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China, writing

China 35: Strangers in the night

Copyright Elaine Canham, 2015

Copyright Elaine Canham, 2015

Continuing my 1985 diary of a trip to China and Tibet

March 11.

Get down to the depot this morning and get my pack on a lorry going to the airport. Take a last look around the market and buy some prayer scarves and am plagued by three kids who alternately hug me and kick me in the shins. Say my goodbyes to Agnetha and Michael and Mick and Julie, and get the bus to the airport. Remember to sit fairly close up front this time, so that I don’t go flying when it hits a pot hole. Still, the journey is not too bad. It takes four hours and there are times when I think we’re having an accident, but no, we are not careering out of control down a ravine, we are merely being driven rather excitingly down a hill that hasn’t got a road yet.

The airport hostel is appalling. The latrines are overflowing and I find I’m sharing a dormitory with a bloke from Saudi Arabia. He seems okay, but he has a master’s degree in moaning. He’s is the most miserable person I’ve ever met. More miserable than a friend’s great aunt, who used to tell people, ‘Ooh, you go on. I’ve had my life.’

He’s been here since his plane arrived this morning and he dislikes the look of the place so much, that he can’t be arsed to go to Lhasa. He just wants to fly straight to Shanghai. ‘I thought it would be a magical place,’ he intones. ‘All green and misty but it is just desert. If I wanted sand I would stay at home.’ At which I giggle. But he just goes on and on.

I leave the room and try to see if I can get into another dormitory, but they are all full up. All the other people here are Chinese and seem mystified that I don’t want to share a room with a strange man. After all, he’s another westerner, isn’t he? None of them are really bothered about my problems, but one bloke, at least, gives me some ink for my pen.

Back to the room. Misery Guts is lying on his bed swigging from a bottle of rice wine and staring at the ceiling. ‘I thought this place would be Shangri La,’ he intones. ‘It is not what I thought.’ I try telling him that I felt much the same way when I arrived, and that he should at least take a look at Lhasa. But he won’t listen. Moan, moan, moan.

He’s also fed up because the airport won’t take travellers’ cheques and he hasn’t got enough money to pay for his ticket. He wants to borrow money from me. He is astounded when I tell him I don’t have enough. Even if I did I wouldn’t lend it to him – but I don’t tell him that.  He is going to have to go to Lhasa to change his cheques. The thought makes him even more miserable.

He starts on about his headache. I tell him this is probably because of the altitude. But he’s having none of it.

‘Altitude? Altitude? I am used to altitude. It is this terrible cold I have. Oh this place. Oh how terrible I feel. Why did I come here?’

At least he’s at the other end of the room (although it’s not a very big room). At 10pm the lights are switched off by central control. This is creepy, and it makes him grumble even more but, eventually, he falls silent. I shut my eyes, but I don’t sleep.

At 5.30 he looms over me in the darkness.

‘Did you sleep well?’ he asks.

‘Yes,’ I say warily. He is far too close, and I don’t like the silky tone of his voice.

‘Can I get into bed with you for a warm?’ He is pulling at my sleeping bag.

‘No, you bloody can’t.’

‘Why not?’ he asks. He is, can you believe it, offended.

‘What do you mean, why not?’ I say.

‘But I thought all you western girls have sex with everybody you meet.’

‘Go. Away.’  If he tries anything more, I’m going to sock him.

But, amazingly, he goes. I get up, which is easy because I slept in my clothes, get my stuff packed and get out. But there is nowhere to go. The waiting room is locked and eventually I make my way to the canteen. The Chinese man, who gave me the ink last night, arrives and starts chatting. He talks apologetically about the state of the airport and I think he is quite taken aback, when I just let rip about the sleeping arrangements. Poor bloke. It’s not his fault.

And then I discover I don’t have enough change to pay for my breakfast, so he insists on paying the difference. It is rice porridge, diced raw turnips and four dry biscuits. I know it’s silly, but I cry.

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About elainecanham

I started blogging because I'm a writer, and I thought I ought to. Now I realise that I blog because I like to; even when I can't think of much to say.

Discussion

18 thoughts on “China 35: Strangers in the night

  1. Keep writing!

    Posted by thatssojacob | April 3, 2015, 8:27 pm
  2. Really glad I stumbled upon your blog and glad that you’re posting found these China diaries. I truly can’t imagine what it would have been like for an outsider to arrive 30 years ago, so I’m loving the photos and writing. Can’t wait for the next posts!

    Posted by fraserperrett | April 2, 2015, 4:36 pm
  3. The lows of high altitude, it seems. But you’re only trying to make us feel better about our own more boring travel adventures, Elaine. I can see right through you.

    Posted by Tara Sparling | March 31, 2015, 11:55 am
  4. I would have cried, too–and moaning man sounds awful.

    Posted by merrildsmith | March 30, 2015, 11:16 pm
  5. Your friend’s great-aunt’s quotation is one I must remember and use frequently: “Ooh, you go on. I’ve had my life”!

    Posted by Bruce Goodman | March 30, 2015, 6:42 pm
  6. I would have broken down long before now. I can’t get over the courage Elaine has (or had)–wonder if she’d do the same thing now–thirty years later? Elaine–if you’ve done any more adventuring since this, I’d love to read more “diaries”.

    Posted by Vivra Beene | March 30, 2015, 4:51 pm
    • I dunno. It all just seemed so easy then; a bit of a lark. Now I’d be much more anxious. Although once you get anywhere it just seems normal.

      Posted by elainecanham | March 30, 2015, 4:55 pm
  7. I’d break down too after the moaning roommate, the sleeping arrangements and his thought of entitlement. A bleak place and a unappetizing breakfast you don’t have enough change for, would make anyone fold. ❤ ❤ ❤

    Posted by Let's CUT the Crap! | March 30, 2015, 4:14 pm

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