Our guide with his impressive English vocabulary of “this way and okay?” led the way.
The lights dimmed, the atmosphere was pure tension. Then it all began. Ike and Tina’s Disco Inferno came on and strobe lightning dazzled the eye. Up like Viagra, Bobo tossed his hair back and danced, moving his hips like a vibrator, focusing his eyes on the audience. I thought I caught him winking at Ashley but alas, it was Jeroen who caught his eye. The staff threw Bobo a ball, which he span on his nose while doing tricep push ups. This was crazy. It¡¯s truly what nature reservations are for. Bobo took the applause three times from an appreciative crowd. Later we saw the red Pandas juggling pineapples. That’s too much for one day.
Well, all right. That isn’t exactly what happened. Bobo, Bruce, Brian, Tony and Shirley all sat back, bellies protruding like a publican, munching on bamboo. Then, they slept. Yup we’ve been visiting the Pandas. I used to have a Panda. What fun are lumps of metal you ask? Well these are not the cars, but the animals. They were pretty cute I have to admit, slightly more hairy than me but not nearly as cute as me.
After entering China, we proceeded through a plethora of large cities, all pleasant and green- leaved, covered in bikes and long train journeys before arriving in Chengdu, home of the Pandas and next to Tibet. We had written Tibet off as too expensive and time-consuming but after the hooker kept calling all night (heavy breathing and massage), the disorganisation of the hotel staff and the endless playing of The Carpenters, I had to get out. Along with the new crowd, Jeroen, Daphne, Bill and Ashley, we all hopped on a quick flight and landed in the winter wonderland.
This motley crew in Tibet, wading through food poisoning, cold showers, Precious Tea, great breakfasts, Yak burgers, Yak steaks and curries. Jeroen spotted a dildo shop, though maybe that was the altitude sickness giving him Dutch deja-vu. The mountains of Tibet are truly impressive and it’s just a shame it takes 6 days driving to get to Mount Everest and back. We didn¡¯t have time. Maybe next time. Lhasa, the capital, is clearly divided into the Chinese paved, built up areas and the old dilapidated Tibetan areas crammed with street sellers, beggars and pilgrims circling the temples which date back over a thousand years. The people are truly very very poor and it’s pretty desperate in a land that is a true rough diamond.
What to do is difficult: the Chinese have invested a lot but they don’t see that the Tibetans just want their land back and their temples rebuilt after the °liberation” in Chinese Government speak. It’s a re-occurring theme with Taiwan, Japan and the States. The Chinese rightly believe that the other Great Powers treated them unjustly before and during the wars but the government persists with this “victimised” line to build its military, abuse human rights and control the media. Censorship is like a blanket here. If information is power, as Orwell knows, controlling the information is paramount. That explains why CNN gets blocked when stories about China appear, the BBC is impossible to access and why I haven’t used my blog as I can’t access it. Free information is dangerous and suppression the key to authoritarianism.
But hey, enough of that. Tibetans have this very annoying habit of being truly optimistic. They smile, say hello, albeit with no teeth. After a few beer-filled nights at altitude (3500m), it was time to fly back to Chengdu. We checked into a great Buddha park and saw the world’s largest (72m tall) as well as some magnificently laughing, fat ones (after all, Siddhartha Gautama, the man who espoused discipline, was meant to be about 35 stones by the end). Now we’ll move on to see what Eastern China has in store. Some Terracotta Warriors, Shanghai, my folks, here we come.