A new day gently illuminates the heavy curtains of our sensory depravation chamber, an alarm pierces the air to trumpet the new days victory over us before it’s even begun. Immediately clear to us is that there’s two in the morgue today, well one at least, Charlie might be in the recovery ward but the tag is firmly affixed to my toe while I lay on the slab. The option of breakfast or another moment of denial passes before a decision could be made, denial victorious in lieu of a wilful decision. Before too long though it’s time to give denial a taste of itself and face the day as we limp down to both jump in the van shortly after a much needed toilet stop. Much needed.
So now the G8 is six and it’s into the longest day we’ll have of the whole journey, but right now I don’t care, my 194cm’s see the 140cm of the backseat as a ready replacement for our recently abandoned comfort. As they say in showbiz, the show must go on; and so it is with cycling as the grannies lead out the pack and into the wild wherever. In no time at all we come to the mighty Mekong running fast and smooth like a deadly serpent before us. We’re out of the van and onto the passenger ferry while John, the support van driver has to load up onto the vehicle ferry. The ferries drag in wide arcs as they cross the nearly 100m or so to the other side, the rapid current tugs at the ferries relentlessly as they drive almost sideways just to negotiate the drift they can’t avoid. Ferry ride done brings another date with a pretty bleak toilet, enough said about that the better.
The stomach still churns but it’s time again for doctor Wendy and her magical cures. We’ve had the horrid herbal tonic that burns an acrid strafe from tongue to tummy, we’ve had the more benign pills, we’ve had the aromatherapy oils dotted to places all over our bodies but it’s too early to tell if anything works thus far. We’re avoiding our medicines to give the Chinese stuff a go and opting for the theoretical holistic approach. Right now I’ll take invasive directness but who’s counting.
Approaching the lunch stop the heat rises again like clockwork to a wretched swelter. Across a bumpy dirt road that looks like it’s still under construction Guy, Andy and the four grannies push on in the tormenting heat while we rattle along in the small sweat-box of a van we call home. Driving in China isn’t the worst in the world by a long shot but it’s pretty chaotic none the less, scooters, cars, trucks and pedestrians flow like liquid around each other in a symphony of honking horns. In a flash we see a rider tumble down through the zig zagging disruption of our obscured view. It’s Sue and she’s perilously close to a truck, the heart races. Just like an inflatable boxing toy Sue is back up and we’re all relieved to say the least, magically nothing drastic has happened. In a rush a crowd of vehicles gather to offer support or a lift in an instantaneous show of good will but true to form, Sue shoo’s them away insisting that she simply go on. Gutsy or foolhardy is no matter, I hope I’m like that at her age.
Lunch passes with Andy stealing the show, a very tall guy dwarfing a Chinese lady is apparently a star attraction as a seemingly endless procession of staged photos are called for. Lunch acts as but a short reprieve to the heatwave, we plough forth as the van slowly fills with bodies like fallen soldiers in the M.A.S.H medical tent. Another dose at the wacky end of the medicine pool comes at a stop to see a temple, some pen like instruments are jabbed into me over my stomach and into my thumbs before another launch into more 40+ degree heat. Blessedly though the G8 are calling it a day and this most torturous adventure draws to a close in our morgue that became a bed which evolved to a sauna and now morphs to a sardine can.
Arriving into Manbo we are greeted with what sounds like the Chinese equivalent of a daytime dance club, booming western music blasts from a timber house in a juxtaposition that seems a little too awesome to be true. Finally, blessed bed, this couldn’t have come soon enough. The houses here are similar to most others we’ve seen, modern, cheap and fantastically cheesy; my new impression of modern China. Although it’s naff to harbour on the dodgy squat toilets, we all knew they were here, brushing my teeth to hear Charlie flush brings a notable adventure. One second I hear flushing and in moments I see his creation fly out of a pipe merely a mere or so from me into an otherwise beautiful stream, it’s a bit more visual than even I’m used to on this trip. Unsanitary toilets are par for the course for us lately but pushed straight into a mountain stream, that’s a bit too far for me as a feeling of judgement threatens.
On the vision of a flying turd I have an epiphany; I genuinely never thought I’d say that. To so many of us China is a massive global power, an economic juggernaut but that’s what we see in the papers and hear from inflammatory or gushing reporters. Some of China’s new wealth may have reached these villages but cultural evolution hasn’t genuinely. Where we often see China as a developed equivalent to our own country which makes some odd behaviours seem unjustifiable, this only applies to that other Made in China cliche, the great urbanised Chinese. We’re not in an urban city now. In essence these villages can’t be held to modern light as we know it. Where urban China soaks up modernism these villages live a life closer to that of a time gone by when social progression became personal regression, only recently building again from what they knew. Clear thoughts can come from any source it seems, from the most unclear of matter my critique on confronting Chinese ways has just gained a huge dose of empathy, thanks Charlie.