One year ago today: Crossed in to China
With our determined and ill planned journey to China well underway, Kieran and I push our way ever more northbound.
It wouldn’t be a true trip on Laos roads unless you feared for your life at least once. Near head on collisions, precarious cliff edges and for a culture that is extremely laid back, damnit these guys are in a hurry when they hit the road!
I counted two car accidents on the way over the mountains. One vehicle stuck on its side in a ditch . The other was simply on its roof in the middle of the road. These things always happen in threes I thought. Apparently out loud, as I caught the glares of the other 4 passengers in our minibus. (un)Fortunately in the next ten minutes we saw another accident. Front on into a tree. Lucky us.
Spent one uneventful night staying in the closest town to the border as possible. Although the presence of Chinese culture is becoming notably more prominent. Change in the architecture and vehicles, albeit still shanty as fuck!
The following morning I had my first taste of the infamous Thai Redbull. Full of all sorts of ‘amides, ‘thenols, ‘iamins and ‘anthines. The breakfast of champions; if a champions breakfast were to consist of methamphetamine.
Fortunately the final stretch on to the Chinese border is mountain free. The roads are still as desirable as one can hope for in Laos. Which is sub par at the best of times. Not as much rainforest where we are now. That is to say that it’s just a lot farther away. Between us and the forest lies copious amounts of rice paddies. I mentioned before that I’d heard about this green. It’s as green as it gets. The paddies damn near stretch to the horizon and at some times it’s difficult to determine where the paddies end and the forest begins.
At long last our short stint in Laos comes to a close, as we arrive at the border to China. Massive golden gates mark the end of Laos and a massive, almost airport like, terminal signifies the start of China. Beyond these borders is a completely different world.
As we are making our way through customs, we can feel the English language slowly slipping away from us. Out on to the other side and officially in China, we are bombarded by the currency exchange ladies. Each one has their different rate and each speaks a special type of English which only goes to the extent of arguing about money. After changing what remains of our Laotian currency, we are released from the clutches of the exchange wenches and set loose in the southernmost region of China’s Yunnan province.
Into the first tuk tuk we see (roof of cardboard) we use our impeccable sign language coupled with my perfect Chinglish to get ourselves a guesthouse.
All traces of the English language are now solely between myself and Kieran.
Since we only have just a bit more than one nights stay in our room, we make a mission to find an ATM. The first ATM is not accepting foreign cards and the second we find is denying our cards despite my relentless mashing of Chinese characters on the screen (of course no English option). We have just arrived in China and we have officially stranded ourselves in China. Lacking even the necessary payment to get us back in to Laos!
This is a stressful few hours. We wander about trying to communicate with the bewildered locals. Doesn’t feel as though many 6ft whites guys come through here very often. We return to the bank and find approach one of the tellers hesitantly. PERFECT English. Oh thanks God! She tells us that the ATM is simply out of cash, and it will be topped up at 6pm.
With a sigh of relief we head to a restaurant to spend the remainder of our funds on a meal. In a country where you have no common tongue, ordering food leaves you with few options. Option 1: Find a restaurant with pictures. They exist, but not in this case. Option 2: Lucky dip. Grab a menu, open at any page and pick the one with the coolest symbols. In this case we went with option 3: Look at what the guy next to you is eating and ask for that. Some sort of noodle dish. Safe enough.
After finishing the meal and still a bit overwhelmed and stressed out by the whole ‘stranded in China’ concept, I sift through my bag for a cigarette. I pull out the gnarliest, mangiest, bent up last cigarette from the bottom of my bag. I say to Kieran that I’m going to get up and smoke it a little bit away, just incase it offends anyway eating. To this Kieran bursts out laughing. Confused, I look behind me to see what he’s laughing at.
The scene is this. Family of three. Mum, dad and child of about 4. Mum and child eating. Dad ripping a massive three foot bong at the dinner table! Smoke billowing up into the small oscillating fan above and then dispersed evenly throughout the establishment. Apparently smoking at the table isn’t a faux pas in China. I take my inferior crummy smoke and sit quietly puffing away whilst Kieran continues to giggle.
These bongs are not so uncommon in these parts. Most shops and even pharmacies have courtesy bongs for patrons!
We head back to the ATM and after another round of cash machine lottery by pressing all the buttons; I win! Making sure I collect enough winnings to last me the more than immediate future (whilst securing a backup stash for Laos re-entry).
We grab a beer and wander around the small town. It’s almost the exact same as in Laos, except the infrastructure is much better. The have proper buildings, monuments, large town squares and statues, and still further sign of future development.
The difference between Laos and here is clearly the domination of the landscape.