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Sichuan 2019-20 Days 4-5

Food poisoning and Tibetan hospitality

sunny

Day 4

The day dawned slightly brighter and fairer than the day before. Sun was forecast for the day, with temperature up to 7 degrees, although in the morning it was still a cloudy 2 degrees.

Woke up, had more noodles and bao for breakfast. Can I say how yummy sichuan noodles is? All of the shops we went to had these thin, smooth as silk noodles. Flat like banmian but half the width. Goes down like butter. Mm.

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Went up 20min to Yanzigou but the fresh snowfall meant the red rocks wouldn't be visible, so we ditched that idea and went instead to some bridge as recommended. On the way, I could still see the last gasp of autumn colours even as winter sets in. It's strange to see both orange trees and white snow at once.

While everyone KO-ed in the car, I read up on the bridge.

/Start/History time

The Luding bridge was built in 1701 Qin dynasty, with thick wide planks and iron chains linking them.

There was a major communist victory at the bridge in 1935, allowing access through the entire region.

The Kuomintang had known of the plans to take over the town and had already removed most of the planks in preparation. Under semi-automatic rifle cover, 22 men from the Red Army crawled across the iron chains, while throwing grenades at the defenders. The defenders, unfortunately, had inferior guns that were manual reloading, single shot rifles with a range of 100m which didn't even span the bridge.

At the same time, another company crossed the river 2km downstream on rafts, where the river had curved sufficiently to be unseen by the defending forces. They defeated the city's sentries with the longer rifle range, and conquered the battalion within 2h. The Kuomintang hadnt expected assault from any other area but the bridge and so were caught unawares.

Following that, the arrogance of the nationalist military commanders gave rise to slow and disorganised response and communication, and thereafter to the abandoning of post of whole companies. And thus the battle was won. (sorry, that was long, but it's still a very summarised version of the wiki)

The bridge is not actually visible, as it was taken down for repair. But you can see where the bridge might have been anchored to the stone foundations. And the chains were laid out on the little side road along the river. Thick red chains you can walk on and it won't move in the slightest.

There's a memorial put up for it, soldiers and monks and lay people molded in red clay. I can't really appreciate this kind of thing much. I did like the last one though, it was soldiers who looked like they were crawling out of red mud, only their upper bodies visible, and red chains on either side. The names of 4 of the 22 men were put up (only 4 were known). They were richly rewarded for their bravery, however none of them lived to see eventual victory.

/End/History time

We bought some Yak jerky there. We got the plainest flavour which was already really strong. I got some more songrong, paid a hefty 190y for 250g. I bought a slightly lower grade (older mushroom). But it smells good.

I made two friends, a little adorable puppy that wanted to play with everyone and everything, and a white cat with blue and yellow eyes. Pretty! There are so many stray dogs around. I only saw 2 or 3 that were clearly owned. To be honest it's no wonder some of them are treated as a meat source, since the proportion of pets is so low, and there's not a very big pet culture especially in the rural areas.

Notable mention: S had fun in the jerky shop. He found a furry hat and some toy guns and took some photos. The store lady was laughing at him.

We then had a light lunch of yak meat (good) and pork (overcooked) and veg (good). Then jumped back in the car for the drive to Danba.

It was a pleasant drive. It was warm and I took off a layer. The scrubby mountains with white peaks were awash in golden light. The river was a chalky turquoise and sparkling in the sinking sun. All was silent in the car apart from the deep breathing of 4 sleeping people, and the squeaking of the luggage against the back leather seats. And I was typing this out.

Then miles of tunnels through the mountains. Suddenly a line of cars all parked along inside the tunnel, with a bar across the tunnel mouth. Our shifu drove to the start of the line, parked in front, and walked out to talk with the guys at the guard post. Turns out there's construction ahead and they're waiting til 5pm (it was 3.30) for the workers to get back and open the gates. Oooookay so we got out to roam around instead. There were two guys in the guard post hut, one sleeping and one watching a drama on a TV at least 38 inches wide.

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Further out on the right, a rocky path led to a 公测 (public toilet) that smelled from miles away and was strewn with tissue. I couldn't see a hole, it just looked flat.

On the left, the road continued towards the construction. There were a couple of guys doing surveying work and they asked me to get out of the way a few times. Oops.

Amidst the litter on the side, a tiny white puppy nestled up to a small brown dog, which turned out to be male. The brown dog gave a few warning barks at first but as I kept seeing him around and cooing at him, he eventually wagged his tail at me and looked for food. The white puppy had a shaggy coat like a sheep. She was rolling around by herself, having a grand old time.

The others caught up to me and we approached a gateway. A bloke in a huge green jacket came up to us and said we can't go in because dangerous and all. We said OK, but he still shut the gate on us. We howled with laughter. He clearly wanted to make a point. So we decided to take a photo with the gate and pretend it was a secret military base, or the dmz line or something. There were a bunch of warning signs all around. The guy got on a motorbike, opened the gate and left, warning us again. We closed the gate for our photo. We waited in the freezing wind for W to set up his camera and tripod, only for it to fall over and crack the lens. It was very unfortunate, but since we'd already gone this far, we took a few shots with our phones. Included the fallen water tank behind the wall.

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Eventually it cleared, and we wound our way through and past half-built tunnels.

In the waning twilight we entered a neon-lit town; beige buildings trimmed in dark red and beige. The corners of each rectangular section were topped with a curved white corner piece and a white prayer flag. It was very developed, with bars and shops and restaurants and several large and expensive looking hotels. This was Danba, a Tibetan town seated where two rivers met and became three. Our driver had arranged to have us stay with Tibetans, but we were surprised when he kept driving out of the light and into a dark series of switchbacks.

We ended twenty minutes later at a majestically and eclectically decorated set of buildings. We had a look around, haggled a bit on price, and settled into our rooms.

They cooked dinner for us, too many dishes to finish but simpler and easier on the pallet than the usual Sichuan dishes. There was sliced and fried potato, two variations of stir fried cabbage, belly pork, seaweed soup, bitterguord or something similar with meat, and best of all, barley flat cakes. I can't get over how good the flat cakes were. Slightly sweet, brown and slightly crispy on the outside but soft on the inside. Amazing. And all this was homegrown organically.

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We drove back down to Danba to drink at a Tibetan bar. Along the way, the city was intermittently visible between the dark arms of mountains, dynamically lit along a river shining a myriad of colours.

The bar was on the 5th floor of a seedy looking place. We took the lift up and were greeted by posters on the white tiled walls and heavy curtains framing the entrance. Flashing lights, coloured roving spotlights and red rows of laser lights spilled out, accompanied by loud Chinese music. I very unfortunately don't have a photo of this. It was really gaudy but kinda cool.

We were seated in a booth facing the stage. There were Tibetan dancers, mostly female, doing traditional Tibetan dance. It was a lot of walking around in a circle and graceful arm waving. The dance was set to semi-modern Tibetan music (to my untrained ear it just sounded Chinese pop/rap) blaring out of the speakers. It was almost incongruous, especially when the smoke machines periodically spewed out jets of smoke. However incongruous, this is clearly how traditional culture survives still in modern times.

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Every now and then one of the dancers would make their rounds to the tables to cheers. One of the singers came over and stayed with us most of the way, when she found out we were Singaporean. Her boyfriend is currently working in Singapore, and she's flying over in February. I guess we'll meet her when she comes. She's got one of our wechats.

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I must say that the Tibetan script is gorgeous. It looks like it has similar roots to Sanskrit, but it has a beautiful mix of round curves and sharp hooks.

We had a choice between Budweiser and two Chinese beers, so we got this super light Chinese beer 雪花 (snowflake). Even J could drink it, which led to some entertaining moments. Very easy. A little sweet and fruity with a wheat mid-taste.

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By the time we got back, it was almost midnight. The sky had finally cleared and was swathed in stars. Unfortunately the milky way was below the horizon, but at least there wasn't any moon. Took some photos and off to sleep and shower.

Here my complaint begins. I think the water tank only has enough for one person. It takes quite a while after that for the water to heat up again. But I didn't know that, and showered second. I shivered there waiting for the water to warm up for much too long. I gave up and went next door. I had a really quick shower there and only just made it out in time when the water was lukewarm. I was so miserably cold and shivering. Just dried my hair and jumped into bed. Blegh.

18y breakfast
40y lunch
190y songrong
yak jerky (forgot how much)
96y Tibetan homestay (breakfast and dinner included)
26y 2 bottles at a Tibetan bar

Day 5

I didn't wake up at the first alarm, although it did feature in my dreams. I woke up at the second alarm and pulled open the curtains to take a photo from the warmth of the bed. It was gorgeous, a bright clear day with the mountains visible and the apple tree outside the window decorated with magpies and sparrows. I got ready as quickly as the unheated room would allow and then sprang outside to glory in the morning.

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Tibetan houses, boxy and white and set into the hillside, were laid out both above and below. Birds wheeled around over the stepped farmland. S and W flew the drone from the roof, the drone of the drone filling the air. I gallivanted around for a while before heeding the summons to breakfast.

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Breakfast was a simpler affair. The barley cakes were there, I think partly because we expressed so much joy at them yesterday. There was also huge mantou, and some small dishes like dried peanuts and stir fried vegetables. The highlight was the yak milk butter tea. A lot of adjectives in there, but basically it tastes like a lot of butter has been dumped into a little milk and tea. It has the look consistency of slightly yellow skim cow milk, with some tiny solid bits. It's something I can sip a small quantity of and appreciate, but not drink a whole bowlful.

Laobanniang (lady boss) brought us around the compound, first to see the two pigs (upon request, obviously mine) and then showed us around. One interesting discussion was the features of Tibetan architecture. The four corners are always tied with white prayer flags symbolising the four corners of the earth. There are small built in fireplaces onto each roof, where fir is burnt as incense. Tibetan houses are mostly flat roofed and accessible and they might dry their meat there. We saw strings of it.

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We packed all our stuff up into car and then set off on the tourist path to the viewing points. Shifu would pick us up at the end. It was a pleasant tramp through fir forest and across the ridge, until we finally saw the Tibetan community laid out against the hill from a distance. Photo time, and then J's diarrhea got the better of her and Shifu and Laobanniang brought her right back to bed and gave her medicine. Meanwhile we were still talking, lying in the sun, flying the drone, and guessing Bilbo-Gollum riddles. (B is really good at this, he got 4 out of 6)

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We walked back and checked on J (still rolling in bed). Thereafter everyone went off to empty their bowels and I got some really nice time on the roof with a bottle of hot water, staring at the mountains.

In the afternoon J was well enough and we made our way to Siguniang. I was watching the buildings as we went, and I noticed that the Tibetan architecture never ended. The dark red trimming was always there, though with a slightly different pattern. Most common were dots and diamonds. Later I found out that Siguniang is a Tibetan ethnicity majority town.

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Danba

We checked in to Milan Hotel (It doesn't actually refer to Milan in Chinese) and said bye to Shifu, then settled in.

I was still feeling energised so I took myself on a walk about town. First I attempted to make friends with the two ponies next door. The white one was pattable but the brown one not. Then I went down the street in the likeliest direction. The town was pretty cute, very Oldtown/Altstadt feel. Most places were closed, with U-locks at the front door. A good number were under renovation. There were only about 5 food places open, I checked in case we needed to eat there. As it turns out, we ate all our meals at Milan or on the mountain so there was entirely no need. None of the rest even set foot on the main street (Milan is just off the main street), but we did pass through in the car a few times.

I saw mountains glowing in the setting sun and almost freaked out because they looked so high and so far away. A severe beauty, inaccessible by man. Of course, as it turns out, that really was Siguniang and yes, I did summit Dafeng (spoiler!).

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As J was out of order, we got dinner ourselves. Tells you a lot about our group dynamics, eh. We got clear chicken soup hot pot. Warmed us all right up. Brought some up for J but she vomited it out later.

That night S and J burned their candles at both ends. We think it was food poisoning but try as we might couldn't figure out what caused it. J was feeling really down, because she was scared she wouldn't be able to join us on the acclimatisation hike the next day and therefore maybe wouldn't even do Dafeng with us. Thank God though, everyone was well enough the next day. The medicine they'd had was enough.

26y lunch
26y dinner
117y Milan hotel, double room, 2 nights

  • *All nice photos were taken by W. Anything not as nice was likely taken by me.*
  • *Unless otherwise mentioned, all listed prices are per person*

Posted by seaskimmer 01:38 Archived in China Tagged beer dog history traditional dance sick bar tunnel battle sichuan tibet communism pony diarrhea foodpoisoning Comments (0)

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