Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Chinese chess

Monday 16th May 2011

15 days left traveling the world.

MP3 track of the day: Honeymoon – The Young Victoria soundtrack

Weather: As I arrived within Kumming, it started to rain but it stopped within the afternoon..

The train music – which, for some reason, was 'Ho ho, hi ho it's off to work we go' – started to sound at 6am. The lights automatically came on and, being so high up, my nose almost touched the element. Obviously I awoke and I started to get ready; I'd wondered if the early start meant that we would arrive within Kumming early; however, after a while, I realised that this wouldn't be the case. All three of my cabin mates were still asleep therefore I went into the corridor to look outside the window; some buildings were familiar and I was amazed at how much of Kumming I'd remembered from two weeks ago.

Once off the train I walked in the same direction as before; I remembered where the bus stop was and, once there, I looked for the number three service. It didn't take long to notice that only a '107' and '117' service stopped here which seemed bizarre; looking at my surroundings I knew that I was at the correct stop and yet I was sure the bus I wanted was the number three. I checked my hostel directions and the number three bus was written there in black and white; the 107 was written also and so, as one was pulling into the stop, I boarded it in the hope that it would drop me off where I needed to be. Thankfully the 107 was the correct service and I alighted outside my old hostel. It was spitting with rain and so my pace quickened as I made my way to 'The Hump'. Nine Yuan was all it cost to store my luggage, have a shower and use their facilities all day. I gladly paid 90p yet I didn't hit the showers; instead I went out for breakfast as I was starving. The thought of a 'pineapple pie' had kept me going through the last two weeks and, as I approached McDonald's, I was cautious wondering what I would do if they hadn't got any. The rain was falling harder; my hood was up, the walkway was slippery and my shoes were letting in water. I pulled the McDonald's door open, both eyes focused on where a yellow box should be … I could see at least pineapple pie. Full of a childish joy I went to the counter and pointed to the yellow box, asking for two, and a hot chocolate. As I bit into the sweet, hot pastry the taste was as good as I remembered and I devoured my breakfast quickly encase of theft.

I left McDonald's happy, content but a little wet. I think my shoes have lost their waterproof ability and yet I won't part with them; as I looked down my shoes looked like old friends and, if they could talk, they would be the only item I own who would know every detail of my trip. I walked towards the closest supermarket, side-stepping the largest of the puddles, before sheltering in the supermarket's doorway. The time was 8:20am but the supermarket didn't open until 8:30; there was a large queue outside with each person pushing another out of the way. Once again I didn't see the logic and so I stepped back and waited, meeting stares with a glaring smile.

The shop assistant was nearly knocked off her feet as she undid the door bolts; the door swung inwards, under the force of the mob, and I casually walked in behind making a bee-line to the food section. Even though I would be on a train, for thirty-six hours, I usually don't eat much whilst traveling; I'd already purchased a large bottle of water, and a large packet of biscuits, and so I added a large bottle of orange juice, some cereal bars, chocolate and crisps to the mix. I left and went back to the hostel putting my food with my luggage.

Yesterday I'd received an email from Sim stating that Laura still wasn't feeling well and so they were going to stay within Kumming for a couple of nights. As Laura spent most of her time sleeping Sim and I arranged to meet at 9am; apart from playing pool I hadn't got a clue what to do, within the city, however Sim suggested visiting two mosques and the 'bird and flower market'. That sounded great to me and we walked out of the hostel in the direction of the first attraction.

I once more found myself within another supermarket; Sim hadn't had any breakfast and, him being a little more adventitious than I, went for Chinese goods. Not feeling particularly hungry I still joined him as the experience would probably be worth the cost. Outside the supermarket I gingerly opened my clear plastic bag and smelling the produce within; a guard stood their smirking to himself. Bland, the whole nations cuisine is bland, I thought to myself as I took another bite of this hot pastry ... thing. I'd done pretty well; I'd eaten three quarters of it but I couldn't face another mouthful. I popped the rest into a bin before we arrived at the first mosque. A familiar pattern seemed to be occurring in regards to my time within Kumming; this attraction was also shut, though we did peak through the windows. Next was the market which Sim had warned me wasn't a pleasant site; being a animal lover I was shocked to see animals placed within cages where they couldn't move or where they were overcrowded. Sim mentioned that 'life is cheap' within Asia and most purchasers expected their new pet to be dead within a couple of weeks; it disgusted me how a human could place seventeen birds to a cage and so we walked by quickly.

The last mosque proved hard to find; Sim and I chatted as we headed this way and that but it took the best part of an hour to get there. It, too, was shut and so we went back into town, stopping for lunch, before meeting Laura. She'd moved from her dorm into the common room and was reading a book; she seemed ready to go out though she didn't look well. Both wanted to head to an English bookshop and that was were I could help; I told them that, on my previous visit, I'd been to three and that I would show them where they were ... starting with the best, Mandarin books.

As we walked Sim and I chatted whereas Laura remained silent. You could read it in her face that she was feeling terrible and both Sim and I had hoped the air would have done her good. Having been away from Kumming, for two weeks, my route to Mandarin books was a little long however we eventually got there. Once within the English section both Sim and Laura looked around whereas I gazed periodically; I still had half my 'Emperor' novel left so I was okay … however I did have a long train journey to come and so maybe a 'backup' might be needed. All three of us mentioned the horrific prices of some of the books making it difficult for Sim, Laura and I to choose. Sim had presented me with a 'How to play Chinese Chess' book he'd found; it came with it's own magnetized set and, at £3.00, seemed a bargain that I had to have. Sim and Laura also recommended 'The Three Musketeers' which, at £4.00, seemed good value too. As I stood there it would appear that a book buying trip, for Sim and Laura, had ended in me spending all the money.

Sim took his time, looking through all the novels present, weighing up price versus quality; Laura was looking worse and so she left to head back to the hostel. We stayed a little longer until Sim decided that there wasn't anything he wanted. I paid for my purchases before I showed Sim the other two book stores. It was inside the last book store that Sim managed to find an absolute bargain; tucked away on the bottom shelf stood 'The complete works of Sherlock Homes volumes one and two'. With each costing £3.00 he grabbed both as if there were twenty other people ready to pounce. We paid for the books and returned to the hostel ... via McDonald's where both of us had a McFurry. I caught myself eyeing up the 'pineapple pies' once more.

Sim had played Chinese chess before and so he said that he would teach me. He set-up the board and told me what each piece did; the moves seemed simple enough but remembering which Chinese symbol meant what was confusing. Chinese chess is similar to western chess and I found myself growing to like it; in the end I managed to win – without realising it – which helped in my liking for the game. At this point it was time for me to catch my train; I wished them both a great trip and wished Laura a speedy recovery. I went and collected my bags before making my way to the bus stop.

In a way I was sad to leave Kumming. The city had no specific attractions and yet it had been a peasant place to visit; more than that I was about to leave the province of Yunnan and back into the crowded inner region of China. Yunnan had been the only province where I'd met travelers and I wondered whether that enjoyable aspect of traveling was at an end. Still I had to move forward though part of me wanted to remain. Once at the train station I got a glimpse of what was about to come; I was continually stared at as if the train operators had made me an attraction. I sat down and, even as I wrote notes in English, Chinese people would peer over my shoulder. Some spitting occurred and children could be seen with their bottoms hanging out of their trousers; Maybe I should skip Loyuang, and Beijing, and just remain within Kumming before flying to Beijing to meet my flight home. As I contemplated the proposed action people started to shift out of their seats and mobs formed around the gate. I sighed and realised that I had to push on; I waited for the mob to die down before I presented my ticket to the inspector and went onto the platform.

My cabin was the standard soft sleeper cabin I'd now become accustom too; considering that I became ill, within Europe, after a thirty hour train journey I was a little worried that this trip might have the same effect. Still there was little point in worrying about it now; the train started to move out of the station as I started to update my blogs. It was nice to find that I was sharing my cabin with only one other person and that he seemed quite pleasant (though he made a lot of noise whilst drinking). Once I could write no more I shut my computer down to finish the day reading my 'Emperor Book'. Julius was just about to take office within the senate and Marcus was off to join the legions within Greece … should be fun!

Toodle Pip!

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