Saturday, 6 December 2014

not just another day in China

wake up and smell the coffee
We start the day by drying off the tent and making a brew.  Sometimes it rains early morning, but with the new chill in the air we are getting condensation on the tent, so it can be wet inside or out.  Happily the sun is fairly reliable and we are usually on the road by 9.30.  We pass through villages and small towns.  In one town there's a huge screen at the junction of the two main roads with speakers blaring.  A film is being shown, and ignored it seems, featuring a mad car chase through a city.  Around the corner villagers have set out their stalls to sell their produce at the market.  Food prices continue to rise in China.  Having become a net food exporter by 2002, China is now the world's largest net food importer - a rapid but unsurprising turnaround.  Each year more and more are leaving the villages and moving to the towns.  Farmland is appropiated for industrial and urban development.  When this generation of farmers have gone who will want to work the land?  It all looks very labour intensive.  We get a bit nervous camping on land - careful not to disturb tree saplings or rows of seedlings planted out.  We often see men and women carrying buckets of water on a yoke across their shoulders to their fields to then ladle it out over each plant in the field.  More often than not, we are camping on tracks.

still around
Our road is now following a river downstream so it should be all downhill, but isn't.  We stop for an early lunch at midday - locals seem to eat lunch by 1pm, so if you want hot rice it's best to do the same.  The restaurant is out in the middle of nowhere - between towns.  We are the only customers.  A young woman shows us the meat and vegetables in the chiller cabinet and we suggest some combinations for stir frying.  Do we want it as a soup? No. And just a little chilli, please! Family restaurants like these can be hit or miss - sometimes the food's excellent, the people are really attentive and inqusitive, others just bring the food and point you in the direction of the huge rice steamer sitting at the back of the room.  There are no frills - you eat, you go.  We eat as much rice as seems decent - much more than the locals.  But we always clean our plates - unlike the Chinese.  It seems the etiquette is to over order the food and never finish it off - is it a show of wealth? 

So far, so normal.  Gayle sets off up the road before me as there's a hill ahead.  I dawdle a bit.  As I set off I approach the climb on the inside of a bend in the road.  Two big trucks are coming in the other direction and then a small minivan overtakes them on the bend.  The hard shoulder is really narrow here - and there's a concrete barrier so there's nowhere for me to go.  It's not the first time this has happened but I don't like feeling so vulnerable.  As the minivan hurtles close by I express my disgust with two fingers and continue plodding up the hill.  A few minutes later a van draws alongside of me and a young man opens the side door and starts talking to me.  I'm not sure if he's offering me a lift.  But he's shouting.  All Chinese shout when they talk.  No, he's really shouting and he looks a bit angry.  And then I realise who they are, just as he pulls out a short steel bar and whacks me on the backside with it.  It's them.  They go past Gayle and then stop.  The bar didn't really hurt me - we were both going at the same speed I guess, and my arse is kind of fleshy.  But now I'm slightly afraid.  Why are they so mad?  I'm the one who nearly got run over.  The road is deserted - no-one else around, although I'm not sure it would make any difference.  The Chinese tend to stay out of things that don't concern them.  We know this because we had just heard about someone beaten to death in a McDonalds and none of the customers or staff tried to intervene.  This disturbing thought crosses my mind.  The van is doing a U-turn and coming back.  I shout to Gayle to get off the road.  She is trying to photograph them.  They drive by and the young guy hurls an empty beer bottle at me.  He misses by a mile.  They've gone.  I am so angry but feel powerless.  Gayle is understandably a bit jumpy when we carry on, because so many vehicles pass close by with a beep, but we figure that if those goondas really wanted to hurt me, they would have stopped the van and got out.  Good job they were in a hurry.  We don't say much for a while that afternoon.  Afterwards we decide that a) they must have been drunk and b) I shall no longer express my disgust with hand signals, but just swear under my breath.

Later on we stop in a town to restock our food and on the way out a young man with a smart phone waves and asks to photograph us.  Towards sunset we come to another town, bigger. Growing.  We get a glimpse of heavy industry down the valley.  It takes ages to get through the town and the light is fading.  Our road out of town is going towards a gorge - never the best places for camping with a cliff on one side and a river on the other - but happily the penultimate building in the town is a hotel.  Nice, new, affordable.  We stop and unload and while the family try and work out how to record our details on the police website, as all hotels are obliged to do, we are invited to sit down and take some tea.  Mum pours us green tea in tiny porcelain cups while 8-year old Son and Dad try and decipher our dates of birth.  A couple of men join us for tea and one speaks a little English.  Not enough, but he gets out his smart phone and we use a translator to ask each other questions.  Mr.Zhang is very friendly and welcomes us to Fujian and China.  He wants to know if we have eaten, where we have come from, where we are going, what do we do etc. At one point he offers "This is safe hotel.  We are all Hakka people."  I find this strangely reassuring after the events of the day.
in safe hands

No comments:

Post a Comment