The romance ends

from: room 408. Old Town Square Inn, LiJiang. Yunnan Province. China

I made earlier reference to there being a certain romance to long distance travel. I would now like to make the following amendment. In China, it is the travel itself that can be romantic, not the habits and hobbies of your fellow Chinese traveler. Armed with earplugs, good health and a sunny disposition, it is possible to overlook those things that irk the westerner about the Chinese. Saddled with an ear infection, raw throat and gloomy outlook, as I was, and forced into close proximity for 20 hours, you too would be ready to wipe the whole race from the earth.

The train was already half full and putrid and late when we boarded. Julie dropped a book on the floor and it became coated with saliva. The man opposite me, blazer fully buttoned and wrapped in blankets, was cycling through various stages of choking to which I was treated in close proximity for roughly three hours. This allowed exhaustive study and yielded the following report on what I call "Three surefire steps to producing a murderous rage in Nigel":

stage 1 - The Snore Mountain: escalating snoring peaking in explosive cough and followed by cessation of breathing.
stage 2 - The Chewing of the Cud: breathing resumes along with sloppy chewing of phlegm brought up by said cough.
stage 3 - The Wind Up: low whimpering slowly building into ecstatic moans and heavy breathing, which inevitably leads back to stage 1.

Beneath me is the beastly little cherub that kicked me when I entered. It is now embarking upon a tantrum-marathon that would wake the dead, though unfortunately not the choker next to me. I have a friend studying Zen Buddhism in a monastery in Japan who recently wrote to me, "take self pity and turn it into sympathy for others." I tried to imagine that the only reason a child would or could scream for that long was excruciating illness of some kind. I really tried to sympathize with the child but kept referring back not to Zen Buddhism, but to the Buddhism I had seen at Shaolin. I began to brood over whether the mother or the child was more deserving of the can of Kung Fu I desperately wanted to open.

This delightful 11-hour sojourn ended at 08:45. By 09:00 we were seated and underway on an equally enjoyable 9-hour bus trip through the dramatic cliffs and valleys of central Yunnan. If the driver had not been even more dramatic, I think I might actually have enjoyed the vistas instead of fearing we'd all tumble into one. This is no joke - the bus was traveling at such a pace through the switchbacks and causing such a scourge of motion sickness that we twice stopped so the driver could hose off all the vomit splattered on the sides of the bus. I imagine he did this to remain as aerodynamic as possible.

Luckily Julie and I were only spectator to this. I had a different torture reserved for me. Despite the no-smoking signs, the men aboard were all happily puffing themselves into the grave with cheap Chinese cigarettes. My throat is complaining bitterly and I'm coughing so much I've pulled a groin muscle. The only remedy is to open my window and let the icy air blast me in the face. However, the little lady in front of me has her window open too and is eating an apple with such juicy abandon (think Mr.Peepers from SNL) that spittle and juice and apple bits are blasting me in the face too. Better than vomit I suppose. The escape sleep offers eludes me too as each time we make a hard right turn the speaker wires touch and we are assaulted with blasts of Chino pop so loud it distorts. We grit our teeth until the next hard left shuts it off again.

We finally screech into Lichang bus station and gather our belongings that are now scattered about the bus and disembark. By now I have developed a headache so bad each pound blurs my vision and a throat so sore I cannot do anything but squeak. I left my initial romance for long distance travel on that bus and replaced it with the thousand mile stare I get when I think of our next journey. All courtesy of the fellow Chinese traveler.

~ Nigel
10.20.01

   

 

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