Stranger Danger in South Yunnan

Judging by the amount of people who stop and quite literally gawp at us, Southern Yunnan doesn’t see too many foreigner visitors – probably just cyclists on their way to or from SE Asia. ‘Lawai!’, everyone shouts in astonishment, with a finger jab in our direction for good measure. Imagine the reaction of tourists in Dorset if everyone pointed and cried out ‘foreigner!’ whenever they passed…

Or mouths freeze in a comical ‘O’; I calculate the probability of a double take, heads jerking right back off shoulders, at around 80 per cent. If anyone hasn’t seen us, they’re quickly roused to attention. Grannies grab the nearest baby and swivel their heads in our direction excitedly. Sometimes we overtake kids on bikes ambling back from school along jungly roads. I like riding alongside them and trying to coax out a smile. At first, sheer surprise translates to silent stares, but then innevitably they crack broad smiles back.

Being on the road can be exhausting enough as it is, and at times all this pervasive attention can be overbearing. When we stop, each crowd sponges up yet more passers by, as new faces lean in to the circle to see what the fuss is about. A few people have stared or stalked us to the point that we’ve felt more comfortable moving on. Purposefully overshrill and attention-seeking yells of ‘hello’ from passing cars can be a bit annoying too. That’s fame for you, heh.

Although the peaks nearby notch close to 3000m in altitude, Najiang sits in a broad, flat valley. Green hills roll up to either side, half lost in mist in the morning, or haze in the afternoon. Pagodas rise above the folliage – my favourite is more unkempt than most, and sprouts grass from its sides like an old man’s ears. Sharing the road are portly, mellow water buffalo. The rivers are a deep, earthy red tone, and palm leaves are beginning to appear. Women sell sugar cane, which they lop off long branches with shiny meat cleavers. The men in the fields wear rolled up trousers, and are often stripped to the waist, their bodies wiry and taut from working the land. We’ve still got a ways to go, but it certainly feels like the tropics are close.

When we arrive, the centre is in full blown market turmoil – a thin strip of street is all that could be discerned through the piles of tangerines, where we join other bikes and trikes battling to find a way through. At the hotel we track down, the snappily entitled NajianZianYouzhengJuxingouHotel, the receptionist giggles dizzily at each word we fill in the register, marvelling at the way Cara writes; smiling, laughing, jabbering at us in Chinese, as if we understand exactly what she’s saying. So much is lost through our inability to speak more than a few words of Chinese – sometimes it feels like we’re just experiencing the veneer of this land. Above her head, there’s a Chairman Mao-themed digital clock, and the times of cities around the world. When we point to London, she sets off into another giggling fit, so we escape to our room for some peace and quiet…

Stats and Facts:
Wenshan to Nanjiang: 40km, and downriver (-:


5 Responses to “Stranger Danger in South Yunnan”

  1. 1 Harlod December 3, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    Did you remember to zip up your flies?

  2. 2 otbiking December 3, 2007 at 2:55 pm

    Christian thought it might be the 29er wheels, and you think it must be my flies. That figures (-; Looking forward to some Quantocks riding in the New Year. We’re back on the 26th.

  3. 3 Harlod December 6, 2007 at 8:07 pm

    We’re off skiing on the 26th so will look for’ard to meeting up sumtime after 6th jan.
    hopefully there’ll be less water falling from the skies by then – washes the blood off the trails tho!!

  4. 4 Idetrorce December 15, 2007 at 2:27 pm

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

  5. 5 otbiking December 16, 2007 at 11:59 am

    Thanks for your comment.

    Just wondered why?

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