Why did the Chinaman cross the road?

by Ant Stone on August 23, 2007

in China

I’ve been shocked many a time when using the internet, but the following session took me totally by surprise. I’d wrestled my way through a final round with the heavyweight Diaheorra Demon and was catching up on the latest football news, back in England. A soft whisper carried its way across the hostel, ‘Ant!’. My team were doing alright, life was rosy. I continued clicking ignorantly, ‘Ant?!’. The rivals were failing to live up to their summer spending sprees, ‘Ant!?‘. The next weeks fixtures seemed in our favour so I clicked on some more. A hand lightly touched my shoulder accompanied by a mellow ‘Ant!’. My eyes spared the voice a glance and my heart seemed to acquire a passport and whizz around the world, without the merest of consultation. My glance was greeted by familiar eyes. My K471 friend, Mr Wang. If you haven’t read my previous post, I suggest you do.

Hearing of my illness, Mr Wang had made the effort to cross town and penetrate the alien environment of a backpacker hostel to check if I was ok. He was genuinely worried about me, if not slightly dissapointed about the forced cancellation. I was lost for words, Mr Wang – who I’d met briefly on the train – had shown the compassion of a lifelong friend and I’ll never forget the feeling that descended on me that morning. To cement the moment, he once again extended an invitation to join him for dinner, the only difference being that his wife and daughter couldn’t be present. Life in Kunming, had taken on a whole new slant and football was, momentarily, kicked into touch.

Up until then – in between the illnesses, that I will now abstain from mentioning – I had been drifting along at a fair-to-middling pace. There’s very little to do in Kunming, though the hostel had delivered a bunch of Britpackers and a splattering of other characters to quench my thirst for friendships. The hostel – with it’s over-friendly bedbugs, surround sound construction site and musty aroma – had the feeling of a houseshare, I’d come and go, occasionally bumping into my ‘housemates’ to discuss their day before going about my daily chores; breakfast, emails, lunch, sleep, dinner, socialising. The nights I was physically able, I’d join my gang for a night on the town, and those I couldn’t I embraced a book and a couple of litres of water. Damn, I mentioned the illness again. The nights out in Kunming are a combination of vibrant ingrediants; boisterous middle-aged Chinese men, amazing looking Chinese girls, some hilarious anthems (‘She’s a Gangbang Girl’ and ‘Don’t need no small dicked man’ to name but two) tightly packed tables adorned with warm beer, fruit platters and popcorn and enough psychadellic visuals to stun a guide dog. One club, Nice, even offering up a stage full of girls, strutting their seductive stuff to the ill-fitting theme of Harry Potter. A self-proclaimed, ‘Harry Hater’, I started to see him in a whole new light. The lads back home will no doubt relish the opportunity to regail the time they reported me to horse-mounted police for “fiddling with a minor”, having befriended a young girl one new years eve who, they claim, took on the boy wizards spectacle-clad appearance.

Glady, jutsice prevailed and gave me the opporunity to finally honour Mr Wang’s invitation and that Sunday I found myself wandering round the back of the redundant Kunming Football Stadium to his apartment, which he explained was a second home, apparently quite common for Chinese workers. As a testament to ‘The Man Wang’ I feel I should explain his itinerary for this glorious Sunday; firstly he waved his daughter off for a week at Military School, a result of gaining a place at the city’s premium high school and testiment to his dedication to her education. Following this, he supported his wife in hospital to spend some time with his elderly father-in-law. He left her side, solely to find the hostel and check on my own infirmity (did I tell you I was ill?) and reschedule our rendezvous. With this in mind, he went shopping for local ingrediants before taking them home to prepare our feast. He then went to meet his new friend (me) at the arranged meeting point. By now, it’s 6pm and I couldn’t help feel Mr Wang – or Xiaodong to his friends – had displayed a level of compassion that would put the holiest of idols in his shadow.

For the gastronomes amongst you, dinner consisted of baozi, peanuts with seaweed, tofu and green chilli, fish and more green chillis, pork balls and cabbage and the staple filler, rice. More evidence of this kind hearted Chinaman, was found in a bottle of fine Yunnan wine accompanying dinner. Having discussed Italian culture aboard the train, he’d bought the wine to link our friendship – the rarity of wine at the Wang table shown by his muddled expression at seeing the alien obstacle corking the bottle. A swift move with a chopstick later, and we were deep in conversation about life in Kunming. The background noise tentatively supplied by CCTV9 (the only English channel on mainstream China television). Following dinner, I rolled back onto the couchette and agreed to cap off his day of good deeds by helping him correct his daughters extra-curricular English homework. The fact that she was taking this on wasn’t a surprise, but when Xiaodong explained that she – and her classmates – would regularly work till midnight purely on her school work. Suddenly the pile of English textbooks took on a whole new light, as did China’s revival of their dedication to educate.

During the meal, I asked Mr Wang about his feelings towards the Japanese – the reason being I’d been befriended by a 15yr old Chinese kid at a Beijing military museum, who wasn’t shy in explaining his, and apparently his whole generations hatred of their Asian cousins. Mr Wang shunned the opinion in a typically Chinese way, though slightly embarrassed at question 56 in one text book; “I really _____ the Japanese” the duo of options being ‘dislike’ or ‘don’t like’. I decided not to press him on the subject, we just smiled and sipped more wine. We exchanged email addresses, handshakes and waves as I departed on the number 62 bus with a belly full of amazement. Strolling back into The Hump (my ‘home’) I regailed my story to anyone who would listen, before kicking back and watching my team, Arsenal throw away a golden opportunity for 3 points.

The next day, with a spring in my step, I grabbed my backpack and a solo Britpacker, Reb (short for Rebecca) and headed to the bus station; destination Yuanyang, for “glorious views of the sunsets over the rice terraces”. Needless to say, we failed in our quest to board the full-to-capacity 10:40am bus, leaving us no obvious solution other than to head to a French Cafe for reflection. We stopped only once en route, to laugh uncontrollably at a rickshaw drivers attempt to ride through 2 bollards which were cruelly the same width as his rusty steed. His insistence to pass through – and subsequent failure – only adding to the comedy value. The next 5 hours flew by in a blur of lemon tea, cheeseburgers, mango yoghurt, reading, business plans, poetry recitals and the must-try activity, french-fries-between-your-toes. We decided to leave our haven at exactly the same time as the heavens opened. Instinctively we looked at each other, then to the downpour and once more at each other before hurtling across the road to purchase a nasty, and somewhat pointless umbrella from the shop across the road. Standing soaked, we stared back through the rain to realise there was a shop next door which could of equally kitted us out and saved us the drenching.

The ‘maybe-you-had-to-be-there’ day continued when we finally boarded the bus, to discover it was a sleeper bus. A new experience for me, the shell of the bus is crammed with tiny bunks; ours being a cozy double ‘bed’, we could only laugh before, in that oh-so English way, politely squeezing ourselves into the space provided. Before long I found myself sandwiched between Reb, and a fellow passenger’s 50″ Panasonic plasma TV. For any male out there, this is a modern-day moral dilemma and one I think you should all contemplate. I whispered sweet nothings into the TV’s speakers, before drifting into a light doze. Being a night bus, it denied us the opportunity to view some of China’s glorious scenery, moonlight and headlights gifting me a rare glimpse of our impending destination- a mysterious corner of China, sharing it’s towns and villiages with the majority of this nations 56 ethnic groups.

We grabbed a room and some much needed sleep before venturing out to explore the region- famed for it’s rice terraced landscape. The venture took us on a 4 hour hike (ok, stroll), joined by inquisitive dragonflies, vibrant butterflies and various multi-coloured insects who showed us the way along a road lined by banana plants, cacti, bamboo and dumb-struck road workers. The rice terraces didn’t fail in their appeal, although we are yet to encounter even a suggestion of the sunrises and sets that we had been promised. The highlight of this jaunt however, is held in a one-liner from Reb “why did the chicken cross the road?”, bemused I looked up, only to see the catalyst for her genius: a small white hen, waddling nonchalantly across the hilltop road. My stomach still bears the scars from uncapped bouts of laughter. As we arrived back in the town of Xinjie, we became aware of the glorious local Hani people’s culture. The women, dressed immaculately in their local costume; a black tunic-like top and trousers, adorned with a caleidescope of patterns and colours, neatly pressed and fixed with handmade buttons. We found an eatery and solved the menu-less dilemma by pointing at our desired ingredients from a bookshelf at the foot of the door. Moments later, our grey table sprang into life with all the colours of the rainbow shining from 4 dishes created from our boy wizard-esq finger pointing. China, is growing harder to leave with every mouthful, view and encounter with the locals.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mum & Dad August 23, 2007 at 7:47 pm

Hi. So glad you managed to have a meal with Mr Wang. He sounds like a really good person to have gone to all that trouble to seek you out again.
We were amused that you bought an umbrella. Eleven years ago after hours of queueing for a visa to enter China we arrived by train somewhere just north of Hong Kong. We couldn’t understand the language, we couldn’t read the signs, we couldn’t get anyone to try and interpret for us etc etc. We felt like aliens.. We ended up buying an umbrella and taking the train back to Hong Kong. Ours must be the quickest visit to China ever. Still we had a laugh and even managed a ‘Mc Donalds type meal’
Stay well. xx


Thoms September 1, 2007 at 1:16 pm

Mr Wang is a legend mate!


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