Readers' Submissions

Tour De Force Round 5




Behind the Bamboo Curtain.

Back in sweet Hanoi and the hotel where I had left my passport to get my Chinese visa. This time the visa is OK but then the bad news. I had asked the lady at the hotel if she could arrange that my Vietnam visa be changed to a multiple entry as I would be returning to Nam. I presumed that this would be simple enough seeing that Hanoi is the Capitol, but it was not to be. I could only get another visa by physically leaving the country but she assured me that it should not be a problem as the city we would be going to (Nanning) was the provincial capitol of Southern China. Alternatively I could catch a flight from there and have the visa issued at the airport. Hunky Dory I thought and off we went into the Great Unknown….

Part of the fun of travelling, for me in any case, is researching beforehand so that I am semi street wise and can hit the ground running. This was not the case with China and I relied solely on Brett's internet gained knowledge. Made it to the Viet border at Dong Dang without hassles and cleared the lethargic customs with their numerous forms and SARS declarations. There is a long walk to the Chinese border of Pingxiang (hereafter known as Ping) and with the heat and humidity Brett was feeling every extra kilo of his luggage. Looking at the Chinese border guards with their machine guns slung over their shoulders, I got the same queasy feeling as when entering Nam. This time it felt even more sinister. Customs at Ping was far more professional and neat than their Viet counterparts. Once again Brett's Kiwi passport hardly got a second glance while mine was paged through and scrutinised by both customs officials. We were told that we had to undergo a SARS test and seeing a medical room I wondered what the test would entail and what weird implements would be inserted into which orifice?? The test turned out to be an infra-red light that was shone on the forehead, how it worked I'm not sure but we saw these at many points of arrival. There were a few hawkers around and I popped my first Chinese beer, and boy was it good. The array of smokes was also amazing and dirt cheap too. This should be good! Walked through the large granite archway and we were now in!

All the taxis we saw in China were either VW jettas, Passats or Foxes and we grabbed one for the short trip to Ping town itself. Europeans it seems are a rarity in that part of China because cars were stopping to have a look at us and children were peeping from behind their mother's skirts. The first thing that struck me was that everything was in Chinese but we managed to get our tickets on the bus to Nanning without hassle. Seeing that we had some time to spare, we went across the road and had a bite to eat and some beers. The conversion of currencies was nice and easy for me as the Chinese RMB is pegged against the US $ and equated at almost 1/1 against my home currency. Brett had to continually work out his rates. We strolled back to the bus terminal and decided to spend the hour there instead of exploring the boring looking town of Ping. We were puzzled when we saw the bus start and people start boarding but presumed that it was the bus before ours. Luckily Brett decided to check our tickets again at the counter and the lady there started shouting and ran and stopped the bus which was ready to pull out. We had not realised that we had gone through a time zone when we crossed the border and that China was an hour ahead! We scrambled aboard and so began the terror….

Near death experience

After travelling on very good roads in Nam, the "roads" in China were shocking and so was the driving. As our bus swayed through the winding narrow road, overtaking on blind rises and with tree branches hitting the sides, my imagined picture of China was rapidly fading. I was shitting myself and the 3 hour trip through mediocre landscape seemed to take forever. To pass the time, Brett and I discussed the quality of the local ladies on the bus and what his bride to be would rate on the looks scale. Judging from her photos and comparing the locals we gave her an 80% chance of being hot. For those of you who have not read my previous inserts, Brett had not physically met the woman and only dated and proposed over the internet via an interpreter! Heed this warning all you Cyber Lovers!

As we got closer and closer to Nannig so Brett's excitement began to mix with nervousness and he was decidedly edgy when we finally got there. This was it! Six months of planning and waiting was going to culminate in this dramatic meeting of 2 souls who would spend the rest of their lives together in marital bliss. We stood there scanning the emptying arrivals hall and then heard a voice call out "Brett?". And there she was, moving quickly towards us. Brett and I glanced at each other and I could see his face alight with delight as this so far beautiful woman approached. Good looking body, lovely hair, well dressed in black slacks and a white top with pointed white shoes that the Chinese women seem to like. Brett stepped towards her grinning like an idiot and then froze in his tracks as she smiled at him….there in this sweet girl was what he later called "Dental apparitions!". Everything seemed to go into slow motion as I watched his face change from joy to incredulity to sheer disappointment as visions of his rapidly depleting orthodontic benefits on his medical scheme flashed through his mind. They embraced and smiled in that awkward way first timers do, but I could see that the Great Euro/Chinese Union was not going to happen. Brett had made the effort to learn a bit of Chinese and also study up on their customs, but this girl only knew two or three words in English. The situation was saved by her friend the interpreter who arrived and arranged for a taxi for us. Brett having grown up in South Africa was fluent in Afrikaans (a form of Dutch) so we were able to discuss things without offending others. This poor girl had a really bad set of teeth, crooked and with various hues of grey and brown. We later discovered that she had been very ill as a child and I presume that the antibiotics had a major role to play in her dental derangement. From then on we called her Miss C (Miss Colgate). I really felt very sorry for her because she was a nice girl and was so willing to please Brett. On the way to the hotel that they had arranged, Brett's first words to me in Afrikaans were "Do you think a good dentist could do something to fix them?". I reassured him that it was possible, but I could see that the dice had been rolled and had not come up with the right numbers.

Nanning, and China for that matter had not lived up to my expectation so far. I had imagined the place to be a mixture of Eastern and Western architecture, food and cultures but what I saw was the total opposite. Everything was totally Western! One big urban mass of concrete office block and shopping centres stocking every hi-tec piece of electronic apparatus one could imagine. Nothing ethnic at all. The place with a population of over 5 million had no life to it?? Everything moved at a sedate pace and there was a distinct lack of the frenetic lifestyle I associate and love in other Asian countries and cities. There really isn't much else to say about the place.

We arrived at the hotel and my heart sank! Marble exterior, large glass doors that revealed the plush interior and suited doormen. I felt my wallet cringing and attempting to bury itself into my thigh. Brett had asked them to organise the hotel but not to get anything too smart, and we now looked at each other with similar thoughts in our minds. Thankfully the facade did not match the price and it turned out to be rather reasonable. Up to the room which turned out to be as bland as the city, a bit of small talk and Miss C topping up Brett's tea every time he took a sip. If he had asked her to hop up and down while performing Handels Messiah on a didgeridoo she would have done so. We made our travel tired excuses and they left after making arrangements to meet the following morning. On the way to the room my pudenda radar had gone to code red and the heat seeker on my undercarriage had gone active. The hotel had a health and beauty salon with some real beauts working there. There was also a shop in the lobby that sold beer and by hotel standards their prices were very good. A 750ml bottle of Green Wave beer cost only 3 RMB (about 42c US). Maybe things weren't going to be that bad after all. Stopped at the health salon and chatted with the girls working there and saw that they had a special on for feet massages at only $4, would I be interested? Are the Kennedys gun shy! I booked the 2 hottest girls and gave them our room number, maybe tonight I would break the V bone steak drought??

Took no nonsense from the beers and switched to Jim Beam afterwards when there was a knock on the door and our 2 ladies appeared. I had always looked forward to a traditional foot massage but once again I was disappointed. After almost parboiling our feet in scalding hot water, they proceeded to dig their small knuckles into the most tender spots of the sole. The pain was unbearable and Brett and I were yelping like injured puppies. Hopefully the pain before the pleasure would be all worthwhile! When they finished it did feel pretty good though and we began the negotiations of a possible pelvic massage. No luck!! These girls were strictly off limits. Even the sight of a bit of NZ and US $ would not persuade them, although they did manage to relieve us of a few dollars as a tip. The relief and the tip were not what we had in mind girls!!

Oh well, lets see what tomorrow brings…..

(To be continued….)

Stickman thoughts:

Great report. You didn't really expect the Chinese to be decent drivers, did you? Did you?!