This is the reason why I came here. Talk about whiff of history? This fort, Jiayuguan in north Gansu province, Â is the end of The Great Wall and with it, Chinese civilisation. Outside this was The Big Nothing, where people were sent into exile for some misdemeanor or other, ushered out of the west gateÂ (the Gate of Sorrows)of the aboveÂ magnificent structure, with the details of their crime or just the fact that they were a criminal, tattooed on their forehead.Â
Charming! But at least they were free to go – into hundreds of kilometers of rocky desert.Â
And so were we, it appeared, after we’d taken the photos and aah’d and ooh’d for some time. Where were we? Where was the road? Where was the daylight? Darkness was encroaching and we had no transport. This could be a huge price to pay to get some sunset photographs: Having to spend the night in the Gobi desert with hostile rocks and what not.Â
But as I said to my trusty travel companion Richard: Have we ever not been rescued in China? Didn’t we hitchhike through Tibet? And sure enough, a few seconds later this motorbike pulled up and the driver ordered us to get on. He drove us until we were too scared to continue (the motorbike being clearly built for only one passenger, if that, and certainly not to overtake huge trucks going downhill) and before we’d got our arses off that bike, a tourist (or something) bus stopped on the middle of a bridge and the driver insisted on driving us to a good Sichuan restaurant, free.Â
This is China.Â
It was a beautiful day all round; not only the frisson of fear of death, but just rolling into Jiayuguan that morning with snow-capped mountains outside the train window brought great happiness.
Then we got a lift with these geezers to go and see the fort and something called the little Great Wall (yes in China things can easily be little and great at the same time)
and then finally we caught a lift with a kind of motorbike truck thingy, saving us from being fried to powder on what would otherwise have been a 20 kilometer walk.
This was one of the few vehicles in town not festooned with “I love China, the Communist Party and The Holy Olympics” flags and T-shirts. Everywhere we go, massive iron railing arrangements are being set up or dismantled, all depending on the Holy Flame having been to the particular place, or just having left.
Holy flame. I don’t know. It’s an artificial fire perched on a jumped-up piece of cardboard?
Poor Chinese, don’t they realise that their country is so wonderful (or would have been if they hadn’t been so hell-bent on tearing down all the good bits) – they don’t need a big sports arrangement to “put it on the map”?