Stragbasher Moves On

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Mandarin writing on a scroll

The story so far. I am in China and this is news to most of the people who
know me.

The journey south was basically long and boring, enlivened only by speculation about the air conditioning, where we were going, and when we would arrive. It put me in mind of 'Paint Your Wagon', a naff 60s musical starring Clint Eastwood (honestly) and Lee Marvin (I
think) as prospectors heading out (in winter) to points unknown during the California goldrush. The theme tune ran 'Where am I going? I ain't certain. When will I get there? I don't know. All as I know is I am on my way'.

I think the problem with long journeys through boring countryside is that the mind wanders off along tracks that are better left untrod.

Plus we were dazed and confused by dinner. The bus stopped at a roadside 'diner' and all the passengers congregated in one of the several private dining rooms. The menu was entirely in squiggly meaningless brush strokes, and no one spoke a word of English, so I
tried the various methods that usually yield some results. First is the phrase book, just ask for what you want. Easier said than done. Or, to be precise, virtually impossible to say. Mandarin Chinese is a pretty hard language to pronounce correctly on your second day in a
country, and few people in that part of the world naturally speak Mandarin in any case - they have a local dialect that helped us remain mutually unintelligible.

Method two is simply to act bewildered and keep gesturing at the person taking the order that they should just pick something good for you. Usually they get the message eventually, but this time we had to settle for method three: close your eyes and pick a few dishes at random.

Well it worked, but by this time everybody else was eating identical meals. It seems that food was included with the tickets, and we had just ordered a plate of stewed tomatoes and a whole pigeon to go with ours. Great. When I say whole pigeon I mean 'including the head', which Amanda found floating sightlessly in her soup. Yummy, or in her case 'Oh, Jesus!!' We tried to share but everyone just grinned back at us and left us to deal with it.

Anyway, according to the book the journey time to the best place to get the boat from is 13hrs. We started out at 2pm, so it didn't sound like we were in for a great time, but the distance is only around 400kms. And there's another port which is apparently a further
3hrs away, but cuts the time spent crossing the water from 7hrs to one and a half. I.e. it's seventeen and a half, or twenty, hours plus waiting time, assuming that I bought tickets to the right place. How much bag-carrying is involved in getting onto the boat is yet to be

In the end, after about nine hours, we arrived at a port - never identified - and the bus drove onto the ferry. Wow. I bought a through ticket! I was so happy I had to tell Amanda how clever I was. Then all we had to do was suffer in the air conditioning through a really bad Jackie Chan movie. It played at max volume even though most of the dialogue was in English, but didn't quite serve to drown out the noise of the truck load of screaming pigs in the cargo bay. We huddled in the back, trying to keep warm and blot it all out.

As the credits rolled, we pulled into Haikou, our destination, and boarded the bus for the short hop to the terminal. We had it all down to a fine art by that time, simply pulling the bags to one side as they came off the bus and leaving them where they fell until a taxi had been negotiated. The book, for once, came in useful as it had details of about a dozen hotels and the Chinese characters for their names. I picked one, showed it to a driver, and five minutes later we were careering off down the street in a Suzuki micro-car that sounded
like it was about to expire under the weight of our combined bags and bodies - enough that the boot wouldn't close and there wasn't room for even one little wafer in the car.

He took us to the wrong hotel, after stopping to ask directions twice, but who cares? We got a pretty good room at a pretty good price, and a pretty good night's sleep. As it was 2am by this time this was pretty much all we wanted, and I slept like a dead man for six or seven hours.

I'll leave the Hainan story for another time - until I get your answers to the great bag dilemma, in fact.


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