Sunday 2 August – Somewhere in Changxi County – still hoping to paint Emmenopterys henryi…

Left Jiuhzjai Gou on the 12.25 flight to Changdu, paying an astonishing 38 Yuan for a rather poor cup of  coffee at the airport – OK, I was desperate! The flight was delayed by half an hour, and I texted Dr Jiang to say I’d arrived. He was with the party from Changxi having lunch, and asked me to wait.

All sorts of things went through my mind in the intervening two hours sitting with my luggage outside the airport – was it for real? Had I somehow been set up? And why? But eventually they arrived and we headed off into the city to the hotel. Only they hadn’t made a booking and the various hotels we did find didn’t have enough rooms. We actually drove around for three hours – many of the same streets several times – until we finally booked into a shabby cheap chain that I’m note even sure had seen better days.

The affable driver of our troop took all of this in his stride, and I became convinced during this unscheduled tour of the city’s backstreets that he had poor long-vision and couldn’t read the signs, didn’t know his right from left, and couldn’t interpret Sat Nav. It was with some horror that we all piled back into the car half an hour later to find a very popular local eatery. Sure enough we got lost and were only saved when one of the team had the foresight to get into a taxi, which we followed at breakneck speed.

We ended up half an hour later in Jinli Gu Jie – Jinli Ancient Street – which is a series of narrow pedestrian streets built in 2005, a replica of traditional Eastern Sichuan architecture and a popular place to hang out, eat and drink. We had the most amazing meal – and they were really impressed that I could use chopsticks. Oh, those nights in Sushi bars in California…

It was really great to be in a nice restaurant with good company – even though I didn’t understand anything that was being said – and I felt I was being introduced to a new experience in China where I didn’t have to constantly be making all the decisions. In fact, I was entirely in their hands, and had no idea how this trip to the Kiwi Research centre would work.

Left Changdu at 9am and stopped at Nanchong for lunch where we met up with some friends of one of the researchers. We went to this amazing restaurant that was incredibly popular where the whole theme is the Red Army and celebrating the cultural revolution, Chairman Mao and the theme of a Commune Canteen – and the waiters and waitresses are dressed in uniform. It was all a bit odd really as I seem to have a different impression of the cultural revolution and the Red Army. However, we had a banquet with about 9 or 10 dishes and the food really was amazingly good.

I’m quite a novelty wherever I go and children just stare at me. But a smile goes a long way and last night in Changdu I entered into quite a lively discussion with a very precocious 8-year old who had some of the best English I’ve heard so far.

Shortly after 5 and we checked into another shabby hotel in Changxi I think – although everything’s in Chinese so I’m not really sure where I am. But the window overlooks a busy pedestrian shopping area and it’s really noisy. Saying that, I was on the 8th floor in Changdu and that was still very noisy from the traffic. I’ve got a internet connected computer in the hotel room! Suppose it cancels out the broken toilet seat and filthy carpet and broken lamp?

We passed through a city en route which was being completely renovated. Every single buildings on both sides of the approaching road for miles had scaffolding up and was being re-built or re-tiled or re-something to improve it. New planters lined the centre of the road awaiting new plantings, and new trees had been planted. The road was being re-patched and there were just masses of people involved in this mammoth manual labour.

Further up the mountain, the road was dreadfully potholed, giving way in places to just a rough track. The small farmsteads grew their diverse crops including patches of maize, and the stripped kernels dried literally in the road in dusty yellow patches.

Tomorrow we go to the Research Station where I’m supposed to be some Western expert on Kiwi fruit – which should quite interesting. I’ve been convinced that no-one speaks English, so it doesn’t matter what I say. I certainly hope that’s true! But it’s good publicity for their international relations and I think I might be able to get the Prof to help me get a Letter of Introduction so that I can finally get the help I need to paint Eh.

We talked about it on the way up, and his boss is the previous Director of Wuhan Botanical Gardens who moved to another area about 4 years ago, but is the same man who helped Seamus put together his trip. He’s lived in the US for 8 years, so is pretty clued up about the ways of the world. And, he’s met Peter Wyse Jackson from Glasnevin, so if that doesn’t work, I don’t know what else I can do.

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