13. Road trip

I mentioned last week in The Long White Mountain that I had a surprise towards the end of the trip to the mountains. Let me tell you, it was a good one. A lesson in luck- one of which I’m a little bit embarrassed to tell you (jammy git springs to mind.). We had mind boggling luck throughout the trip, such as just managing to get to places on time, but more importantly bumping into the right people at the right time. I was beginning to believe in some sort of divine intervention, yet I think that’s perhaps unfair on the generous people that we met along the way… Let’s see the story of the road trip!

As we were heading up the mountain towards the everlasting beauty of Heaven Lake, we started talking to a couple of guys from Shanghai and Guangzhou, holidaying through the Spring festival. We chatted quite happily until the summit and parted ways- seemingly never to meet again. Wrong. As it happened, they were at the very same restaurant as us later that evening, ordering a vast array of dishes, each bettering the last. Towards the end of the evening, they had convinced us to exchange our bus tickets, in favour of a road trip back with them in the car. It would be quicker, more interesting and with splitting the petrol, more economical for everyone. All sounded logical. Logic, however, is not China’s forte, and this has filtered down to it’s people as well. Nevertheless, at the end of the day we couldn’t care less, so I’m not going to have a grumble this time.

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Just after 11am we left Changbaishan for Changchun, leaving behind some great scenery and memories, and, unbeknownst to us, starting some fresh ones. Now, the bus down there is a cool 8 hours of mind-numbing boredom, with very little to see, and even less to do- in essence, think of it as about as interesting as an 8 hours lecture on shoelaces. Ben and Chad, our newly found Chinese friends/ tour guides/ drivers/ minders, were in fine fettle as we left, enthusiastically inviting us to make ourselves at home and providing breakfast in the back of the Volvo saloon.

We got to know each other reasonably well during the first few hours- they began to get to grips with our day-to-day lives as teachers in China, and the difficulties and differences from our lives back home. We got to grips with their engineering jobs in a tractor factory, along with their families and music collections- 60s and 80s french disco music, featuring such gems as ‘Aga-doo’ in french and ‘I am the music man’ and a variety of stage musical classics. I’m afraid that surreal just doesn’t cut it, by a long long way. Yet anyone who wouldn’t want to see what that was like is a liar, and I expect a written apology. If you don’t agree, put the music on try me. Our cheesy bubble of warmth rolled on, across the Jilin countryside.

I’ll just give you a glimpse into the music situation:- Claude Francois

We quickly worked out that they didn’t really know where they were going, and this was going to take a lot longer than expected yet, in that moment, we were as worry free as a cat with a bowl ‘ole bowl of milk.

What’s more, we were repeatedly told that “If you want stop, tell us, and we stop.” regarding breaks and photo opportunities. They meant it, we soon realised, as they were quite happy to pull over wherever they fancied, including to the side of a busy A-road or motorway hard shoulder in order to snap away. As we know, photo opportunities with westerners are not something to be shunned, so there was plenty of that as well…

P1090466You may be thinking that the Chinese countryside has little to offer in terms of visual treats, and there is an air of truth in that- in fact at one point we drove for a full 45 minutes without seeing anything but fields of corn, still waiting to be harvested. I only say ‘still’ because with winter rapidly approaching** there was still little movement on that front! We were reassured that migrant workers are brought in to help the farmers during a pretty intense few weeks and all would be fine in the world- I won’t be going hungry this winter, then. In fact, the farmers themselves have nothing to do during the winter other than socialise, serenade their wives with ancient folk songs and get tanked up on spirits such as Baijiu, due to the fact that it reaches downwards of minus 25 in the region in deepest, darkest December.

**= we are expecting snow here in Changchun as soon as next week!!

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Nevertheless, we were fortunate to experience the very best of the Autumn too, with leaves turning their most beautiful for our passage.

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At one particular part of a busy A-road, we had to weave in and out of a line of cars, all stopping to look at a tree. The BlackLacemobile duly came to a halt too, still blaring sounds of the 70s as loud as antisocially possible. Here’s why, and please note we didn’t paint this beforehand, but the red seems absurdly unnatural:

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(See what I mean? Autumn came to play!!)

As the night drew in, and the sun set along the horizon, I reflected on how fitting the the beautiful scene was for the end of the journey, and decided on not very. We still had around 4 hours to go. So settling down to complete our mammoth journey, which would eventually last 12 hours, it’s with thanks to Chad and Ben that I can bring you this story, as they took us in so readily.

But this is just the beginning of the story about Chinese hospitality… Sometime soon, I’ll be sharing a lesson with you about it. To give you a flavour of it, a teaser if you will- we didn’t pay a penny for anything that day.

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Dedicated to my Mum, this week… whose birthday it is today!! Happy birthday, MUM!! x

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