Mr Wang and The Curse of the Airag

by Ant Stone on August 18, 2007

in China

Tired of walking, I decided to exercise my lifelong avidity to fly like a bird. I swiftly span upon a silver yuan , donned my colourful cape and followed my outreached fist over classical scenes of paddy fields and rice terraces. Moments later, I became caught in a ferocious crosswind which brought me tumbling back down with a bump. I awoke recumbent in my sleeper berth aboard train K471. “Superman caught in a crosswind” is the most acurate description of an overnight train journey I have offered to date, and on this particular journey – 47hrs and 2000 miles from Beijing to Kunming – the views I was granted from my berth, through a slither of a dirt splattered window will stay with me for the duration of my – somewhat clumsy – flying days.

Rousing from my dreamworld, I attempted to sit up, forgetting the small offering of headroom upon the top berth and subsequently denting the wipe clean surface padding the interior. It was then that the spectacle became apparent, and naturally I wondered if I’d woken up at all. My sleepy glance penetrated the smeared window, bounced off the trackside corn fields before tumbling from one mountain to the next, it sped into the morning mist before being catapulted back with alarming pace and energy before cascading down a slender waterfall into a valley, rising magestically up from the snaking river below. I lay back onto my bed-bug-ridden pillow and considered what I’d just seen, moments later I had deberthed with the untapped agility of a Chinese acrobat and pressed my ‘long nose’ against the window. Amazingly, my Chinese cohabitants were noncholent of the blockbuster being shown at the window, they simply sat and ate pot noodles. If they wanted to stare at anything, it was the half naked ‘foreign devil’ suckered, gobsmacked to the window.

Each mountain instinctively trusting the next with it’s beauty. While the shāns in the distance dressed for the day beneath the mist, those upfront stood proudly in a way that demanded respect. I didn’t capture this show on film, I didn’t want to miss an act by scrambling to my roost for the camera. I am also wary of the message I portray when pulling out a shiny Canon SLR. In 2004 – in the capital, Beijing – the average per capita income for the richest group was 29,600 yuan (US$3,600). As the day proceeded, the sun demanded a preview of it’s own by removing the layer of haze and unveiling a golden scene fit for any Emporer or warlord who had ruled the lands. A lush green tapestry was draped with intricate detail, and for every gap within it’s folds, a thriving field of crops (wheat, corn, rice) would sway. Most had the addition of a solitary Chinese farmer bobbing, not unlike a mechanical wooden toy and only visable by their conical straw hat.

‘This, I believe, is the province of Guangxi’ responded Mr Wang to my spontaneous interegation. A small, cheerful family man- he was the first person to speak to me in over 24 hours, I was the only tourist aboard the train. We enjoyed conversations about a melee of subjects, my favorite being Italy. He’d lived there for 2 years and combined with my limited experience of the country we contrasted the trio of cultures; Chinese, British and Italian. Coffee, tea, breakfast, travel, education, fashion, ambitions, sport. As the K471 penetrated the provinces of the south, I reveled in this conversation-with-a-view. We were intermittently joined by a young man from Beijing, who to my utter surprise had been to one of my favorite destinations to date; the Lofoten Islands, Norway. He was the first person I’d met in my 4 years since to have been there, he’d also stayed at the same hostel. A solo Chinaman shunning his flag-following ancestry, it went against the grain of how I was interpretting this nation; as did the Sino-Italian engineer, Mr Wang. I liked it.

Before arriving in Kunming, Mr Wang extended an invite to join he and his family for dinner the following day, I took his phone number and thanked him for his time before being dragged off by the hostel worker sent to greet me at the station, I waved back at Mr Wang and his family, who stood beside their holdalls and waved simultaneously- with the clockwork motion of their rural wooden counterparts. I’d chosen to stay at the Hump Hostel, as much for it’s name and central location as my believing it had a swimming pool – which turned out to be a pool table. Soon after arriving I’d befriended a group of lively English folk and we headed off into the night, naturally exchanging tales of tea and scones within the Queens gardens. My head hit the pillow at a little before 05.30 and began to spin with a combination of Guangxi views, that evenings rock gig, Mr Wang and the Trail ahead of me, I went to sleep with a smile.

I awoke, frowning. At first I proclaimed ‘hangover’, but come 15.00 I was aware that the ‘curse of the airag’ had come back to haunt me. There has rarely been a week in my entire trip, since the day I consumed the Mongolian delicacy and felt it’s effects that I haven’t burst into a fever, vomited or ahem… broken wind over a muddy river. Mr Wang was due to pick me up from Kunming North at 18.00, I couldn’t let him down. I shook my way through the smog bitten city streets, eventually conceding my energy to a taxi and at 17.15 I stood, sweating feverishly in a mere 20 degrees celsius. Soon after I began to vomit, and my stomach gave indications of the impending tradition. There was no way I could do the invitation justice, without severe embarrassment on all counts so with mounds of guilt, I picked up a public phone and explained my predicament to his young daughter. A taxi returned me to The Hump where I withdrew myself from existence and routed through my bag for a second hit of the must-have travel companion; Ciprofloxacin. I stared at it’s small oval form, dressed innocently in white. I lifted it to to my lips and with a swig of water I resigned myself to bed. The scenes familiarity reminiscent, of a small mechanical wooden toy.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Thoms August 18, 2007 at 1:16 pm

Can’t you re-schedule your dinner with Mr Wong buddy? Bet that would have been a cool experience with his family etc.

Oh, & the people staring at “…the half naked ‘foreign devil’ suckered, gobsmacked to the window.” They were just jealous of the ‘guns’ buddy.

Haha…keep up the writing dude, sorry it’s took me so long to get into the trail of ants experience……but I’m here now & loving every minute!

Hope you start passing solids soon me old mucka!x


sue pathak August 20, 2007 at 11:32 am

Hello Anthony, How are you? It’s great to read about your travels. I am alittle worried about your illness. If you are still suffering from stomach upset you should see a doctor. You should do a stool test. You could have an amoeba or giardia. Giardia is common in many countries in the world. It can be passed on from person to person if someone doesn’t wash their hands after using the toilet ( in a restaurant or on the street). A doctor doesn’t know what you have unless you do a test. the medicine is different for giardia and amoebas. When you go to a city or find someone who understands english, take them with you as a translater. The sooner you take care of it the better.Please take care, love from Sue.


Doogie August 21, 2007 at 11:20 pm

I agree with Sue!

Mate I am not happy at your incesant popping of quinolone antibiotics, see a real doc and get them to take a look at your stool please.


Ant August 29, 2007 at 5:40 am

Cheers guys (hi Sue!). Good sturdy medical advice, I seem to be a lot better at the minute (touch wood!), but am heeding your advice and passing it onto other travellers. If the problem reoccurs I’ll be straight down to the docs for the once over. I’m in villages etc at the min, but should be back in a city in a week or two.

Thanks for caring : )


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