The morning after the accident was a slow start. Nobody was sure what to expect. None of us had ever been in this situation before. Still there were things to do. I needed to fixed Boris’ right rear spring. I’d been driving on it for over 1000km, and a solution need to be found before I disabled my car even further. So while the bikers looked after the situation with David, Fun, V, K and I went to visit the local spring specialist.

The Broken Spring (Chengdu, China)

The Broken Spring
(Chengdu, China)

The roads were quiet after the day before’s deluge of rain. We made our way out to the south west of the city, dodging the dodgy Chinese drivers, who were dodging the overflowing lakes of water, that were now found at most intersections. I’d been in touch the distributor and they had a set of springs in stock that might do the trick. The problem was they were normal carrying weight plus 300kg for land cruisers, and I needed plus 600kg springs. We soon found the place and were able to check the springs. They were my only option but I still wasn’t sure if it was the right solution. While deciding we received a call from Billy, urgently requesting Fun’s assistance to translate the medical report into english for the insurance company. That was our queue to depart. The spring would have to wait.

Fun and I left V&K to sort their own truck issues, as we headed for the centre of town and the bikers hotel. We stopped briefly at Toyota to pick up the seals I needed for the rear diff and transfer case.

It was here that we found out the true extend of the storms we had travelled through over the last couple of days. The province of Sichuan was under a state of emergency after 750mm of rain fell, in only a few hours the day before. The road we travelled down suffered seventeen landslide blockages, including a bridge that was swept away hours after we crossed. Sadly six cars were on it at the time and several lives were lost. They weren’t the only ones. Forty people were buried under mud and stone, when a landslide wiped out a village. A further two thousand people were trapped on the motorway we travelled along, after two tunnels collapsed. They would be stuck there for days. The city of Chengdu itself was underwater in many places across the city, causing havoc in places.

An hour later we arrived on a biker’s hotel. The journey across town was straightforward enough, though I couldn’t help wondering if the Panda statues we past along the way, would be the only Panda’s I’d be seeing on this trip. In Hans, Billy and Willie’s room we got an update on the situation. The insurance company keep making requests for more information, while making vague promises that they would make a decision quickly. Meanwhile Stephen had found a flight direct to Melbourne leaving that night. It appeared a good option if, and it was a big if, Barry could walk onto the plane. We figured once onboard he could always lie down and the plane would take him direct to a hospital in his home country. They would have to test Barry out on some crutches.

Fun and I headed back to so he could begin translating the document. Half way home we got the call from Stephen, saying they were going to have a go at the flight option, and could Fun handle the payment. The Chinese airlines weren’t prepared to accept foreign credit cards. This resulted in an about turn, as we headed for the Shangri-La hotel to arrange payment. The bikers set about preparing Barry for the flight. Time was of the essence as we didn’t want to lose the seat. At 6pm we managed to complete the transaction with Fun’s credit card. Phew!! Ten minutes later Stephen called to say Barry wasn’t going to make it. Ah crap!! After pushing us to hurry, they had now decided he wasn’t going to make. Allied with the news that the insurance company were going to medi-vac him out (probably to Hong Kong), the flight was no longer needed. So 30 minutes after booking the seat we cancelled it.

After driving around town all day there hadn’t even been time for lunch. So around 7pm with a lull in proceeding I found myself sitting in the car, outside the Munchen1810 bier garden across from the Shangri-La, dreaming of steins of beer and pork knuckles. What I got instead, was some stale bread, and a cold beer from the fridge. Whoever says travel isn’t exotic and exciting, doesn’t travel. Fun and I finally made it home in rush hour traffic at 9.30pm. I was so shattered I crashed without even remembering to eat.

On reflection it was amazing luck that we managed to get through the mountain pass to Chengdu at all. A few hours had been the difference between making it through, or not. If we hadn’t been two days ahead of schedule we would have been buggered. Later Fun told me, even if we had been lucky enough to avoid the landslides, we would have faced a 2000km round trip to drive north towards Langzou and Xi’ian, and back south to Chengdu (Aftermath of floods and mudslides in China). We were incredibly fortunate. Other parts of China were not. The following day Typhoon Soulik battered eastern China forcing 300,000 people to be evacuated (Army deployed as Typhoon Soulik and rainstorms strike). A week later powerful earthquakes hit the Gansu province which we had passed through (China’s Gansu province hit by powerful earthquakes). Mother nature was giving China a good kicking, and we had been right in the middle of it. It wasn’t quite the excitement and adventure I was looking for.

It’s only a couple of weeks later, as I write this, that the enormity of the situation has really kicked in. A huge sense of relief has washed over me. At the time, our minds were focused on the job at hand. And that was getting Barry out of the country.

Boris gets some new springs (Chengdu, China)

Boris gets some new springs
(Chengdu, China)

The following day not much happened. We had moved Barry back to the hotel because the service of care at the hospital was poor. Basically you needed your own support staff. The locals had their families staying with them, sleeping on the floor beside their beds. Being back at the hotel was the best solution, while we waited for the insurance company to sort themselves out. In the meantime Boris received a set of new temporary springs. It was a pleasant change, not having to cringe every time I heard a crunch from the rear while going over potholes.

Chengdu Panda Research Centre (China)

Chengdu Panda Research Centre
(China)

Panda at feeding time (Chengdu, China)

Panda at feeding time
(Chengdu, China)

With no further news of note on Barry, V, K and I decided to go see the Panda’s at the Chengdu Panda Research Centre. We arrived around 8am, just in time for the morning feeding. It was a foggy, humid day that had an eery feel about it as we walked through the densely forested complex. We checked out the Giant Panda, Panda Cub, Red Panda and Baby Panda enclosures across the complex.

Tiny Baby Panda (Chengdu, China)

Tiny Baby Panda
(Chengdu, China)

They were fascinating and engrossing creatures, that mostly did lots of eating and sleeping. Occasionally with the temptation of food they could be cajoled into a little bit of action, much to the pleasure of the watching crowds. Otherwise there wasn’t much action from our Giant Panda friends. It was a Panda’s life.

Just chilling (Chengdu, China)

Just chilling
(Chengdu, China)

Red Panda's (Chengdu, China)

Red Panda’s
(Chengdu, China)

The Red Panda’s were a lot more active, and looked more closely related to their racoon cousins, than the Giant Panda. As of 2012 there were 112 Panda’s at the complex, and the place seemed to be thriving. It was certainly a popular spot, and turned out to be one of the highlights of my time in China. They were so cuddly you just wanted to take one home. As we left we paused to watch the movie playing on the big screen at the front gate. It was none other than Kung Fu Panda. Classy.

That evening we all met at the bikers hotel to discuss the situation. The insurance company were pathetically slow to react, and were continually changing their mind on what to do. China op, Hong Kong op, Australia op, they didn’t know where he was going. Sally, Barry’s wife couldn’t even get an emergency visa, so it would be another seven days before she could get to Barry’s side. The group was beginning to calculate how many days it would take to get out of China. We had to leave on the 24th, and to make things more complicated we needed to exit with Barry’s bike with us.

We decided to ship his bike out via Laos. The decision to do this was so Fun wouldn’t have to explain the situation to Beijing. This would have included the fact that the bikes had been on a highway they were not supposed to be on!! Otherwise, it was ridiculously complicated to ship Barry’s bike out separately. It would have required Fun to fly with paperwork to Beijing, Kashgar (entry point) and Shanghai (bike exit point,) and would have taken months. It was going to be far simpler (but not straightforward) to freight the bike to Kunming, and then onto the border at Mohan. From there we could get it the last mile across the border to Laos, and on to Thailand. From there Billy could take care of it.

The insurance finally decided to reassess David, and put him in a private hospital. That night he was moved back to the hospital, but he still had to pay for a private nurse. The service from China’s 3rd best hospital was laughable in comparison to western standards for hospital care. It would have been cheaper to send David to Australia where he was covered for operations. None of us were very impressed by the insurance company’s performance. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one wondering whether my insurance company would act in the same way. Most of us were travelling by ourselves. How the medical care and repatriation would logistically work if I had an accident by myself I didn’t know. What I did know was, in China, Barry would have been up shit creek without a proverbial paddle if we hadn’t been around. Fortunately I’ve never had to use my travel insurance, and I hope I never have too.

For the next three days we waited for the insurance company to act. During this time V, K, Stephen and myself went out clubbing. We danced out the night away, and enjoy a few quiet beverages. So much so, the next two days were fairly quiet affairs spent most in the hotel.

Finally after six nights in Chengdu Barry was flown out of the country to Thailand for a replacement hip operation, and the care he needed. The rest of us were free to depart the next morning. We had to get to Kunming which was approximately 1000kms away. The plan was to aim for two days but it might take three. The first day was a tiring day spent entirely on the highway. The trucks were shattered, and decided we couldn’t do the rest in one day. We proposed to the bikes that we split the journey up across two days. They declined, so the group was finally split up completely. We were now in three separate groups, as the bikers had split as well. How Fun felt about it was difficult to tell. He had been put in a terribly difficult position, and I’m sure he just wanted us to all get out of China safely. I just wanted to get out of the country in one piece. With Barry now gone, I hoped for a plain boring journey to the border.

I don’t understand why people race from A to B without seeing what’s in the middle. The bikes only seemed content to go from city to city, and hotel to hotel. Personally I wanted to get closer to the local people in the villages, and observe what life was like for them. I also wanted to go slower, so I could take in the sights. Those two days on the road were two of the best, as we travelled slowly through villages, over mountains, and beside rivers. It was bliss.

Kim and Fun interacting with the friendly locals (China)

Kim and Fun interacting with the friendly locals
(China)

Two days later we arrived in Kunming with the plan to stop briefly, arrange the onward transportation of Barry’s bike, and continue on towards the border. As with most things that didn’t quite go to plan. That night, there was 192mm of rain in twelve hours across Kunming. The city was under water, our hotel was underwater, and our trucks were under water. The curse of the bike wankers had struck again!!

Flooded street outside out hotel (Kunming, China)

Flooded street outside out hotel
(Kunming, China)

The hotel foyer (Kunming, China)

The hotel foyer
(Kunming, China)

We woke that morning to find the city flooded, and that our hotel foyer was under water. More of a concern was the hotel where the trucks were parked looked even worse. After sizing up the situation, we ventured across the road in knee (two foot) high water to find out if the trucks were under water to. First signs weren’t good, as several cars were completely under water. Unfortunately they were on a slightly lower level in the car park. Our trucks were ok, just!! A couple more inches and the water would be testing Boris’ door seals. It was time to move. My snorkel proved handy. I just didn’t expect I need it to drive out of a flooded hotel car park!!

Boris and Ivor go swimming (Kunming, China)

Boris and Ivor go swimming
(Kunming, China)

Our hotel swimming pool (Kunming, China)

Our hotel swimming pool
(Kunming, China)

Once we had moved the trucks out of trouble we then had to evacuate from our flooded, powerless hotel to another. The manager was very friendly and helpful, even after I apologised for bringing the storm with us. It was the worst she had seen in 30 yrs. Yaay!! It wasn’t much fun knowing that natural disasters were following us around China. By 2.30 we found our way to another Home Inn hotel and checked in. Another day was going to disappear without anything useful being achieved.

Pagoda (Chengdu, China)

Pagoda
(Kunming, China)

Smoking incense sticks (Kunming, China)

Smoking incense sticks
(Kunming, China)

Took until 11.30am the next morning to make arrangements for the bikes transport to the border. V, K, Fun and I had lunch while walking around the local area, and visited a Pagoda that was popular with the Chinese tourists. We hit the road at 1pm and continued on into the mountains. V and I did a little sun dance in Boris and wished for the rain to stop, the clouds to clear and the sun to shine on a camping site. And it pretty much did. We found a great spot in a nature reserve. We parked up and set up camp just before it started raining again. Travelling in monsoon season meant it rained, a lot!!

The evenings camping site (in the mountains, China)

The evenings camping site
(in the mountains, China)

The following day we enjoyed the quiet roads again. It was slow going but enjoyable. Eventually though we decided to do a short stretch of highway to make up some ground. Puer was destination for dinner, and we ended up lingering too long. By the time we got out of the city we couldn’t find a place to camp. It got dark quickly, and the heavens opened. Our prize for our tardiness was a hotel in a small placed called Puwenzhen. It gained the envious title of being both the dodgiest, and cheap place we stayed on the whole trip. I didn’t mind as it felt like we were closer to the real China.

Mountain views (xx, China)

Mountain views
(China)

I enjoyed taking it slowly on slow roads. It gives you the chance to see more, and it’s more relaxed. Driving on highway for long stretches is hard to stay awake due to the speed and the straight roads. And to be honest, it’s bloody boring!! While getting off the beaten track allows you to observe the local people going about their daily lives. I always smile when I see the whole families that are transported on bikes. It is here that you realise that we are not that different. People across the world irrelevant of race, religion and creed, go about their daily lives in much the same manner.

Let the dumpling challenge begin (Mengla, China)

Let the dumpling challenge begin
(Mengla, China)

Mengla was our next destination, and the location of The Great Chinese Dumpling Challenge Part 2. Back in 2005, my good friend Chuckie and I devoured thirty six differing kinds of dumplings, each, in Xi’an. Tonight would be the night I’d have another crack at the record. We found a recommended dumpling restaurant, and along with a bottle Bai Jui (60% proof white spirits, made from corn and horribly tasting) I got stuck in. Thirty five passed so quickly that I got rather cocky. I asked Fun, would he would pay if I ate one hundred. He promptly called my bluff and order sixty five more dumplings. By the time I reached fifty I knew I was beat. We finished up that night commandeering the sound system at a bar, and doing the time warp on the tables. Ah, such fun.

Yum Yum, Dumplings... (Mengla, China)

Yum Yum, Dumplings…
(Mengla, China)

After a slow start we made our way the final 50kms to the border at Mohan. Barry’s bike was waiting for us, the bikers were all there as well. The Laos border was so close. 24 hours and it would be all over. The stress of China would be replaced by the relaxed attitude of Laos.

The vehicle posse enjoying the mountain views (China)

The vehicle posse enjoying the mountain views
(China)

Jose had kindly paid for rooms for V,K and I. He was a generous chap, and we thanked him gratefully for the offering. While I didn’t agree with many of the actions of the bikers, Stephen and Jose had at least made the effort to show some sympathy towards us. And had personally thanked V,K and I for carrying Fun across China, on the groups behalf.

That night I went to sleep dreaming of travelling solo again. Groups have their place but my preference is for solo travel. All we had to do was get the group and all the vehicles, over the border.

We were at the border by 8.30 the next morning and straight into the immigration queue to exit. Everything seemed to running smoothly. Too smoothly for our kind of operation. And so it was, the curse of the bike wankers struck one last time. One by one we had all shown our exit documents, and when completed we walked back through immigration to our cars. So it was a surprise when they wouldn’t let Vaughan back through immigration to ride Barry’s bike over the border. Each vehicle needed to be associated with one driver/rider. As Barry had taken all this paperwork with him, Vaughan didn’t have any documents to support riding the bike. Curses!! Cue another 2 hours in the car park waiting for Fun to explain to the situation to the authorities before we were finally allowed to depart. Hooray!!

I said my farewells to Fun. He was a top man. He had his shortcomings, but his heart was in the right place and he was reliable. He was prepared to bend the rules, however he let our group have too much slack. Our group just did what they wanted, which was a step too far. I’d just wish that he would learn to use his GPS. The Chinese way is to ask directions as you go, instead of figuring it out in advance. The problem is that most Chinese people have a rubbish sense of direction, and give directions lacking in detail. They just say over there, and point. It seems to get people of their back. They try to be helpful but it isn’t really. So it normally takes quite a while to find your destination in each city.

Fun with Fun in China

Fun with Fun in China

And so it was, that we exited China, and entered Laos. Everybody went their own way fairly quickly. I said my farewell’s to V&K and waved them off. It was finally just Boris, Kiwi Ted and myself. The old gang. All I wanted to do now was rest…

Summary

China itself was a mix of good and bad. The people are generally friendly but a little standoffish. The country is so big that you get the chance to experience a massive variance in conditions. The desert and mountains ranges were both beautiful to drive through. The food was tasty and plentiful. Though 35 days of noodles and rice dishes left me craving some western style foods. Unfortunately, our timing wasn’t the best with the weather, and we got the itinerary wrong. Nearly five thousand miles in thirty five days was just too tough. Especially when you are part of a group. We need another five to tens days in reality.

The challenge in groups like ours is that you have strong personalities, and individuals. They tend too be, because they have been brave enough to attempt the journey in the first place. The real skill in these instances is to have the ability to compromise, think of others first, and consider the group dynamic, as opposed to looking after number one. This is far harder to do as people are not used to it. We suffered by not having a tour leader that could of kept people in line. I was embarrassed by the actions of the bikers in our group. The arrogance that was shown by ignoring the rules, laid out by Fun, and the Chinese government does not reflect well on western tourists. There is an age old axiom used in group travel – If at the end of the trip you don’t know who the wanker was… it was you!!

The outward leg of the journey is nearly complete. I’ve travelled over 12,000 miles to reach this point. I am relieved to be honest, more than satisfied, or ecstatic. Though these feelings will come in due course. Now it is time to start thinking about turning around, and driving back to London. But first some R&R in the SE Asia is calling…

10 Responses to “China Part 3 – The Slow Road to Happiness, The Flood, and The Great Chinese Dumpling Challenge”

  1. The 3 part has been just superb Jon. Don’t forget to go to Kuala Lumpur! Love. Dad.

  2. Jeepers… you will look back on this and laugh, hard to think that now but I am sure you will. Tip top blog, cheers JB

  3. Loved the trilogy. Sorry I could not make it to Chengdu but not sure i actually missed out! Where in SEA will you be first week in oct? Also, I have an irish beer buddy lined up for you in KL that you met in London 10 years ago if you are at a loose end there? C

  4. Fascinated with the China blog. Great work and that flooding sounds bad. We had some appalling conditions but not the car under 2 foot of water in the morning. Sounds like you handled the biker situations really well.

  5. Do you have time to stop off at any of the islands on route to KL through Malaysia? Puala Kapas and the Pehrentian islands on the east coast are sensationally beautiful. Langkawi is good too if heading down the west coast side. Safe travels!

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