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Yunan, China

Choosing a nice small road on my map I set off by bike from Kunming. Guided out of town by a bunch of Chinese mountain-bikers, my nice road turned out to be 30km of expressway roadworks. Defeated, I returned to Kunming. I had met a girl on the train who lived in the south of Yunnan so sleeper bus took me to the area. I then spent all morning finding her village and arrived just in time for a massive party.

Two overseas uncles had returned for the anniversary of their fathers death. So banquet, firecrackers, beer and terrible funeral music kept me entertained for 5 days. My friends brother and fiance went to the jewellery shop to exchange a silver necklace for a better one. What I had thought was bargaining turned out to be argument. While the girl tried on others the shopkeeper had stolen the original necklace back and claimed it was “lost”. 1000 yuan stolen, and nothing could be done.

Dai minority people make this area very interesting. Old men with swastika tattoos and women with colourful clothes all laughed at me as I bounced up to their villages on cobbled path. The family took me to a Dai restaurant where chilli omelette, chilli dip and red-hot pig brain soup (I thought it was tofu until I saw the crinkles) saw me spew up my idle words “oh I eat hot food like this all the time in NZ”.

I only really biked properly for 3 days! Some big hills but its not long before a truckload of sand comes along and you can grab a tow. Before I knew it lovely country roads and village hopping gave way to stinking highway and crap scenery. So I got the shits with cycling and ditched the bike.

Tiger Leaping Gorge was great and a day trip (4 hours up!) took me to the alpine rhododendron forest, which I had wanted to see. A French guy convinced me to head further into the mountains, but having left shoes and gear behind for warm bike trip I was somewhat underdressed…..

So more long and painful bus missions, including a bus so dirty everything I touched turned me black (it was dark when I got on) took me to Litang (altitude 4000 metres), a crazy Tibetan town. I had no idea such vast areas of China are barren boulderfield and wasteland. There is nothing and no people for hundreds of miles.

Winter brings people into town from the yak pasture. Desparately poor, oppressed by the Han Chinese and their own backwardness, unemployed men hang out in the street with traffic accidents drawing big crowds. Fox fur hats, Tibetan cowboys on decorated motorbikes, monks asking for money, families of dung collectors, dreadlocked children and all kinds of fanciful costumes colored the town.

But I was the biggest dag of all walking round in my shorts, polypro, socks and sandals. I felt really stupid, and even more stupid when my toes went black, cracked and bled. Then I caught a Tibetan flu and spent 4 days in bed (although 2 were on the train) and Im still fucked now. Perhaps its tuberculosis.

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