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Full Circle

Day 74: Nanning to Hanoi

Michael Palin - Full CircleIn order to reach the border by bus and to have time for all the formalities we are advised to leave early. Wake at five and pack my bags. It is sod's law that we spend the least time in the most attractive places. Nanning, warm, airy and cheerful, slips away and we roll steadily and unspectacularly south-west along soft-wooded valleys and through scrub-covered hills. The road is straight and empty. In 1979 troops and tanks rolled along here into Vietnam when the Chinese, angered by the Vietnamese invasion of their ally, Cambodia, fought a seventeen-day war before withdrawing. Until 1992, when the Cambodian situation was settled this border remained firmly closed.

Last images of China: A late breakfast in a candlelit restaurant, outside which a turtle shell is being skinned for soup. Despite a power cut we are served omelettes, pumpkin leaf, tarot and sweet potato. A huge 'One-Child' poster at the border town of Pinxiang, a reminder of the birth control campaign.

The frontier is eight kilometres beyond Pinxiang at a place called Friendship Pass. The road bursts out from thickly-wooded hills and high cliffs onto a run-down square. In one corner is a handsome, disused cream and white French colonial residence, with elegant ironwork balconies, pilastered facade, and louvered windows. Opposite stands a three-tiered stone pile as clumsy as the other is elegant. It bestrides a triumphal archway called Friendship Gate. Through the arch is a parking area with cypress trees planted around it, where two or three heavy trucks are drawn up. Beyond that is Vietnam.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 74
  • Country/sea: China
  • Place: Nanning
  • Book page no: 108

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