Blessed to be a witness

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Thursday, March 31st

A bit pilli-walli

Tuesday was a lazy day, a bit hungover from the excitement of the night before. I went to the supermarket and then took a long walk around the northern river, which was very pleasant - grassy banks leading down to footpaths, with elderly middle-class people walking their fussy little Chinese dogs. That's two new things that I never saw before in China: copious pet dogs, and flashy, western-style supermarkets. They're here in abundance now.

I also paid a surreptitious visit to our guesthouse's chief rival. "Mix & Backpackers" is a complete rip-off of Sim's Cozy Guesthouse, even using photographs of Sim's place on its website. I pretended to be a dissatisfied customer of another hostel in town, and checked out the hostel and its room rates. According to Sim, the owners keep on turning up at his place asking him how to do stuff, and he feels obliged to help them out of courtesy, even though they're in direct competition and an almost complete facsimile, less than half a mile from here. They've copied the pricing to the last yuan, and even even copied - almost exactly - the promotional city map that Sim's wife Maki made.

Maki was bemoaning this fact on my return when I reported my findings. "Chinese are so good at copying," she was saying. "Starbucks will set up in Chengdu soon, and they are aware of the copying, so they are not opening one branch but five on the same day, to try to suppress it - there will be so many Chinese 'Starbucks' within weeks of them opening." I'm glad to say that, though pleasant, Mix & Backpackers will not be a huge rival to Sim's; considerably less charm and not as good a design. A substandard copy of the real thing, that misses the point and lacks the quality, just like my rubbish "North Fake" backpack.

Perhaps due to my espionage, or general goodwill, Sim & Maki invited us to dinner again, this time at "Pete's Tex-Mex Grill" on the other side of town. Really pretty damned authentic Tex-Mex food. I had nachos and burritos, and a couple of beers. Again it was a "cheng" deal, which meant they refused payment, which is starting to get a little embarrassing.

By the time I got back to the hostel, I wasn't feeling the Mae West. I took my leave early, and went to bed. By about 2 in the morning I was ridding myself of the burritos in a spectacular manner. About every ten minutes, all night long, my body started getting rid of everything it contained, until I was completely empty (I had a delirious vision of the dwarf out of Poltergeist running round my intestines shouting "this bowel is cleeeean"). My temperature dropped to 96°F, then climbed swiftly to 101°. I spent the rest of the day in bed, weak and miserable, with aching joints and a really bad back.

Typical: the last time I travelled, I survived a month in Nepal without getting ill, then got dystentery from the chicken lunch on Royal Nepal Airlines. This time two weeks in similarly unhygienic circumstances with not a bother, and return to "civilisation" and I'm sick as a dog, possibly from western food. By the late afternoon, when I wasn't getting any better, I dosed myself with some Amoxycillin that we'd acquired thanks to Hong Kong's liberal prescription laws (don't worry, I shall finish the course), and by late evening was starting to feel a little more human. I had a couple of dry biscuits, that stayed down, and some rehydration salts.

We watched an appalling movie (The Mothman Prophecies) on the in-room DVD, then went to the bar for a short while, then bed, listening to the torrential rain outside, and were awoken by the workmen drilling and hammering above us. Still feel a bit rough today but managed a small amount of oatmeal for breakfast.

We now have our tickets to Bangkok, leaving tomorrow afternoon at 4pm, arriving at 6 local time. It will be nice to get somewhere warm, and maybe see a doctor.

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