China has to be one of the funnest (excuse my English) countries in the world. I had been travelling for a while with a Canadian guy, Shane, in the north of Vietnam, and he had decided to change his plans and come into China with me.
We booked our train tickets from Vietnam’s Capital, Hanoi, to Nanning, just over the border in the south east of China. Shane was a couple of days over his welcome on the Vietnamese visa, and mine would run out on the day we would travel, and we still had both of our motorbikes to sell. Needless to say we were cutting things fine.
Previously I had been travelling with my girlfriend, who had at this point become my ex-girlfriend. I knew we were on the same-ish schedule, but when we boarded the train and she was sitting not just in the same carriage, but in the next row of seats, it became apparent this was going to be quite a border crossing.
At the border we were awoken by some other passengers, or guards, I don’t recall. Dazed we hauled our bags onto the dark station platform, and through to security. The guards pulled up Shane on his overdue visa, and took him into a side room. They wanted a bribe to let him through, I overhead him casually tell the guards ‘I don’t have any money with me’, they said ‘okay’ and let him on his way. Surprisingly easy.
Upon slowly re-alighting the train, I dozed off and awoke in China. It was the early morning, but a sticky anticipation hung in the air. Lu, a Chinese girl we met on the train helped us work out where a hotel was, nobody seemed to speak any English here, I loved it.
From there on out China kept getting better and better. It was the last month of my travels and I was determined to make this count even more than the previous half year. Nanning is a city which the guidebooks play down to be a mere stop through from Vietnam into China. To me, it was a city which let the imagination run wild, anything and everything seemed to happen on the streets here, the back streets were full of colour, smells, and sounds. Chinese text shouted at us everywhere, at night the city turned to sin. It didn’t feel wrong to hit the clubs here.
The first night we decided to explore, without a guide we had no clue where to head, so we would have to trust the hopefully kind heart of a taxi driver. We sat in the back seats and pumped our arms up and down, while I sang ‘Disco Disco’ and Shane dropped me a beat. He understood, and much to our surprise took us to the best club in town, Soho.
We seemed to attract the attention of nearly everyone inside, the men handed us more drinks than we could drink, and the girls flocked in all directions, I felt famous. Then things went blackout and the next thing I know Shane is hauling me into a taxi, where my consciousness oscillates until Shane is convinced the driver is taking us in the wrong direction. Shane drags me off the backs seat, and pulls a couple of cardboard boxes out of a bin at the side of the road.
We wake up in the morning, without a clue to where we are, some local guy is washing his car next to my head, and everyone is staring at us lying on the floor probably thinking, ‘what the hell are these two white guys doing?’. I take the cheat cards which Lu had written for us and we get a cab back to the hotel. I think, ‘I need to learn Mandarin’.
The next day we went back to the same club, this time we were more prepared, but received the same treatment as the night before. Shane met a model who invited us to come back to her place, the only catch being it was a four hour train ride north to LiuZhou. Outrageously drunk we bundled ourselves into a taxi back to the hotel (which we now knew directions to), stuffed our belongings (and the contents of the mini-fridge) into our backpacks. It was now 5am, so we ran to the station where Tank met us with three sleeper tickets, and three bowls of Laoyou noodles.
Tank took us around her town, showed us all the little locals places which the ‘cool kids, models, and socialites’ hang out, we lit one of those Chinese lanterns down by the Lijiang River. Each of us wrote some wishes on the side. Tank wrote ‘Every Day be happy! Get more money.’; I wrote ‘Be successful in love, life, happiness, live long, fast and bring greatness to the world.’, Shane wrote ‘To find BIG Party & marry Tank’. It crash dived into the river, leaving hoards of laughing Chinese and two gutted travellers. We went to Tank’s fashion show to cheer ourselves up and meet some nice Chinese girls.
At the show we met three local business men who were in town entertaining clients for the night, we had been given front row seats, and all the food and drink we could stomach, and now these guys had invited us to come to their town with them the next day. Our luck seemed to be on for China, and Shane and I were absolutely loving it.
The next day we got up bright and early, but obviously after Tank as she wasn’t in the apartment, so we wrote her a note, and left. The businessmen were staying in a nice hotel in town, and had a Jeep waiting for us when we arrived. They had a fake police siren mounted on the roof of the car, and we sped down the motorway towards Guilin at what seemed like at least twice the speed limit.
Guilin was one of the ‘Lonely Planet’ destinations, and as such Shane and I weren’t too keen on staying for long, we had a rule that if we saw another white person in town then we’d leave the next day. After a quick dip in the river we went back to one of the guy’s houses, where we got dressed up to go out for dinner. That night we dined on Century (rotten) eggs, intestine, and fish head.
After dinner the businessmen wanted to take us out on the town, I guess to show us how they partied, they said we were going to a KTV, apparently we had a private room booked. A maitre d’ ushered us to the room with purple velvet sofas, and a line up of girls in long silk ball gowns. A little set back by the situation, the businessmen explained that the girls were not prostitutes and just were going to spend the evening with us. I was sceptical but went along with it anyway. KTV turns out to be Karaoke Television, I consider myself lucky to have been in China, because with the exception of the Chinese trying to sing in English, my rendition of Tom Jones’ ‘Sex Bomb’ makes me quite frankly the opposite of what the song would be suggesting.
Jack, one of the businessmen, who’s house we were meant to be staying at for some reason did not want us to come back to his, maybe the girls had wound him up enough to want a free house for the night. So he took us to this massage parlour, where we were handed a baggy set of silk shorts and a shirt, and a big white dressing down, told to have a shower, and taken to a room. Where two masseuses massaged Shane and I to sleep.
According to our rule, we had to leave that day, the stench of white man was too strong in this town. I’m not normally one to retract on my steps, but we both agreed that catching a train back to Nanning was the best plan.
Love was in the air. It was ‘Chinese Love Day’, officially called the Qixi festival. Couples were out in their hoards on this warm night, buying all sorts of tit and tat and ridiculous Chinese made unnecessary products for their other halves. Men donned matching t-shirts to their girlfriends, their trying to hide the embarrassment faces suggested they were forced into doing so. Shane and I thought it would be a good night to hit the clubs again.
That night I met Chao, a sweet, and stunning, local university student. For the next few days she was determined to show me the ins and outs of herself and her city. Apparently the place to hang out was the water park/zoo. Dubious of whether this really was the best place to go, and a bit pissed off my swimming shorts had been forgotten/stolen (probably forgotten) in Hanoi, I decided to go anyway. Chao promised me that it was possible to buy new swimming shorts at the park, what she didn’t say is that the only type available would be skin tight speedos. I’m not a guy to get that embarrassed by the things I wear, but speedo’s on a day out with a girl you’ve just met?… I manned up and wore them anyway, and to my surprise people seemed to like them. We met a chinese couple there who we arranged to have dinner with later, what they didn’t say was that we would be eating boiled pig brains intestine and bone marrow. A feast not for the feint hearted. While I politely bit into the soft moose like brain, and sucked the marrow out of a chunk of bone, Chao had decided to give me a Chinese name. After discussing the matter with the couple she decided on Long Wang 王龙, I was delighted with her choice even before I found out the English translation, which was Dragon King. What an honour, ‘I love China’ I thought.
The next day Shane and I decided that we had spent too much time in Nanning, and we left in the morning. Our ambition was to get to Taiwan, just without paying for a ticket. First we had to catch the train to ShenZhen, one of China’s wealthiest cities in Guangdong Province. After the reasonable fourteen hour train ride, it felt not dissimilar to stepping into the future