China Short Stories #3

350px-Kunming_Golden_Horse_Memorial_Archway

From all my wild and weird stories from visiting the People’s Republic of China I’ve decided to compile some of the most memorable into a list of short stories. If you want to read all of them, with my other tales from China, please click on the category ‘China Short Stories’ to the right of this page. These are not posted in chronological order.

I spent a lot of time in Kunming when I was China, not particularly out of choice, but more to use the city, known as the City of Eternal Spring, as a base.  First of all, as I’ve mentioned in another post (My first day in Vietnam) I needed my Vietnam visa, which was obtained at the Kunming consulate and also because to travel to Lijiang (Expats in Sleeping Lijiang) by train is only possible from Kunming.

The ‘waiting’ days between collecting my visa and returning from Lijiang were bloody boring – to be to the point.  Kunming has little to offer for a single female traveller, for the city supposed to be the eternal spring it rained a lot and had nothing to do or see. I found my only option (other than my much-anticipated visit to Lufeng Dinosaur Valley) was to visit the Stone Forest, which was expensive to do on my budget, so I left it.  However, despite my time here being one long wait to leave, Kunming was not without its weird experiences with some of the locals…

I stayed, always, at the Hump Hostel when I was here, which had its own set of characters, but one in particularly was a middle-aged Chinese man I noticed reading a lot in the seating area.  He mostly read newspapers but whenever I passed him he would look up and smile, a friendly smile, not often accustomed to your typical Chinese man.  How English, I remember thinking.  Whilst brushing my teeth in the communal sinks he spoke to me a day or so later, in perfect English and explained he indeed teaches English in Kunming and at first sight of me believed I was English (not hard to spot) and wanted to introduce himself.

Unfortunately I cannot remember his name but only recall what happened when he moved rooms into my dorm thereafter.  I was sitting on my bed, a bottom bunk, my back against the wall and my legs in a straight line in front of me, with my feet just at the edge of the bed (I’m quite small.)  He walked slowly over to me and stood opposite me and started a conversation, just like before, very polite and even with a natural English accent.  He talked about teaching English and that I should consider this too because in China this job is paid well. After he discovered I was in Kunming waiting for a visa for Vietnam he proceeded to give me tips and advice for when I was there, as he has made this journey a number of times. For example what taxi firms to trust when I arrive in Vietnam, what a reasonable price would be and how to barter with the driver.

He soon learned I was planning to travel onto Cambodia, Laos and Thailand after Vietnam, where I “simply must get a massage” whilst I’m in Thailand, as they’re so cheap but incredibly relaxing.  “I always get one when I’m there,” he said “but mostly, I go for the sex.

The sentence for me dropped like a bomb.  But to him, it was as if it was a normal thing to say like ‘oh yes make sure you try the fish and chips when you’re at the seaside…‘  He didn’t stop there either, he continued to tell me the Thai women are beautiful and know what they’re doing.  “But for you,” he concluded finally, “do try a massage.

During an inevitable awkward pause he began to smile at me, sweetly, as if he were my grandpa and I his granddaughter, and rubbing his hands.  “Can I touch your feet?”  He then said.

WHAT?!  I thought in my head and before I had a chance to answer he knelt down and touched them anyway, rubbing them.  “You have lovely little feet.”  I was in complete shock, unable to speak. He giggled – yes, giggled!  As if he was now the naughty little child.  “Can I touch them again?

And again he rubbed my feet without waiting for an answer and I, still stunned, probably had a look of worry on my face which I tried to express through a construed smile.

There, now you will remember me, I hope you enjoy Vietnam.”

And with that he strolled away, probably to read his paper and I, forcing myself into the habit of wearing socks and sitting cross legged from then on, collected my Vietnam visa a day later, looked out for this man when I was leaving the hostel. Feeling relieved I couldn’t see him, I left without saying goodbye.

Advertisements

Lufeng Dinosaur Valley

Date Written: 07.09.2013 Place: Nanning Time: 16:19

Lufeng Dinosaur Valley has got to be one of the creepiest places I’ve been in China.

A place – be it a town, city, street or even graveyard – in China can be hard to make itself creepy – as one of the world’s largest countries it also has one huge population to go with it. Its huge population thus creates huge crowds, causing any element of creepiness to be immediately ejected out of it – my point is, imagine how creepy the Terracotta Army could be if you weren’t squashed amongst hundreds of tourists and instead looking upon the stone warriors completely on your own – very creepy!

Anyway, having seen a billboard advert for Lufeng Dinosaur Park at Kunming train station, and being an everything-dinosaur fan since Jurassic Park’s release, I decided I had to go.

After some Internet research, I learnt over 60 dinosaur fossils and full skeletons lay resident in the park. 60. I read on to find out Lufeng has the most dinosaur fossils/skeletons found in quantity than any other place in the world. So, Lufeng is like a dinosaur gold mine, and I was sold.

I was staying at the Hump Hostel in Kunming and thought a tourist attraction this great would surely have a tour I could easily jump onto. I looked in the hostel’s tour book, but I found nothing.

Hmm okay… I asked a girl at reception, she didn’t understand me. Back to more online research where I found a WikiTravel page on the park. Travel instructions included. I must take a bus to get to Kunming West Bus Station, to get on a bus to Lufeng, where I will then find another bus to the park. That’s 3 buses in total and 3 and half hours to get there – alright, I thought, I still deemed this worth a trip.

I set off on Monday (to avoid busy weekend crowds!) and started to notice on the way to Lufeng things got a bit, well, quiet. The small clutters of houses across the open highway had dinosaurs painted on their outside walls, so I told myself this place must be a big attraction! Lufeng Bus Station was small ish with no roar of crowds queuing, standing around, or waiting for a bus like most China bus stations I had been to had. I found the bus to the park fairly easy maybe because of this but possibly as the bus was yellow with accompanying dinosaurs paintings on the sides of it too.

Only one Chinese man and myself got off at the park, where we were dropped off outside the park’s toll gate. The park had its own toll gate. As I walked to the ticket hall I could see this park was huge already, but, I didn’t see any crowds. Something I had grown accustomed to in China.

20130908-114221.jpg

120 ¥ a ticket, I walked up the park’s entrance, “Jurassic Path” (below), and still found myself with only a handful of other people. A lot of the park was amusement only, with fake dinosaurs darted around the place, some drinking from a lake after you entered from Jurassic Path and some amongst the trees and foliage.

20130908-114726.jpg

20130908-114815.jpg

I made my way to the main attraction; the quarry, where the real dinosaurs are. When I finally got into the grey building, it was mostly dark with the lighting softly focused on the dinosaurs, which I could see they were vast.

Cast in a frozen running posture and grouped together as though in a herd, hunting, they were motionless. Standing amongst them was both absorbing and bewildering. The Chinese man who jumped off the bus when I did was wondering through the skeleton valley in front of me.

20130908-115514.jpg

The warehouse was quiet, dead, there were more dinosaur skeletons than there were people. Some dinosaur faces drooped low to my own face level, so you could study their last expressions and hollow eye sockets. I’d noticed I had slowly taken over the Chinese man from the bus.

20130908-115931.jpg

20130908-115946.jpg

Both sides of the warehouse was hilled with a murky orange ground, when the walking platform lowered down to another level you could see a scattering of bones half excavated still in the earth.

I looked down at these for a little while before walking back through the skeletons instead of the main entrance, when I began to notice, as I turned the corner back into this path, I thought the Chinese man was following me. I stopped to appear as though I was studying the skeletons, he stalled, stopped and after a minute took some photos of the skeletons. I waited until he moved on before I made my exit.

There must have been seven or eight park ‘buggies’, all silently parked outside with no queues, no passengers. All seven or eight drivers congregated to the middle buggy, a few sleeping.

One came over and I pointed in the direction heading further into the park, the Chinese man I thought was following me had now exited and started heading the way I was pointed. I jumped on the buggy and was whisked away, far from the Chinese man, even if he was actually following me, I still can’t really tell. I would get plenty of headway on him now, I was on the buggy whereas he was walking.

I assumed the driver would drive me to the next attraction, yet the drive circled around the whole park. There were no other buggies with passengers in passing us, no other people walking along the paths, no bellowing noises from any of the rides or attractions that echoed from near or far, just complete silence. When we must have been passing the “Jurassic Waterfall” I couldn’t hear the water falling down onto the rocks.

I was eventually dropped off near the fair ground which was close to the entrance where I had entered the park. No rides were on, none of them were moving and again no people. A log flume, or what I thought was a log flume, had been emptied of its water, not a soul around.

20130908-140608.jpg

I walked through restaurants and snack bars, full of empty tables, a hundred empty tables, with just two staff members looking at me blankly. I carried on through until I reached the car park, to wait for my bus back, but it was empty.

There were two men sitting near a drinks stall, staffed by one woman. None of them spoke English, so through the translations I had on me and a clumsy drawing of a bus I just made in my notebook they told me it would arrive at 14:50. (At the time a 2 hour plus wait.)

I walked to the toll gate to ask the same question, the toll gate girl spoke no English. I walked back into the park and tried to ask at the tourist information office, but to no avail. I went back to the drinks stall. Confused, I sat down. It wasn’t for another 10 minutes or so when one of the two men from before came back up to me saying “1 – 30” and pointed back towards the toll gate. I said okay, thinking where I was dropped off was probably where I need to be picked up, makes sense. He must have thought I looked confused because he motioned he’ll show/walk me there.

We started walking, with the other man slowly following. That’s when I began to think “this was stupid Emma, a young single British woman by herself, who can’t speak any Chinese, going to a ghost town theme park, now has two men taking her somewhere….” I began to feel a little frightened.

20130908-141341.jpg

Then I saw a bus like the one which brought me here, just outside the toll gate, I flagged it down, almost in a run towards it, to which the man beside me, walking with me, said “no, no, no, no,” I ignored him and I recognised the Chinese symbol on the front of the bus meaning ‘Lufeng.’ The driver nodded when I got on it, the man outside the bus was now saying OK, as if saying no, my mistake, yes this is your bus!

I sat down and waited for the bus to take me back safely to Lufeng bus station, before changing bus to get back to Kunming and feeling more of a comfort about being in a big crowd of people but still feeling spooked about the deserted park.