…and keep on buggering on (Churchill)
by Professor Fury
Many people sadly do. Facebook is awash with lies – quotes from famous people who said no such thing, hoax miracle survivors found alive a month after being buried under rubble, warnings about gangs disabling people with perfume samples etc – you get the picture. It is a constant source of dismay to me that the advent of the internet seems to have coincided with a large portion of the human race losing the ability to actually think.
Here is a cautionary tale. Personally, if I read something online that looks doubtful I check. I go to Snopes, Hoaxslayer etc and if it is a breaking news story I check reputable news outlets to see if they are carrying it. Of course, even the BBC and well-respected news sites sometimes (though not often) get taken in.
Whilst holidaying in China in 2009 on my fact-finding mission to see if I could teach here, I was spending a fortnight in Nanning, Guangxi province, chosen so that I would get to experience real China rather than the westernised cities such as Beijing and Shanghai – after all, it was unlikely I would bag a place in either of those.
Being unaccompanied, of a certain age and reasonably well-travelled, I was quite happy to spend the entire two weeks simply discovering the city and the Chinese way of life. After all, that was why I came. I had an executive suite in a good Chinese hotel, the only people who spoke English were the girls on the reception desk and daily I was taking long walks around the city, getting gloriously and hopelessly lost. At this point I would find somewhere for a cold beer or four and simply marvel at the difference that is China because seeing another country up that close and for so long excited even my jaded palate.
But after a week one of the readers of my blog (a friend and published author who even in his seventies is still taking his wife exploring the world and whose appetite for adventure and travel is undimmed) exhorted me to travel further afield. It got me thinking. Guilin? No, I would be gone three days and I had already paid for my hotel in Nanning. Then I found the ancient city of Yangmei. http://www.visitourchina.com/nanning/attraction/yangmei-ancient-town.html (Wiki has very little information on it now but it had more then – note the ferry option from Nanning to Yangmei)
Perfect! Not that far away and even better, Wikipedia told me there was a cruise ferry that made the round trip daily, leaving in the morning and returning in the evening. Oh yes! An upriver cruise, leisurely drinks and scenery gliding by to photograph was just the ticket. I told my friends in reception of my plan to take the trip the next day. “Would you like us to check the ferry times for you?”
“No, it’s fine, the internet says so.”
So the next morning I got up early and asked for a taxi and the hotel to tell the driver to take me to the ferry for Yangmei. According to Google maps the ferry terminal was 3 km from the hotel.
When the meter read 10 yuan I started having doubts. When it said 30 yuan the doubts were now serious – 3 kilometres??? I endeavoured to tell the driver he was taking me somewhere I hadn’t asked but it was a cross between a comedy and darkly sinister kidnap film. I could handle myself so I wasn’t frightened and I had plenty of wherewithal to extricate myself in case of problems. Sit back and enjoy being stiffed.
But as the meter reached 100 yuan I started to think the guy was taking me all the way to Yangmei! Eventually, sometime around the 130 yuan mark, we were in the middle of nowhere and the driver turned off onto a dirt track to a settlement of four ramshackle houses with goats and water buffalo grazing outside. My God! He was lost and asking for directions! What chance did I have??
Directions obtained, he continued. At the 150 yuan mark he turned off the road and we were at the top of a slipway down to the river. I looked at him blankly. “Ferry?” I asked. He pointed across the river. There was indeed a ferry but a chain-link old rustbucket rather than the pristine white, air conditioned one with bars as depicted on Wikipedia. “Yangmei?” I enquired. Nodding vigorously, he pointed to the “ferry”.
If you have ever been to south China you will know just how hot it is in August. Unbearably so. Having entertained notions of a nice cool cruise with a bar I had not even taken a bottle of water with me. If I let the taxi go, then what? The chances of hailing another were zero, we hadn’t seen another vehicle for fifteen minutes! I was so close to getting him to take me back to the hotel and to hell with the money.
Then a little voice said in my ear, “Today was supposed to be an adventure, correct? Well this is an adventure! Keep going!”
I paid him, got out into the blazing furnace that was Guangxi and watched his disappearing tail end, wondering how this day would end. Eventually I wandered down the slipway when the chains started clanking and the ferry made its journey across the river.
I stood in amazement as the ferry disgorged its cargo – foot passengers, a couple of cars, a van, a small truck and a water buffalo! I walked aboard. I tried to get someone to take my fare but nobody wanted my money so I thought perhaps I had to pay the other side. I wasn’t to know foot passengers travel gratis. Eventually we left for the other side.
Feeling as alone as I ever had but thankful to have the backing of a full wallet plus credit cards, I stared blankly at the water until a voice said “Hello”. Whirling, I saw a young woman. I pounced. “You speak English?”
“Thank God! Can you help me?”
This was someone I still call Yangmei Lily and every year or so she emails me. She told me she was an English teacher and I was the first westerner she had ever spoken to. I explained I was going to Yangmei, was Yangmei indeed the other side of the river? It was. She would help me.
When the ferry scraped onto the hard standing we disembarked and she started belting up the 45 degree hill at a hell of a clip. Maybe thirty years previously I could have kept up but not then. “Hurry!” she begged. Of course in that heat I couldn’t but once at the top she told me to wait there, she would send help. Then she disappeared. At least there was a tree for shade and a tree stump to sit on. I needed to pee and looked around to see if anyone was watching. I could have stripped naked and had sex with the nearest bush for all it mattered. I was quite alone.
For 15 minutes anyway, after which time I heard the ever increasing gloo-gloo-gloo-gloo of an engine. Eventually the gloogloo crested the hill and hove into sight. Now, a gloogloo is half a motorbike tacked onto two rear wheels covered by a wagon train affair. The incoming passenger (a Grandad cradling an infant) got off and the driver said “Yangmei? 150 RMB”. Oh well, it WAS an adventure after all!
Forty minutes I spent on a jerking, banging, lurching wooden bench that, had I suffered from haemorrhoids, would surely have crushed them out of existence. But to Yangmei I got. It had cost me 150 yuan for the taxi and 150 yuan for the gloogloo. But here I was at the entrance to this ancient city (or in reality, village). There was a bilingual map by the entrance and whilst I was trying to read it a woman kept persistently saying to me “kataxi, kataxi!” I shooed her away but every time she returned repeating the same mantra. In the end I caved in. how much? 150 yuan. I realised I was going to be ripped off for 150 yuan for everything that day so I agreed. By now I was losing the will to live. I just didn’t know what I had agreed to.
The woman produced a large cart with seating for probably eight and it only had two wheels. I looked at it, then got in when bidden. I decided that if she stood between the yokes to pull me around the village I would get out, tell her to leave the cart and just show me around on foot and still pay her. There was no way a frail female was dragging that around with me sitting like King Tut.
But no. she went away and returned with a cow. Kataxi was COW taxi! I was speechless. The cow was hitched up but refused to go. The tail went up and the lady hastily grabbed a small bucket that was hanging off the side to catch the excrement. Bowels voided, the cow decided it was safe to proceed. A word of warning – they may go slowly but when they start, hang on for dear life. I almost fell out of the back.
Some time later I demanded we stop for a cold beer. By now I was so dessicated I think I was two stones lighter and she stopped the cart. That beer tasted so good. And then I heard “Hello!” I turned to see Yangmei Lily! What are you doing here? Visiting. How the hell did you get here? I took the bus. What????
I think she never told me because she would have missed her bus with me holding her up.
We ended up sharing the cow taxi and at least I had an interpreter. Towards the end of the visit after the bovine transport had been dismissed I bought her an alfresco lunch overlooking the river. She asked how I was getting back and I told her I had rather hoped to catch the ferry. She said she didn’t think there was one. I assured her there was because the internet had told me. She went to find out.
That ferry has now not been running for ten years. The internet (see link above) still says it is.
It transpired she lived in Nanning with her small son, the husband she only saw in spring festival as he worked in the far northwest of China. I took her for drinks in the hotel and for meals before I left along with the reception girls.
How did we get back to my hotel? Bus!!! I paid the fare for both of us. Ten yuan per person and a mere 45 minutes journey time!!
Don’t believe everything you read! And never give up – had I done so I would have missed a really adventurous day.
PS As the bus left, I spotted the gloogloo waiting to take me back to the ferry! I got Lily to stop the bus and get out to tell the chap he was not required. It was the right thing to do but I have a feeling I know why he waited for me.