"Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise."

Benjamin Franklin's dictum obviously doesn't apply to women because I've been getting up before 6am every day of my life and I'm still not wealthy. Or wise.

Fortunately, I'm in rude health, and holidays in the mainland see me up at the crack of dawn, dashing out to catch the sights that my more leisurely companions miss, as they snore away until 7.45am or later.

On one such early expedition - on a freezing late-December day in Zunyi, in northern Guizhou province - I came across a bunch of like-minded individuals whose quest for good health extended to throwing themselves headlong into a black and menacing river. They had been doing this dip every morning, at dawn, for more than a decade. Or so they would have me believe.

When I told my travel companion, P, about this over lunch, his face took on the kind of expression many men get when refusing to ask for directions.

"I want to swim in that river! Get me up at seven tomorrow!" he barked. What he was saying, on a more atavistic level, of course, was: "I'm going to kill the men and steal their wives."

He then added: "And I'm going to play Hound Dog on the riverbank wearing only Speedos."

Reader, I died. This was too, too much to hope for. In fact, it wouldn't even have occurred to me to ask P to do that.

P, as ever, had brought his electric guitar and mini amplifier along, and already we had experienced some sublime busking moments. This, though, would be a busking to beat all other buskings; that much was obvious.

That night P succumbed to some aggressive Chinese hospitality, having a bottle or so of baijiu forced down him by a group of enthusiastic fellow diners. He looked quite happy about it, too, as he staggered back to the hotel while I, a staunch baijiu abstainer, kept a straight line.

"I'm going to get the mother of all hangovers but a swim in the river will make me in-stantly well!"

"If you don't drown," I chimed.

The next day we were up before the lark, and daybreak saw P wearing only his boxer shorts (he had, mercifully, left his Speedos at home) and boots, and manfully belting out Hound Dog as the swim team looked on, wholly bemused. When he slid into the river, wearing a Santa hat (it was, after all, Christmas), they broke into loud applause, and quite rightly, too.

This was among the comedy gold I lost forever when the hard drive on my camcorder died. I don't think I'll ever get over that.