Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Toilets, Towels and Ice Nine

Nearing the end of things here, but let's get things up-to-date.

When last I wrote I was in Emei Shan, and right after writing I went to the local museum. Daniel had the key to the monastery room, my Giant Buddha ticket got me in free and I needed to go to the bathroom. A lot of money has been spent on this place, money that made the most of what was at heart a fairly small collection. Small or not it covered everything from calligraphy to art, history to geology, and fauna to flora. What I was really looking for though was a Western-style loo, and I found many, all clean and empty. Unfortunately too empty; toilet paper was not in evidence. The moral of the story, one I have never learnt in China is always have some with you.

Dinner in the monastery was very cabbagy. Remember monasteries are exclusively vegetarian in their food and this was no exception. Much as I like my greens, this was too green for me.

Next the bar. We drank some weak beer until the monastery curfew drove us home; 9.00.

We left at 9.00 the next day for our Yangtse river trip, and to get there we were using public transport. Public transport is a little less flexible than private transport, so when Donna announced ten minutes into the journey that she'd left her mobile phone under her pillow, we were bound to experience a little more hassle than usual. To be fair the bus driver turned things around and drove us back to the starting point, but then he left Donna, Nigel and Chin Chin to their nown devices. Luckily we had Haika still on board and she learnt that we meet the others at the next town, thankfully only twenty minutes away. After an anxious wait there, we did indeed meet up with them. That was only the beginning of the nastiness though, at least for the others.

I was fairly near the front, so I got a good view of all the oncoming traffic we were narrowly avoiding. Despite nearly crashing into an oncoming truck when overtaking going around a corner, our driver insisted on trying the same maneuver repeatedly. In the end I gave up and concentrated on my reading. Behind me though the others were faring far worse. One woman was eating boiled eggs and apparently this wasn't agreeing with another passenger who began throwing up incessantly. There were sick bags on hand, but they can only take so much and one of them ripped. I smelt very little of the result, but Deborah and Ger weren't crazy about the situation. Stopping for a toilet break hardly helped matters. The public toilet lived up to its name; it was very, very public. Toilets were holes dropping down on to grass and a lot of what was meant to drop hadn't. I confess to laughing more than crying.

Anyhow this gave me plenty of time to catch up on some reading. I had finished 'A Maze of Death', a novel almost redeemed by its bleak tone at the finish, but not quite. Now I started Vonnegut's 'Cat's Cradle'. For th first time in quite a while I also finished it that very day.

Vonnegut is like a more frugal version of Pynchon; they deal with a lot of the same issues (I am thinking of 'Gravity's Rainbow' here), and often with the same black humour. I remember thinking Vonnegut was the author who should have written 'Catch 22' (how Heller came up with that masterpiece I'll never know). Anyhow 'Cat's Cradle' is a little too lightweight for me, though in it, with Ice Nine, he comes up with a truly chilling (in all senses of the word) Doomsday device. It is enjoyable, but the characters are charicatures (Mona, for example), and the plot, though explained in large part by the Bokonon philosophy, far too ramshackle. Worthwhile though, and certainly of a piece with the vision of humanity one develops in Indochina.

The conductress believing Chin Chin to be the tour leader tried to convince her that there were roadworks that would stop us getting off at our scheduled stop and that we would have to get off early, hitching taxis instead. This, of course, was a sham. She had a deal with the taxi drivers and we, as foolish westerners should know no better. Thankfully Nigel was wise to the con and we stayed on, getting off at the right stop as we should have.

We got into Chongqing on schedule and had to make our way to the boat. Naturally this meant more steps, this time down to the water. I am resigned to my fate as the monster carrier. When I get home I shall burn my backpack.

Harry, our new local guide, met us on board. He was all smiles and I instantly hated his guts. He was the kind of officious git who laughs continually when with the customer, and scowls when somewhere else. He would really earn my ire when at 11.30 that night, as we all tried to sleep after a long day, he knocked around with towels. Necessary, but aggravating. Anyhow, because we were on time, we had time to get back off the boat and visit the nearest Carrefour supermarket. And KFC. Not a place I would go to normally,but we all felt like something familar for dinner. I ate a family bucket, that's how familar that was. Once fed, we got lost in the huge supermarket, bought our chocolate and water and went back to the boat, for a late evening meeting on the next day's itinerary.

Ah, for bed! We were all exhausted. When Harry threatened to ramble on (laughing all the way, "Yes!"), Nigel cut him short. But then we all needed towels. Vengence was Harry's!


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