Across Continents

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Simple mistake or scam?

October 29th, 2010

Huining - street scene - web

Huining. Large provincial town. Street vendors in the autumn sun. Household goods, clothes, fruits, spices. And cash. Or at least a large bundle of notes laying on top of some printing paraphernalia. Simple mistake or scam? The one where you pick up the money, hand it to the stall holder. He declares some is missing, threatens to call the Police unless you make it up.

Printing money - web

[Author’s note: The 100 Yuan note shown is a relatively high denomination – worth approximately ten pounds sterling. So not exactly loose change]

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Pride and Prejudice

October 28th, 2010

Jane Austin had never appealed. Preferred Enid Blyton. "Famous Five" rather than "Secret Seven". The former did lighthouses, espionage and lashings of ginger beer. The latter never ventured far from the garden shed. However, I’d chanced on "Pride and Prejudice", in English, on Chinese national television. For once, subtitled rather than dubbed. Drawn in by the feisty appeal of the lead characters, and a few unsavoury supporting ones. And, like "Titanic", I’d quickly got a rough idea how it might end.

I’d arrived in Huining much earlier in the day. Rode around for a while in the pleasant mid-afternoon autumn sun. Couple of smart hotels. Security for Emma and the kit, a hot shower, fluffy towels. And a chance to wander amongst the street vendors, browse around. But no. Both man – full. Too late to reach the next town before dark. Besides, I was confident that in a place of this size, I would be able to find somewhere to stay. Eventually.

My starting point had been the bus station. Taken a while to find, but I was pretty certain there’d be a few options close by. Difficult to locate, perhaps just a doorway, and sometimes reluctant to admit foreigners. I wasn’t particularly concerned about the latter. The bike, and my "magic card" describing my venture in Simplified Chinese, usually overcoming any reservations. Been turned away just once.

Took an hour or so to find a suitable room. Not so much the doss house I’d half expected, but rather a dilapidated hotel. Tired. A television probably the only addition since the early eighties. But, whatever it lacked in decor was amply made up by the friendliness of the staff. Insistent they help carry Emma and all the kit up to the room. I’d forgo fluffy towels any day for such a warm welcome.

[Author’s note: Smart hotels – decadence? In a provincial town expect to pay between ten and twelve pounds for an en-suite twin room, internet connection and breakfast – astounding value for money. And, when interspaced with truck stops and doss houses, affordable]

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Road to Xi’an

October 27th, 2010

"Endurance is patience concentrated" Thomas Carlyle – Scottish historian and essayist

Towards Huining - web

Beyond the town of Dingxi the northern route to Xi’an (pronounced Shian) climbs steadily up through the steep, neatly terraced hills. Sweet corn the cultivated staple. Pleasant autumn sun, the last of the crop being gathered in. No deep, plunging valleys or steep rock faces, but much of landscape still above six thousand feet. The road winding its way up to a col at over seven thousand. Then a steady, drawn out descent towards the town of Huining. Invigorating.

Depending on which map or guide book you consult, it seems more likely that the Silk Road runs a little further south. But, aside from the historical association, there seemed little else to differentiate the two routes. In the end I’d made my choice on the basis I’d pass through a town that featured in my less than reliable travel guide. Curious to see how it’d fare on this occasion. I wasn’t hopeful.

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