Hi, and welcome once again to this week’s edition of “Bajan,” Chinese Style. How has your week been? I know here in Barbados, we are getting into festival mode, and so your working week may have been sprinkled with the wonderful flavours of big shows and band openings. Well, what I mean to say is, whether or not you are a party goer or a workaholic, today is Friday and you are probably tired. My gift to you and our kick off to the weekend is this piece I’ve entitled, “ The Look of Madness.”
Now, If you’ve been following my recent posts and travel tips, then it come as no surprise that I love travelling. I love travelling especially to those areas which are out of the way and as the iconic cliche goes, off the beaten track. Yep. Deserted Mountain which is only accessible by hiking through a slippery valley gorge during rainy season? Oh yes, I’m there. However, as amazing as the scenes and vistas I have seen have been, a result of taking the time to personalise my trip to get as much as I could out of it, at a poor man’s price, they can’t compare to the people I’ve met on these backpacking adventures. And so it is that we meet a 25 year old Tyrone Yearwood, armed with seven years of experience under his belt, all the tips of what to do and what not to do, an armada of Mandarin phrases all aimed towards getting him out of sticky situations and finally a sharp mind which can understand every nuance, every twist and turn which he may encounter over his trip. Yes, I had arrived and I was sure I could handle anything that came my way. I mean, I had been in China for seven years, If I hadn’t picked a few survival tips over all that time #SHAME! With all my experience I embarked on my last trip in China #onlytwomonthsbefore, to the mysterious province of Guizhou.
My trip was to take me to the largest waterfall in China and third largest in the world, the Huang Guo Shu Waterfall in Anshun, A small town in Guizhou, then to the Miao Village of Xi Jiang, and finally to the capital of Guizhou Province, Guiyang. The trip to the waterfall and Miao village proceeded without any thing overly remarkable occurring. Forgive me, I should say, the that the beauty of these areas was really quite inspiring, and it was everything I had expected it to be, However, and thankfully so, I had not met anyone out the ordinary in any way, and this, I only realised in retrospect had served to lull me into a false since of security and confidence. I remember myself thinking, Yes, my tips #Photoyesphotono!, were working perfectly, and I had really avoided being harassed by random strangers clamouring for my picture. I was so pleased. That is when it all went wrong.
When it was time to go to Guiyang, the provincial capital, I decided to take the train. That was my first mistake. My reasoning was that because it was so close to Anshun, I could save a little bit of money as opposed to taking a flight. Oh, If I could go back in time a change my mind. Regardless, bright and early on the morning of my departure, I made my way to the small train station of Anshun. Anshun itself is a very small town, and Guizhou as a province is on the poorer side of the scale in terms of economic development. Therefore, the scene which greeted my eyes as I walked through the broken doors of the train station was a mixture of babies, minus the pampers, farm animals whose relationship with these naked babies would put even Babe to shame, unwashed farmers hauling their fare which usually was still kicking inside large army green canvas sacks, old women who were nearly as short as their naked babies, and a mixture of young, cool, over dressed people who had obviously returned to Anshun only to visit their grand or great grand parents and were now visibly itching to get the heck out of dodge. That was what greeted me, and just to put the icing on the cake, as soon as I stepped through those doors, every man, woman, child, pig, duck and chicken turned in unison to stare at me, with uncomprehending eyes fully popped open and jaws, mouths and maws dropped in a mixture of confusion, disbelief and just a plain and simple mental “What the hell am I seeing here now!”
When I saw those people all looking on in silence, I knew I had to act quickly before the shock and awe of my arrival wore off. If I dilly dallied or even showed any sign of confusion myself, the flood gates would have been thrown open and I would have been swallowed by the ensuing flood. Recognising this, I quickly glazed my eyes, and consciously took that nice approachable smile right off of my face, (If you know me, then you know that this was no easy task on my part) and glancing throughout the crowd I made my way over to a spot which was as near to the boarding gate as possible and also not within the approachable vicinity of any “Strange” looking characters. As I made my way over, one person in particular stood out among the rest. This person was the physical incarnation of a big, flashing red warning light, his mere appearance as loud as any fire trucks’ blaring siren, and I heard loud and clear to stay the heck out of his way. That 40+ year old man, refer to “Photo Yes, Photo No,” was obviously insane. A complete lunatic, nervous ticks and uncontrollable shivers included, and looked like he had a smell, which unfortunately as I was going to find out, he did. To this type of functional or barely functional lunatic, seeing a tall, handsome, well built, foreigner is akin to a person dying of thirst seeing a tall, sweating, cold glass of water. They just have to get their hands all over you, metaphorically and literally. When I saw him, I made sure to keep all semblance of a smile away from my lips and made myself look downright unapproachable.
I made my way right next to the boarding gate, a good 30 meters away from the crazy guy and stood up, with my headphones in my ears. I wasn’t listening to any music whatsoever, but I find that people are less likely to approach if they think you’re listening to music. However, while that may work on younger people, that doesn’t work on old ones. An old Grandmother approached me, tugging her maybe 4 or 5 year old grandson behind her. She walked right up to me and said in Mandarin, “Hey, Young boy, can you say something to my grandson? He is studying English at school. Can you say something?” all the while pushing the child in my direction. I was faced with a moral dilemma. If I responded in Chinese, then everyone would know I was able to speak Mandarin and that would be the beginning of the end. However, If I responded in English, she wouldn’t understand, but those young people ease dropping on what was happening just looked like they were rearing to break out their English and would enjoy nothing more than to translate back on forth between the old lady and myself, and that too would be the beginning of the end. Finally, If I didn’t respond, they may just walk away and that would be that. So I went with pretending I didn’t hear. Sadly what worked for all of 3 seconds, because this old lady was not to be denied. She pushed the child right up to me and literally bullied the poor boy #shecussedhimout, into saying something to me in English. I was so taken by that young child’s plight that I bent down and said in Chinese, as quietly as a possibly could, Don’t worry little guy, you speak really well, nice to meet you too. That WAS the beginning of the end. As soon as I said those words, those same young people that I previously mentioned literally sprinted towards me saying, wow you can speak Chinese, where are you from? How long have you been in China? Can we take you Photo?Welcome to China! They were so excited that they even outdid the old grandmother who had no choice but to get out of the way of their stampede.
However, even before I could begin to try to respond or ignore their questions, the Crazy guy, how had been keeping a safe distance just couldn’t restrain himself anymore. He tottered over and at surprising speed too, all the while shouting at the top of his voice, Friend, Friend, This guy is my friend. Do you know me? I live in Anshun at this Hospital ( I think it was the name of the local mental hospital because when he said that the young people began to back away slowly), I am going to Guiyang to visit my family! Do you have family? You must brink them to China, I will take you around and treat you reeeaal good. Leave it to me. I was truly vexed. Not so much at the crazy guy, but at the fact that these young people and that old grandmother ruined by perfect trip. They forced me into a situation and as soon as the crazy guy was caught, hook-line and sinker, they all just disappeared. Not only was I being overwhelmed by his barrage of questions, but also he was a spitter. Mr. Crazy had a severe lisp accompanied by extreme water works. The spittle flew on my clothes on my hat, my glasses, I actually felt like it was drizzling indoors! So taking a few polite steps back I tried to increase the distance between us. However, Oh no no no, Mr. Crazy would have that and with every step I took back, he took one forward, then two and three, until he was holding my arm and not letting go and seemed forced us into a salsa tango of some sort! I was flabbergasted. Luckily, this only lasted for about 15 minutes or so…and when the bell whistled signalling that my train had arrived I was the first to be through those gates.
However, and this is saying something, he was one the same train as me. The odds of this happening, while not every high, it was enough to make my ask why these weird things always happen to me. So, accompanied by my new best friend, I made my way towards the train, resigning myself to my bad luck and to 3 hours of constant clatter in my ears. It was most depressing. However, by some odd twist of fate, he and I were not on the same carriage! Thank God! When he recognised this the look of disappointment which darkened his face was only outdone by the look of elation which illuminated my own. He looked so sad, it made me almost want to invite him to sit with me. Almost…And so I got on my carriage, said good bye to him and found my seat. The feeling of relief which settled over me was almost palpable and now all was right with the world once more. The other people in my booth were 5 young people, around my age, who were so caught up in their conversation and Korean soap operas or video games that they didn’t even waste a glance on me. Yes, all was right and as the train pulled out of the station, I was surprised at how quickly I had forgotten about my new crazy best friend. I was once again at ease and settling myself down for a quick power nap, allowing the hypnotic motion of the train and passing trees to lull me to sleep. It was going well, all up until the point that a shadowy figure with eerily familiar tottering movements caught my eye. An image of a person was making its way down the aisle of the train, stopping at every booth apparently searching for someone. I thought to myself, it couldn’t be, but just in case I lowered myself deeper into my seat. The figure loomed closer and when it got to me, my heart dropped. Mr. Crazy was standing beside my seat shouting, Hey Hey Best Friend, Do you remember me? I’m Your best friend, from Anshun, Hey Hey do you see me? I was rendered speechless and looked on not knowing what to say. However, because I was sitting in the window seat, surrounded by 5 young people I thought to myself, Alright Tyrone, Don’t panic. These young people will send him on his way, especially because of the out right nasty way they were looking at him, I knew it was only a matter of time before they said something along the lines of, Get the *%^ out of here you crazy Hobo #theweeklyfunny#swearinginchinese (Chinese young people can be very mean when annoyed or provoked, and these young people were on the edge). Yep, I was sure that it was still going to work out without me having to do anything. I was wrong. The 5 young people had reached their boiling points. They stood up, looked Mr. Crazy right in the eye, and said in the nastiest way possible, Sit down, don’t stand up beside us, and they all marched off in unison looking highly offended. I was beyond dumbfounded. This never, ever happens! A Chinese person giving up their seat on a crowed train and especially to a lunatic? I had never even heard stories of this happening, but it happened to me. As Mr. Crazy sat beside me, regaling me with tales of his family while dousing me in equal doses of his bodily fluids and indescribable odour, I knew that I must have done some unequivocally evil thing in some past life of mine to be deserving of this divine punishment. The Look of Madness was not going to be denied, and against all odds he got want he wanted, a conversation with a foreign person. Too bad that foreign person was me. Thus, in retrospect after my encounter with my New Crazy Best Friend, I thought long and hard about refining my Photo yes, Photo No, tips into the fail safe tips they are today. Trust me, I really learned the hard way, but at least I ended with a free book on Taoism from my new Crazy Best Friend, because and only because he forced it into my hands and insisted that I keep it. Trust me, when you see the look of Madness, you do what it asks.
Thanks or reading and stay tuned for next weeks issue of “ Bajan,” Chinese Style!