Continuing my 1985 diary of a trip to China
But the bus does eventually come, a little wreck of a thing, rattling along with shrunken green curtains fluttering at the windows, like a hippy home at Glastonbury.
And when we get off in Liu Yuan we find that we are in the 1880s, in a mining town somewhere in the Arizona desert. Only it’s cold. We get off at the top of the main street and gaze appalled at what we have come to. There is nothing to recommend it. It makes pit villages in South Yorkshire look like Las Vegas. It is surrounded by slag heaps; the main drag looks as if Sergio Leone has just built it, and then gone away because it was too depressing. You can’t even say it’s a one-horse town. There is no horse. The heavy coal cart coming towards us is being pulled by a man.
Some of the buildings have false fronts, and the few people in the street stop what they are doing to stare at us as we walk past. It is the creepiest place. Honest to god, I expect one of them to rush away screaming, ‘The Clantons are coming, Mr Earp!’
And there is somebody shouting. We look at each other and then turn, slowly. But it is only the bus driver; turns out he is offering to take us to the hotel. We get back on. I feel very relieved and a bit silly.
The hotel looks like a prison for young offenders. And my impression is fully justified by the fact they want to charge us double the normal rate. Cheryl argues. Elspeth argues. I stand about with my hands in my pockets. Eventually the staff back down. Six people, three teenage girls, the woman behind the desk in reception, someone I mentally class as Uriah Heep, and the bus driver, all escort us to our rooms. The beds look high and soft. Uriah, who has done nothing but stand about, rubbing his hands, refuses to leave until we pay him. What for, none of us has any idea.
Then we discovered the bathroom is locked. ‘Oh God,’ says Cheryl. ‘Not more arguing.’
Back come the girls, with a great rattling of keys. They try a few, and then one announces, very matter of factly, ‘There is no water.’
‘No water,’ she patiently repeats. ‘Spring festival.’
And then they leave.
The latrines, truly loathsome, are located out the back, round the corner and then 100 yards away over tricky terrain. We decide to drink as little as possible.
Go to the dining room to eat. Everybody comes to watch us. They give us bowls of rice with fried eggs dusted in sugar. Absolutely delicious.