After what I can only describe as an arduous (22 hour) journey that we all deserve a medal for we have finally arrived in Lijiang, in the South West province of Yunnan. Close to The Himalayas and not far from the Tibetan border our first impressions are of a cold, misty and rainy if stunningly beautiful place.
Well we left Chengdu on time and were pleased to meet some lovely people on the train in our compartment. The compartment sleeps six and the old Chinese couple we shared with were very kind and shared their meal with us. Although we managed ok with our phrasebook we were pleased when a young teacher who spoke excellent English appeared and we enjoyed quizzing each other on Chinese/English customs and culture. In fact when a wizened ancient work colleague also arrived to have a look at us we had quite a little party going on.
When they asked what we thought of the Chinese people I explained that in England Chinese people are often found in casino’s gambling away and smoking loads of fags and they found this funny and explained it is an important part of Chinese culture. For their part they said they think of English people as being very rich and very serious and we put them straight on both counts in our case anyway!
Now the next huge issue to be discussed about this particular journey has to be the toilets. So if anyone has a weak stomach stop reading right now. I have given this some thought over the past few days and in fact dedicated at least an hour to it when I lay awake for an hour last night around 3am. I really thought that some of the toilets in India were the most rancid, evil places I have ever come across but have realised that the simple holes in the ground have a certain honest quality about them that these Chinese hellholes just cannot compare with.
The problem lies in a number of factors, firstly the hole has a sort of metal shutter across and bless Ali with all my heart, I honestly think he was the only person on the train to bother pressing the lever that releases the huge pile of crap, urine, blood, toilet paper, sanitary towels and cigarette butts that accumulates on the shutter. Secondly many toilets don’t have any doors and all squatting together in the stalls chatting and having a smoke seems to be the norm and lastly there is very often no washing facilities at all within 3 miles of the above toilets. Yee ha !!
I guess the fact that when we reached the halfway point on our 8 hour bus ride and stopped off for a pee, the shed with a donkey, a dog, a pile of straw and a pit in it actually seemed really pleasant perhaps says it all. My answer to this was not to drink anything at all today and subsequently ended up a little dry and dehydrated, One of us ( I won’t say who to save the blushes) unfortunately ignored the call of nature and ended up having a crouchy by the side of the bus with 30 or so interested Chinese having a good look. On a final two notes the Chinese love to spit and snort snot like their lives depend on it and the young fella sat behind us spent half the journey vomiting out of the bus window. Oh god, after this trip I honestly think we will all be so tough we will be capable of achieving literally anything in the future.
The guesthouse we have ended up in is very nice. Actually a family home there are only about 5 rooms here and it seems strange to need the thick quilts and blankets provided. The elevation here is around 3500 metres and Lijiang is a large town set in a deep valley. Throughout the entire journey through the mountains our ears have been popping as we got higher and higher.
Its 8pm now and just got back from dinner. This place is absolutely awesome, so gorgeous and completely unlike anywhere else we have been. Lijiang is the base for nearly 300,000 Naxi people. They are descendents of ethnically Tibetan tribes and the Naxi women are everywhere in the narrow streets, easily distinguished by their dress of blue blouses and trousers with blue or black aprons. It is like steeping back in time and amazing experience just walking around people watching.
Just got into bed and delighted to find the electric blanket fairy lives here. Snuggling down now, really need a decent nights sleep.