Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Money to Burn?

Peng and I (accompanied by Mr Zhong from the Jiazhou Trailer company who is supervising the return of the trailer to Shanghai) have arrived in Jiayuguan ready for off, after five days hard driving from Beijing, although this includes time spent at Pingyao, Tumen and Shandan stud. I had hoped to visit Huzhou, where the Trio spent several years before moving out to Gansu, but there was just not enough time. However we spent a night at nearby Pingyao, an ancient town which is now a World Heritage site, and where there was also a Christian mission visited by the women.
We made an obligatory visit in Gansu to the Daoist temple in Tumen which we ‘blessed’ with the horses last October. We had hoped to admire the plaque with our names on that they have put up in ‘horse ancestor’ temple at the side, but irritatingly it was locked and no-one had the key. The last time we visited, the temple was a mass of scaffolding rising from a sea of mud, but below you can see me and elderly temple member in front of its grand new reincarnation. The horse temple is the small and annoyingly locked building to the left.
We also sorted out several bags of hard feed. Compared with home, where I just nip down to W.D Lewis and Sons and pick up a few bags of balanced mix, it was quite a complicated process, involving trips to a small mill which had no grain, so on to another small mill, a dealer in town, and a remote farmyard to buy bran and maize, and then back to the first small mill (the grinding machine in the second mill had broken down) to get it ground and bagged. The photo shows Peng on the left feeding in maize, the mill owner on the right feeding in bran, and Mr Zhong acting as overseer.

I had once again received dire warnings from Chinese friends about the arctic conditions I should expect out in the sticks at this time of year, but it has so far been quite pleasant, though everything was frozen at Shandan stud and we even had a few flakes of snow just as we left. Although hardly fat, the horses are not as thin as I had feared they might be after the long winter, and should quickly pick up with the three to four hard feeds a day they will be gobbling down from now on. As they have not been trained to stand for shoeing, we were forced to let them be shod the traditional way by being restrained in a shoeing frame. I always find this extremely distressing when it is carried out by unsympathetic handlers as we had this time. It does Zorbee in particular absolutely no good to be treated roughly, and negates all the sensitive handling my Chinese co-riders have put in. At least the ever gentle Peng will be in charge of this job from now on.
However we were treated by the stud officials to some top notch hospitality and perhaps a little too much toasting with bai jiu, as Peng went to bed looking decidedly peaky. But the next morning he was up with the lark as usual and off to cram the truck full of straw, which passes for hay out here in Gansu. Hopefully we are now set up to reach Hami in 3-4 weeks time, it being the next place we will be able to stock up with horse feed. The horses will be totally dependent on the feed we are carrying, as there is not even the odd patch of alfalfa by the side of the road as there was in the autumn.
Yesterday evening I noticed that surprisingly for a population that is not reputed to have money to burn, people were setting fire to little piles of banknotes everywhere by the roadside, and even encouraging their children to join in. Was it some sort of mass protest against rising commercialism? It transpired that it was Ancestors day, when the Chinese burn fake money (and other useful things such as very small paper replicas of very large mansions) to send to their dear departed in the afterlife.

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