Saturday, 31 March 2012

Barricades and kindness

"Go A-WAY" I screamed at the door separating me and some drunken Chinese men who had evidently heard that a 'laowai' was staying in the same bed-bug ridden guest house as them. Giggles from the other side then a rattling of the door handle. Fearing the construction of the door was as weak as the balsa wood scene set of a kung fu movie I grabbed the 1990's box television set. God, it's heavy. I ruminated over my pathetic budget; more money and I'm sure I could have had a room with a lighter-weight flat screen. Ahh but lighterweight flat screens aren't good for a barricade so stop complaining. Damn it's plugged in. Trying to balance the 10kg of tv set between my thigh and chin I fumbled behind the chipped dressing table. More giggles, more rattling then a "we make love" comment. I saw red. With that I yanked the tv set - wincing as the cable parted ways from the plug- and threw it against the door. What else can I use as a barricade I mulled then grabbed the end of the bed to pull it towards the door. The wood splintered and I was left standing with the end of the bed base in my hands. hmm.. glad I haven't paid a deposit for this room..

Oh for goodness sake what is the word for police. I dug out my iphone from the carnage of splintered wood, bits of tv set and duvet. Mandarin phrase book iphone app. hmm. "call the police". No no I need "I'll call the police". Foolishly I pressed the selection and my phone spoke to the men on the other side of the door. They laughed. I'm quite a placid person but when the adrenaline kicks in it, well, it kicks in. I hollered, I banged interspersed with random mandarin iphone generated phrases. Eventually the rice wine kicked in (or fear of mad woman on other side of door) and these men retreated to their rooms. Their fun over for the night while I slept restlessly with leatherman knife in hand.

Despite this mishap on my penultimate night  in China the ride through Yunnan province to the Laos border had been a delight. I'd had a tough time through China and I'm still reflecting on it.

The days in the desert in fierce cold had left their mark. Numb toes and damaged nerves to my feet still remain and I'm hoping it will pass. I'd met the kindest people and the most uncaring people.

I will never forget the gentleman that rescued me from the desert after I'd been trying to fix a puncture in -30'C. The water in my food bowl froze as I helplessly dipped in my inner tube trying to find the hole. My fingers froze to the rims of my wheel when trying to reinsert the poorly mended puncture (note. glue don't stick in those temperatures). I'd pitched my tent under a mobile phone mast and in the morning I woke and saw my tyre was flat again. Knowing I was still 2 days away from my destination I looked out onto the desert road. The day before I had tried to hitch to no avail. Noone would stop for me and fearing I was hypothermic with uncontrollable shaking, irrational thoughts, weakness ( the latter actually being not realising I'd been trying to cycle in a head wind with a flat tyre) I'd pitched my tent and tried to sort myself out.

I spotted a truck nearing me through the desert haze and I stood in the road and flagged it down. The most gentile Chinese man hopped out. I pointed to my bike and showed him the flat tyre. He shook his head in dismay. I could see his confusion and through sign language (not usually understood in China ) he learnt that yes I was alone in the desert and yes I had just slept under a mobile phone mast and yes I had cycled from the UK and yes I was bloody cold. We loaded my bike onto his truck and I climbed into the cab. He turned up the heating and watched me with concern until I began to thaw out, . He called everyone he knew and by the 6th phonecall with my limited Chinese and his gesticulations I understood: crazy, a woman, in desert, in winter, bike broken, on own, cycled from England. He drove me to a roadside cafe in a small village and there treated me to a meal of fried fish, dumplings. vegetables, fried beef, potatoes and rice and then ordered me seconds. He took me to the nearest town where he swapped his large truck for a small pick-up one and carefully transferred my bags and bikes from one to the other. He dropped me off on the corner of a street where men in peaked hats sat amongst an array of tubes, tyres and tools on the roadside. He signed 'no money', jumped back into the van and with a wave and a smile drove off.

 He reminded me of Horst, a gentleman in Switzerland who had helped me some 8 months earlier. The same quirkiness, the same concern and disbelief, the same horror looking at the state of me and my bicycle and the same kindness: wanting to help and wanting nothing in return.


  1. Good read glad your OK you will luv Laos for good roads sometimes great climbs little traffic and the many Sabadee and the school kids will giggle as you ride past them and say quack qauck keep smiling hugs from OZ

  2. Another great blog post, sounds like it has been a very eventful few months. I hope the road ahead is populated by more people like that kind gentlemen. All the best

  3. Just read about your travels on the evening star website. I wish more people had your outlook, and as a Suffolk native I wish you nothing but success, happiness, and good fortune in your current and future adventures. More power to your elbow.

  4. Great stuff... will follow your bike adventure!

  5. Ah - there was the next instalment. I skipped to a post with a hijacking and wondered how you'd got out of the desert and onto the airplane! Now I know. I knew you'd survived that hell but not how. THanks. You are SO resilient!