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.
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…