A weekly ode to the joys of moaning about your holiday.
I'll never forget Bryan. A little bit like Trump, it was hard to say if Bryan believed his own lies. Either way, he was indefatigable in offering up easily disproven nonsense and in the end, I kind of liked him for it. Bryan was a government-employed tour guide and a couple of years ago when I travelled to China, he looked after me and few other journos. We didn't have Bryan for the entire trip, but there's a Bryan hall of fame of such oddity that it's evidently tattooed itself to my brain.
Quick disclaimer, Bryan's not his real name, although I'm certain nor is the equally Anglo-sounding name he gave us to use for him. But given this dear soul had/has a decent-paying government gig, I'd hate to be the one to get him in trouble. So I've chosen "Bryan" to protect this sweet pathological liar.
"That's not actually pollution, that's just how the sky looks when it's going to rain soon." This was a nice little gem from Bryan as we drove into the cloudless city of Taiyuan*, population three million. I had the weather forecast in front of me and it was for total sunshine every day for days on end. We were on the outskirts of a major industrial metropolis and dear Bryan didn't want his overseas guests thinking there might be some smog going on. Smog? In China? So he lied. We were looking out the window and commenting on the smudge of brown that hung low in the sky and with Superman-like hearing from the front of the minibus, Bryan eavesdropped his way in to correct our misconception.
Ultimately, Bryan's biggest worry was less to do with Western writers discovering there may be a slight air-quality issue in his homeland and was more in the field of, "Oh my gosh, I'm freaking out that these white people are going to get drunk and die and I'll get fired. "
There's a custom in China that a host provides alcohol at meals for their guests without really asking first what they'd like. Or at least this appeared to be the custom while we were there. For Bryan, this meant sourcing the lowest alcoholic beverages known to mankind in order to not break the custom. One dinner we had was at a large, reasonably high-end, lazy-susan-tastic restaurant. We were led to our circular table where Bryan was
madly collecting up all the wine glasses and plonking them on a neighbouring table. When asked what he was doing he said, "The restaurant has run out of wine." Hmmm ...
Who needs wine when Bryan's hooking you up with 1.6 per cent alcohol beers, though?
Then there was the time we were heading into the city of Datong. It was mid-trip and the group was getting along so well we'd decided to seal our chumminess with a round of karaoke. Seeking Bryan's advice on where to find a karaoke bar was a major mistake, unfortunately, as the minibus was given a lengthy yarn about how not only was Datong cursed to have precisely zero karaoke bars, it was the sort of town where you'd likely suffer a violent machete-based attack if you dared walk down the street.
Bryan's logic was a little muddled here because clearly under a directive to portray China in the most positive light while also ensuring the safety of his group, he'd sacrificed an entire city's reputation in order to protect us. Heroic.
Heroic, that is, until we discovered the next morning that our hotel had its own karaoke bar. The city of no karaoke bars had one in the very hotel we were staying in. Oh Bryan, you deprived us. And what of the machete-wielding gangsters lurking on every street corner? We didn't see any during our five-minute walk to the corner store Bryan also insisted did not exist.
All told, we had what was really a brilliant time in China. For the record, it was cleaner and more naturally beautiful than I ever thought it would be. Bryan, you had nothing to worry about.
*Taiyuan's air quality has improved considerably over the past decade with tighter regulations and clean initiatives.
Tim Roxborogh hosts Newstalk ZB's Weekend Collective and blogs at RoxboroghReport.com