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China, humour, writing

China 16: On the bounce

Copyright, Elaine Canham 2015

Copyright, Elaine Canham 2015

Continuing my 1985 diary of a trip to China.

Just before dawn we get the bus to Dunhuang. It’s the hippy bus again, and we decide to sit at the back. The few villagers who are there, are all at the front. They turn and watch us expressionlessly as we slide on to the wooden seats.

‘This reminds me of being on the school bus,’ I say.

‘Yes,’ said Cheryl. ‘The back seats were the best. Isn’t this great?’

‘And now we’ve got them all to ourselves,’ said Elspeth. ‘Wonder why nobody else wants to sit here?’

‘Obvious, isn’t it?’ I say loftily. ‘Back seats are just another sign of western decadence.’  And we laugh. Ha ha.

The bus sets off. We see the sun rise over a slag heap. Actually we see it rise several times as fresh heaps alternately obscure it and then reveal it again. The road gets bumpier and bumpier. The bus seems to be made out of solid metal. There is no suspension. We realise this, though, when the driver really gets into his stride out of town and starts to aim for the potholes. Although to be fair, they are difficult to miss.

The first one he hit, I spring fairy-like upwards, and narrowly avoid smashing my head on the ceiling. I land, with all my bones rearranged, on the seat again. Cheryl and Elspeth, too, are gasping untidily, and then we hit the next pot hole. Bang! And up we fly again, squawking and swearing. The only thing to do is to grip tightly to the seat in front and crouch hopefully like tethered birds, grimly being shaken into half flight with every bounce.

The villagers have all swivelled round again and are watching us with keen interest.

Copyright Elaine Canham, 2015

Copyright Elaine Canham, 2015

‘We’ve got to move,’ says Cheryl, desperately.

But it isn’t easy. We stagger crazily up the bus, under the gaze of the locals. This is obviously the best entertainment they’ve had for a very long time. And then, when we do make it, I realise we have left the gin behind. I crawl back to get it, and smack my face on the back of a seat.

Dunhuang is very sunny; it isn’t much better to look at than Liu Yuan, but there is a friendly air to it, and it is much busier. There are a lot of trucks, which is a good sign for our hitch-hiking plans. Some of them, surely, must be able to take us to Golmud, where we can get another truck to Tibet.

We check in at a hostel, which is pretty bare, and there is no water there either. Still, it is clean, and we go in search of food. Find the main hotel which is much nicer, and decide to check in there tomorrow. They offer us lunch and charge us a few Mao each (about 60p). For this we get a table covered with little saucers. Some have got readily recognisable food, like cabbage and mushroom or pork and spring greens. But there’s one of little cubes of meat in gravy that looks like Pedigree Chum, and another that looks like someone has just cut the seams off a lot of polythene bags and dipped them in vinegar.  They taste like that too.

Copyright, Elaine Canham 2015

Copyright, Elaine Canham 2015

The hotel arranges a taxi ride for us to the Singing Sand Dunes. The taxi turns out to be a minibus, very plush, just for us three and driven by a very cool dude in shades. He spoils the image, though, by grinning manically at us. He’s a really nice bloke, and very proud of the dunes. And they are beautiful, huge and yellow against a clean blue sky.

We stagger about for a laugh, gasping ‘Water, water!’ but the effect is spoiled by the fact we are wearing four layers of clothing. The crescent lake is beautiful, but inches thick in ice. We walk all over it, getting sunburnt from the reflected glare. According to Cheryl’s guidebook some emperor in the Han dynasty about 200 BC used to come here for his holidays and the entire court would stay by the lake in silken pavilions. We try to climb the dunes, but can only get so far before the sand just runs out from under our feet and we roll back down. Good fun, though.

About elainecanham

I started blogging because I'm a writer, and I thought I ought to. Now I realise that I blog because I lwant to; even when I can't think of much to say. I do a lot of work for local businesses - get in touch if you like my style.


21 thoughts on “China 16: On the bounce

  1. After reading several of your diary entries from this trip, I am going to go out on a limb and say that it seems like you stuck out like three sore drunken thumbs. Where’s you get more Gin? I thought you finished the bottle?

    Posted by naptimethoughts | March 7, 2015, 1:19 am
    • Gin was one of the things you could buy in hotel shops in the bigger cities. Gin, Cadbury’ chocolate and Mumms champagne (not that we ever bought any of that). And we weren’t drunk, we just partied 🙂

      Posted by elainecanham | March 7, 2015, 8:15 am
    • Welcome back by the way! Lovely to see you again. Can’t wait to read your next post.

      Posted by elainecanham | March 7, 2015, 8:27 am
  2. At least you learned why the locals leave the back seats alone and have to stare at the crazy Westerners who sit there.I’m surprised you didn’t drink the gin there and then to numb the parts that other drinks can’t reach.
    You’re still entertaining us but obviously no one is smiling at your discomforts.
    xxx Humongous Hugs xxx

    Posted by davidprosser | March 1, 2015, 5:06 pm
  3. Fabulous! 🙂

    Posted by olganm | March 1, 2015, 4:47 pm
  4. Came here thanks to Tess of ‘Cut the Crap.’ I’ve enjoyed Tess’ stories about her trip to China. I like yours, as well.

    Posted by Kate Loveton | March 1, 2015, 4:26 pm
  5. What a wonderful description! I can just picture you on that bus! And the food–the plastic in vinegar sounds like the tripe-and-onions my grandmother used to fix! I wonder if you tasted any of that “Pedigree Chum” LoL

    Posted by Vivra Beene | March 1, 2015, 3:59 pm
  6. Always good to embark on these journeys and how to work through their challenges. Clumsy, I think that is how they will see you.

    Posted by amoafowaa | March 1, 2015, 3:22 pm
    • Yes, you’re absolutely right. I think they did think we were clumsy. Once you realised that you had to approach them ‘sideways’ everything got much better!

      Posted by elainecanham | March 1, 2015, 5:33 pm
    • And that is the beauty of life, friendliness and clearing the air for peace in meting new people.

      Posted by amoafowaa | March 1, 2015, 7:18 pm
  7. This is hilarious. Sorry for laughing but it must be wonderful to read this years later and relive. I’m enjoying your trip and wonder if you’ll ever get to Tibet or end up someplace else. Still, it’s the journey that’s memorable. 🙂 😀

    Posted by Let's CUT the Crap! | March 1, 2015, 3:01 pm
  8. God, I loved those snow boots. Not that they saw any snow (cf. pics) but, boy, were they warm, and warmth was needed. I’m wondering why I have no pics of this time, and of course have now remembered that digital didn’t exist and film was a mad luxury for me and Elspeth on our scholarship dosh of £30 a month. So it’s extra brilliant that you came out for this trip, kept your diary and brought your camera – thanks, Eliane, there’s so much I’d forgotten x

    Posted by Cheryl | March 1, 2015, 12:37 pm
    • Actually, a lot of these pics were taken by Elspeth, but I didn’t know if she’d want me putting her full name on wp. I know – I could ask her!

      Posted by elainecanham | March 1, 2015, 1:07 pm

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