and made a mad dash to the airport ready for the next installment of our adventure.
Kunming; arriving in a somewhat delicate state we managed to give the address and directions to a taxi driver who was mercifully quiet and understood my basic Chinese. Somehow I have managed to develop a southern Chinese accent as opposed to the area in which I actually live.
This hostel was fancy, but it lacked the charm and atmosphere of our old hostel. We had perked up on our arrival and gone for a walk in the midday sun around The Green Lake. It was very beautiful and people were having a relaxed afternoon just chilling with their nearest and dearest.
Now Addie and I were gripped by an urge to be healthy so we decided on salads and juices. This would have been an excellent idea, however, someone had obviously not been sure if the tuna in my salad had been quite alright and me being delicate assumed that the excessive amount of dressing and slightly fizzy taste wasn’t a need to cover bad food. Thus an evening that should have been spent enjoying a show was interspersed with a running sprint to the loo as the healthy option decided my body wasn’t the sort of place it wanted to be. A lesson learned, sometimes it is best to stick to the greasy, dirty option. It’s better for you in the long run.
Anyway, lets disregard my amazing upchuck capabilities and move on. The show was amazing, drummers and dancers, it was beautiful and mesmerizing. There is something intense about the drum beat and their passion that sweeps you along and embraces you, makes you want to laugh and cry all at the same time. I’m not going to go all gooey on you but sometimes it’s a spiritual experience, reassuring and comforting to know that sometimes your brain is not the only thing in control in this universe. And I have pictures courtesy of Addie; squat toilets and a camera is not something I was willing to risk.
So the day after was a gentle day, nothing too strenuous and thanks to Addies amature dramatics and my complete humiliation, I had a lovely selection of drugs from a very amused pharmacist. We went for a wander in the attempt to find something, I don’t remember what now, but on the way we found the flower and bird market which sold a huge array of creatures and artifacts. With a little haggling and a bit of stalking, from an exceptionally cute guy (we still didn’t buy what he was selling) we did quite well for ourselves. The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering round some slightly derelict but beautiful streets and we found a nice little restaurant with a pool table. Not exactly touristy but an afternoon well spent, especially when the rain came.
That morning we had met a slightly odd man dressed all in white, playing with two sets of meditation balls and in the possession of an intensely disconcerting stare. That and a complete lack of knowledge as to appropriate personal space. He had entered our temporary abode and had been stood muttering to himself. Now don’t get me wrong, I talk to myself all the time, mostly to tell myself I’ve been a silly cow and forgotten something, but this was odd. That morning he had been pacing with his meditation balls in continouos motion and we had attempted to be friendly and helpful as you do to fellow travellers, especially those who travel on their own. He did not endear himself to us as on learning our profession had declared that all intelligence was superficial and that we knew nothing, that meditation was the answer and that it wasn’t a practise but a way of life! There were other cryptic replies to follow, you had to hand it to us, we were trying to be friendly.
Me: Where are you from?
Addie: Where are you actually from?
Him: This body was born in England.
Yes, had to be one of ours! We got the impression that he was trying to give an air of holy wiseman, instead we got the impression of possible sex offender. By the end of the evening we were hiding from the creepy dude, he was weird, and not in a good way.
Another year older, the drugs were working and we were going to a UNESCO site. Everytime I visit one the charm never wears off and we were visiting The Stone Forest. There were a lot of rocks and I was in fits of giggles over some rather rude shaped ones, I may be a year older but I’m still mentally a child!
There were two tourist attractions that day, The Stone Forest and Addie!!!
Tall, white and with long curly hair, look a bit Russian? Get your game face on and prepare to smile until your jaw aches. I was a very useful friend, some guy had given us berries at the beginning of our trip, so I sat on the grass enjoying the sunshine and berries for what we concluded was Addies’ photoshoot for a mail order Russian bride catalogue with an entire company, all of which were short, fat, balding Chinese men. She got an iced tea for her troubles and I laughed until my ribs hurt, and of course kept a watchful eye in the process. As the day progressed we were both in turn photographed and while I found it quite amusing especially when you can understand the, “Look, I can see a Laowai (foreigner).” I don’t think Addie found it quite as amusing. We haggled a bit more, it rained and an unsociable Chinese woman decided to empty a marquee filled with water on Addies’ head because she didn’t like Addies negotiating skills. Addie got the price she wanted still and the woman got told off by a friend or a boss, because although Addie might have still bought the bag, I’m a stubborn so an so and won’t buy from mean spirited people and put down several items I had been perusing at the time.
It was our last night and we had met a lovely girl hanging around the hostel on our return, she had also been avoiding creepy meditation man, she was in the room because she was broke and was leaving the next day. I would hope if I were ever in a foreign country someone would take pity on me and want to hang out with me. Seeing as it was my birthday we took her out and treated her to a very chinese meal of pizza and smoothies, she was a giggle and made a nice addition to our duet for an evening. Well you can’t have someone sat on their own on their last night in China can you? So after a few games of pool we retired for the evening, wished her well and got ready for the next part of our journey, Lijiang.
The final episode in our adventure, Lijiang.
It’s beautiful, I mean it’s a complete tourist trap, but it’s sometimes nice to live up to being a tourist. We wandered around and were stopped every five minutes by Chinese tourists to get our picture taken. Addie had the girls and I had the boys! We didn’t do much else as we realised we had to change our flights and return a day early. A lovely, rather handsome man sang beautifully accompanied only by his guitar on a rooftop cafe, listening and enjoying the peace and tranquility. Our last days of freedom were spent shopping and hanging out. It was a sad moment sat in the airport, trying to figure out how to extend our holiday and working out our respective budgets, but as we finally accepted the reality we responded as anyone would… we started to plan our next trip!