Posts Tagged With: backpacking

Exploring Lugu Lake: Sunrise, Talking about the Middle East, and Going to a Remote Village

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Lugu Lake at Sunrise

The entire room of four bunks woke up to the banging of symbols and drums at five in the morning. We were sharing a room with the French anthropologist, PM, and a Chinese girl in her twenties. The drums and symbols would come in intervals of around three minutes…just like the snooze on an alarm clock. But, this alarm clock could not be turned off. I rolled around multiple times until I gave up falling back asleep and got up. From underneath her sheets, PM told us this was a New Year’s ritual. The monks came all the way from the temple to bless each household in the area. The intervals were the monks walking to the next household. Molly (who had waken up too) and I both thought it was pretty cool to hear their system of entering the New Year. However, the Chinese girl on PM’s top bunk was not having it. She was whining and crying, saying how they could be making such a racket so early in the morning. PM explained to her it was a ceremony, but she didn’t care. She wanted to go back to sleep.

This is a small example of the difference between Western and Chinese tourists. Chinese tourists often seek comfort when they travel. So, even though this Chinese girl was experiencing a unique introduction to Mosuo culture, she didn’t care. It didn’t even cross her mind. I think Western backpackers would instead wake up and investigate–like what Molly and I did!

We got dressed and walked out onto the dark cobblestone street. I saw that the mountain range in the distance had a thin layer of gold peaking through. The sun would rise soon. The monks had moved away from the hostel and were hidden in the alleyways. We could still hear the clanging of drums and symbols as it bounced off the houses and mountains. We then moved towards the lakeshore and awaited the sun rise.

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Tourists Taking a Boat to the Middle of the Lake 

We could have paid 10yuan to take a boat with the other tourists to the middle of the lake, but we just relaxed on the shore. It was a beautiful sight…

Afterwards, we joined an Algerian for some breakfast. We talked about being foreigners in China. He lived in Beijing pursuing a Ph.D at one of the universities. We then brought up stereotypes. Molly and I joked around with our American identities as we throw in obnoxious accents while talking to him. He laughed and talked about how people don’t normally have a fundamental understanding of Islam in China, or even in the US. Bouncing of this, Molly brought up a funny story that I thought I would share:

When I was in elementary school, there was a girl named Rukia. One day at lunch, I sat next to her and started devouring my lunch. I noticed she didn’t have anything in front of her, so I thought I would share my sandwich and applesauce. But, Rukia said she couldn’t eat because it was a special holiday. I was flabbergasted and responded, “There’s a holiday where you DON’T EAT?! What kind of holiday is that?” She explained to be the meaning of Ramadan. I thought it was cool, and also she got out of lunch early to go to recess…so I did it with her for the rest of the week!

The Algerian thought that was really funny. He then brought up the tensions in the Middle East and the influence of the “Arab Spring.” He also talked about North Africa’s and Middle East’s relationship with Israel. I do not normally have the opportunity to talk to people from this part of the world, so I thought it was great to listen to his side of the issue. He was a very friendly man, I would never imagine him being cold, or impolite to anyone. But, he said that he would not be friendly with an Israeli. Algeria and Israel’s relationship is very contentious, which showed in his response. I thought about what he said and realized that I do not have any of those kinds of feelings towards a country’s people. No matter where someone is from, or what they believe, I would treat them the same. So, hearing this from someone so friendly and understanding, was eye-opening. That kind of feeling of animosity is something I do not understand.

I grew up in a country where the media promoted hatred between “us” (the US) and the “Muslim World,” but that never affected me. I wonder how Algerian media represents Israel? What led to such contentious relations to the point that the Algerian man can’t even talk to an Israeli? This may be something I’ll need to investigate after studying Chinese culture. The Middle East and North Africa is a part of the world I am not familiar with at all. Next language on my list: Arabic!

It was time to meet PM at the hostel. We said our goodbyes, shared numbers, and went on our ways. PM invited us to join her and her good friend/informant, Lidy, to a remote village that was 3-4 hours away from Lugu Lake. We joined them and their friend, who owned a car, to the neighboring small city, Yongning, where we would catch a truck to the village. We had a couple of hours to spare, so we walked around the market and talked with locals. Afterwards, we sat in the sun, waiting and waiting for the truck to come. He finally did and we were off to the remote village of LJZ.

We bumped along a dirt road for 3 hours, stopping at places where he dropped off supplies to other villages. At one point, we stopped at an Yi village. I hopped off to find a nice grassy area to go to the bathroom and then walked around the village. I ran into older Yi women who were wearing large black headdresses. The headdresses are so eye-catching…large, black fabric creates circle behind their heads. Their black garb matches with the headdress, which adds to the aesthetic. It’s really a beautiful outfit.

I did a full circle around the village until I reached the truck again. That was our last stop until the final destination, LJZ. We finally made it to the village right before sunset. PM and Lidy led us to the house we would be staying in…it was beautiful: two stories with a courtyard in the middle! The family had just finished dinner and ushered us in. We ate dried pork and fish in a soup, potatoes, and rice. We were then escorted to our rooms where Molly and I fell asleep like babies…it was a long day!

It wouldn’t be until later in the night when I’d realize eating the pork and fish soup was a bad choice…

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Exploring Yunnan: Day Trip in Shangri-la (Zhongdian)

The Monkey King entered the temple and learned from the master, the immortal, for many decades. When the master saw his potential, he taught the king in secret to show him the sacred techniques, such as the somersault flying cloud and transformations. The Monkey King, his Buddhist name Sun Wukong, learned very quickly and became proud of his powers. He once showed off to his fellow monks by transforming into everyday objects. The master became enraged and banished from the temple warning him never to tell a soul that he taught him, such an egotistic beast. Though he didn’t tell Sun Wukong, the master felt an ominous presence and future from the monkey, and regretted teaching him the Way. “What have I done?”

After getting breakfast and buying tickets back to Lijiang, I called my friend who gave us ambiguous directions that would take us to the large Buddhist Monastery that is nestled in the mountains outside of the city. We took the number one bus to the last stop, then followed a road that the bus driver pointed out to us where we passed a large stone stuppa. After reaching a fork, we turned right and followed the path into a large field where we saw a white house in the distance. We were to walk behind the house and hike through Tibetan towns before approaching the temple. We were taking this strange route so to avoid the 80yuan door fee.

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Shangri-la in the Distance

The group I walked with (including four Germans, a Korean, and one identical twin) were very patient as I made them trek with me all around the Shangri-la countryside. Shangri-la is supposedly the “Paradise of the Orient,” at least that is what Western folklore has engrained into my eurocentric mind. The Chinese government destined the small town of Zhongdian to be created into Shangri-la in 2001 for touristic purposes. For more than ten years, this place has been “Heaven on aEarth,” but it seemed like any other tourist town within the ancient city, and like any other town in the countryside. It was nice to get out of the touristy part of the city and see what average Zhongdian citizens do each day. For instance, we were invited to a Tibetan birthday party when we entered one of the Tibetan towns. I saw more Tibetans outside of Shangri-la than in the main city.

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“One of these things are not like the other, one of these things do not belong…”

Everyone was very inviting and asked us to sit at one of the tables. They gave us a tray of cookies and dumplings and then many glasses of yak butter tea. We were all pretty bashful for crashing the party, but everyone seemed pretty excited to have so many foreigners at the party. They then invited us into the home, which was beautifully decorated with woodcarvings, paintings, and elaborate carpets. I set next to an old man who was wearing traditional Tibetan garb and was missing some teeth. He kept smiling at me and welcoming me to his town. After an hour, we politely excused ourselves. We made a card for the birthday man (he turned 60 years old) and then continued our way to the monastery. We were almost there.

We walked along the wall of the temple and looked for a back door. We passed Tibetan who were walking around the temple clockwise, while we were walking counter-clockwise. We later learned we were walking in the incorrect direction. We hit the top of the steps and got this view:

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Songzanlin Monastery

We found a broken part of the wall and entered through there. We walked up alleyways and alongside crumbling houses before we approached the beautiful monastery. We were about to enter the front of the temple when I saw a little monk shivering in a large, wool blanket. I went up to him and asked him if he studied here and how old he was. He said he was brought here when he was two years old and has studied ever since (he is now 14 years old). He had just finished class and was walking around the temple. I noticed my friends has continued walking forward, so I smiled, thanked him, and told him to stay warm.

I found the group standing in front of the tower monastery. We all slowly walked in, in awe of the tall walls, the beautiful statues, and paintings that lined the walls. We all split apart and walked through the maze of hallways. I went into a center room on the second story and looked into the room of monks (a room we were not allowed into).

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Playing Cards and Chatting with Each Other

We somehow found each other at the top of the temple on the balcony looking out onto Zhongdian and the mountains. A lone monk was looking off into the distance when I came up. When talking to the professor the other night, he said that in this culture, spiritual leaders believe that ravens communicate to them. I noticed that there were many ravens flying in front of the temple…maybe he was watching or listening to them?

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Older Monk

We stayed up there for a while until we realized we had to get back to catch the bus. We walked through the maze of hallways and found ourselves back outside in the brisk weather. We walked to the front gate and took bus three back to the ancient town. Molly, Jason and I said goodbye to the Germans, while the three of us both planned to travel back to Lijiang together. We grabbed dinner and then went on our way to Lijiang.

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Exploring Yunnan: Hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge Day #3

Tiger Leaping Gorge => Shangri-la (Zhongdian)

After a couple hundred of years, the Monkey King began to get antsy about his position in life and the prospect of death. He shared his worries with his monkey brothers and sisters who suddenly became aware of the dreary fact. A wiser monkey spoke up and said that those who follow the Way (Buddhism) can become immortal and avoid the eternal wheel of death and reincarnation. The Monkey King was enthralled by the wise monkey’s explanation and decided to go on a journey to find an immortal. He set off the next day. For decades, he sailed across seas and hiked continents until he found a human woodsman that pointed him to a temple that hosted an immortal. When he approached the gate, the immortal was expecting him…
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Dragon Clouds–Morning at Halfway Before the Hike

We woke up to find a stream of thin clouds hovering across the gorge. Molly mentioned that the stream of clouds looked like a head and body of a dragon. Later, when I was watching them float by, I actually saw the dragon too. We got breakfast with the group and then set off to finish the hike. The hike was pretty easy accept for trekking through a waterfall and a heavy stream of water.

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Crossing the Waterfall

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Taking a Break with the Gang

The Chinese family’s little girl, Cece, was the most adorable thing ever. She also loved to draw. I asked if she could draw for me, so she drew a chibi character into my sketchbook. I will cherish it forever. We finally made it to Tina’s Guesthouse where we would take a bus to Shangri-la (Zhongdian). The family and couple were going to Lijiang, but the Korean, Jason, would join us to Shangri-la (Zhongdian). Before taking the bus, Jason, Molly, and I took a hike down to the bottom of the gorge to see the cascading rapids. We only had two hours to do the entire hike, so we ran down the steep canyon in 20 minutes and observed the river.

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River Dividing the Gorge

We heaved our tired selves up the canyon and barely caught the bus to Shangri-la. We said goodbye to the family and the couple and then got on the bus. On the bus ride, we got to know four vunderful Germans who became immediate friends. The ride was incredibly scenic and within an hour we were surrounded my snow fields and white mountain peaks. I could feel the drop in temperature in the bus! After the 3-4 bus ride, we made it to Shangri-la in time to find a hostel and then get some dinner.

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Shangri-La Ancient City

I found a small restaurant that sold Tibetan food (which was surprisingly hard to find) and then ordered for the group. I was the most familiar with Tibetan cuisine. Afterwards, I met with a fellow Fulbrighter’s previous mentor in a bar. We talked about his life, research, and my own research and ambitions. He was great to talk to. His life was fascinating! He lived with nomads for a couple weeks in Tibet when he was younger and decided from that point on that he wanted to study Chinese culture. I plan to visit Shangri-la once again before he goes back to University and to meet his little son.

I went back to the hostel and got ready for bed. We planned to wake up early the next day to go see the monastery and then buy tickets back to Lijiang.

[I apologize if it feels like I am speed telling my experiences…I will add more to the posts when I get back from Taiwan]

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Exploring Yunnan: Hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge Day #2

A monkey was born from a holy rock in a flowery mountain. He grew up with the other monkeys and beasts happily playing in the forests and streams. One day the monkeys wanted to see where the origin of the stream came from and followed the water till they reached a waterfall. The holy monkey howled whoever is courageous enough to jump into the waterfall, see the origin, and can come out alive will be the king of monkeys! The others agreed, so he jumped in and found a spiritual home of stone creation where the monkeys could all live happily. He jumped out to tell the others of his findings and declared himself the Monkey King.

Molly and I set off late in the morning and casually hiked to Halfway House. We heard it was a great place to stay and wanted to check it out. It was only a two-hour hike from our hostel, so we took our time and ran into some people on the way.

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Rainy Morning in the Gorge

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Clouds Over the Peaks

We got to know a Chinese couple, Chinese family, and a Korean. We both hiked to Halfway and decided to stay and hang out with each other. We all got a bunk room together. When I put all of my things away in the room, I walked to the bathroom and saw this:

IMG_0431“We Came, We Saw, We Shat with a View”

We joined the father of the family and the boyfriend of the couple down into the fields below Halfway House.

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Halfway House from the Fields

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Sunset Seen from the Fields

That night, we ate dinner with the group and then stayed up late drinking beer and baijiu. We played Chinese, Korean, and American drinking games and had a blast. I didn’t get drunk from the alcohol, but from the fun atmosphere.

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Exploring Yunnan: Hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge Day #1

Dali => Lijiang => Tiger Leaping Gorge (hutiaoxia)

We arrived in the Lijiang Bus Station at 9:00pm, bought tickets for the next morning to Tiger Leaping Gorge, and went to a hostel some foreigners had recommended to us that night. We met up with two French men who were also going to the gorge the next day. We made plans to meet in the morning and set out together. We stayed in the North Gate International Youth Hostel, which turned out to be a really cool place. It was an old-style Chinese mansion with three stories of staircases that led to different courtyards and balconies. We were at the most top room which had six bunk beds.

While I was in my bunk, I pulled out my kindle to read “Journey to the West.” I am reading the English version of the original tale, which means its long and repetitive, but relevant to my trip. In the “Journey to the West,” the monk and his gang of comrades reach the Kingdom of Women (which is now the nickname of Lugu Lake, my fieldwork site). I want to read the original epic to fully understand their adventure to the lake and their encounters…but that means reading the entire 1,000+ page book. So, in these posts about my travels, I might throw in what I learn about the Monkey King and his adventures.

We woke up the next morning to meet ze’ French guys, ate rice noodles for breakfast, and then before we knew it were on the bus to Tiger Leaping Gorge. We zigzagged along mountainous roads, stopped at toilet stops next to cliffs where we were in cement squat bathrooms a foot away from the edge, and bumped along uneven roads. We finally made it and immediately started our trek.

Let me begin to say that Tiger Leaping Gorge was my favorite part of our trip…the pictures will show you why:

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Village in the Gorge

We hiked with our 10-15 pound bags along the trail for a total of 6.5 hours. We started out hiking with ze’ French dudes for the first two hours and then split ways afterwards because they hiked with a faster pace than Molly and I. The two of us decided we wanted to hike the trail for three days, instead of the common two-day hike, so we took our time and enjoyed the scenery. On the trail we passed many hostels and villages and would follow the fainted red arrows that told us the correct path to take.

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Resting on Rock Formations

It was breath-taking looking at these peaks.

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Taking a Break after 28 Bends

This was after Molly and I hiked the 28 Bends, the most difficult part of the trail. We were very, very exhausted, especially since we did not eat lunch beforehand. It was a great feeling to get to the top.

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[Insert Angelic Music Here]

After the 28 Bends, it was pretty smooth sailing from then on. We reached the Tea Horse in the late afternoon and decided to rest. We ate like queens that night, since we didn’t eat anything besides rice noodles and granola bars the entire day.

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View of Sunset from Tea Horse

We had a very insightful conversation with a ex-game developer that night. Molly and I reminisced about the good ole’ days of playing Dark Age of Camelot in our parent’s basement and leading raids when we were only 12 years old. It was great to talk to someone that understands the field and even knows the developers of DaoC! Also, talking about mmorpgs made me realize how much I miss videogames and computer games…I’ll have a lot of catching up to do when I am back in the states.

We slept well that night and decided to wake up late the next morning for the next day’s hike.

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Exploring Yunnan: Two Day Trip to Dali — Day #2

We woke up the next morning and ate breakfast at the Sleepy Fish Hostel with Erin and her friend and then bought a late afternoon bus ticket to Lijiang before setting off to Erhai Lake. Since we did not interact with many people this day, I will just have a photo gallery of our bike ride along the lake:

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Vrrrroooom

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Talking in Green Fields

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Taking a Break by the Lake

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Taking a Break in the Fields

[I was testing out features on my new camera]

Afterwards we grabbed a quick bite to eat (vegetable hearts “cai xin,” dried meat, and smoked glutinous rice with sweet sauce) and then hopped on the bus to Lijiang. We only stayed in Lijiang for a night and then went directly to Tiger Leaping Gorge the next morning.

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Exploring Yunnan: Our Adventure Returning Back to Jinghong

The day before, I mentioned to Xinmeng that Sam and I needed to be back in Jinghong, capital of Xishuang Banna, by the next day. I thought it wouldn’t be an issue. There should be enough buses going back to the capital, right? Well, she got wide eyed and said: “There’s only one bus, it goes to Menghai, and it leaves at 8:00am. The village is a 2-3 hour hike from here!” She said we had two options: 1) leaving right then and make it to Bada (the village with the one bus) right at sunset, or 2) she can try to put together two motorbikes to Bada before sunrise. Sam wouldn’t be healthy enough to hike 3 hours that night…so there was only one option: motorbike. Her husband and his brother volunteered for the job. I thanked them and the family profusely. They already have hard lives as it is. They work all day in the fields, take care of two babies, and host visitors and now they will be taking me and my sick friend early in the morning to Bada. Before going to bed, I paid for our visit and added extra gas money for the motorbike ride. I went to bed and set my clock for 5:45am. The sun would rise at around 8:00am.

I groggily woke up and silenced my alarm. I shook Sam awake, packed up our things, and met Xinmeng’s husband and his brother outside. It was dark and the stars were still out. The Milk Way had already faded though. I hopped onto the back of the husband’s motorbike and held onto his shoulders. I looked at Sam as he held onto the brother’s waist and said: “This is going to be an adventure!”

Then we were off. The head lamps were our only form of light as we bumped along the uneven dirt road. I looked up at the stars and saw the big dipper in the middle of the sky, upright, not pouring into the horizon. The space station brightly flew through its handle and hurdled down behind the mountains. After 20 minutes, we crossed to the other side of the mountain range. The crescent moon emerged from behind the tea plantation hills and shone above Venus. I told the husband, “what a beautiful moon!” He quickly glanced at it and didn’t take much notice. He’s probably seen it many times before. As the moon and Venus set, the sun began to rise. The landscape started to show color: the greens of the tea plantations and forests became visible and the pink of the blossomed trees also made an appearance.

I was in awe of the scenery when the husband started conversation: “How is your friend?”

“He’s doing much better. He just needed a day of rest.”

“That’s good to hear. Are you two married?”

“Ah! No! We have known each other since middle school.”

“Are you together? Is he your boyfriend?”

“No, he is not. We are just good friends”

“HUH? Then why did you two share the same room?”

“To save money.”

The husband was so astonished to hear that we shared a room. To him a man and a woman sharing a room has only one significance, which you can probably guess for yourself. I laughed it off and said that it’s a bit different from where we’re from. Friends can share rooms, even beds, without anything to worry about. He asked more questions about my culture and I asked him about his life in Thailand and meeting his wife. The two of them both had fond memories of Thailand. It seemed like they preferred it more than here.

Forty-five minutes into the trip, my hands began to lose feeling from the brisk cold wind. The entire motorbike was bumping along a makeshift cobblestone road. I couldn’t tell if I was shivering anymore or if the bumping was in rhythm with my body. I noticed we had passed a sign saying we were approaching Bada. We were almost there! I looked out at the horizon, the sun was almost up. We had to make it to the village soon. We were chasing the sunrise!

Before entering the village, the husband asked if I needed to use the bathroom. He said the bathrooms are dirty and far away, so it would be best to do business in the mountains. I said I was fine and we continued down the path to Bada. We made it just in time to have a bowl of noodles and buy snacks. I treated the husband and brother to breakfast, thanked them for everything, and went on the bus.

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Women Selling Goods Early in the Morning in Bada

Before we knew it, we were off again. I watched the sunrise as it hovered over the mountainous terrain and lit up the colorful scenery. I looked out the window and watched the tea plantations and mountains pass, as well as breathed in fresh air. The older man next to me (who kept staring at me) was smoking something strong that didn’t even smell of a cigarette. He wrapped something into a blunt and smoked it. We were in the golden triangle…so who knew what he was smoking! I breathed in the mountain air, watched the Dr. Seuss-like striped mountains pass, and was slowly lulled to sleep.

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View from Bus

I woke up in urban Menghai. We took a bus to Jinghong and spent the rest of the day there. We saw a nationalistic Jackie Chan film called “十二生肖 (12 Zodiac)” and ate a lot of Western food. I was glad to finally give Sam something substantial to eat! We left for Kunming that night by plane. It was hard to imagine that we were in Manmai that morning when I got on the plane. What a day.

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Exploring Yunnan: Day in Manmai Bulong Village

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Map of Xishuang Banna and our Travels (map taken from this website)

I woke up the next morning to find Sam sick as a dog. I think drinking the shot and a half of rice wine was the culprit. Our plans to hike through the rainforest to the neighboring village were on hold. After taking care of him and putting him back to bed, I then went upstairs to find the family going about their daily lives (playing with the baby, preparing to go out to the tea plantations, etc). Xinmeng’s mother cooked us breakfast, which I ate by myself. Breakfast included thin fried fish with sesame seeds and noodles with processed ham.

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I ate quickly and then walked out to the open part of the second story. The village was situated on the side of a mountain, so the view was amazing:

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Drying Clothes with Scenic View

After talking with Xinmeng, I decided to get to know the village of Manmai and Bulong culture. First of all, here is a Wikipedia article about the Bulong (or Blang) people of China. They are one of the 56 recognized ethnic minority groups in China with a population of over 90,000 people. They primarily live in Yunnan province. While I was walking through the village, the sound of construction and children laughing filled the air. It seemed like every able-bodied person in Manmai was helping their neighbors build or renovate houses. I wondered where the villagers got the money.

I happened upon a young monk shoveling sand into a watery mixture of cement. I asked him what he was doing. He was surprised that I spoke Mandarin and was a little flustered. He spoke in broken Chinese: “Building my house, it is this one.” He pointed at a house that was in the middle of being built. The foundation and structure had been made, but they had yet to make walls. His friend came over with a shovel and they began to talk and laugh in the local dialect. I did not want to get in the way of their work, so I waved goodbye and went on my way. I then almost ran into two little boys screaming down the street as they avoided water being splashed on them by the group of girls who were on the second story of a bungalow (house with stilts) with a bucket.

IMG_1875Girls Bullying the Little Boys by Splashing Water

I begged for mercy and quickly passed by. Their parents, it seemed, were helping build the house next door. I could hear the girls giggling as I continued down the path. I was happy to see such a lively community and to be a part of it, even as a stranger. As I reached the edge of town (which didn’t take long), I found the local Buddhist temple. I climbed up the steps and saw two men: one was a very old monk and the other was a middle-aged man holding a mat. He laid the mat onto the floor and helped the old monk lie down. He wanted to sun bathe. I meandered around the pavilion, avoiding them to give them space, and observed the southeastern style architecture.

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Manmai Buddhist Temple

Suddenly, the middle-aged man tapped my shoulder and mumbled something to me. He beckoned me to follow him. He opened the temple doors and showed me a room with walls covered with stories. I followed him in and looked at the colorful pictures and characters. He then brought me to the front of the Buddha statue. Inside the temple was an assortment of colorful cloths hanging from the ceiling that contrasted against the golden Buddha. The man left me be. I followed the stories on the wall, trying to decipher their meanings. I did not understand the language that went with each picture. It looked like Sanskrit. When the man returned, I asked him what language it was and what the stories were about. He explained in broken Mandarin that the story wasn’t about Buddha, but someone else important in Buddhism scriptures. I did not really understand what he was saying, but he read the stories to me in the different language. It was soothing. I left the main hall and entered a bright red hallway that led back outside.

I went back to the house and checked on Sam. He was still sleeping. I then went hiking up the mountain that the village rested on and explored the tea plantations up there. I then moved down to the bottom of the village and skimmed the rainforest. I did not enter it, fearing that I would lose my way.

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Locals Going About their Day

When it was nearing dinner time, I hiked up back to the house. I asked Sam what he would like to eat. He said that he can’t eat anything except for fruit. I went upstairs and met up with Xinmeng. She spent the entire afternoon in the fields and was resting. I asked if there was anywhere in the village to buy fruit. She said that luckily someone from Menghai had come to the village today to sell goods, one being oranges. She was kind enough to show me the way. She held her baby in a long cloth wrapped around her shoulders and waist as we walked to the seller. I ask about her life:

She was born in this village the same year as me, 1990. Back then this village was much poorer. She finished up to the third year of middle school and then at age 14 moved to Thailand as a migrant worker. She worked there for many years. She loved being in Thailand. The work was simple and the pay was better than in the village.  She also met her husband during her stay. They got married there. However, she moved back to the village when she became pregnant. That was a year ago. She said the village had changed a lot since she left. The government is giving locals money (up to 10,000 yuan) to renovate their homes and improve their standard of living. She mentioned that the reason for this development was not for tourism, but rather for the betterment of the people’s lives. Her family had renovated their house 4 years before, but then the government only gave them 2000 yuan. She is now living with her husband, mother, father, brother, brother’s wife, and two little babies.

While we were walking to the fruit seller, she said hello to everyone we passed. She knew everyone in the village and they knew her. The community was close-knit and friendly. We finally got to the fruit seller. While I was buying oranges, she bought a bowl of rice noodles and talked with the people sitting in the circle eating. I was happy she brought me to the fruit seller because I saw a more intimate perspective of the village. When I walked by myself, everyone treated me like an outsider. Not in a bad way. But, when I walked with her, the village seemed more personal and welcoming.

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Sunset from Xinmeng’s Balcony

We walked back and gave Sam oranges to eat. I ate with the family, talked, and watched television with them till it was very late. I became friends with Xinmeng. We were finalizing plans about how to get back to Jinghong the next day…turned out Sam and I would need to take motorbikes before sunrise to get to town on time…

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Exploring Yunnan: Traveling to Manmai Bulong Village

Sam and I caught a bus to Menghai at around 9:00am and arrived around 10:30am. The next bus to Bada was at 2:30pm, so we had time to kill and explored the small town. We ventured through a small market where a nice woman gave us a free taste of sweet rice wine porridge. It was tasty, but also very strong. We thanked her and slowly ate it while we continued on our way. In these small towns, there is normally a center where there is a large mall and supermarket, but when you leave the center and move to the edges, you run into random farmland between apartment complexes. Since this once was country, the city was built around it. It’s normally lost behind the 3-4 story buildings, but when you explore the alleyways (like what we did), you normally stumble upon them.

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Pond Next to Urban Countryside

From urban scape to farmland: behind us in this photo was an unorganized set of farmland with corn and rice paddies. We walked along the thin dirt path and crossed a makeshift bridge (three thick pieces of wood and one plank in the middle) to get to the other side of the village. The sun was beating down on us. It was so much warmer than Kunming. We found shady sanctuary at a Buddhist temple.

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Menghai Buddhist Temple

We sat next to a golden shrine and listened to the screaming of children in the neighboring elementary school. I looked for a bathroom to change into shorts and also to use it…what I found was a cement wall and a pile of bricks. That will do! We meandered around the village until 2:30pm was around the corner. We got on the bus and I immediately conked out…I woke up to this scenery:

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Scaling the Mountains on Bus

I always seem to forget Chinese countryside can be so beautiful. I noticed we had been traveling for about two hours out of the total of three. I thought I would ask around the bus (in total 10-12 people) for anyone who knew how to get to Manmai. I asked a few, but they shook their hands, mumbling that they don’t speak Mandarin. A 16 year-old Hani minority boy piped up and said he knew the way. I sat next to him. He wore fashionable clothing (black pants, striped button-up, black hat) and had a small guitar next to him. He went to Menghai to hang out with some friends and was heading back home to Mangwa, a village a bit north of Manmai. He explained that we could get off the bus early and hike two hours to the village. We had about 3-4 hours till sunset. I double checked with Sam to make sure he’s okay trusting his directions. Before we had time to really negotiate, the boy yelled at the driver to stop. He pointed at a dirt road and said hike down it for two hours and you’ll hit Manmai. Before we knew it, we were off the bus and all alone among mountains of tea plantations.

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Tilted Shelter in a Tea Plantation

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Sam and I Hiking to Manmai

We walked…and walked…and walked. At some points we hiked to the top of tea plantations, but since sunset was approaching, we kept to the path. We sang Disney songs, talked, and gazed at the scenery. It was a beautiful hike. We fortunately made it to the village right at sun down. We climbed up a hill to a shrine and watched the sunset from there: IMG_1856

Sunset Over a Wave of Mountains

It was dark when we entered the village. I asked around for a place to sleep. Most of the people didn’t understand Mandarin, so I resorted to body language. I put my hands together and imitated myself sleeping. She recognized what I meant and pointed down the hill. We continued through the dark path. I could make out bungalow homes (houses on stilts), but besides that it was too dark to see. We approached a home and ran into a smiling, middle-aged woman. I imitated sleeping again to her. She nods, mumbled in the local dialect, and ushered us into her home.  Thankfully her daughter, Xinmeng, who is my age and speaks Mandarin, shows us our room (a large mattress on the ground). Sam and I joked that we can pretend we’re married. Her mother cooks us a meal and Xinmeng’s brother hands us rice wine. It was so strong. It burned my esophagus even after drinking. I took two sips the entire night. Sam, on the other hand, drank a shot and a half. I was surprised!

I talked with the family for a bit and then headed to bed. We had another early morning. We planned to explore the village and then travel through the rainforest to get to another Bulong town.

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Exploring Yunnan: Excursion to “Almost” Southeast Asia–Xishuang Banna

In order to save time, Sam and I got plane tickets to Jinghong, the capital of Xishuang Banna, and arrived at around 10:00am. We step out of the airport and smell humid air and then hear the gaggle of taxi drivers out front yelling at us “fee-ty! fee-ty!” They wanted us to pay 50yuan for a drive to Jinghong’s center. I asked if they could turn on the machine, but they said: “kaibuliao, it cannot be turned on.” Basically, the driver wanted to swindle us out of our money. A trip to downtown would be around $10-15yuan, but since we are foreigners and have “no way” to get to downtown, they decide to utilize this opportunity to get more money. This behavior among taxi drivers (street vendors, anywhere one can haggle) is widespread throughout China. It finally began to wear me down at this point. Month after month it’s always the same. It’s not that the money is an issue, but it’s how these people treat us that really affects me. They don’t see us as equals, as human beings, but rather as overflowing money bags. Also, it’s almost as if something is missing in their moral character…cheating, swindling, tricking are all awful things to do to your common wo/man. If this is seen as bad behavior, then why is it so widespread? Maybe it is due to poverty. One will do a lot for money.

I persuade Sam to join me find a public bus. We walk onto a large street that is lined with fruit sellers that sought shade underneath the the banyan and palm trees. We ask them for the closest bus stop. The man speaks poor mandarin, but points to the other side of the road and said to wait on the corner. We wait for 10 minutes and finally got on a bus. We paid 5yuan. We got off the bus and found ourselves in a humid, forested city. Are we really still in China?

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Jinghong

Sam and I walk down the street, found the city center where locals were practicing for a culture competition that night, and found a quaint restaurant next to it. We ate while listening to the music. At this point, Sam and I had no plans whatsoever. Our next goal was to find Meimei Cafe and figure out our next day’s agenda. After asking around, we found ourselves at the foreigner street and at the cafe. We drink the most delicious lemonade and look through packets of travel advice. The owner of the cafe approached our table and gave us some suggestions. He recommended a Bulong village near the border of Myanmar. He mentioned that it isn’t the easiest place to get to, but worth the trip. Sam and I decide to go the next morning!

From the cafe, we booked two beds at an international hostel (40yuan a night) and then walk to the Mekong River. We cross through a maze of alleyways and steps till we reach the shore. The sun came out! I actually had beads of sweat run down my forehead because it was warm outside! I can’t remember the last time I felt so warm. The Mekong was beautiful and blue:

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Hanging out on the Mekong River

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Kids Swimming in the Mekong

As the sun began to set, we returned back to the foreigner street, had Thai food (couldn’t find a Dai style restaurant in the area), and then we searched the area for delicious desserts. We come across a cafe that has a Spanish-French chef/owner who once was head chef at the Waldorf (is that the hotel name?) in New York. We ate and conversed with him. When he heard our plans about going to the Bulong border town, he was in shock and said “No, no, no, that cannot be done. Too far away and recently there has been issues around the borders of Myanmar.” He persuades us to go on one of his organized trips. Sam and I feel conflicted. The Meimei Cafe owner said “It will be no problem! You can do it.” and this guy said the opposite. Who should we listen to? We excuse ourselves to think things through and watch the performance that we saw the locals practice that afternoon.

The performance commemorated 60th anniversary of the establishment of Xishuang Banna. The performances ranged from dances, kongfu, to comedy skits. Each performance was judged (by who, I don’t know). My guess is the the judges were from the local government, most likely Han Chinese. Sam and I were the only foreigners in the crowd, besides us, the audience were locals from or outside Jinghong.

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Dai Ethnic Minority Dance (the winning routine)

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The End of the Show

It was refreshing to see a performance that was aimed for the community and not tourists. However, I wished I was able to learn a bit more of this performance. What are the power dynamics: who leads this event? Who are the judges? Who decides which parts of Dai culture can be performed? Who is the intended audience: Is this for the local community? Visiting officials? Tourists? History of the Event: Is this a local event turned into big-time performance? Is this a new event (the announcer mentioned this is the second year for this performance, but was it a much smaller scale before?) I’ll have to keep such questions in mind when I begin fieldwork in Lugu Lake. The politics within a community is complex and needs to be understood through many different frames.

Sam and I headed back to the hostel. We planned to wake up early to begin our travels to Southwest Xishuang Banna.

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