Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I'm sitting in an Internet cafe in London England waiting for my flight to Paris. It's strange to finally be back in western society. Where I left of last was Dali, and that happens to be the place I returned right before flying out. So what have I been up to? Well I had planned on staying in Dali for around a day...two max, but I ended up staying two weeks the first time and then another week on the way back. As usual, the owners of the hotel where I was staying spoke no English, so I had no help from them. I was trying to figure out a few things about the town and my journey onwards to Tibet and Mongolia. The following morning they called me over and told motioned for me to wait. The owner ran upstairs and then returned with a pretty Chinese girl. "Your translator has arrived" she said. "Wow! You speak English!" "Wow, so do you" she replied sarcastically. So she helped me out, showed me the main tourist street in town where English is quite common and then brought me to her house to try to sell me a lonely planet China guide. I was more interested in the giant marijuana bushes growing all over her garden...planted by her landlord Mariush (a Polish guy in his late twenties). I didn't buy the guide book because I was now tired of guidebooks and their lies. I did however get the girl's name (Han Mei(pronounced Han May)...or Apple as foreigners often call her) and number. She told me to call her later, and that if I wanted to watch a movie, I should go to a bar called the Lazy Lizard. I did that and when the film was finished, I gave her a call. It was around eleven and she was already in bed (class the next morning) so she asked if I would have dinner with her the next night. So that's what happened and my stay was extended. Pretty soon Tibet was off the list and only Mongolia remained. So for two weeks I hung out in hippie ville with Han Mei and stayed at her place for free. One day we went to the mountains with her professor/friend who happens to be a 70 odd year old artist with bright red hair and the youthful attitude of a 20 year old. Our goal was to rent horses or donkeys and venture into the unknown to find the illusive "Rainbow Gathering" and photograph them. They're a bunch of dirty hippies who camp all over the world and smoke lots of weed and don't shower. Unfortunately the cops had kicked them out that day (which we found out later). In any case, the quest was a futile one, hippies or not. We rented donkeys after a long struggle with pessimistic villagers and then went on a little ride with the donkey owners leading the donkeys all the way. It was really pathetic. We finally got to the base of the mountains (around 10 minutes later) and then villagers told us to get off the donkeys. They took off the saddles and said the ride was over. So we argued saying that we were paying them to go up the mountain, not "to the mountain". They told us we could buy the donkeys, but we didn't want the damn donkeys. They refused to accept our money (as we refused to pay full price), so Joy, the red headed teacherfriend started feeding the money to a donkey. The villagers tried to keep their cool, but were turning red. Finally I left the money on a donkeys saddle and we started leaving. The men grabbed the women's arms and were yelling obscenities in Chinese. I pulled them each free and we started walking down the way we came...which took just as long by foot. It was a good day.
I eventually forced myself to leave Dali and Han Mei behind and began my journey overland to Mongolia. First though, I stopped in a few places. Chengdu, where I saw some Pandas and came to the conclusion that Koalas are cuter than Panda bears, Xi An where I saw the Terracotta Warriors (the 8Th wonder of the world) and then continued on to Beijing. There I met up with my Uni friend Vanessa Sacco and her boyfriend. It was good to see her, and he was a really nice guy too. We did a lot of walking around and ended up on the great wall the second day.
After they left, I took a long bus ride, then a train to Ulanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. The train was sold out, but as usual I met the right person. Otgoo, a Mongolian shoe importer and salesman told me he could get me a ticket. He did just that and soon I was in Ulanbaatar. The entire time since I left Dali, I'd had a bad stomach problem. This really came into play when I went to the country with Otgoo, his family and friends. I stayed at their house and they fed me most of the time I was in Mongolia (although I protested and tried to escape on many occasions). In the country, we stayed in a gur (a traditional hut) and ate lots of mutton. All they eat in Mongolia is MEAT. I use capital letters because it's not like normal meat. It's MEAT. You take a slab of sheep loin and tear chunks off the bone with your teeth while clutching the hunk of flesh in your hand and letting off a huge belly laugh with your mouth full. Hence, MEAT. The Mongolians I was with (as well as the remainder of the population I'm assuming) love to get drunk on vodka and sing and fight. I witnessed much of this. First I saw an old alcoholic literally thrown out of a bar (his legs went over his head when he was thrown, then eventually he clawed his way back in). The second was bear knuckles vs. pool cue man (not sure of the outcome of that one) and then there were several others.
The countryside was very nice. Green grass, trickling streams, trees, grass seeds floating in the air and beautiful wild horses grazing all around. We had a MEAT barbecue, drank Mongol vodka and did some Mongol wrestling. Only Otgoo (pronounced Otgoh) and his wife spoke any English. One guy named Ochoro (big and burly, loving singing and the drink) wouldn't stop hugging me with joy and telling me "MONGOL NADDAM!" which is their yearly festival that I'd arrived just in time to witness. Another guy who's name slips my mind could only say two things in English "I'm sorry" and "I'm hungroo". The former he would say to me constantly whenever he wanted me to pay attention to him. "Justin, I'm sorry" he would say, pointing to horses. That night I got into my bed, only to find out that there weren't enough for everyone. The guy got into my bed. Luckily I had my own blanket and we slept head to foot. "Justin, I'm sorry" he said as he clambered in. "You damn well better be sorry" I said. The following day my sickness got worse. Night and drunkenness and debauchery and violent sickness followed. My stomach which had felt better, got incredibly worse as did the drunkenness of all those around me and the violence. Two cases of spousal abuse ending in blood took place while I was at the climax of my illness. I wandered into the woods as a man elbowed his wife in the face. I threw up first out of my mouth, then out of other places once I'd gotten deep into the woods. When I returned, The man had gotten what he deserved. His face was covered in blood and his were lips all split. The Mongol women are just as tough and violent as the men. I got into bed, sick as a dog and this time Otgoo got into bed with me. I was too sick to protest. "are you OK my friend?" he was laying behind me and started rubbing my thigh. "No" I said and elbowed him in the stomach. He was drunk as hell and his wife had gone home because they had had a dispute. I was pissed cause she knew I was sick and wanted to go to the hospital, but left without me. I told Otgoo to get out of the bed as I was paying for my own, and so deserved my own bed...and was violently ill. I insisted and he left. There were other beds available that night anyway. The next day he took me to the hospital and I started on meds. I then became prisoner of their apartment. They would leave me there, and I couldn't leave cause I had no key. At one point there was nobody home and I needed a drink. I didn't want to drink the tap water, so I filled a kettle with a trickle of water that came out of the tap, then put it on the stove. I left the room, then smelled melting plastic. I returned immediately and found a flaming melting electric kettle on the stove. "SHIT!!!" I turned off the burner and turned on the tap. Trickle. "SHIT!" Flames were darting out of the kettle. I opened the fridge. Juice! NO. Cooking oil. That was close. Back to the trickle. I started flicking water at the flames while trying to curse them out. Eventually they were extinguished. Now I had to hide the evidence before anyone came home...which could be any time. After much stress and melted plastic inhalation and scraping, I'd managed to hide and cover up all evidence (save the missing kettle). So I got away with it and simply gave them money to replace the kettle, without them knowing that that was what it was for. I was tired of staying with them and felt as if they were using me for the purpose of getting a Canadian visa. Leaving was a difficult process, but eventually I managed it and checked into a hostel. Before leaving Mongolia, I went on a camping trip by myself. Otgoo gave me some hunks of MEAT and I rented a horse, then set off alone into the forest despite protests from the gur owners...they just wanted more money. It was raining but it was that night or never, and I needed some alone time. I found a place to set up camp under a large tree and built a fire. I cooked my MEAT and made toast. It wasn't so much a camp as a dryish area in the dirt for me to sleep. I had no tent and no sleeping bag. I did however have my trusty sheet bag which once again aided me in a difficult situation. It rained and I got a bit wet, but the tree helped me out a lot. At sunrise I rode my horse back to camp, following my compass. I got a bit lost, but found my way eventually. A couple days later I left Mongolia to head back to Dali and Han Mei. The flight to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province which is close to Dali, was a bit cheaper than to fly direct to Hong Kong, so Dali for another week was a sensible option. Right before I took the train, I was on the phone with Han Mei. She had told me before that she was cooking for people at the Lazy Lizard and getting paid quite well for it. Her strange friend Chris owned the place and allowed her to cook there as it brought him more customers. She told me that after cooking there the night before, she had accepted a drink of water from Chris. She told him she was heading home and he tried to get her to "Stay and rest a bit". She said she was tired and was going to bed. As she was walking home she started to feel strange, and upon arrival at home, felt very light headed and stoned and fell asleep. When she told me this I remembered an event that had occurred during my initial visit to Dali. I had helped a Chinese girl named Beibei carry her bags from the Lazy Lizard back to Han Mei's place. At the bar, Chris gave us both water and kept refilling our cups. He then was trying everything to get Beibei to stay a little longer. Gave her several cigarettes and tried to get me to remain (as I said I wanted to go) by giving me more water. When we left upon my insistence, Beibei described symptoms of light headedness and feeling stonned and we had to rest for around an hour at another bar as she couldn't continue walking. So I put two and two together and confirmed her suspicions that Chris had drugged her. I'd heard bad things about him before and it was now clear just how much of a sleaze bag he was. I was furious and wished I was in Dali right then and there. But I had to bide my time.
I headed back to Beijing and continued on from there after spending the day waiting for my flight with some backpackers and exploring a Taoist temple filled with strange and horrific statues. I arrived in Kunming quite late and spent the night, then returned to Dali the next day. It was great to see Han Mei again. She told me that she was going to cook for me at the bar that night. I told her I didn't want to go there and she told me that it should be OK for her to go there while I was there, as I could watch out for her, and it was still good money while it lasted. So I bit my tong and bidded my time some more. I saw Chris fought the urge to kill. Han Mei and I spent the week together and she cooked a few times at the bar. I met her brothers and her aunts and uncles and even met her father, an abusive alcoholic, who she never visits, but had to in order to deliver some bank papers.
My thoughts of revenge against Chris had escalated by this point. I was planning on returning the favour by drugging him, tying him up then leaving an anonymous note of warning, saying that "we" knew what he had done etc. I spoke to Mariush, who happened to be a former friend of Chris's. He told me that Chris does in fact drug women and that the mafia has been raising his rent in order to get him to leave town. So my 99 percent suspicion was escalated. The last cooking date arrived and she didn't end up cooking, so at around midnight, I headed over to the bar with Han Mei. I told her to wait outside and around the corner. I went inside and found the bar to be much busier than usual. Earlier I'd decided against drugging Chris for moral reasons. Basically, Han Mei threw a book at me (the Prophet) and I caught it and was open at a page all about judging others and how individuals have no right to enact judgement upon other individuals and that God is the only judge etc (in a nutshell). Strange how life works. So I decided on a good old fashioned and simple confrontation. I found Mariush there and got the house key from him. Chris went upstairs, so I followed him. There was nobody else up there. I called him over and said I needed a word with him. "What can I do for you?" he asked. "Well," I began, "I know what you did to my girlfriend." "What do you mean?" "I mean I know you drugged her, and I know you drugged Beibei, and have drugged other girls as well." "What?" he stammered unconvincingly, unable to meet my eye. "I never would do-" "Save your bullshit!" I said. Then I did something I've never done before and hopefully won't ever do again. "I'm not going to do anything this time, but if you EVER do anything like that again, I swear, I will fucking kill you." "What??" He screamed, "I would never do that! You're crazy!!!FUCK YOU! GET OUT!" He was screaming like a Polish robot. "I'm not the only one who knows." I said honestly, as apparently numerous neighbours knew as well. "You're lucky I was in Mongolia when I found out cause I would have come in here with a baseball bat. As is, I've had time to cool off." He pushed me, so I pushed him back and he ran down the stairs and made things much worse for himself. I had tried to make it as non public as possible, but I suppose we're our own worst enemies. "He's fucking crazy!" He proclaimed to the now even more populated bar. "This asshole says I drug women! Do I drug women?" he asked Mariush. "I don't know..." Mariush shrugged silently. He turned to another girl who had been in town staying in the same house as Han Mei and Mariush for around 5 days. "Do I drug women!?" "Nooo!!" she shouted, shocked and glaring at me. "Listen," I said, "I didn't want to make a big spectacle about this, but I know that you drugged my girlfriend, and I know of another girl to whom you did the same because I was there. Don't do it again."
"Get the fuck out!" he yelled again in his robot voice. "I'm leaving" "GET THE FUCK OUT!" "Have a nice evening" I said and walked out. He followed me. "WHO TOLD YOU THIS?" "It's irrelevant. I witnessed." "WHO TOLD YOU THIS!!!" The robot yelled louder attracting the surrounding street dwellers. "I'll call Han Mei! I don't drug women! I'll call her!" "Just leave her out of it I said" "WHO TOLD YOU THIIIISSS!!!?" I walked away. He returned to the bar and the now muffuled screaming robot continued. I do feel bad that I threatened to kill a man, as I would have no intention of following through with murder if he did do anything just came out in the heat of the moment. I met up with Han Mei. I couldn't help but laugh, and neither could she. So we walked home. I'm pretty sure he'll never do that again, and if he does, the suspicions are all over town, so he won't get far.
So that was the last significant event in Dali, and I headed out for Hong Kong, took some planes, got jet lagged and now I'm waiting for my last plane to take me to Paris. Prior to this, I felt like my "madcap adventures" were coming to an end now that I'm back in the west, but I'm not so sure. I guess maybe it's just a new chapter opening.