Night with The Journalist

The Journalist enthusiastically showed me round Kaiyuan in the evening. It’s a clean, bright, bold place. With wide boulevards, and cruising cars. Lots of pucker shops, but not at the gluttonous extremeties of a Ho Chi Minh City department store, these were clearly targetted at a substantial middle class. People were all smart and confident.

My slightest whim was catered for by The Journalist. For example, I had trouble looking up a word in my phrasebook, and had indicated that I needed to buy a dictionary soon. Next thing I know he was confidently asking all sorts of people in the street for directions, and we arrived at a bookshop. It did indeed have English-Chinese dictionaries, but I thought I’d wait for both better choice and advice in Kunming. So, he took me to another bookshop, which had a different choice. I had to say “Kun-ming” very clearly, and indicate that I quite wanted something to eat.

Food was obviously very important business to The Journalist. He chatted up some more people in the street, and marched at a pace round town, eventually finding what in Thailand would be described as the night market. This is somewhere with lots of simple restaurants and stalls, and wide selections of cheap, tasty food. We walked all back and forth along both perpendicular streets of it, and at every stall he went in, lifted the lids off pots, sniffed and asked the keeper questions. I wanted to go to one of the places with lots of fresh vegetables and flaming woks, preparing delicious hot, new stir fries. He seemed more keen on the places with the prepared stewed dishes, which Burmese or Cambodian style sat cold in pots out the front. Eventually he settled on one of these, selected lots of dishes for us, which were accompanied by hot rice. It was delicious if salty (or is that MSGy?), and there was lots of it and green tea to wash it down. Even though it would have been very cheap, The Journalist paid for us both, which made up somewhat in my mind for him blagging a free half a hotel room off me.

We went back to the hotel room and to sleep. His travel arrangements were of some interest to me. He had a small rucksack, which mainly seemed to contain a train time table and a road atlas of China. There was also some toothpaste. No change of clothes. He took off his top layers of clothing, and went to bed in long johns (they were very long, and worn under his quite thick cord trousers), without having a shower in the evening or the morning. Mind you the shower did look a bit useless, and I skipped it as well, so perhaps he thinks all white people are not only smelly, but have far too much stuff with them. (Actually, by backpacker standards I’m travelling quite lightly, and by tour bus tourist standards extremely lightly).

I was usefully shown how to abuse a hotel. Hotels in China seem to have bottled mineral water in a dispenser, which can heat it for you as well, so you can make green tea with the provided tea bags. This is excellent, and in many ways more sensible than purifying all tap water to drinking standards as we do in Europe. He rang reception several times – to order a refill for the water bottle, and more green tea bags which he tried to persuade me to take with me. He kept trying to retune the TV, I assumed to get the English language evening news for me. There was a curious electric smelling thing, which you opened a little bar of soap like stuff and put it on top of it, and it made a nice smell. Just think, I could have gone for months and never known how to use it!

I went to the toilet and brushed my teeth with my trousers and money belt still on, and made sure they were right near by my pillow, on the other side of the bed from him. The aim was to ensure that any attempted thievery would make enough noise to wake me up. Frankly a futile exercise, as I’m a very sound sleeper, although perhaps a touch less sound this night.

I awoke in the morning money belt unslashed, throat unslit, and with a good long rest to boot. Subsequent checks have shown that my luggage has been untouched, so I proclaim The Journalist to be Trustworthy. He also gave me his address and phone number in Haerbin which is in the NE of China. I think I’m meant to visit him if I go that way. Oh heck, I’ve just thought, perhaps he wanted me to phone him when I safely arrive in Kunming? It would be a futile exercise, as telephones don’t convey pointing fingers and dictionaries very well. I’ll just have to learn Chinese first.

At 6am we went to the bus station, he organised my ticket, put me on the bus and shook hands goodbye. I was grateful, and also moderately surprised that he didn’t follow me onto the bus. I’ve no idea where he was going or what he was doing, but thank you anyway, The Journalist!

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