• Bob Taylor

Musings - Day 14

Day 14 – 9th January 2020


Thanks again for the messages, wonderful support. I think that at the beginning of these Musings, I laid forth a disclaimer, perhaps it’s time to reinforce that same provision. Facts imparted are purely what I have picked up along the way, so I make no claim to their absolute accuracy. However stories are a different matter …

Here is what I have observed that happens throughout China. They paint all trees within the city limits white at the bottom of their trunks. Every single one. Not a tree spared. What I did not know until now, was why? The white paint is not ordinary paint as such but a latex spray. It protects the trunk against attacks by parasites, rodents, borers and against severe growth damage - when the girth of a tree increases, the bark can get ruptured. When the bark is damaged, it provides easy access for parasitic insects. It protects against temperature differences because the white colour reflects sunlight and it isolates the trunk during the night and in the winter. Okay so for the people who have lost interest, please stay as there is plenty to tell.

I enjoyed Urumqi, especially the cost of restaurants. An average three course meal costs around £7 maybe £10 if you include drinks. The standard has been great, albeit lowered because of my inability with chopsticks. No one has asked yet but I must be responsible for so many fellow diners dry cleaning.

Apparently the white ones make the best eating?

Sadly I leave Urumqi in exploration of Beijing. A bullet train is my conveyance, that reputedly travels at 217mph. Not all the time though. I qualify: Firstly if it did none of the passengers would be able to get on or off. Secondly my eleven hundred mile journey would be done in around five and a half hours – Nah! So my phone battery has gone again so the picture below is one from the “Tinterweb.” (Thank you to Peter Kay, or more accurately, his mom for lending me the epithet) It looks like a Berwick Swan from the front, I suppose it has to be designed to go through the wind at that speed. Anyway, my compartment was very comfortable albeit a little claustrophobic, with charging, Wi-Fi, and a soft pillow. I think that I was carriage number twenty eight, which gives you an idea of the length of the thing.

After a doze in my tube, I have had a freshen up. Armed with just my Kindle (expecting a quiet beer and a read) I have decided to find the buffet car. Well I didn’t expect to need a map when walking down a train. If anything I required a scooter, it was that distant. I don’t think that I ever walked that far when I had a dog! It was like a school punishment. (Taylor, after school you will walk forty times around the quadrangle. And don’t be smart because I’ll be watching!) I am now about to deliver some hindsight: It was harder walking back that evening than going, for two reasons: Firstly, on the return I would be walking the way the train wasn’t going and natures forces would be at work. Secondly, although I didn’t know it at the time, I was going to be coming back loaded. Unbeknownst to me I was to befriend a certain Don Bundaberg!

After a year, I found the buffet. Three people were at the bar, sitting on stools, the rest were in booths without walls. (Strange description that one - may not make the final edit) I ordered a beer that I believed couldn’t wait to meet me. My mouth was like a sanders apron after that hike up the train, so as you can imagine the first gulps hardly touched the sides.

“Looks like you needed that one mate.” I thought I had been transported to an episode of Skippy the bush kangaroo. As I turned, behind me was the bearer of the sentence. A wizened old Aussie, with a face that he was still discovering. The lines, the character, the history. Everything about this guys face made me want an education. His beard was so thick at the strike of seven I thought a cuckoo might pop out.

“I did – er, 1 do,” I gasped breathless after that first taste.

“Did you just say Didgeridoo?”

“No pal. I’m getting another, do you want to join me?

“Why not?” (does that deserve a question mark when it was so obviously rhetorical?)

We sat on the two remaining stools, introduced ourselves and got to know one another via the usual travellers small talk. You know the kind of stuff: Where are you heading? Where have you come from? Has your wife run off with a sheep sheerer? Just mundane run of the mill chit chat. I enquired after the origin of his name. he told me that he was named after the Australian batsman Don Bradman. His father had been a mad keen cricket fan, and his mother had a bit of a crush on Mr Bradman, being somewhat of a local celebrity. He went on to espouse about his dads cricketing hero for some time, and I didn’t really want to spoil his flow by saying, no I meant your surname. You see later in the conversation I said that the biggest Australian Rum distiller was Bundaberg. Pans out he’d never heard of it. He declared that he was an out and out beer man, and thought it odd of me to mention it. To which I can now testify to the former, wholeheartedly. To get one over on him I told him that I was named after Elvis Presley. The following is verbatim of how it unfolded. Then he said to me that he thought my name was Bob. I told him it was, but that it was short for Robert. He looked quizzically adrift. He followed with the question is your surname Presley? Nah I said. Well is your middle name Aaron then? Nah. But you said you were named after Elvis Presley? And I said, I was – he was born before me! At this point you can see that his brain is a castaway. Around four or five seconds passed with the inane look that only a befuddled bushman can produce. Then he let out the most enormous roar, laughing with real tears for a good couple of minutes. I knew that I was going to get on with him.

We swapped so many stories and drank, frankly, a ridiculous amount of beer. The carriage emptied, I suppose because we were a bit raucous. The incident or tale should I say that gave me the most fascination went as follows. (Please bear in mind that I am recounting this the day after)

Dons tale –

He told me of a friend of his who was going through the most traumatic depression. It was in his Home town of Adelaide. His first wife had left him for a shoe salesman, and his second had left him for a mobile cobbler. He thought that all women were going to put the boot in. (I remember being expected to laugh at this addition, so I obliged) His last girlfriend of a year whom he recently had broken up with, thankfully nothing to do with footwear this time, but because he had lost his job, had no money behind him, and no foreseeable prospects. Here comes another Bunderburger – “You could say he was down on his heels.” More copious unashamed guffawing. So now he is seemingly devoid of females in his life.

His best friend advised, “Er – have you tried blokes?” followed quickly by, “Does your old fella salute the jockey?” Upon completely refuting the notion, his best friend finishes with, “Well I’ve ran out of ideas mate.”

So our crest fallen victim in all of this, decides on suicide as his only way to end the agony of his heart break. After an appeal to his last girlfriend fails, his desperation falls to its lowest ebb. One last attempt for comfort with a call to the Samaritans.

He dialled: It was a recorded message – so that we can more efficiently direct your call, please choose one of the following options. If you're mildly depressed, press 1. If you are clinically depressed press 2. If you are considering counselling press 3. For suicide press 4. – So he presses 4.

Thank you for reaching the suicide help line – please decide from one of the following options. Press 1 for pills. Press 2 for weapons. Press 3 for throwing yourself off a tall building. Or press 4 to hear these options again. – He put the phone down.

I obviously asked, “What happened next?”

Don continued, He walked out of the phone booth and into an oncoming car. He didn’t die, he wasn’t that lucky, but was taken to the Royal Hospital with multiple wounds and breakages. He was nursed back to a position where he was moved in plaster to a mixed ward, where he met in the next door bed, the woman who had smashed her car in after she had hit him. After three months he was allowed out and eventually married the driver of the car. There were no more financial woes because it turned out that she owned a chain of shoe shops throughout Australia. The irony sometimes, of what is simply life’s rich tapestry.

The sad part to this is that after I retired, leaving him dozing in the booth without walls, (did I mention...?) I didn't see him again. I seem to recall in the fog of last night that he wasn't going all the way to Beijing. Out of the train a taxi took me to what turned out to be the quirkiest and really quite impressive hotel that I have stayed in on this trip. This is down a very small alley that anything bigger than an ordinary car, would not be allowed down. Here's a sneak preview, more tomorrow.

Position: 39°55'54” N 116°24'48”E – Miles completed: 07103

Location: Beijing, China. 21::32 - 9th January 2020 - Journey 14 days 18 hours

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