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Time with New Friends

July 3, 2015 1 Comment

A few weeks ago when we were at a tourist town called Lijiang, the others wanted to walk around the old city and see the sights. The “old city” was, to me, only a recent rebuild, plus, the cruiser was due for an oil change, so that was my mission.

Our guide Green discussed the locality of workshops and gave me three, written in Mandarin. So, off I went.

I hadn’t got out of the carpark, when I caught the eye of the attendant – a gorgeous lady, who could scramble a bit of English. I showed her my notes from Green and she grabbed a bloke sitting nearby, spoke to him, and he smiled, and jumped in the car with me. He didn’t speak a word of English, but he still managed to explain that I should ignore Green’s notes and take his direction. He and the attendant felt they knew a better place to go.

Off we went, talking and gesticulating to each other all the way and lobbed up at a great place. There were 12 hoists, a floor painted and cleaner than many restaurant floors, with plenty of workmen of different expertise.

No-one spoke English – no-one. We established what had to be done, they had good spares and oil stock, and away they went. They brought me and my mate a cup of tea, then a short while later, lunch came. This meant the whole shop (30 odd staff), ate together, in a big, untidy, kitchen/dining room. Two men kept working on our car and I was invited to have lunch with them. So I did.

There were two lady cooks, and we all sat on small chairs and ate noodles, soup and spices together. No forks or spoons, but I can keep alive using chopsticks, so all was good. The food was gorgeous, although way too much for me, fresh and clean – a great lunch. The car was finished, $14 labour, plus parts, and off we went.

When we got back to the hotel carpark (shared amongst adjacent hotels), there were a few coaches in the park, so the attendant asked if we would mind going for a drive and looking at the sights. So we did. My mate showed me a beautiful lake, a big one, some monuments and a small lake. During this time, we established how old we each were, our families, what work we did, our interests, etc. He worked for china telecom, and had a day off. He drove an electric motorcycle to work and was a genuine, cheery fellow.

On returning, just before the carpark, I tried to give him some money. He said no, and put his hand on his heart, indicating it a favour. He and I were together for nearly five hours, the time went quickly and it was a very pleasant experience. The next day, on our leaving, he was in the carpark, with his new motorbike, which he wanted me to drive around the carpark – I gladly obliged.

Rare Gwailos

Last Wednesday (July 1st) we went to look at the Terracotta Warriors. This is a very popular destination for International tourists, as well as a billion domestic tourists. We were surprised at how many Caucasion / European / Gwalio people there were. We really haven’t been exposed to many Gwailos, since Autoro Island, East Timor, in April last, but the more we tried to catch their eyes and say hi, the less successful we were. I put it down to the fact they may have only been in the country for a week or two, so Gwalos are still a common site for them.

Another thing at the Warriors that we found nice and relaxing, was that, as there are many Gwailos present, no Chinese asked us to be photographed with them. I think (hope!) this will become more common as we approach Beijing.

We’ve deliberately tracked our course over the south and western areas, where the numbers of Chinese domestic tourists are huge, but the numbers of Gwailos very limited. Since the start of June when we got into China, I reckon we’ve seen 10 other Caucasians. The result of this is that we and our vehicles are very “different”, so we are always being stopped to have a photoshoot. It’s very friendly and about 50 percent ask for permission, while the other 50 percent sneak the shot, including a zoom. But it’s not confrontational; the only down sides are it can be exhausting and time consuming. Now I know how Madonna feels!

Land Cruiser V Ford Ranger

Let it be on the record that the Land Cruiser has had to TOW the Ford Ranger twice. Once, in Bali, when the car was bogged, second time in Yunnan Province, China, when the owner had left the lights on, and the starter battery was dead flat. I had to tow him so he could clutch start it! Sweet moments for the old Cruiser.

The Cruiser’s tacho has been playing up. Early on I thought it was a lubrication issue, which concerned me as it may have effected engine lubrication as well. But it turns out most likely to be the crank position sensor (cps) getting some mud embedded into its plug and distorting the connection or conduction. At Beijing the old girl will get a good going over before Mongolia, as well as a good engine bay clean (you wouldn’t believe how muddy the bay is), and a spare cps should see order returned.

The Ranger’s front wheel alignment is out a mile. Barry’s been forced to “roll” his front tyres to spread the wear. Bashing our way through Indonesia caused the damage, Barry having gone at it a lot harder than me! (Think endurance event here please!). So when he’s up for two fresh fronts, I’ll be sure to update you.

Ford Ranger Broadsides Truck!

Did Barry happen to mention that he sideswiped the rear of a truck? At slow speed? No. Well, the day of the horse race on the Tibetan Plateau, he and I were positioning the cars nearer the track. This meant driving two or three km over a rough paddock.

To get off the road meant squeezing between a stationary truck and a stationary car. I looked at the gap, said no way and was walking to the truck driver, to ask him to move forward a metre or so. The drop off the road was steep, angled awkwardly and rough, so, a tight fit was not of any help and it was sooo easy for the truck to move forward.

Barry didn’t wait, tried to squeeze through, failed and dug a gash in the passenger side of the car and rear window. No broken glass, but a lot of bog required. The door shuts but isn’t perfect. The truck driver jumped out when he felt it (a semi-trailer no less)! He looked at the damage to Barry’s Ranger, none to his trailer, then looked at me. I pointed to Barry, did that cross-eyed look and spun my finger in circles over my skull, called out cuckoo, and the guy laughed his head off.

Talking of Ford Ranger contacts, just today, July 3, Barry backed into a ute at the toll gates! The guy took it well, more damage than the bullsh%$&#t with me earlier, then we all moved on.

Chinese Police

There are a number of levels of police – traffic, highway patrol, province border, checkpoint, serious police, then military police.

At all levels we have been able to get a smile and co-operation. Even some of the military guys, with the machine guns, can smile. Some.

We’ve pissed a few off as well. A good example is, twice now, going through a toll gate, they’ll have a “papers” checkpoint, say 60m after the boom gate. So you pay your toll, the gate goes up, then a shiny, skinny, blue shirt, white hat and white gloved, 18 year old copper abruptly puts up his hand, signalling you to stop. So I move 5m forward, under the toll gate and stop. The gate won’t shut – I’m under it. So this line is blocked.

Chinese drivers have the patience of a gnat, so the horns start to blow. And this little copper still has his hand up. Then he looks behind him, (presumably to ask what to do now), more horns and yelling behind me now. The little copper puts his white gloved hand down and very casually asks me, by frantic, non-textbook hand gestures, to come forward. Which I obediently do. Horns and yelling behind stop, we show him our papers with a smile, and move on.

Sometimes they get annoyed we are driving a car with “goods”, especially the roof top campers. In China, a car doesn’t carry goods.

Mr Squiggle and Rin Tin Tin

When nearer Tibet, police presence was congested, especially at road checkpoints. The forms!! All the same and one form for each of us)! So, to help Green and to speed things up, and in the spirit of international relations between the countries I would jump out and help Green fill them out. After a few checkpoints I got sick of the repetition, and Mr Sqiggle and Rin Tin Tin made some appearances.

The People

It’s a little risky generalising on a population of more than one billion, but I can write how they have impacted on me.

I took a little while to get the pace of the place. I took a while to get used to Green sorting us out and she took a while to get the hang of us.

Friendly Tibetan and Chinese People

I’ve found the Tibetans and Chinese friendly

After that, I reckon Chinese and Tibetan people are:

  • friendly
  • honest
  • have a good sense of humour
  • can laugh at themselves
  • are helpful
  • and are givers, not takers.

So often we intrude on them – park in their yard to make lunch, ask to camp on their paddocks, etc, and after no time at all they come back with a tray of food, fruit or gifts of some kind. They want to share with you their knowledge of conditions, like where the bad weather might come from, etc. In Australia, as often as not you’re told to get on your bike.

They can’t drive cars, but their truckies are very good. They drive cars like they walk along the footpath: If they want to look in a window they just slow down. If they want to talk to someone, they just stop where they are, on the road, and talk. They ignore or don’t understand the consequences of momentum of motor vehicles and the damage they can cause.

The truck drivers are safe, courteous drivers, who look far ahead and behind – a pleasure to share their roads.

Off the road, Chinese can’t wait and they can’t queue. I don’t know why, only that I find it rude, unhelpful, disruptive and annoying.

A lot of middle-aged men and teenage girls are loud. Very loud.

A lot of middle-aged men hoick, hack, cough and spit – anywhere. Just anywhere. You could be in a lovely courtyard setting, then, hoick/cough/splutter spit. I’ve developed the habit of imitating them immediately, very loudly. Chinese women seem to get it, but I don’t think I’ve embarrassed a male yet.

No Violence at Night

At night the streets look and feel really safe. I’ve seen no signs to make our progress feel threatened, and we’ve been in some pretty isolated communities. Maybe closer to the big towns the behaviour will change. I’ve seen no alcohol-fuelled, agressive behaviour. Maybe a side benefit of – as Green puts it – “our strong government”?

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  1. Judy Veitch says:

    Love reading your stories, folks. What an adventure! And I think queuing might be a British thing, Al

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