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
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
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.