I’m ill. I lay in bed with a fever, shivering but sweating. I ache. I groan. Chris showers me with sympathy. In my sick delirium, I search the internet to diagnose myself. I read about all of the possible diseases I could have, and all of them fit my symptoms. Why oh why didn’t I look into getting some vaccinations before coming here? Is my disdain for pharmaceutical companies really worth getting sick for? I decide that I definitely have dengue fever. Then I look up malaria risks in China. Every province has a low-to-zero risk, except for Yunnan province, where I am laying ill. It has a high risk. That’s it. I have malaria. I instruct Chris to go to the chemist, buy me some rehydration salts (my answer to every single illness, no matter what the symptoms, whilst on the road) and to find out if there’s a doctor or hospital nearby. He comes back with the news that there’s only a doctor specialising in Chinese medicine in the town. Aaaaaagggghhh, I’m going to die here, I think.
The next day, I’ve made a miraculous recovery: I’ve successfully dodged malaria and dengue fever! I’m fit enough to explore the beautiful little town of Shaxi, which only has a few tourists (although its popularity is growing fast).
Before visiting Shaxi, we stay in a town called Dali. Dali is famous for being the “hippie town” of China, and sure enough, there are hippies. The town should, however, be a warning to Shaxi of a sign of things to come, because it is packed with tourists. Apparently, Dali first became popular with western backpackers and artists, but recently it’s been discovered by Chinese holidaymakers, who are arriving in their droves. For one of the first times in my life, I wonder whether my backpacking lifestyle contributes to making a place more shit.
In both Dali and Shaxi, people from outside of the local community have moved in to cash in on the tourism boom. I wonder what this means for rental prices, whether they will rise to such a degree that locals can’t afford to pay. In the main square in Shaxi, we’re told that roughly 80% of the shops/cafes/hotels are run by Han Chinese people and not by people of the local Bai ethnicity. Big property developers have also moved in to Dali, and we’re told by a local that big companies can bribe government officials and start large developments despite building regulations. Locals are sometimes forced by the government to sell their land for these companies.
Dali is famous for its traditional architecture, but on many streets, the buildings have been renovated to such a degree that I can’t tell what is a new building and what is original.
Moving on, we visit the tiny village of Nuodeng, recommended to us by word of mouth. It’s stunningly beautiful and untouched by tourism, although after visiting Dali, I wonder whether I should be blogging about this place at all!
After almost two months on the road, Chris needs to go home to Europe, so we say a very sad goodbye. I continue onwards alone – a strange feeling after being with him for twenty-four hours a day every day for two months.
As I travel solo, southwards through the China countryside, I’m so sad to see that every single inch of land has been used for growing corn. If I had wanted to wild camp in China, it would have been impossible. The only trees that are safe from being chopped down for corn are those that live on very steep mountainsides. An old copy of National Geographic magazine from June 2009, which I find laying around in a cafe, explains China’s obsession with corn:
35% of world grain is used to feed livestock instead of people…China now raises half of the world’s pigs and must import grain to feed them.
For as tasty as that sweet and sour pork may be, eating meat is an incredibly inefficient way to feed oneself. It takes up to five times more grain to get the equivalent amount of calories from eating pork as from simply eating the grain itself.
Even China, the second largest corn growing nation on the planet, can’t grow enough grain to feed all its pigs. Most of the shortfall is made up with imported soybeans from the US or Brazil, one of the few countries with the potential to expand its cropland – often by plowing up rainforest.
My very last stop in China is Xishuangbanna, famous for its elephants, huge biodiversity and rainforests. However, I’m gutted to find that there’s barely any rainforest left. Rubber tree plantations stretch as far as the eye can see. These plantations are ‘needed’ to meet the rising demand for cars, and therefore, car tyres.
Although life on the road is amazing, it’s becoming more and more heartbreaking, witnessing the destruction of our beautiful Earth absolutely everywhere I go. I also find it incredibly ironic that there’s a sign on a motorway telling drivers not to honk their horns because it will scare elephants – but a f*cking motorway has been ploughed through their habitat!
However, I exit China with fond memories of very friendly people and kindness wherever I have travelled. And I will always remember the AMAZING vegan food – it’s one of the best countries in the world for vegans! However, I won’t miss the disgusting architecture in every single city: rows of big ugly tower blocks, all identical to each other. It’s with very mixed feelings that I say goodbye to China and enter the beautiful serenity of Laos.