2 Days in Guangxi Province



For some time we had been looking for a convenient window within which to visit Guangxi Province re setting up Olive Farms. Come the day and all is set. We are due to meet at the restaurant nearest to the ferry in Gao Gong at 6.30 am. Crikey!


I leave my island home and catch the 6.20 ferry, which should mean I am on the mainland by 6.35.  I get a call from Uncle telling me they are ‘On the way’, and they will meet me at the restaurant. I decide not to worry unduly about this statement, but infer they will be late? I am not feeling too well, and had kind of hoped he was ringing to cancel – but we gotta do this gig, so may as well go for it!


I find a suitable table for four at the restaurant and wait … time passes.


 I consider ordering food, but am sure they will all need breakfast before progressing. Time passes…


I am looking out for a silver Peugeot, so when a dark blue Toyota pulls up I am not really paying attention. However, Uncle Sam gets out and greets me like a long lost brother. Apparently we are not eating here, so I offer to pay the Manageress for the tea, which she says is for free. Thank you. We pile into the car with me in the front passenger seat, and Mr Lo (Mandarin LU) driving. In the back are Uncle, Paul Yuan, and another guy I have met before somewhere? It seems his name is Zhao San (Zhou San in Mandarin), so I will simply call him Joe.


I have been awake since 10pm, so am hoping for a nap. However, Lo chooses the back way to Go Ming (Gao Ming), which is a side road along the mighty west Pearl River. This is interesting because I have never been on this road before … and also for other reasons!


After some very fine ‘Blacktop’ (Road), it begins to get worse, and then worse still. The road degenerates into a bumpy cart track that then goes through the middle of an early morning market – complete with hawkers, dogs ambling about. Most of the stalls either sell clothing or household items such as: doormats, stools, and vegetables. Later we almost run over an array of people selling local Chinese fast-foods, from pots. I would term it ‘Bizarre’, not a ‘Bazaar’. Having successfully navigated this, and a very large truck that was coming from the opposite direction at the same time; we progress through a factory and eventually arrive at its main gates. Durrr? The roadway then bumps and grinds for another few miles before we get to Goming.


Goming is quite civilised and main city for another Foshan city district region (If that makes sense?). We skirt the town and head for one of my favourite cities in the whole of China, Siu Heng (Zhao Qing). I almost nap, but am jolted awake as we nearly miss a local school bus that wasn’t doing what it should have been doing. Lo is a very good driver, and knows this route well. Looking around I know we are in Siu Heng – it just looks like it somehow, even though these particular streets are unfamiliar to me. Continuing undaunted, we soon arrive at an inconspicuous hotel. The four of us pile out, whilst Lo tries to squeeze his car between two very badly parked motorcycles, aided by a guy in hotel uniform. He cracks the task quickly and we head for ‘Chinese Morning Tea’. But of course, how could I miss this one!


We pass through several large eating halls before being directed by a very pretty girl in traditional restaurant gear (A side-split dress up to the whatyoumyfathers) to a private room. I hate these places, as they are so confined and you cannot see what is going on. There’s no ‘vibe’ here man! Anyways, I go along with it and we have great laughs because the Manager soon works out I speak the local language! Right! From this point on we seem to get a different girl each time, and they all speak to me in local Cantonese, and I reply, and then they run off giggling. I order a couple of things I really like, despite the fact that I would rather be asleep than eating. The whole day is not dissimilar actually hehe!


For readers that have never experienced ‘Chinese Morning Tea’, perhaps I should explain. This is a Chinese ritual that has been around for centuries and is ingrained into every facet of daily Chinese life. The basic ingredient is ‘Chinese Tea’; to which are added what I know as Dim Sum = small nibbles of things. In Canton Dim Sum actually refers to steamed rice bread, either refined or wholemeal, with or without a savoury or fruit filling. This time the filling was a sweetened nuts pastiche with extra honey. Spare me at 7.20 am!


First the waitress brings a bamboo tub of steamed meatballs, which are exceedingly delicious. They have bits of crunchy stuff inside I conclude these are water chestnuts. I eat two of four, and order another bamboo tub from another new waitress : - )


Uncle asks me if I would like a beer, and I have difficulty saying ‘no’, as things do appear to be a tad bizarre today – but I do say no and bat on regardless. So next up is a plate full of … some sort of Chinese leggy broccoli? They call it ‘Cheung choi’ and it is quite delicious actually. The next dish served is the dessert, which is a fried concoction with runny milk inside. These are OK actually, although need a little more sugar. Then a dish of Cress with one-hundred year old egg bits, and mushrooms appears. The next dish is sautéed Lotus roots. Then another girl brings in the entrees: Peanuts, Melon and Carrots strips in Vinegar, and chickens feet. I pass and ask for some chillie sauce. A girl bring the ‘Gao d’Zhee’ I ordered = large crescents of something’s wrapped, steamed, and then fried. They are Very good, but worse than the ones at the restaurant I started out at this morning. Uncle has ordered ‘Congee’ for us, which the local people call ’Sik Juk’. Congee is correct in Hong Kong, where Uncle comes from. This turns out to be very ok, but I add salt and pepper for taste – and then notice several others trying condiments once; and then once or twice again! I think they like it western style! I am just about stuffed by the time the red-hot-chillies in oil (Don’t go there) and soy sauce rock-up; closely followed by the Pork shell thingymagigs with local fish caviar on top (Brilliant red coloured), and the spare ribs in blackbean sauce = delicious if served earlier. These are also chopped haphazardly into several million pieces, and I wonder if it is too late to order a beer after all? We get the bill and leave, but this isn’t finished yet…


On the way out we pass the kitchens, which are open to view and I saunter along to take a look. Bugger! They are making chips! (French Fries). They also have real pieces of real meat off the bone! Damn!  Yet another reason why I hate these cubicles they call ‘Private rooms’. I missed all this, but won’t next time I pass this way. It was excellent actually, and cost about $8 USD for five people!


Back in the cart, we are headed for ‘Gawd knows where’, and I am seriously up for some Z’s. The other guy has taken over driving duties and we soon put some miles behind us.


However, sleeping is seriously impossible, given the excellent ergonomically designed seats which are built for midgets. I am a large man = Hello Toyota, they don’t work for me and are extremely uncomfortable! After trying to doze for a while, I am jolted awake when we hit a pothole; as the fully extended top of the headrest hammers into my neck, and after hitting my head on the roof, I catch it again on the way down. If you think this is progress, then I want a Jeep! The most comfortable seat I ever had the pleasure of was also in a microcar, a Renault 4GTL = perfect. Most car manufacturers have the same problem - and don’t get me started on ‘cattle-class’ airline long-haul seating, as these are generally only suitable for people with about half my bulk (And I ain’t that big either!).


Anyways, we have now made it to the outskirts of … somewhere?


It appears to be a nondescript city I could happily bypass, and we do. It was called Wuzhou in Mandarin, which is Mmm Zhao in Cantonese, except the Cantonese characters are different, but it sounds the same. Yes, we did that conversation in the charabanc also. For me this is slightly important information, as we are all exclusively speaking Cantonese, except for bits of English here and there.


Our new road is the ‘Country Highway’ to the nearest big city. At best it’s a ‘B’ Class road in UK. I am almost upon the point of resignation, when this turns into a dual carriageway and there is a flurry of speaking, and we turn around to catch an opening on the opposite carriageway. Ok, not this one then, maybe the next one. It looks good, but is not the right one apparently. We arrive at a tumbled-down shack in the middle of a city redevelopment area that grows ‘Bonsai’ trees. Cool!


Outside there are thousands of them, but it seems I am the only person excited about this. I try to explain what Westerners mean by ‘Bonsai – which is Japanese’, and am met with vacant glances and stares; as if I am a bit whacky! I certainly am! but I do know what a Bonsai tree is, thank you Mrs Mechavity!


It appears they don’t really do ‘small’ Bonsai trees, such as might adorn a western sideboard or dining table. These things generally range from ‘Large’ to proper tree size. Let’s say the presentations are between 2 and 10 feet tall. But they are Bonsai. I delve around in the back yard, and find some exquisite pieces that are set with scenic rocks and rivers – just like one of those small Chinese ‘Mud-works’ things, complete with ancient scribes and people who surely had a lot more intelligence than I will ever have. I am actually getting into this when I hear the call, and presumably we are eating here also.


But, alas and alack, we depart for … somewhere else?


After preparation, we hit the highway again, and then do a version of Chinese concentric circles for a while. Beep-Beep. The others have found us and we pull into a fish style eatery. Not more food already!


This eatery is a rural style establishment fronted by a large courtyard or car park around which are low buildings set to three sides. There is only one other car here and the place appears a tad deserted. Most of our team disappear of inside to the reception area; a higgledy-piggledy mix of tables, beer crates, other boxes, and cages with various sizes of wild birds imprisoned within. I notice a couple of our friends have disappeared off in the direction of a lean-to shack situated at the corner of the courtyard, near the entrance. I presume this constructional masterpiece to be the toilet block.


Meanwhile I say hello to the staff in Cantonese – and am met with great enthusiasm and shock. I am probably the first foreigner they have seen, and the first to visit this particular eatery. The fact that I also have reasonable Cantonese is way beyond their imagining, and immediately I am given ‘Star status’. From this you can infer the local language spoken hereabouts in Guangzhou Cantonese. I am a bit used to this by now, and it is like water off a ducks back. Speaking of which, one of the cages contains what appear to be wild ducks of some form. Other cages nearby contain similar creatures, of which some look like small brown doves, a separate cage has tow black wading birds in it, and this is completed by ‘A dissimulation of birds’ that look a little like sparrows. There is also a soft shelled turtle in a bucket nearby, accompanied by what looks like a bowl of leeches, and another full of toads.


I go outside for a smoke and examine the contents of three sacks – from a healthy distance. I am not an expert in these matters, but presume one sack contains non-poisonous snakes, whilst the other two definitely contain vipers of many colours and sizes. I am asked if I want to eat snake for lunch and having tried the things before and finding they are basically rubbery skin with a large central bone structure – with the possibility of slivers of meat that tastes like ‘chicken’, I decline. The guy then kicks one of the sacks and something rather large and venomous rears its ugly head. I certainly wouldn’t want to be anywhere near this thing in the wild, and it is pretty pissed-off as well! Mentioning which, I turn around only to see a large cat in a cage on the opposite side of the path. This poor thing has given up all hope and I tinker with the idea of setting it free. Incidentally, I have only ever once tasted cat deliberately, and this was in China several years ago. My reason was to confirm a suspicion I had concerning something I once ate at an English restaurant in UK. Cat tastes just like boiled chicken, and this is exactly what I was served years before at a posh restaurant in England. This was a British food restaurant, not an Indian or Chinese food version. Perhaps I better move on…


I retire inside and order a beer. The others meander in and out whilst we wait for our food to be prepared. Eventually we all assemble and are joined by a few other people. The main dish is served first, which turns out to be sparrow casserole. Oh Gawd! Someone delivers a big one to my bowl, and I crunch away feigning interest. One likely lad sitting opposite me starts toasting beers, and then orders more beer and a bottle of rice wine, which is made in Guilin. Checking I find the beer is also made in Guilin – which is several hours north of where we are currently situated. Then the fish is served, which is some relative of a carp, but with extra bones. Other dishes appear, but nothing is really to a Westerners palate, until Uncle has some special soup brought. This is made from the purple form of some sort of Chinese potatoe or yam thingymagig. The sauce is bright purple and has a thick and lumpy constituency. I try some, and it is exceedingly good – well, compared to what else is currently available. I had been wondering if we had reached our final destination, but Paul refuses a second glass of beer stating he has to drive for the next couple of hours. I am probably relieved by this news? I also wonder what Gordon Ramsey would make of it all, and this though keeps me giggling while the meal is finished. One of the serving girls has taken a shine to me and slips me her mobile number. Then pretending to drop something near me she whispers ’80 RMB’. WTF? I smile with enthusiasm, as she is actually the pick of the waitresses; but this is nowhere on my agenda, as neither is this food.


Upon reflection, they actually did serve some excellent food, just not what does it for me personally. I am relieved when this diversion comes to a close and head out to the car park, and venture towards the ramshackled hut. Paul joins me and I consider viewing what lies behind the alley to my right, but Paul chooses a cubicle, and I follow suit. I then hear the unmistakeable sound of an open plan urinal to my right, and consider this useful knowledge, should I ever have the misfortune to be back this way again.


We hit the road again and Paul is driving. He is a very safe driver in an unfamiliar car. The road we are on takes us up a very long incline beset with slow moving trucks and other obstacles. By long I mean this road hugs the hillside, and elevates for perhaps 10 miles or so almost continuously. One part of it is being renewed, and without any warning signs this becomes hazardous as bumpy and unfinished repairs suddenly appear beneath your wheels and out of nowhere. This part seems to take forever, but due to Paul’s smooth driving I do manage to nod-off occasionally. After we hit an unavoidable pothole, I am jolted awake to find we have reached what could be termed as some form of civilization? It is either a large town or small city, and the latter is correct. It is a third class administrative capital of local persuasion by the name of Ping Nan. We cross the Pearl River and head west out of the city. After a short way Paul is told to stop the car near a viaduct, and we all pile out to examine the first area that is suitable for growing olives.


Paul and I explore with much enthusiasm, going into the fields and greeting rural farming families tending their crops. Paul starts taking pictures with a proper camera, whilst I snap away with my poor quality mobile phone. The full extent of this area is fine for our intended purposes, but I worry there is a lot of existing land already under cultivation, which means problems. I wander off an notice the small bridge over the river hereabouts, has one span collapsed. Terrific! However, I also espy an underpass large enough for a medium sized truck to pass through to the other side of the main road. I ask Paul to take a picture of this, whilst explaining the significance. He is impressed.


Back to the car, and Lo San is back at the wheel. He picks us up from our photography exploits a little further down the road, and we head off again for … somewhere else? We pass through another small town and hit a dual carriageway, which is totally blocked with traffic. I sense the driver’s unease, and he takes to the motorcycle lane; as this road is now full of heavy lorry’s carrying rocks of various sizes and treatment. This is one seriously long stretch of road, and after 8 miles we reach a village spanning both sides of this road. A scooter has collided with a bicycle, and so two of the three lanes have been closed by local Police to further their investigations into the matter. Local hawkers are doing a roaring trade to the slow moving traffic passing by, whilst Lo San skilfully negotiates obstacles and we reach the nearby traffic lights. These are actually compounding the congestion, and as we pass through, I observe the other three roads are bare of traffic. We continue into the heart of Guangxi Autonomous Region.


I am actually getting into this area when we hit ‘Dust City’, or as it is called on a map, ‘Gul Ping’. This is actually a typo by Google maps, and should really be ‘Gui Ping’. This is basically a small city with everything going for it, except it seems to be the place where all the hardcore used to build Chinese roads and buildings comes from. The top layers of tarmac on the roads have long since been worn or blown away, and dust is everywhere, sometimes approaching ‘Grey-Out’, proportions. To be fair, this is probably compounded by grey skies and approaching dusk. Lo San sets the cars a/c to internal recycling only.


We reach what could be the city centre (?) and fork left down an alleyway. This is probably wide enough for one truck to pass, but this is China, and so there are pedestrians, bicyclists, cars, motorbikes, diminutive earthmoving tipper trucks, and a miniature bulldozer all trying to squeeze past each other. No one will every think of giving way in order to aid progress, and I wonder. Then out of nowhere, a man appears and moves his scooter from perpendicular parking, into a position of parallel parking with the pavement. This small thing does the trick, and we are moving again. Traffic thins and we are headed for the source of the dust. The next three miles of unmade roads contain hundreds of rock processing plants. This then clears for a moment and Lo San switches on his wipers, and which automatically give the windscreen a courtesy wash. Oppps! Now we have a layer of setting cement on top of the glass. He gets out and scrapes this off before it sets, and we proceed. We move on, only to hit the main processing area. We turn on headlights and look for vague shapes emerging from within the clouds of rock dust. Possibly I jested before, but this really is a total grey-out! Miraculously we pass by, narrowly missing vague large and fast moving shapes headed in our direction; and climb to a plateaux.


This is a very big piece of land that is hardly cultivated. We have left the dust bowl long behind us, and this is perfect for what we need. I stop the car and take soil samples, whilst Paul does his ‘David Bailey’. Fantastic!


Unusually for China, this co-operative has buildings and villages set around the plateaux, with everything else open. I cannot see the far horizon to the East, and about 7 miles away to the West can just make out signs of habitation. We centre laterally with probably three and four miles in North-South directions, and it is perfect. A railway is being constructed to run right through it. I don’t think this is a problem, which is later confirmed when I am informed they will have a weigh-station. Cool!


I cannot be bothered to wade out into the centre of the land as dusk rapidly approaches, but I know from experience that even on a fine day that, if I were a local farmer, I would not be trekking miles into a wilderness in order to grow crops and bring them water via my own back. Perfect!


The others probably thing we are a little crazy, but I am fulfilled. We get back in the car and keep going for some reason. We pass through what is best described as a rural village conurbation. By this I mean it is many villages that just happen to be next to each other, by happenstance, and not by planning. Exiting the other side and right a bit, we head down a dirt track that then becomes narrower and less forgiving of the cars suspension. There is also a ‘Time-warp’ element to where we are headed, and justified as after 20 minutes of motorcycle scrambling track later, we arrive at Lo San’s cousin’s hamlet.


This place is excellent, and possibly a parody of what life was like in Middle England several centuries ago. Debarking the car in the ox yard, we are greeted by children and adults returning home from the fields riding oxen. Paul is made up and starts snapping away with his camera immediately. I have ridden cattle before, and find then slower and more predictable than horses. A welcome party greets us and somebody lets off Chinese Crackers in our honour. The streets are narrow and made of earth, and many come to their doorsteps to watch our passing. A passing Oxherd say’s ‘Hello’ in English, and I reply in Cantonese, which he instantly understands! Our destination is one of the top tier houses, and we are greeted with the warmest of welcomes. I young girl of maybe 5 years old sees me and goes into shock! She screams ‘Gui Lo’, and then runs and hides behind a nearby stack of rice stalks. Her eyes never leave me for an instant, and I smile and go about greeting our hosts. Passing nearby her hiding place I say ‘Hello’, first in English and then in Cantonese. She is horrified, so I withdraw and allow her time to view this being from what to her must seem like ‘Outer Space’.


The rambling yard set before the dwelling has a hand pump well, although a standpipe near the low wall has recently been added. We are encouraged to sample the water, which tastes very good. A large area is scattered with Chinese potatoes left out to dry. People are sometimes walking over them and mentioning this, I am told they are the rejects and will be used as animal feed during the winter. A gaggle of small children have now assembled to gawk at me, and a couple manage some simple and basic English. One brave young soul even comes and stands directly in front of me, so I say ‘Hello’ in both English and Cantonese, then shake his hand. He is made-up and rushes back to the others with a bad case of jitters in his legs. Dogs amble around, whilst one of our hosts arrives with a 2-foot long fish and proceeds to prepare it for cooking on a nearby tree stump. The dogs immediately pay attention looking for scraps.


Upon entering their large and rambling, brick built dwelling; I am immediately met with a rectangular sunken area that has a corresponding cut out floor to the storey above. Water is available here, and I consider it to be a killing patch, or something of equal importance. I do ask for an explanation, but none is forthcoming unfortunately – otherwise I would relate what its purpose is used for. It is the corresponding hole above that is really baffling me, and without any block and tackle visible, I remain quite puzzled. I see more of these during this trip, and still seek a logical explanation, as most are not covered areas like this one, but open to the skies above. They average about 5 yards wide by 4 yards long (No mistake), and around 6 inches deep. They come complete with a drain or two, and have all manner of weird and wonderful items associated with them, although obvious signs of food preparation are evident.


I am seated immediately as guest of honour, and soon food arrives of typical Cantonese entrée varieties. I fancy a beer, so Paul and I head out to find the local shop. We are guided several times during our quest, only to conclude the shop is in fact shut. Returning to our hosts, we find the main meal being served, and the women are subsequently eating at a separate table near the kitchen – which is a ‘Chinese Aga’ tucked into one corner. Our host’s eldest brother arrives to watch us eat, and he is soon joined by the younger brother and a friend. We swap cigarettes and talk in Guangzhou Cantonese. Only a few of the children here understand Mandarin by the way, and these are the few whose parents can afford to send to school. The nearest school is about 40 minutes away by motorcycle, and not convenient. Otherwise children work in the fields or at home in support of their greater family. There are signs of a new school being built here, which is at odds with the policy of centralising education as I know in Guangdong. However, we are in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, which means they have the power to make regional policy that suits them best. It is akin in stature to the Welsh and Scottish Parliaments in UK.


Now you may say to me from the comfort of your western pad: Jonno, why don’t you be proactive and help these people. This I am trying to do, but in a way that suits them and their particular family circumstances. Guangxi is not a deprived world area; it is however, a largely peasant area with many local traditions and beliefs. It is also home to many ethnic minority groups. These I need to help preserve at all costs! Life hereabouts is about survival and building for future generation’s prosperity. It is dramatically more important for this community to teach their children how to harvest rice, and how to husband oxen – than it is for them to learn say: Mandarin (A language most of them will never even need use of once in a lifetime).


I do consider, (and am still considering), making a DreamScheme project just for this hamlet. However, what little electricity they have is enough to power a couple of light bulbs via a Beijing solar panel initiative. I note they could supplement this with a simple wind power turbine. I recently watched a documentary about that amazing guy from Bangladesh who started the world’s first bank aimed at supporting ordinary people. I think he won a Nobel Prize for that initiative. The documentary showed he had since moved into selling simple and effective solar panels. There is always scope to supplement these with basic wind wheels (I won’t call them turbine, although they are), and water wheels. However, it was his latest initiative that really made me sit up and take much note. He is now producing micro bio-fuel plants that are mainly suitable for a rural household or small farm. Just like what I am looking at now. Basically, they are a deep circular concrete pit that is filled with animal excrement, covered and left to mature. Later the methane gas produced is used to power a couple of gas rings. He also supplies these cookers as well by the way. One entrepreneur ran a chicken farm, and she had so much gas available that she now supplies a local tea house as well. In so doing she reduces the reliance on fossil fuels and use of wood for burning. The tea house now has a smoke-free atmosphere and trade is booming. The icing on the cake is that the spent remains from the pits are then used as high quality fertilizer and spread on the land – after all, all that has happened is that the methane has been removed. I have the greatest respect for this man, and must find a way to contact him sometime and ask him to come to China.


Back to our meal, and it is simple and very tasty. Our host’s youngest brother appears with a couple of beers, and we set about eating a typical selection of Chinese rural fare: chicken in one-million pieces, duck, pig, various cabbage things straight from the plot outside, and rice of course. We eat our fill, and I contemplate who will be sleeping where in this rambling building tonight. In typical Chinese style, the meal ends abruptly and we depart.


These are good people; and very honest, hardworking, and interested in our proposals. We board the car and are escorted to the main road by our host on a motorcycle. He then leads us to the local village, and after negotiating some narrow side streets designed with oxen in mind, we arrive – somewhere else.


We are greeted by an older couple who offer great hospitality, providing us with a selection of nuts and fruits, and gallons of tea. We pass the time while Uncle chats about education and Buddhism. We are then joined by his son, who has a business air about him and an aura of decision making. We spend some time discussing our olive proposal and then he goes off to make some phone calls.  Uncle now turns his attention to discussing traditional Chinese characters, and with notepad handy, begins to explain the true and higher meanings of some complicated scribbles. I have unanswered yet important questions, so choosing my moment, join Paul and a local farmer outside for a chat. I emphasise to Paul that I do not mean to be rude or personal. However, to cost this project I do need to know exactly what an average family in these parts currently earns each year, the cost of production and price of sale for rice, and associated things. I get direct answers and this guy is pleased to be of assistance to us. Doing some quick maths, I conclude we could increase their annual official wages by about three times, in bad circumstances, and by a decimal point for a great year. During this discussion the son reappears, and I am gawked at by a gaggle of teenage girls. Thanking this guy for excellent information, we are then scooped up into the flow of human motion as everybody leaves. The son has great difficulty extracting his micro-psv thingymagig from the room we were entertained in, but eventually he succeeds. Following a rather circuitous route we then arrive back in Peng Nam (Ping Nan).


We pull up outside a posh looking hotel, whose car park appears to be part of the adjoining road. Entering we check-in and are soon shown to our rooms. I share as usual with Uncle, whilst Paul and the other guy share one opposite. Lo San has a room to himself just down the corridor, but we are all accommodated in very nice rooms on the same hallway. Before Uncle has finished making tea, the son appears with his subordinate. It turns out he is the city treasurer or similar, and I very important person. He begins chain smoking and talking about business. Then Lo San arrives and I try to finish a txt message to Paul without appearing impolite. At just after 10 PM there is a knock on the door, and the Head of City government enters. His first language is probably Mandarin, but he soon starts speaking Cantonese so we can all understand him. Even I understand a lot of what he is saying! He came with a small entourage of siblings, and I worry Paul and the other guy are not with us – as it appears this business meeting at 10 on a Saturday night, is scheduled to take place ‘Now’ in our hotel room. As I reach for my mobile to call Paul, he knocks the door, and parties are complete.


One of the most intriguing things is that in deference, Chinese people always pull back the bedcovers before they sit on a bed. This would be the antipodes of what is polite in a Western society, but I eventually work out it is an honour for them not to mark the outside of the duvet unintentionally. I still find this a bit weird. Here is China!


The Boss of this city is a no-nonsense kind of guy, and immediately into what matters. Discussions are ordered and he sticks to his agenda, with suitable references to his protégés. Basically, our plan is accepted within 15 minutes, and subject to a firm business plan, has full government backing. I then ask certain questions related to the farmer’s welfare during the establishment years – all of which are answered directly and positively. That’s a wrap then!


The Big Boss soon departs, and we sort of group and discuss our various things. I mention that I fancy a beer, and do need to find a cash machine (ATM). No problem! Paul and the other guy immediately whisk me away, with my intention being to find the hotel ATM and withdraw the necessary. I am the only one who fancies a beer, so it is not important. Reaching reception we find the counter girls have been replaced by a night security guy who doesn’t know much and isn’t really interested. I poke around the corridors, as this place does have a business centre offering full office support in English, and this usually means there is a cash machine nearby. My efforts prove fruitless, so security advises us to use the ATM’s at the bank next door. Great!


No, not great. The bank is a Credit co-operative of Guangxi, and I already know they will not do international visa. The other guy insists on checking, and then Paul has to explain to him that my card is not a Chinese one. I am ready to return to the room, but appear to have inadvertently started a crusade for my companions. They head off down the street looking for a suitable Bank – and there simply aren’t any other banks. Full Stop! We hit a main road intersection that looks like it may be the city centre, and head left. What at first looked promising subsequently degenerates into a lower class affair. Then the ‘Hairdressers shops with no hairdressing equipment’ start to appear, and I count 12 within fifteen retail outlets. They are full of very attractive girls posing to attract clientele. Guangxi girls are similar in stature to Cantonese ones, except: they tend to have squarer faces, larger thighs, and very large things that are very interesting for boys attached to their chests. Paul then comments that the best ones end up going to cities like Foshan. Thanks’ Paul, I already worked that one out hahaha! This is going nowhere, so after a mile or so, we turn around and retrace our steps. Nearest our hotel, I inadvertently end up locking eyes with a most attractive young lady in the window of one of these establishments. My body appears to have stopped moving, and I regain my composure remembering I am a very happily married man to a wonderful and very attractive young lady who is far better than this one. This same instant happened to me many years before – one night in Beijing! This could explain why the song of the same name by the artist ‘Shin’ is very close to my heart. I make a point of leaving temptation behind and quickly move on…


We arrive back at the main road intersection, which is also the centre for late night eateries of undistinguished appeal. The other guy wants to complete our quest by heading right down the main street, but I have walked miles and had my libido surprised and severely tested. I insist we head straight back to the hotel, as nothing worthwhile will occur tonight, and we need to sleep ready for whatever tomorrow may inflict upon our equilibrium.


The new day dawns and I awake before Uncle as the clock approaches 6 am. The bed is made from sheets of rock, and I gingerly touch the cold floor and consider a cigarette and coffee – as another part of my mind still sees a most beautiful and meaningful pair of easy from late the night before. A great temptation and one I id not follow. Patting myself on the back for being a loving husband and a good boy, I soon work out the hotel room supplies stretch to a choice of red or green Chinese teas. No coffee then! Uncle awakes and immediately heads for an extended period in the bathroom. I hear the shower go on, and know I will follow his lead shortly. I make him a tea and search the hotel literature (Which is in both English and Chinese), in the hopes of finding the breakfast menu, or restaurant location. It appears to list everything else, except these two immediate concerns of mine. Do I need a childminder = No. Do I need the baby changing facilities = No. Do I need a massage = Yes; available from the third floor after 5pm. That’s out then. I do need coffee!


Uncle takes 40 minutes in the bathroom, but as we are due to meet the others at 7.30 for breakfast, this is fine. I get to the bathroom at around 6.45, and give birth to a dead rat or two. The shower proves interesting, as it has an extremely slippery floor, virtually covered with a high-intensity and pointy hard plastic floor mat. My options: 1. Remove the floor mat and fall over. 2. Leave the floor mat in place and have sharpened needles applied to the base of my feet. I choose the third option, which is to wedge my feet against the sides of the cubicle, just avoiding the seriously bad mat, and sort of wedge myself into a position where I can function. I have just got nicely wet, applied the gels from bottles, and can’t see through the foam – when the door goes and hear Lo San’s voice, and am then informed we are leaving for breakfast ‘Now!’ Bollocks!


I inform them I will finish my ablutions and join them shortly. They wait patiently for me. I am done inside 2-minutes and walk out with a hand-towel wrapped around my large body in order to retrieve my clean clothes from my travel sack, only to find the city treasurer in discussion with almost everybody else in our hotel room. I am sure I am not a pretty sight, so put my shoulders back and act big and non-plussed (Which I am not).


I dress as they discuss education for young children, and am ready and waiting for then to finish chatting in short time. Lo San says we should leave them to it and head for breakfast, as we are leaving to see something very soon. Lo San is speaking Cantonese, and hearing this, the others soon adjourn as we leave together. The Western restaurant isn’t open for breakfast, but the Chinese Morning Tea one is. It is ok, and has hundreds of people in attendance. I get the usual gawks and stares + some brave young mites saying ‘Hello’ egged on by eager parents. Being seated, everybody disappears off somewhere, so I am left alone with Paul and the other guy. They order a semi breakfast, and I surprise the serving wench by asking for coffee in cool Cantonese. She gives me a quissical look before deciding she probably heard correctly, and goes to bring me the coffee menu. They appear to offer 50 types of coffee, so I close the book immediately and ask for a very large ordinary coffee. This is not correct, so I have to choose a blend apparently. I have learnt that in China it is best to order ‘Brazilian’, as their versions of Columbian and Costa Rican are usually abysmal. All I actually want is a large mug of Nescafe, but it is not to be. Instead I get served thimble-full’s of almost excellent South American coffee. This becomes a perpetual order. Meanwhile the Town Mayor has rocked up to share breakfast with us. This is a great honour, and I mean that sincerely. He selects various dim sun from the passing trolleys, and passing on the chickens feet, I tuck into excellent meat balls and ‘Gao d’Zhie’. Then the Sik Juck (Rice porridge) arrives, and it is thin and has nothing else in it; especially lacking salt. The Boss serves me a bowl, thank you; and then I add some vinegared melon and bits of other stuff. Eventually I ask a bewildered waitress for salt and pepper, which duly comes accompanied by a dish if diced hot chillies in soy sauce. Tasty!


The City Mayor confirms his commitment to this project - and if we are genuinely serious; as he has since spoken to his inner circle and received unanimous support. Note: This all happened between 11pm and 7 am – Saturday evening to Sunday morning. I am greatly impressed by this.


Breakfast abruptly finishes, as these things do in China, and we head off to find cars and pay our respects to the urinals. I check out if this hotel actually does have an ATM, only to be directed to the business centre. This is tucked obscurely down a side-corridor, and appears to be a travel agency come local information centre. Paul collects some leaflets, and we depart with due haste – as we are off to see the number one location for our olive farm immediately.


I am not beguiled by this information, and so it comes as no surprise when we arrive at a building site for a guided tour of constructions, with the option to add a Marina nearby that links with our own home so many miles downriver. Thank you.


We then leave the ‘B Class’ roads for less travelled versions and en route, wend our way through somebody’s back garden. We then enter a maze of Ox tracks before detouring around a stand of quick-growing bamboo, join a Chinese rally-cross course. Sorry, my mistake – it is actually a road transportation network.


Uncle was suffering in the back of this jalopy, so I have swapped places with him to ease his distress, and am now positioned in one of the ergonomically designed rear seats designed for 2 midgets. However, we are three large men – so after the rally-cross circuit, my shoulders are pummelled by the headrest, and the crazy cushioning for side support is throwing my back into serious contortions – so much so that I have to stop the car and swap to the other side. After just a couple of hours, my back is a mess and I will need massage and time to recover … and we aren’t even headed home yet! I could actually do with lying down in the mud and having a Sumo wrestler walk on my back. Thank you Toyota!


The dirt track comes to a place of no furtherance, and we disgorge from the quantum beast. I exercise to distend my contorted spine, and Uncle comments my ‘Tai Chi’ is not very good - He will give me lessons’. Ugggh! I eventually manage to stand up straight, and just in time to greet a lad I know and like very well – I last saw him for lunch on my island, and took him for ‘A Likely Suspect’ even then. Fantastic! As Brother’s in Arms, we head for his parental home.


Homes in this village follow the courtyard layout, with several family units enclosed within. We enter through the main door and are welcomed by the residents who immediately offer us tea and snacks. This area is probably 16 feet long by 10 feet wide, and houses a community table and chairs. Set to either side are family quarter’s numbers three and four. They are mirror images of each other, featuring a single doorway which leads into a small living or community room. A small section of this room, set to the front of the main building is equipped as a small private kitchen. Two further doors give access to reasonably sized bedrooms, whose purpose would have originally been for parents and children respectively.


At the centre of the main dwelling is a large open courtyard with sunken pit similar to the one I saw last night. This building is single storey with a flat roof, and whilst this overhangs the walkways, the area above the pit is open to the skies. This pit also contains drains and is used for food preparation. There are also other things and I find a couple of buckets filled with a white murky liquid. I am informed this is some form of local hooch, which seems to mature into a weak rice beer of sorts.


Entering this quadrangle I find a passageway with occasional door to my immediate right. This is probably not used often, as the alcove it forms is festooned with dry tinder, pieces of wood that are mainly bamboo, and a large cylindrical apparatus about 4 feet across and 5 feet high. This is made of galvanised metal and I lift the lid to peer inside, but it is empty. However, I notice it is made from 10 inch high sections that slot into place. Continuing along the right wall are several storage sheds which lead to a passageway. This gives access to family quarter’s number 2, and at the end is located the stairs to the flat roof above, and a really basic toilet tucked underneath in the furthest corner.


On the left side of the quadrangle are the storage and preparation areas for the family food. An adjacent stand pipe provides fresh water, and later the women use this and the associated area of the pit to prepare vegetables for lunch. Beyond this is a side alley to an outside door, and beyond again are family quarter’s number one. Both family quarters one and two appear to span the alleyways, but a single room (Or rooms) are set behind. In front and completing the quadrangle are a couple of large community rooms. These show obvious signs of being used as a kitchen with dining area, and a general living room.


This then would represent a small family based community, with quarters for the main householder and possibly his parents or brother. Grown children, probably with their own children, would then occupy the two apartments set to the front of the building.


I wander back for more tea, avoiding small children running around and several dogs and cats. One of the ‘Mama’s’, an older lady of advanced years is chasing chickens away from the preparation area with a broom. I greet ‘Papa’ and then continue outside where the ground is a mix of grass and hardcore. To my right is a lowland area complete with various fruit trees and an ox taking shade. A family garden is evident, which must supply the vegetables used by the household, and not those grown for sale. In front of me now lie crops drying in the sun, and upon investigation I find these to be peanuts! I did know that peanuts came from a form of root tuber, but had never seen them attached to a plant before now. There are some pictures of this and our trip to Guangxi here:



We then assemble to take a short walk before lunch is served, and head out down a meandering track wide enough for one person at a time. This wends its way through other smallholdings and I pass by a hedge that is composed of courgettes (Zucchini). Later we pass an alter beneath a very large and old tree. Paul informs me this tree is the protector of the village, and has stood for hundreds of years. Apparently, as long as it is alive the village will prosper. Evidence suggests small offerings are made as thanks to this tree, mainly in the form of joss sticks. I have no problem with this, as it shows an inherent respect for nature and Gaia (Mother Earth).


This now marks the boundary of the settlements, and we climb a natural ridge which overlooks the commercial growing fields. These are tilled by oxen with wooden plough and a single metal plough share. There will be a farm collective running all this, and I have no idea who actually is responsible for which section of land. You will see from the pictures the land is fertile and well cultivated. Several villagers are tending crops, and the unmistakable signs of sequential planting are immediately evident – well, it is no use having all your commercial crops ripen at the same time is it?


We wander down a large track and come to the river, which is many feet below and quite wide. This is the Xi Jiang, or a major tributary of the Pearl River. I could go home by boat! I study the banks as the others head down to the shore. I ask Paul to find out how high this river floods, and he comes back to tell me the normal highest tide is about where I am standing. I thank him and say to myself, ‘I thought so’. That’s an awful lot of water. Oh, and just in case you wondered, this place is about 400 miles from the sea, and is still considered to be a tidal river and salt contamination of the natural river water is a small problem in the wrong conditions!


We mill about for a while as Paul collects shells and small rocks for his koi carp tank. I watch fishermen and trading vessels of some size using the river, and marvel at so much activity. Never underestimate the influence of rivers on human behaviour and communication. After 30 minutes or so we head back to the house.


Lunch is almost ready by the time we return, and is being prepared in number three quarters by my good friend and another lad of far stockier build, who is apparently either the brother or son of one of the wives. I glimpse a senior ranking young lady wearing traditional ethnic dress, possibly of the Miao ethnic group, and presume this is her younger Brother. Regardless, I soon discover he is an excellent cook! We eat at the small table near the main door, and what a feast is set before us! There is chicken, goose, pork, fish, beef, plus one of my favourite dishes; Chinese potatoes with pork and gravy. The women then bring extra vegetables picked from the field just 5 minutes before, and rice of course. My friend then produces a large box of excellent beer and we begin.


I have eaten a lot of Chinese food in my year here, ranging from the poshest restaurants and hotels, to street bars and this barbeques. This food ranks easily in my top ten all time meals, and probably in my top three ever. Totally delicious! I cannot single out a single dish for praise, as they are all culinary delights. The sun is out and warming, the beer flows, plus the company and crack (Talk in Irish) are excellent.  I feel very honoured and humbled to share this with such a warm and welcoming family.


However, all things must pass, and so it is the meal draws to a close, and we begin the long ride home. Bidding farewell I am stopped from leaving by the young lady I mentioned earlier. She hands me a ‘Lai See’ (Or red envelope containing lucky money). I have no reason to expect this at all, and am overwhelmed. However, I am honoured and accept this gratefully. This is now set for safe keeping, unopened – and will remain that way as a sign of my respect and admiration for these lovely people.


My friend escorts us to the car, whilst a gaggle of teenage girls practice saying hello in English. I act as agent provocateur and speak first. This sends them into howls of giggles and some blush profusely. My-my hahaha! I then make this worse for them by introducing myself in Cantonese, and move on as their incredulity strikes.


One thing I have learnt by being an Expat, is that whilst we are all different, we are also all very similar. I am also aware that wherever I go, I am always a representative of my Country in this land. I do my best to respect this role and pay due respect to the Country I am allowed to live in. In other words, I in my small way am an Ambassador for the British peoples, and they will judge not only me, but my homeland by how I am when they meet me – probably for the first and only time. Think about it, and then wonder WTF modern UK has allowed to become of our once great culture?


However, I will get back in the car and continue with my story before ‘I go off on one’ hehe!


Leaving behind this most wonderful experience I have learnt to respect these people immensely. We did not discuss much business not olives, as this had already preceded us. Lo San drives back via an even more circuitous route, and we come to another plain with some signs of minor crop growing. He indicates this is a good area for us to develop and we stop the car to take the customary pictures and soil samples. One of my major worries apart from climate has been soil Ph, as this needs to be above 7. I later discover the samples from this area are 7.2 = excellent!


This stated, I still haven’t found the ideal location bereft of cultivation, and near a centre such as a town or city. We head off and negotiate back to the way we came in, but I notice we turn right; where in my mind we should have gone left? I am not mistaken, for we soon emerge into a meandering small town. Here Lo San is on his mobile, and is guided to a row of burgeoning shops, one of which is a hands-on car washy. We park the wheels and head for their toilet, a none descript affair complete with toothbrushes and similar paraphernalia. This place reminds me of a time-warp from early 60’s England, or Ireland for that matter. However the young owner is keen to work and washes the car over with a hosepipe to begin. Meanwhile Paul is assisting in getting the carbuoy of foam-wash working, only to decide it is out of air. They turn on the compressor and it springs to life, with jets of bubbly white foam cascading over the car and surrounding area. I retire to a safe distance and start watching the weird and wonderful contraptions used for transportation purposes in this area. They have a distinctive motorcycle three-wheeler in these parts that sort of has a car type open body. It is most odd.


The owner is by this time washing the car with a rag, and also cleans the car mats with a small brush, which he then rinses and leaves out to dry in the sun. Not bad for early December 2009. Whilst finishing the wash, he also opens every door and valets the inside, plus inner door frame. Crikey! This is some good value! However, waxing technology and applications appear to have not reached this area of China yet, so we head off blow-drying the car in the wind. I think that all cost Y10, or less than a quid.


We then head back into the main town centre, which is a hive of activity in typical Chinese fashion. I took some more snaps of this for your interest. I am asked if we want to see a bamboo furniture factory, and I say – ‘Why not’. This means a slight detour, and we soon arrive in the smaller neighbouring town of Daxin. We pull over and wait. Lo San is on his mobile for some time, obviously directing somebody to our present location. After five minutes my good friend arrives, and it seems he usually lives here and not at the farm we luncheoned at. He leads us in another car, and we turn down a small side street, just avoiding a fishmonger who has an exceedingly large fish in a basin of water. This is some type of carp, and about 4 feet long. A whale! I rant about this to the others, but the moment is passed.


Turning right, we then enter a less salubrious area and park outside a bamboo market – except it isn’t a bamboo market any longer, it is now the bamboo furniture factory. We get out and meander around. One guy who is new to me takes the lead, and I prepare my senses for whatever may transpire.


Headed through the old market, which is now used as a storage and drying area for tree bark (Probably pine), we enter a rear courtyard and dive immediately into a workshop. We are greeted by the female boss and her husband, and then pass clutches of women painting wooden flowerpots. These come in all shapes and sizes, some with pretty natural woven patterns, whilst others are painted. This stuff is actually very good for what it is – given you are wanting to buy flowerpot holders or serving trivia for your table or hotel. And that’s it! This place doesn’t actually make bamboo furniture; it does make containers from tree bark and rattan. Fine! We swap business cards and say goodbye to a very nice lady boss.


Perhaps now we are going home? I am worried about the time, as the last ferry to my island home departs at 9.15 sharp, and I reckon it is now 2pm, and we have 10 hours driving in front of us. I am assured that I shouldn’t worry. Thanks, I mentally prepare for a night in a hotel.


We leave Daxin and pick up the main road. Within a short time we are on a backroad into the nearest major city when we get stuck behind a long procession of assorted vehicles. Lo San uses the car well, and we speed past a group of wedding cars.  The land here is flat and uncultivated. I see tower blocks rising less than one linear mile away, and the roads are good. I tell Lo San to stop the car. He thinks I am a little crazy, but honours my request. This is it! I scramble about with Paul, who immediately does his ‘David Bailey’, and we take time to examine the land in detail. The city side of the road has some evidence of cultivation, but it is sparse and intermingled with land for the evident oxen to graze. Contrarily, it is the Northern side of the road that grabs our attention. There is visually no cultivation here except for cash crops such as bananas and sweet bamboo. Therefore this vast swathe of land is not under collective farm rice production and ideal for our purposes. I guestimate there is at least 10 square miles of land to the north of this road, and this is exactly what we have been searching for for months!


We excitedly head back to the car, whose occupants don’t really seem to get it. However, Lo San says this is within a different area of government, but this is no problem if we want to site our project here. I am not giving you any full details of our plan, as I have no idea who may read this, nor their intentions. However, the trip is now completed for Paul and I, and we relax in the knowledge that we have accomplished our task.


The drive back is a bore, until we reach the roadwork’s section. Then we are greeted with the sight of a brand new micro-bus lying on its side in the middle of the road. This must just have happened as it is only a few vehicles in front of us. From the position of the vehicles it is hard to discern what actually occurred, but Paul manages to squeeze the car through the approaching melee down a severe ramp into the roadworks section. Then rounding one truck, we steer past a car transporter with one micro-bus missing. Ahha! It would appear the transporter hit the roadworks and the bus fell off the back. Fortunately no one was injured, as this could have been very bad. I note the truck which was presumably following, only had minor damage and the driver must have had pretty quick reactions – I mean, it is not everyday you are driving along a road without a care in the world, only to be confronted by an airborne micro-bus headed directly for your windscreen. As we say: Here is China!


The rest of the journey is punctuated by toilet breaks and a stop to buy Chinese grapefruit at a roadside vendors pad. This is like a lay-by with a shop attached, and not much else going for it. The people are migrant workers who scrape a living of passers-by. You can see from the pictures that they work and live in lean-to shelters composed of un-mortared bricks, and just behind the counters are beds for the families involves – my best guess is Mother and Son. A couple of the associated girls are wearing conspicuous clothing of a different kind, and I have no problem working out what other goods or services they may sell. I finish my cigarette and get back into the car, whilst the others feast on Chinese grapefruit – which is actually one of my preferred fruits. I contemplate taking some back for Siu Ying, but they are smaller than those from our own tree, so forego.


Drivers change, and Lo San now occupies the middle rear seat, which is small (Which he is), and also possibly the least uncomfortable. We soon reach Wuzhou City, but instead of turning left over the bridge, we head straight-on for some unbeknownst reason. The roadway narrows, and then narrows some more, and we end up in a small hamlet where the road ends. We get out to help Lo San turn the car around, and head back up the road again.


Reaching the point where I though we should have gone over the bridge, we now head over the bridge. I do query this, but apparently they thought it was a short-cut. Hmmmm! It’s going to be a hotel for me tonight I am sure! Uncle tells me not to worry, so I don’t ish


Bypassing Wuzhou, which seems like a very good idea, we follow the Pearl River to the sea. This goes on for hours, and I really am extremely uncomfortable by now. I ask for the car to stop, but we continue. I change sitting positions several times, but now have a seriously antagonised back – wherever I put it. Hello Toyota, I suggest you try this as a factory experiment, with five large people in a car with ergonomically designed seating for only four. It is seriously bad + apologies if I repeat myself, but at this point I am seriously thinking of going to a hospital rather than a hotel. It really is that bad!


I can tell we are back in Guangdong, as the roads change and are more western somehow. Don’t ask me how I know, just accept this. I again ask for the car to stop very soon, and we head on regardless. I am considering just how to make a polite scene about this, when we pull in to a shack at the side of the road. Even though I am seated by the door, I cannot get out without assistance, and this takes the best part of a minute! I am very wary of how my body moves, as I once suffered a very serious back problem – so I know one false move and I may be laid up again for several years. However, I now understand my back very well, and manage to get it and it’s components to where they should be. It is so bad, I do not have a cigarette even after a couple of hours without – this is a bad problem for me. I stretch and exercise, and eventually recognise we probably stopped just in time to avoid a serious back injury to myself, but it was extremely close!


I hope Toyota provides medical cover for back injuries caused directly by their ergonomic designer seating – I must email and ask then when I get back home.


Relief flows though my whole system, and I join the others inside for relief and restitution. I am taken directly into the kitchen, where the chef and owner greets us and asks us to choose what we want to eat. I point at a couple of things before he finishes cooking a dish, and comes around to say hello. He does this in English, but only knows this and maybe a couple of other words. However, he has a hearty demeanour and winning smile. I say hello and ask him if he has eaten in Cantonese, and he is beside himself with joy. Gawd! Looks like I am the star turn again!


The following meal is excellent, if a bit pricey, but far better than the awful stuff served at Chinese transport cafes. I store its location in my mental map of hereabouts, which is near Siu Heng. Satisfied the bill is paid and Uncle insists I sit in the front seat. After far too long in the back, this is heaven, and I am ok. I was dreading this last bit, but it is fine.


We eventually make it back to Gaogong around half ten at night, which was my presumption. Uncle makes a couple of phonecalls, and the ferry which serves the other island is sent out to meet me. The lads depart as they still have a ways to go. I await and talk to a wary staff. He does not know me, although most of his cohorts do. Apparently this trip is free of charge, but Security checks with the Captain just to make sure. I am bona fid, and soon whisked away to my island, where I leap ashore and head home to my wife and normal existence.


Apart from the Toyota, this was a lot of fun - so I thank my friends for including me in this adventure


Best wishes






















New van falls off lorry on way back