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Hong Kong to China day 8

China day 1
It’s quite a mess getting out of hk. After 4 changes of metro and asking in 3 places at hung hom station for a train to Guangzhou, I learnl that there are no trains running and my best option is a bus, crossing town on the 87d, I text Kk to confirm that I have to get to some place near Mong kok. The guy at the China travel service gets me on the bus which arrives almost as soon as I get my ticket. Not much to report until d where we disembark to walk through immigration them onto a new bus which passes through a mile long tunnel under Shenzhen. The landscape is flat, the air grey and colourless with smog. Endless monotonous identical tower blocks. Busy highways, flyovers, underpasses crisscrossing and weaving together a dense claustrophobic urban sprawl. Hard to see where one city ends and another begins. There is no countryside. Guangzhou is huge and the traffic crawls very slowly towards a forest of ominous towers. The drivers seem affluent or are indicating status, as there are many Lexus, Mercedes, mazeratis, all of them texting at the wheel.

When I finally disembark its at the luxurious China hotel and I feel a bit of a fraud speaking to the bellboys, entering the rotating door and into the plush lobby to use the atm. Nice English spoken here. There is security at the metro, where guards use hand scanners to check bags. The system is cheap fast and efficient. The people are shabbier than Hong kongers, less smiley and seem more inward. The streets where I’m staying are of oven temperature, the thick air made more oppressive by fag smoke. A common sound is men expectorating. The streets are worn and a little frayed, compared to hk. Trash on the ground. Bikes and motorbikes using the covered pavements as their freeway. Crossing the road is less disciplined than in hk. I see a tower of flattened boxes being loaded on a truck, over the height of a double decker. It’s a relief to get to the lazy gaga hostel, which is cheery and communal, the total opposite to my anonymous room in hk. Oh and my room is 4 times the size and half the price. Everything is much cheaper. I have a bowl of rice, endless tea, fried lotus roots and asparagus tips and 3 fried meat ( nice English menu!) which is 3 types of mock meat with chilli. I recall and use some mandarin. Whenever you order spicy food in China the waitress seems to think you have made a mistake and double checks in astonishment that this is really what you want. The food here in zen vegetarian is plentiful and tasty. The vibe very relaxing.

I stroll back and take in the neighbourhood some more. It’s dimly lit. Street lighting is not abundant. It’s so hot that going topless at 8.30pm is the norm. I see many skinny shirtless guys who look as if they live on the streets. On the same block, an expensive modern piano shop, several green grocers with hanging paper lanterns, and nail bars. The streets are enmeshed by hutongs where men play Chinese chess and I even see a craft beer bar. This place is stimulating and I decide I should stay a day longer to explore in some depth.

Leaving kandy for Dambulla

Getting out of kandy was pretty tiring, and my patience has been tested a little. Breakfast was a wood apple lassi, a vegetable bun and a jam bun, both eaten on the bus later. I buy some local cardamon and am surprised by the price. There is a bull cart delivering vegetables, like something from the Middle Ages.
There is a scruffy tiring road where scruffy crowded buses are filling up. None of them have a sign for my chosen destination. Many in fact only have signs in singhalese, which I look at blankly. An elderly tuk tuk driver badgers me about going with him. I really don’t fancy a bumpy dusty smokey ride in a three wheeler being nudged constantly aside by the streams of buses. Plus I find buses interesting, mixing and watching locals, also they are cheaper. After 15 minutes he finally realises he won’t get me and offers to show me where my bus leaves from. The cheek of it, I leave him brusquely. The us station is. A nightmare of beaten up private white buses, beaten up state red ones and slightly less beaten up mini buses. There is no apparent order, no nice clear departure boards or helpful uniformed helpers. An anyway it’s not so bad, and I do find a minibus, where I have to jam myself in, rucksack on lap. Even the aisle of the mini bus is taken up with fold down seats. A couple with a new born sit in these rather dodgy looking places. The baby is cradled by the mother unsure her red and white flowery sarong, and doesn’t cry once. The minibus is considerably more expensive than a us but it’s quick. This due to the fact it. Rarely stops and is also more able to overtake quickly on the arrow windy roads.
Asana side I found out from the guys atthe hotel in kandy about buses and why they are. Driven the way that they are, ie fast, dangerously fast, impetuously overtaking and ramming passengers in, so they are hanging out of the door. The state bus drivers receive a salary, the private ones work on a percentage of fares, so they area,ways trying to get ahead of the state buses to pinch the waiting passengers. Apparently if they manage to reach their target, any extra fares go straight in the pocket of driver and conductor.

Dambulla isn’t much more than a dusty road going past the golden temple, a kitsch monstrosity of an enormous gild Buddha sitting atop the Buddhist museum, this decorated with teeth, the doorway a mouth, it looks like something at a funfare: welcome to the horror house. I get a tuk tuk driver to show me some guest houses and take the most comfortable. It’s on a dusty track off the main road and has a rooftop terrace, which would be great if there was more life here than just me and my beer. But, actually I will be able to get back into my book now. Finding the guesthouse after dusk was pretty hard and I was beginning to panic a bit. There are no street lights here, houses are set back behind trees, there are a few basic stealers selling snacks and soft drinks. It’s too dark to see the face of the few people who do pass me. Yes I get lost. Before going out I took a photo of the sign of the guest house. The picture is a bit confusing as the name is partially obscured, and also I’m afraid that my camera battery is about to die. When I do try and use the picture, the guy I show it too doesn’t really catch my drift and walks me to another place. I’m looking for a road which, I remember, has a couple of dismantled tuk tuks. That would be hard to explain to a local with rudimentary English. In the end I do get my bearings and feel pretty relieved.
My late afternoon at the golden temple and cave temples was nice. At the bottom is a muddy batterered monastery. I get quite enthused to see orange robed young monks playing cricket. I know this is breaking their code of conduct…is this why they are slightly hostile to me taking photos?
The caves are at the top of a 10 minute climb up steps. The entrance fee is disproportionately high, as with all the monuments here. Is this money going into government funds? I hope not. There are 5 temples of varied size, the first one just containing a reclining Buddha. The second one is the most engaging with beautiful painted ceiling and a myriad of Buddhas in all manner of poses. There is a mix of locals, independent westerners and groups guided by loud locals. Unfortunately there is no hush, lots of loud voices, and too many flashes. I pace things and wait for more quiet moments to return to the temples and enjoy them much more. It’s is the end of the afternoon and dusk is falling. The sunset perched on the top of the rock is colourful, awesome, orange slowly faded over a lake rows of mountains and jungle stretching far and away. Red faced monkeys frollick and tumble.ive seen a lot of them everywhere today, starting with the rubbish piles in kandy.
The guesthouse peace is blown apart by returning guests. Shouting Italian parents and equally loud young kids.


Two guys get onto the bus as we enter tissa and try to sell me their hotel and a safari, but I stick with the one I booked, the travellers home. Walking there along the main road a guy in a jeep with 2 little boys standing up on the seat, like toys, gives me a ride down the road. I ask him about safaris, but his prices are high, and I get the later repeated story that it is not worth going to Bundula, And I should go to yala instead.
Travellers home is set among muddy paddies and near some rice mills. It is
A bit disorganized, and it’s actually a home stay, which turns out to be great fun. Umami is the wife of the boss ebert. She speaks broken English with a smile and a cackle and jokes about her husband and how they met on a plane. He calls it “love is in the air” . They have a big chubby son, and a smaller version daughter. It is raining. It rains for 4 hours. I sit on the veranda and meet heid from Austria who has come from Ella and done some of the things I also plan to do. Umami is covering school books with pink paper. Her shy daughter is demanding a puny and shows her mum pictures of the kind she likes on the Internet.
Ebert also tells me the will be no trip to Bundula and quotes me a price to yala. I’m not sure how competitive and plan to check out some other operators when the rain stops. It does temporarily. I borrow a rickety bike and set off for town holding an umbrella which does little to keep me dry as the rain begins again with a dismal vengeance. I get as far as a roti shop and buy some snacks and fruit.
Back at the guesthouse I order Rice and curry: this is a big and delicious spread
Coconut potato
Crispy cabbage
Green bean
Chewy red rice
Umani calls me mister, Heidi, madam. There is a Procession of visitors: friends, family, small kids. I meet a cousin who Works at the local airport. He has a photo on fb of him with the president. He is Amazed by my iPad and ex play with the translator app.
His friend is a singer and sings some beautiful songs. He Works in car leasing, and gets other work singing at weddings. He has a band and writes his own songs. He sings for me. He does the same the next day too. He has a beautiful voice. He asks me about Cameron? They are not impressed with him sticking his nose into Sri Lankan affairs. Not for the first time I hear that he should understand that peace is a good thing. We laugh about the commonwealth and how ridiculous and unwanted it is.
I pass through living room to get to my room. Umami is chatting to her friends, the kids are playing in the yard still. I need to sleep for my early 5am safari start. As I shower I can hear Jingle bells in singhalese outside.

Bus from Matara to tissamaharama

The bus journey is a riot of sights and vignettes of life in Sri Lanka.

Storks flying over paddies and picking for grubs

Lazy dogs defying the traffic, lying in the road and licking their sores

The occasional cow wandering down the middle of the road

Betel chewing, red spitting old boys in sarongs, wrapping roasted peanuts in cones of recycled old school books, replete with the red ticks from the teacher.

Lime green clad cops shouldering machine guns. Statues of recent heroes with machine guns, crude, like the functional rather than decorative painted Buddhas in from of the temples.

Matara has a statue of what looks like a Gurkha soldier also with gun slung around neck, it’s arms are dangling off, neglected and ignored.

Lotto sellers with big boards, tickets bulldog clipped on, come on and off, walking through the bus shouting out their wares.

Around. Harampola there is serious investment and development. I later learn this is the home province of the president. I see his poster everywhere, variations of the same theme. A benign distant smile, a sad am moustache, cloaked in a long white shirt, serene, finished off with a red scarf. The long shots show him striding forward with confidence, and focus. There is a big new highway. With little traffic. A pristine conference centre. An international airport and a new hospital in construction.

The bus itself. Well, fortunately being the first to get on, I have a seat all the way. I sit at the front with a great view of the driver and all of his decorations. Incense sticks are alight by my seat. The engine box is covered with a plastic quilted cover, fenced off by a chrome rail with ornate chrome flowers. A small gold dish on the dash, instruments covers by a thick plastic sheet, containing white lotus petals. His steering wheel is warped with a red and gold sarong. Above the windscreen is a boxed illuminated row of shiva, Ganesh statues. Garlands of red and pink flowers hanging loosely around them. I guess to ward off the very real threat of crashing on these crazy roads, where buses push tuk tuks to the verge and overtake everything in sight.there are rashness the slow down cautionary photos of crushed buses reveal. His other form of protection is the ubiquitous blare of his horn, sounded whenever he chooses to pass. This means get out of the way.

Orange coconut sellers using their rough blades to hack them apart at their roadside stalls. Dusty drink stalls. Grandmothers sitting vacantly behind crates of empty returned bottles. Skinny fey looking boys standing one leg bent, hand on hips, in brightly coloured striped shorts.

I’m the only white guy on the bus. Next to me sits a guy of I guess the same age in a blue and gold sarong. He pokes me in the arm. Aboard clamber women with kids, babes with arms wrapped round their necks. It’s standing room only for much of the journey. Gap toothed men, betel stained stubled faces.

Institutions: functional Buddhist temples, uninspiring Buddhas, simple white chellis. A white mosque, an Assembly of God. Numerous posters offering maths, chemistry, English elocution classes. A Montessori school, st Thomas school. Open prison work camp. What is that?

Posters warning of heroin and the consequences of trafficking it.

Shell of an old bus abandoned and overgrown by roadside.

Last Sunday, 1 September

Bus to chiang mai…..

The bus journey was incident free,. Other than immigration police checkpoints, with police checking docs and dogs sniffing baggage, on the way out of tak province. My neighbour. For the entire journey was a large soldier who sat impassive, sunglasses on, playing kids games on his mobile, his body occupying as much space as possible in a very male way. I chat to a shaven headed ex-pat American who is. Building a house in pai.


Cm, riverside house has expanded and is not as homely as it was

The sun is baking, hotter than I remember it. The air is clear.

Teak Buddha temple. I discover my memory card is corrupted…have I lost all my pics….? Shit

Sunday walking street

Almost immediately I chance upon Michael!

Busking police,an in shades and helmet

Busking violin playing pretty girls

Bushing blind man/ woman with mic and loudspeaker around neck

National anthem at 6 everyone stops in their tracks. At the end return to exchanging money,haggling, stirring food

Moong bracelets


Temple markets with khao soi stalls

Massage parlours consisting of lines of reclining arm chairs on the street corners

Magic of wat. Garden, food court, chanting monks, I meet peter the American actor

Farang hard krishnas dancing up the street, crashing little hand cymbals.

Motorbike showroom with huge tv showing man utd Liverpool. I missed the match… 1 -0 great result !


Herbal iced teas

Local. Atists’paintings.

Mango wood bowls

Carved Buddhas

A card reading fortune teller in the temple

I buy a replacement jade necklace

France’s, mike and I go to Reggae bar

A sit on the floor around low tables sleazy backpacker vibe.

We. Are easily the oldest there.

Pink flood and the eagles are playing

Buckets of mohito

Loud, can’t hear her….the rain comes down. Opening and closing roof.

Mango sticky rice banana pancake on way Home


Leaving mae sod

Up at dawn,and I can hear the dripping residual rainwater ticking onto the roof below. Morning has that fresh glow of promise. A silent hour when the URL almost dreamlike sweeps the fallen leaves from the yard. I sit in the soft fuzzy light, all foliage in the garden seems a dense green blur. I eat yesterday’s fritters and sip a tea. I’m in no rush, though do have an appointment for a change. T catch the chiang mai bus. My plan had been to walk the mile and more along the road, but logic, desire and the need to take things easy persuade me toget a tuk tim. I wai and thank the owner who is manicuring in her window, and the housekeeper waves me off. The road is sleepy. It’s Sunday. Two young novices of around 12 are pacing dozen the road. Orange saffron robes, one with a green sash beneath, the other a yellow one. Hey are not together, maybe 20 yards apart. Each carries himself with he nobble detachedd dignity of something other. Erect perfectly balanced, slight figures but with an air of confidence, modesty, humility. Shaved fuzzy heads, pale yellow tan skin. smooth facesthat carry no expression. They are barefoot, each cradles a silver coloured bowl which they prefer no doubt to the same selected households, and into which is donated a quantity of food. Could be fruit, a ball of rice. This is to be eaten by midday. Monks fast until the next morning. These kids are not lolloping around, not listening to their smart phones. I wonder what goes through their mind. How they feel when they wake, and prepare themselves for this un changing ritual of centuries. They are ageless. They are ancient. They are somehow infused with the spirit of what makes this place so exotic, so intangible at times. Inscrutable, sublime.

It feels like a dream, a trance. Like a memory from deep in the past, like a vision of a. Future. A permanence. It’s something I. All never understand.

At sukhothai all those centuries before the same rituals were enacted. I am going to chiang mai where I will see the same once again. I will meet men who have lived these lives, played these roles. A duty. T bring merit to their family. I will meet boys who will become novices. I will go places where such temples and monasteries where they carry out the day in day out identical regimes of waking praying collecting food, eating, sweeping, learning, and playing have stood for centuries. Ones which are still being built, being painted. Ones which people go to for medical purposes, steam saunas, ones in which the town comes to buy and sell food. Ones which are thoroughfares, kids going to school, tuk tuks passing through. A short cut from one gate to another. Ones where all the stray dogs from the town come to rest in the shade of the prayer halls. Ones which were built on the tops of mountains and were abandoned 600 years ago.the forest. Reclaiming hem, the locals reusing the collapsing stonework to build houses and roads. Where the gilded buddhashave been stolen, yet where nowadays people still light candles, burn joss sticks, leave offerings of fruit, coca cola, whatever they feel the Buddha would like.

Yet what does it mean? This is a country with underlying tensions that often manifest he selves violently. The red shirts stand offs in bkk being a good example. The terrorism in the south,the. Muslims fighting for independence. A country which deliberately avoids any involvemnt in international conflicts, preferring only to adopt positions that are beneficial to trade. Take the Burma refugee. Sitaution. Compare with how reluctant he Thais were to shelter the many hundreds of thousands who fled the terror of the Khmer Rouge and the displaced of vietnam. They were often sent back, sometimes robbed, sometimes raped or murdered. Een the local Red Cross workers being reproachable.