Yesterday my conflicting thoughts craved a jungle, a natural world victorious where leaves of green burst into every available space and a rampant jungle keeps the secrets of a forest floor far from our prying eyes. That was yesterday, today I’m basically ready to declare myself a prophet. For moments then I shut my eyes and conjured visions that now have form beyond what my mind could create, and just in the nick of time I’m back on the bike able to enjoy it in all its splendour. The handlebars rattle over cobblestones sending vibrations to rattle my brain as we fly downhill and deeper into this realm of victory. On steep hillsides we weave through a world bursting with dark green shiny life on a road that bows in supplication to a world of dangling vines reaching from tall trees and raging water we can hear but barely see through the glorious world of jungle.
What a spirited ride, we travel 20km in no time and we could do it again immediately such is the thrill that ripples through the G8 minus Guy and Andy who are out with Andy on a phone job-interview with home. The big bad beast of industry circles outside this protected area like a pack of hungry wolves but for now it seems impossibly far away such is the scope of natures victory. All good things come to an end though, but sometimes an end defies a conclusion. We are spat back out to the sunny hot world of endless agriculture but for me the sense of conflict is nowhere to be found. Apart from a stop at a new temple that turns out to be more like someones bedroom with the cutest kids imaginable the ride is easy and smooth, a glorious day in the saddle. Oh and lunch was predictably spectacular, this just goes without saying now.
In Munghun we bunker down in a concrete village that is at least clean, our home-stay abuts the glorious sight of a woman fishing huge clumps of mulberry tree bark from a giant outdoor pot to later become paper. A quick shower done and we’re out getting into paper making ourselves to indulge in a little local experience. The town of Menghun is the only town of this region to still make paper by hand, the long strips of bark we saw before are boiled for a whole day before being cleaned and pulped: this is where we come in. It’s done by machine nowadays but we have a go at old style, a short demo from a local lady sees the G8 reunited and sitting on tiny stools around a timber stump. With a mallet in each hand we rhythmically; we attempt to rhythmically bash a small clump of wet bark to pulp with varying success. Charlie does a great cave-man and some enthusiastic beating results in flabby wet bark flying all over the shop splattering the group. Ok the flying bark bit might have been mainly me. It was traditionally done for about an hour but we manage about half an hour between us, no wonder there’s a machine nowadays.
Over to a big concrete tank we see a huge vat of water being stirred to reveal a fine mist of pulp, proper pulp this time drifting to the surface like miso soup left to settle. Our local teacher does a nifty shimmy with a screen that looks like a fly-screen and expertly scoops up a delicate mist of pulp from the water that is now looking closer to paper than bark. It’s impressive to see but now we all have to have a go; I can’t help myself, I want to try first. With a hand on the screen our teacher graciously allows me to take the credit for all of her guidance and I soak it up shamelessly. Paper made this way is of course expensive and is nowadays only used for monk scriptures and wrapping pu’er tea; ahhhh, the circle becomes complete. We buy a pack mainly to contribute but it’s beautiful paper so I hope I can grab a sheet when we get home.
From one buzzing local experience we couldn’t get anywhere else to another experience to match it we go, it’s cooking school time. True to form it’s pretty simple as the G8 are drawn into three groups to make pineapple rice, sauces and barbecue for our own dinner. We play with food, we laugh, we sink a few beers among an endless ocean of rice patties running up to the gentle clutch of a circling mountain range that promises so much in the manner of a protecting parent. In a seamless flow of joviality we float upstairs to our dining table for the predictably opulent dinner of a zillion dishes, tonight we finally have too many dishes to even fit on the table.
Free of emotional conflict from a culture that is so foreign in every way we clock off a day of outstanding immersion and beauty but not without one last weird China’ism, one of our groups two bedroom pulses with disco style lights from the ceiling. We ponder what possible rationale could make this a good idea and all we come up with is T.I.C, this is China; this means that rationale is yet to visit the country that style forgot. Our host is so proud of his lights and we give him the thumbs up barely holding our grins. Again we’re arrayed like kids on school camp, girls and boys separated and nodding off to sleep to clock off a day that is simply a fantastic travel day. So full of conflict, bizarre practices, backward logic and laughably style China has thus far been amazing in a very broad sense, right now though it’s finally amazingly good with no need for a mitigating caveat.