Posts Tagged With: Cuisine

Exploring Yunnan: Day in Manmai Bulong Village


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.


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:


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.


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.


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.


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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Cross-Cultural: Celebrating Thanksgiving in Harbin

For Thanksgiving, CET organized a trip to go to Harbin’s top buffet. They said that the year before they had turkey! Unfortunately, there was no turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberries this year, but I still ate to my heart’s content. They had foods from all of China’s regions (Taiwan, Guangdong, Sichuan, Northeast, etc.) , as well as international cuisine (Japanese, Korean, Western). I joked around with classmates and chatted with teachers. It was nice to take a break, and get to know my teachers out of the classroom.

High-class Buffet–Japanese Section

Western Section–Pierogis?

The Western section had fruit pizza (pineapple, mango) and sausage pizza, meatballs, pasta, and something that looked like pierogis. From the Western section, I mostly ate pizza. Most of my plate’s contents included Guangdong dimsum, fried shrimp, and all-you-can-eat Haagen Dazs icecream!

Mengnan Eating her First “Thanksgiving” Meal

All of our roommate’s tagged along to participate in our Thanksgiving dinner. They were curious to know what we did on this holiday. They thought we were joking that we just eat a TON of food, chat with family, and then go to sleep. At some point in the middle, we give thanks. Since we didn’t eat any traditional Thanksgiving cuisine, many of my classmates plan to make their own mashed potatoes…I’m going to make a pumpkin pie!

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Exploring Harbin: Dinner Outing with Friends

Spicy Dinner at Sichuan Restaurant

I joined my classmates for some spicy food at Harbin’s “spiciest” Sichuanese restaurant. We ate fried chicken chunks that were covered with a hundred+ red peppers, frogs, crab soup (the yellow part), hot and sour fish stew, spicy green beans, and cabbage. There were beef and other chicken dishes too. I went with about 12 classmates. It was a fun night filled with animal noises, whistling, and other immature banter. Somehow we evolved from making elephant noises to golf clapping to our classmate’s splendid whistling skills.

My classmates are great.

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Fall Break: 百花森林 (Birch Forest) and Homestay in a Village

We woke up early the next morning, bought a bag of buns, and set off for our second day of traveling. I slept in the car for the majority of the morning, but we suddenly stopped. I opened my eyes and found myself (in a small van with 7 people and) in a forest of white bark–it was either a birch or poplar forest. The ground was covered with a thick 4-inch layer of snow. We got out and threw snowballs at each other. We then hiked up the steep hill to the top to see a splendid view of Inner Mongolian scenery.

Snowy Grasslands

My Fellow Travelers (James, Ryan, Dare, and Xuezi–missing Lucas) at the Peak

My travelers included:

Dare: A sophomore from a college in Kentucky. Her and I are roommates in the same suite. So we were already really close before the trip. She is really sweet and has become one of my closest friends in this program. We can talk for hours about anything.

James: A Fulbrighter who will be joining me to Kunming after this program ends. In short, he is hilarious. His mind always seems to be thinking about many things at once. He jokes around and makes funny faces. His experiences in China are really interesting: studying monkeys in Guizhou province and living in Kunming for a year. His life sounds like an adventure!

Xuezi: Is James’ Chinese roommate. He loves to eat new foods and also likes to joke around. He’s really flexible and helped us travel around Inner Mongolia.

Ryan: At first, he seemed quiet, but when I got to know him…he became one of the funniest people I know. He is really good at impressions (especially Minnesotan). He goes to Carleton College in MN. He loves to hike and look at rocks (Geology major).

Lucas: Lucas was the only person I did not know before traveling to Inner Mongolia. He always seemed to make our conversations go down a dirty route. Every group needs their 黄 (dirty) person. He’s a Californian from the Oakland Area. So he’s pretty laid back and enjoys a cold beer after a long day of traveling.

Zhang Qicai (our driver): A 65 year old man who grew up during the Mao Zedong era. During the Cultural Revolution, he joined the army and helped build the border wall between Russia and China. A picture of Mao dangles from the rear-view mirror. He is a kind, quiet man that turned into our father figure. He enjoyed driving a group of rambunctious  foreign youth across Inner Mongolia

We hiked back down and continued on our way to a local village. We stopped by a frozen river before driving into our final destination of the day–a small village off the Russian/Chinese border.

Village Side Street from the Family Inn we Stayed in

We took a night stroll around the small town and then got dinner at a country-style hot pot place. The table had a gigantic bowl of stew where the owners through in cut-up chicken, two fish, locally grown mushrooms, cabbage, and other ingredients. It stewed for about 10-15 minutes and then we devoured it. It was delicious.

Eating the Stew (Ryan and Lucas in the background)

We walked back to the family inn and then observed the stars. There were countless amount of stars and the Milky Way was shimmering in the middle of the sky. Dare and I looked up at the sky for a long, long time until we were coerced to go back inside so that boss could close up shop. It was a good day.

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Weekend Excursion–Dalian: Port Arthur and Last Night

We woke up early the next morning and set off on a 2-hour car ride to the southwest of Dalian to see Port Arthur, a strategic port that the Russians and Japanese once fought for in the early 20th century. The drive down was scenic with rocky formations, fields of grain, and glimpses of the sea. Before driving into the port, we first visited 203 Hill, the highest hill around the port that was used by the Russian army to watch for invading armies entering through the bay. It was a main battlefield during the Russo-Japanese War. The view was pretty, which looked onto the small bay and surrounding green mountains.

At 203 Hill, we visited a memorial that was erected by the successful Japanese soldiers to commemorate the 10,000 Japanese that died during the battle for Port Arthur. The Chinese description of the memorial was interesting (Caution! Special English below):

“Nogi Maresuke, Commander of the Japanese third army corps built this 10.3 meter high, bullet shaped tower, using shell relics, and wrote, in person, the three Chinese characters ‘Er Ling Shan,’ which is the Han aphony of 203 pronounced in Chinese. Now this has become the misdeed evidence of Japanese militarized invasion and equals a pillar of shame.”

The current relationship between China and Japan is tumultuous, to say the least. This entire port’s descriptions of the Japanese not only demonizes the Japanese soldiers who invaded China in 1904, but also Japan’s modern day population. The descriptions of the Japanese were ambiguous enough that is seemed like the demonized language was aimed at both past and present Japanese. The common Chinese still openly despises Japan. When I enter restaurants, it’s common to hear “We accept foreigners, just not Japanese.”

203 Hill Memorial and a group Japanese Tourists

I was surprised to see a group of Japanese tourists at 203 Hill, especially during this contentious period between China and Japan and the small fishing islands north of Taiwan. I wonder how they viewed that memorial–was it really “pillar of shame?”

Baiyushan Tower or another Japanese Phallus?

From 203 Hill, we drove to Baiyu Mountain to see another memorial erected by the Japanese to commemorate the many soldiers that died for the strategic land mass. Behind the memorial, was a scenic view of the port:

The Rock reads: Lushun Port (Port Arthur) and the Bay Behind us

Dalian has an interesting part of Chinese history and I am glad I was introduced to it during this weekend. After visiting the port, Mengnan and her family took me to a fish market where we would choose the fish we wanted to eat that night. We choose shrimp (it was soooo fresh!), clams, and a large white fish. Afterwards, we went to a restaurant where they cooked our fish for us.

Salting Fish at the Fish Market Alongside the Sea

Before taking the overnight train back to Harbin, we wrapped dumplings with Mengnan’s mom–Pork with garlic chives filling. It was a good night. Mengnan’s family is really inviting and kind.

Wrapping Dumplings with Mengnan’s Mom

Afterwards, we raced for the train and got on at the nick of time. We were taking “hard-seats” (the cheapest, most uncomfortable tickets before “standing” tickets) back to Harbin. The seats include a hard-as-plastic seat with a thin layer of cotton for sanitary purposes. No armrests, just squished between two passengers, at least for me. This was my first time that I had taken an overnight “hard-seat.” It was interesting seeing the type of crowd that takes this cheaper option: 1) tanned-skin, calloused handed Chinese country dwellers with their larger-than-life bags filled with who-knows-what, 2) families sitting on seats and laying on the crummy floor, 3) students saving money, and 4) one foreigner who bought tickets too late for the long weekend break–me. I slept surprisingly well on the dividing table and made it to class on time the next morning.

I had a great weekend in Dalian. I hope I can go back again.

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