Bang Bang Bang! Bang Bang Bang! [there was definite urgency
in the bangage]. I flung the door open in my PJs to find an exasperated Mike
standing there: “Let’s go!” “What? Where?…” I jumped in his car with
disgraceful hair and disgracefuller morning breath and sped off to immigration.
I knew there was a chance I’d be hoping on a boat sometime
on Monday, possibly… but it was meant to be afternoonly and the reality of all
the maybes made me half suspect it would never happen… But there I was at 8am,
stamped out of Thailand with about half an hour to make it to the port to board
some sort of boat that would allegedly take me to somewhere in China for a yet
to be discussed cost… There was no turning back now!
I threw my belongings into my saddle bags, did a facebook
update so people could know where my bodily remains could be located [if it
came to that], got on my bike and pedaled like the wind [on a particularly
breezy day].
I made three wrong stops on route, but there before me lay
my glorious timber boat – Fengshun 3. Mike and May-ee, who I’d met on Saturday
while trying to organize the non-existent, allegedly impossible vessel, met me
onboard. Mike speaks some English and Thai, May-ee speaks Thai and Mandarin and
the crew speak ONLY Mandarin… Through the various interpretation channels my
800 yuan ($125) fee was negotiated, and the rules were laid down:
1)  
Under no circumstances am I allowed to go to the
front, the roof, or the captains sector of the ship.
2)  
If they point to my room, I need to go there as
quickly as possible and close the curtains.
3)  
I am not allowed to disembark in Laos or Myanmar
Mike and May-ee
And that was it – not a lot of rules considering it’s
currently illegal to take passengers up the Mekong and that my mere presence
onboard made them far more likely to be targeted by Mekong pirates, of which
there have been a lot lately!
   
I bid my translation duo farewell and settled into life as a
semi-stowaway. There was no need to have hurried though – it took hours before
we eventually departed.
With the Golden Triangle drifting further and further away,
the scenery became increasingly awe-spaculous! I met the crew in bits and
pieces, but with only charades to communicate with I couldn’t even get their
names.

The shower slash toilet….
Meal times bought with them table-fulls of delicious foods
and plenty awkward conversation [I assume] about the stranger in their midst!
At dinner I was overloaded with rice wine (I think) as they “Gambei-ed” me in
rounds trying to out drink me. They did. I was honoured to share a room with
the cook – she won the love and appreciation of both my heart and my stomach!
The rest of the 7-person crew included one man manning the
wheel, 2 men who sat at the front of the boat with bamboo sticks to check the
depth of the water, one man in the boiler room, one man keeping watch, and at
any given time – for no apparent reason – there was always one person doing
laundry. Geraldine was the only one who had any time to spare, so I spent a lot
of time babbling to her – but I tried not to get too attached, I feared she too
may be joining the dinner table soon!
Geraldine
Monday evening had me chased to my room for the first time
where I sat for a couple of hours with the curtains drawn shut while the world
went by outside, Tuesday morning again. On Tuesday afternoon, after I’d
finished washing my bike (yup – I had to at least pretend to look busy), we had
military board our ship with guns… but the excitement was short lived and they
too departed.
Being the dry season and heading up stream is no easy task.
Every time we hit rapids or a sand bank (which was quite frequently), 2 of the
crew would swim to shore with ropes and tie us to the closest country where an
intricate uber pulley rig would slowly lug us forward to easier waters. The
crew didn’t mess around.
One section of rapids we conquored
The engines fired up by 5-30 am each morning, and we docked
at the very last light – around 8pm. By 10pm (latest), the generators were off
and a world of moonless darkness with no light anywhere engulfed us. The
others, having worked a 14.5 hour day would all drift straight to sleep, I
would lie awake feeling the bugs crawl on me and having a few unwarranted
reunions with ‘the rat’.
I’d heard that the trip could take anything from 2 days to a
week, so from the second afternoon, any time I saw any sign of civilization my
heart would start beating – “is that China?” – I lost track of how many times I
asked that question– it sucks to not know, not that it would have made much of
a difference I suppose, but I had to ration my coffee and…
Is this China???
Eventually, by afternoon the third, we definitely crossed
into Chinese waters – there was no mistaking the flashing lights and massive
“Border police” sign. I packed up all my belongings in anticipation, but it
would still be hours before we reached the port.
I climbed down the stairs to find Geraldine tied up and
stick man number 2 holding her by the neck with something shiny in his hands. I
went straight upstairs – I couldn’t watch – she’d come so close to surviving…  Minutes later I watched her be placed on the
roof, along with her cage – stick man motioned a “shhhh!” to me and I breathed
a massive sigh of relief and broke into smiledom!
When we eventually did arrive, border control were very
surprised to find me there and, after they excessively searched some of my
luggage, I touched dry land for the first time in three days. Because all the
forms were in Chinese, it took me 5 attempts to fill in my immigration card,
but apart from that it was problem free. Far too easy even.
I had arrived in China unmurdered, un-shot-at and unrobed;
and my little Chinese bicycle [and probably most of the other belongings] was
home!
  


1 Comment

Lisa Pieterse · May 31, 2012 at 5:20 am

Unbelievable! You are incredible, it is half unbelievable.
Not sure if you will have much internet posting freedom in china, but if you do please post pics of your mom 🙂 another incredible woman, so apples, trees, idioms, etc.

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