• Barbara Murphy-Shannon

China Day 5 & 6 -Dinner with an Angel and Demon

Updated: Nov 26, 2021

When I arrived Guilin and I met a blonde Danish guy at the dorm who said he was flying to Kunming tomorrow. Just the brief appearance of Guilin made me decide to catch the same flight. It wasn’t very inviting. Very dirty and gray. Depressing.

I booked my flight and when I returned to the dorm there were more people than before. It seems like everyone is going to Kunming tomorrow. I think this will work out better for me to go to Beijing and be back in Hong Kong by the 15th or 16th and back to Thailand on the 20th. I went to the American Express and sent Beth a letter about when I’ll return to Thailand. I hope she gets it.

Tuesday 5th

I slept like shit and we had to get up early to take the 7:30 am bus to the airport. I met a guy named Chris from Canada who also was traveling by himself. There was also a couple from Denmark, Carson and Gretter, and another couple from France, Bruno, and AnnMarie flying to Kunming this morning on the same flight.

Chris and I started to hang out together mostly because we were alone and everyone else was a couple. Chris seemed like a nice guy and I was glad I wasn’t traveling alone.

When we got to the airport the flight was delayed due to fog and rain. We wrote postcards to pass the time. First, they said we’d leave at 1:30 then they said they didn’t know. Finally, we left by 2:30 pm. Everyone on the plane was Chinese except our group. It was a small plane with just two seats on each side of the middle aisle.

I notice one lady praying sitting across from me, then another, and another. SHIT! This can’t be a good sign.

It seemed everyone was praying.

I started to analyze the situation.

Maybe it's because they had never flown before and so it was new to them?

Maybe it's because they didn’t understand aeronautics and we are perfectly safe? Sure, convince yourself, Barbara.

Or maybe they knew something I didn’t???

The flight was very bumpy due to the cloud coverage. Every time the plane would bump, the whole cabin would start screaming and crying.

It was a shit show.

“You're going to die!” said Chris

“No, we're not, you’re being dramatic,” I said back.

“I’m just kidding or am I,” He flipped back.

I just rolled my eyes but I was truly scared for my life!

When we landed in Kunming everyone on the plane started clapping and cheering.

It was so weird and I couldn’t wait to get off.

I don’t think I’ll fly again.

When we arrived at the Kunming Hotel they said they had no dorm rooms left but we argued because they will do this to make you buy a more expensive room. Chris checked the dorm and it seemed like there were empty beds but no way to tell for sure. Finally, we decided to get a room with three beds and share it.

Chris, Bruno, AnnMarie, and I decided to take the bus to the train station so we could purchase our tickets to Chengdu on our way to Beijing in a couple of days.

As we were waiting for the bus a Chinese man came by on his bike. He asked if we needed help in very well-spoken English. I told him where we were going and I asked him if he would help us buy our train tickets at local prices (REM). Once again, one price for locals and a much higher price for foreigners. He said yes and he would meet us at the station in an hour.

Due to it being the Chinese New Year the lines to purchase a ticket were literally days long. There were so many people trying to get home for the holiday. Everywhere you looked there were lines of people.

The Chinese man we met at the bus stop joined us and could see it was going to be a problem getting tickets. He said he had a friend who might be able to help because he worked for the railroad. I asked him his name.

“My name Gao, I teach English in a small community that tourist like yourself are not allowed to visit,” he explained.

“I would like to improve my English; would you talk to me?” he asked.

“Of course,” I said.

I asked why tourists can’t come to his town.

He said because the government is very secretive and he couldn’t talk about it.

I left it at that.

We walked and talked. He’s a very sweet, good-looking older man that you could tell was honest and kind.

Chris rode Gao’s bike while we talked and walked. He told me how his family lives in another town very far away from his work so he doesn’t get to see them very often.

When we arrived at his friend’s house and he went in to ask while we waited outside.

“I’m so sorry but my friend said he can’t help,” Gao said with a sad face.

We talked some more. He talked about how he wished he was younger so he could visit the USA. He told me how he cannot buy Life or Newsweek magazine without FEC money and in the black market, it’s very expensive. I asked how much FEC money does it cost to buy a magazine?

It wasn’t very much so I offered to give him the money but he refused. I didn’t want to push it and insult him somehow. I wasn’t sure, culturally, the right thing to do.

Then he asked, “Barbara, is it true that the older generation is left alone and forgotten in America.”

Wow, I wasn’t expecting that.

This is a complex subject.

It was hard to explain.

“When Americans get older sometimes they need extra care the family can’t provide so they live in a nursing home,” I said.

As I spoke I could tell he wasn’t buying it and neither was I. We do not take care of our older generation the way we should or how other cultures show more respect for the older generations. They don’t put them in a nursing home only to be forgotten.

Gao must have noticed I was getting upset and he quickly changed the subject.

“Do you like disco music? Gao said with a big smile.

I laughed and said sure.

“Can you teach me disco dancing?

“Well, we need music?” I said.

“I don’t have any,” He said sadly.

“That’s ok, just come to the hotel tomorrow and we can find someone that might have some disco music tapes. I only have rock and reggae tapes,” I said.

“I can’t,” he said.

“Ok, if tomorrow doesn’t work, come the next day,” I suggested.

“No, you don’t understand, I can’t. I’m not allowed in your hotel,” he said sadly.

“What?” What do you mean?” I was confused.

“We just can’t, it’s the law,” He solemnly said.

“Why don’t you come to my home for dinner,” he invited us all.

We accepted and plan to meet him at 6 pm outside the gate of the hotel.

Gao was waiting outside the gate as planned.

We followed him through the city streets. We passed a man on the sidewalk that was using his bike as a knife sharpening business, a father that was beaming with pride over his daughter, a little girl looking at me with awe, and when we turn down a dirt road, two boys riding what I think were water buffalos but the curious thing is they didn't have any reins to direct them where to go.

Gao's home was very modest. It had a tiny kitchen with hardly any cabinets and a cook-plate for cooking. The living room had a loveseat, a small table, one light, and a map of the world on the wall. The bathroom was outside (an outhouse).

We filled the house with just five people.

It was a fun evening of dancing and laughing for everyone but Chris. Chris has been acting quiet and moody all night. I'm not sure what his problem is. When I try to cheer him up he glares at me with contempt. What fuck did I do? I decided to just ignore him.

When we got back to the hotel, Chris asked at the desk once again if they had any dorms and they said yes. I was glad because I did not want to sleep in the same bed with Chris again.

The night before I insisted that we sleep head to feet.

When I suggested it to Chris and he made a sound like what a stupid idea.

“What are we six years old,” he sarcastically said to me.

“No, but I don’t know you that well and we’re not a couple,”

“I also think you should be on top of the covers,” I whipped back with a very serious look.

After we got our new accommodations, we bumped into Carson and Gretter in the lobby and told them we just got new rooms and we were going to the bar. I ordered a beer and as I drank it I started to get really tired.

“I’m going to bed,”

“Why so early?” Something I said?” Chris said with that tone.

“No, I’m just tired and we’re getting up early to go to the Stone Forest tomorrow,” I said and thought why am I explaining myself?

“Ok, I’ll just stay here and drink by myself,”

I said goodnight and as I walked away thinking, “what was that?” Was he trying to make me feel bad? Or bully me into drinking more? Passive-aggressive narcissist? This guy scares me. I’m going to have to watch out for him.

I won’t take that shit…ever again.


This is a true story that chronicles my rebellious journey when I was 24 years old backpacking around the world looking for solace after the end of an abusive marriage (ok to escape). An intensely graphic and heartfelt memoir of self-discovery is about how getting lost can be where you belong, how traveling to new cultures and meeting new people helps you heal (they don't judge), find your voice and remember who you really are and want to be. It is certain to inspire anyone who has ever woken up in a life they don’t want to be in. Many life lessons and some bad decisions (sorry Mom) along the way. Buckle in! It's going to be a bumpy ride.

xoxo, Barbara