July 2nd: On the Chinese Border, Hockow, ChinaChina - the block in my mind, the heart of the trip, is finally upon me. This land and was never one I thought I'd visit, or even had a yearning to. It is perhaps because of this that I am here.
Contrary to my worries, border formalities passed with smiles, praise from the young Chinese border guards as they hovered over the bike and a comfortable wicker chair to sit in whilst my passport was dealt with. The Vietnamese customs had been more uptight, with the exception for one passport controller who seretly passed me his address, with the request that I send him some pictures of Sapa and England.
I'm writing this diary from the the typical huge hotel described in the guidebooks - long corridors disappearing into darkness, a thermos of tea, squat toilets all in a row, rock hard beds, 8 channels of Chinese TV, and spittoons... No one speaks a word of English, the phrasebook section of the guide is suddenly indispensable to point words and clumsily construct a sentence.
I've always been intrigued by the idea of an invisible line dividing a people, language and tradition. The hotel I am in is one of many shiny blue glassed hotels that seems somehow out of place in a border town. There's not much of the trading frenzy that's so often present, but out there the sleeping giant awakes...
I leave my room to walk the streets. My first meal is a little disappointing - fried noodles resting in an oil slick. I'm approached by Way - 'Hi', (hawk,spit). He proclaims himself to be the finest English speaker in Hockow. Brandishing the lyrics of a Celine Dion number he clears his throat, hawks imressively on the ground and breaks into song as I munch on my noodles, to the bemusement of both myself and all around.
Way's a quirky character and becomes my self appointed guide for the day. We eat fresh lai chi as we wander the streets, chatting and discussing Celine Dion. Way's favourite film is Titanic and his girlfriend lives in Vietnam, though he doesn't actually know her name yet... In fact, most of the people he waves to seem to ignore him... Since arriving in Kunming and exchanging tales with other travellers, it seems the 'Way Experience' is a common one for those crossing the border from Hockow - though he saved the singing for me!
So finally I have arrived in China. In the past, when I had received postcards from travelling friends, it always seemed such an adventurous and mysterious destination - but here I am, and it's all happening right now. The unreadable symbols, the customs, the noise, the life...
So many people, yet I feel so alone. I return to my room to contemplate the road ahead - the background noise of unintelligible Chinese chatter is somehow comforting, reminding me of the restaurants in Chinatown, my father used to take me to when I was eight and learning the classical guitar.
The blanket on the bed is like an enormous towel, and I wrap myself in it and await the call of sleep.