Cheating a little! Not actually in Tibet as I write this but back in China proper. Internet cafes are rather scarce in rural Tibet. We made it across the border - it's who you know in China of course, and then headed back toward Kunming - the capital of Yunnan province.
Had a great time, though not without it's frustrations. We're all in one piece (each) having survived the pretty scary mountain drives to Tibet and the glacier near the border.
Not too many days and mum will fly back to Oz. What a shame. She's welcome back anytime. She says:
"Hope the photos are interesting and I'll get to show the real things soon. Not too much in the way of shopping on this trip but still managed to add to the shoe collection and the wardrobe - despite Courtney rationing me to a pair a day maximum."
"Being an XL size also made things a little difficult! That's why we did a lot of walking on this trip. At least my feet we still regarded as small!"
"See you all soon!"
Love, Beryl and Courtney (who probably won't see you soon)
Location: Dali - Lijiang (Nth Yunnan), China
A big HELLO to everyone from the boys mother, who joins him on the web page as very special guest for the next few weeks. Nice to have you onboard, Mumsy!
NICE to be on the road again after too many weeks spent in something akin to the rat-race. Working too hard that's all I know. It's a lot of fun though and I'll now enjoy 3 weeks off - touring with my mum (Beryl) and our impromptu travel guide, Li Juan, through Northern Yunnan and a snippet of Sichuan.
A fun few days in Jinghong after the somewhat bizarre spectacle of mum arriving in tin-pot Jinghong Non-International Airport. She loved the flowers - the were bloody heavy carrying in the back of a rickshaw, hairs in the breeze all the way.
Some nice evenings but I was working hard trying to get my holiday dough to rise. A highlight was dinner at my friends (a student) restaurant. Absolutely delicious:
Crab cooked in ginger and Chinese onion (10/10)
Prawns au Naturel
"Black" chicken and green papaya in a delicious broth
An uncharacteristically delicious omelette.
We spent another day wandering around the magnificent garden south of Jinghong, and the last high in the hills in a tiny Hani village helping them celebrate their new year. Check out the snaps.
Evening flight to fabled DALI followed by an almost exasperating and fruitless search for accommodation in the old town. Horrible hotel and instant noodles set the scene for our holiday extavaganza.
Next day wandering around the old town which is nice but currently overrun with our beloved Chinese tourists due to the school holidays. Alas! The sorry lot of a teacher.
NOW in Lijiang - an even more beautiful town, even more overrun with the aforementioned. Fun times again though, especially trying to glean information about upcoming destinations. Tomorrow morning we aim to rise eaerly and catch the bus to the Tibetan town of Zhongdian. JEALOUS?
Location: Jinghong, China
It's a rainy Friday morning here in Jinghong, bringing some respite from the heat of previous days. It's my first week of a 2-month school holiday and I've agreed to come back and teach next term.
Things have turned-out remarkably well. I love my job at the school, and it's not too taxing - meaning I can spend time teaching private students and some business students.
As a result I'm now teaching 7 days a week and more than 30 hours! "A real workaholic!", you cry. It's great having my own little business and I rented the apartment adjoining ours and use it as a classroom. It's small and unspectacular but effective enough.
Funnily, all this means I'm now earning about 10X the average local salary and really enjoying the teaching. That doesn't translate into much on the international stage but not bad.
My mum arrives here in a weeks time and we'll head toward Tibet. It'll be a wonderful trip I suspect and I'm longing for the cool mountains.
We were robbed a few days ago and the only thing of note I lost was my beloved MP3 Jukebox - they got into the classroom through the window and took it - my second most prized possession!!! NO music! Quite funny though - they use long tongs, usually reserved for picking up rubbish and reach into the room, generally trying to lift men's trousers - knowing after a heavy night there could be treasure in the pockets.
They even came back since but our friend scared them off. Villains!
A few interesting tales from the Middle Kingdom.
1) What's in a Name? : Chinese folk don't generally name their children until they go to school, at 5 years old! Prior to this they're called the equivalent of "Little Girl" or Boy.
2) If a Chinese couple divorce the children nearly always go with the father. It's hard for a woman to find a new partner if she has kids. This leads to the situation that many women stay with their horrible hubbies for the very real fear of lsing their children.
3) At schools they don't schedule the school holidays until a few days before we break, and the commmencement of next year is decided during the break. So, at this point I don't know when I have to return!
4) Chinese men go for the hirsute girls - meant to have stronger libido.
Location: Jinghong, China
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A "LOWEI" (foreigner in Chinese)
Thought I'd better give you all a little update. Now settled into life in Jinghong, China. Teaching English as many do here. I have 2 ongoing contracts - 1 with the local university I mentioned before (XTC), and the other with the local office of Bangkok Airways.
Enjoying the teaching very much - students here are so enthusiastic and appreciative. I do a class called "Listening to English" and after much begging sang a song for them this week. The Chinese generally know very few English songs and they're all bad ones - CELINE, BRYAN et.al. so we ended up doing "I am Sailing" - the old Rod Stewart standard. I taught myself the song on guitar and the students sang along, trying to work out what Rowdy Roddy is singing about. Not too tricky, that one, and a good laugh.
I've also started learning Chinese, though fairly informally. It is indeed difficult to learn - mostly because of the four tonal variations which to my untrained, perhaps deaf, ears often sound the same. BUT, I am determined to try.
In all I work just 15 hours per week and earn the not-so-handsome sum of 3200 Y per month ($500 or so). This is actually a high wage in these parts, with my friend, a trained engineer, making just half that. Wages are really low in this part of China, but so are expenses. 2 local friends and I rent 2 adjoining apartments for just 400 Y per month. Pretty basic - concrete floors, cold water and an outdoor kitchen but okay.
A 750ml of reasonable beer sets you back a mere 5 Y (70c). Given that, the heat and limited alternatives, it's hard not to over-indulge. Most lowei do just this - but I'm trying to behave. I tend to have 1 coffee each day and the only place that serves espresso in town "CoffeeMan" (see photos) charges 6 Y for a good cuppa. Still, you can easily buy a dinner for that price! Food here is great, though a lot more limited than other parts of China. One of my faves is "Crossing the Bridge Noodles" a regional specialty - one variant of which includes frogs and shrimp swimming in said noodles. Yum!
My plan is to work here for the next 2 months then go for a trip with my mum. That should make interesting reading. The college wants me to come back for next term so I'll be able to consider my options. Living in the east of China, or for that matter Korea or Japan, would get me far more $$$ - something I'm rather short of....
Played tennis for the first time yesterday and had a lot of fun. I met 2 friends at the school and we went to the only tennis court in Jinghong. We were to meet their friend there who looks after the court. Of course it turned out he wasn't even in this city!, so we couldn't get into the court and besides he was going to bring the balls. Very strange but this sort of thing happens pretty regularly.
Another example was with the school. I had a week off for May Day, or so I thought. I had told everyone at the school that I was leaving Jinghong for the week and would return the following Monday. As it turned out we didn't go, because I couldn't fit into the beds on the sleeper bus, so I was fast asleep at home, at 8am on the Saturday morning when the school secretary rang. "Your class is waiting for you, Mr Cook." She couldn't explain it at the time but in China Wednesday and Thursday classes were re-scheduled to the weekend. Of course no-one told me. Half-asleep, confused, angry, frustrated and embarassed - I fronted the class and tried to explain. "No problem" they said. "This is normal in China" - and so it is! When in China......
In general people are wonderfully nice here and if you try to speak some Chinese they love it. It's such a relaxed place - people sit around playing cards and mahjong all day, usually for small bets. Today we scheduled a game of mahjong - I want to learn but they play so fast. Other than that it's Sunday, and plenty of rest is on the agenda. Keep ya posted!
Location: Jinghong, Yunnan, CHINA, China
Jinghong - Menghun : 74km
Menghun - Jinghong : 73km
Broken Spokes have me beyond Jokes
I did leave Jinghong some time back and went to the interesting market in Menghun. Late at night I noticed with terror that another spoke had broken on the wheel that had lasted 300km. I repaired it that night but the next day cycled east then north and had lost another 3, tearing back into Jinghong.
If i'd kept going I couldn't have fixed the bike. The story is that as a result I took a really great job here, teaching at the local university: Xishuangbanna Technical College.
It's a relaxed job and a great way to get involved in Chinese culture and to do some study of my own. I've signed a 3-month contract and may well move on at the end of it. Jinghong is a nice, relaxed place to be for a while and I can tool around the countryside and swim daily in the local pool.
Just in case you became concerned........
Location: Jinghong -Southwest of Kunming, China
PASSAGE TO CHINA
I've now reached one of my most dreamt-about destinations - The People's Republic of CHINA. After less than a week it's living up to the idyll. A mysterious land of contradictions, contrasts, confusion and captivating cuisine - especially for the world-weary traveller.
21/3 Udomxai, LAOS - Mohang, CHINA = 103km
22/3 Mohang - Mengyuan, Yunnan = 102 km
23/3 Mengyuan - Jinghong = 127 km
The overnight bus trip back to unremarkable Udomxai was rather painful and long. The wheel had been completely rebuilt so surely now I could continue with some confidence???????
I had considered cycling as soon as I got off the bus but I was so tired I didn't think I'd get too far. A good decision, as in the afternoon, as I sat working on my two-wheeled concern, a German mate rolled into town on his.
Jurgen I'd first met in Vientiane but he'd rushed through - bound for the wilds of Laos. I then saw him in Luang Prabang briefly - as I took off the next day on my ill-fated journey up the river. Now my cycle computer cord was damaged, leaving it useless and I knew from Luang Prabang that Jurgen used the same computer as me, and I also knew that he'd had the display of his stolen. So I admit I'd actually hoped he'd drop into Udomxai. What Luck!
The town was quite spectacularly boring but I was overjoyed that the wheel seemed so strong and I had the prospect of cycling with Jurgen for at least a day or two.
Udomxai - Mohang = 103km
The next morning we cycled along a pretty rough road through the villages heading north on the "highway" to Luang Nam Tha. One strange thing was the number of people wandering around drunk - at 7am! Many were sitting drinking the ghastly RICE WINE for breakfast.
It got really hot after midday as we reached the junction with the road that runs to the Chinese border. While we sat drinking copious amounts of fruit juice I had to decide whether I would go directly to China or stay a couple more days in Laos. The allure of China easily won the day and Jurgen and I parted company again. He was heading South West back to Thailand.
He gave my the cord from his computer and so now mine is functioning again. THANK YOU, MATE! Happy cycling, and "keep that stiff upper lip!"
I was cycling like a demon - overjoyed that the bike was staying in one piece past the 100km mark.
Crossing the no-mans land to the border I saw my first live snake slithering across the dirt road. It was very nice but very quick as it shimmered in the early afternoon blaze. I'd seen many a dead snake, including a very large python (no jokes, please) by the side of the road a few days back. I was also considering the nature of this omen. A snake on the way to China? A good sign?? Surely that it didn't bite me!
The actual border post was a little disappointing but it's not really an important one for the Chinese. Still, roads are being rebuilt everywhere and I ended up more dirty, and a little crankier - sliding everywhere, crossing the border, than on the entire 80km previous.
The officials looked .... official with military uniforms but "Welcome to China" and a broad smile made me feel very happy to be there. I booked into a dodgy hotel at the border and ate in a garage-cum-restaurant.
YUMMO! What can I say? That first meal in that crummy restaurant was better than anything I'd had for ages. So many fresh vegetables, which the customer actually goes out to the kitchen and selects, and the herbs and spices.
I had inadvertantly ordered three big plates of food (which actually lasted me 3 meals); downed a celebratory beer and a bill of just 8 yuan = $1! I knew straight away I would love this country.
Mohang - Mengyuan = 102km
A very pleasant ride on a good surface, buoyed along by the excitement of being in China and enjoying the beautiful scenery of Yunnan's Xishagabanna Nature Reserve as I skirted the Mekong River again. (Here it is called the Lancang River)
I stopped for a snack in the small city of Mengla, again marvelling at the flavour of the soup I ate. Construction was going on everywhere - roads and buildings being knocked down and rebuilt.
I reached the small town of Mengyuan in the heat of the early afternoon, bought some fruit and sat down by the rice fields. The fruit was truly magical, and I had 6 oranges and a mango - seemingly the best I'd had in my long life. I even fell asleep, realising then that i would stay the night in the non-descript backwater.
Finding somewhere to sleep was difficult. In such towns the language barrier is truly immense. I couldn't even ask what town I was in : and that was with a phrasebook! It doesn't help that the immediate area has the following towns:
Mengla Menglun Mengban Mengxing
Mengyuan Mengzha Menghan
Menghun Mengman Menghai
Mengyang Mengpeng Menglian etc.
And these are just the larger towns listed on my tourist map! I'd noticed this some time ago and working out where I was proved very difficult. Quite strange to sleep in a town and not be sure where the hell you are! At least I knew for sure I was in a cheap, seedy hotel and the ensuing drunkeness off the patrons below ensured a restless night.
Mengyuan - Jinghong = 127km
I had to sleep with earplugs - the Chinese are noisy enough sober! - and so slept past my alarm and didn't hit the streets till 7:30am. The weather was merciful and the ride was nice though, again along the river, heading to the modest city of Jinghong. Not as mountainous as I thought, either. I stopped for afternoon tea in a sliver of shade overlooking the river.
I was very relaxed and suddenly heard "What the hell are you doing here?". My fright was replaced by a smile as I spotted Chris Cousins, a French cycle tourer creeping toward me. We'd met a couple of times - the first when I limped back to Kasi from the mountains.
We sat for long while discussing plans, my wretched bicycle and the fact that he had increased the weight on his. (To about 60kg as oppsed to my 23!). He was heading East and I North so we parted again after he referred me to the pineapple lady around the next bend.
Delicious and medicinal pineapple was consumed and I steamed on into Jinghong after 127km, ensuring my average speed for the day climbed ever higher.
WOW! The modernity of Jinghong. The sophisticated girls in their beautiful clothes, tree-lined boulevards, internet everywhere, cafes!
So for the first few nights here I've survived on 3 hours sleep. The town is surprisingly lively with people wandering about and eating meals at midnight. It's all a bit overwhelming after the sleepy towns of the last few months.
So my time here is stretching out. Figure I'll head out to Menghun (I think that's the one) for the famous Sunday market and thence north toward Dali. Onward ever onward...........................- .........