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.
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.
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.