The next morning, Brent and somehow missed Fat Cat on the way out, and ate some wonton soup for breakfast. It was how I imagined eating a goldfish might go. The fins flap beside the meat of the dumpling. The teeth feel a hard skin-like surface, but then break that layer and with an explosion of juices, allow the pallet to enjoy the meat. Honestly, I don’t think that goldfish would taste very good, but dumplings in Yunnan are simply fantastic. After breakfast, we made it to the bus station by about 8:30. To our exasperation, they had already sold all of their tickets to Lugu Lake. The next one left tomorrow, but because we were already dedicating about two days each way to travel, we did not want to wait another day. We found another man who needed a ticket. He and his girlfriend only had one between the two of them. We struggled to understand him as he knew almost no English, and like so many Chinese, he forgot that he needed to talk to us like we were children. The three of us wandered to and from the ticket office and the bus entrance like a dog might from the kitchen table to its empty bowl, and so we looked up the bus’ steps with begging faces at the bus driver. During our ticketless pacing, a taxi van drove by and we asked him to take us, he responded by saying it would be about 500 kuai and gave us his business card. This did not sound like a bad deal at all, perhaps too good to be true, and our agreement was barely verbal since we weren’t 100% sure what he was saying. It was still les expensive than the bus so we kept it in mind.
The bus need to finish its loading at the other station in Lijiang, and so we jumped on and got a sense of what it could have been like to ride on this bus. Unfortunately, nearly as soon as we had arrived, the bus filled up. Everyone really wanted to go to Luguhu. It was that simple. While we had some time, we went ahead and bought our return tickets to Kunming the following week so that we did not run into the same problem. In line, we met another disgruntled customer and a new friend (I use the English word for a reason) named Yun Qi. He too was unable to buy a ticket to Luguhu. Now, we were four. All of us spread out and looked for people who wanted to go, so that we could fill up that taxi van and have the price be similar to the bus price. Brent and I walked towards the ticket line to return a pair of tickets that we had bought in the commotion a few hours early. They were supposed to get us halfway there, and we could catch another bus the next day. As we retreated to the information area, we watched our full bus leave the station, except we weren’t on it. It was funny that the signs of the universe kept telling us that we weren’t getting there, because were going to get there. We just were.
Our search had been successful. We found a group of three students that had also wanted to go to Luguhu. In about fifteen minutes our van was right in front of the bus station. The driver had asked for 600 kuai, but we were seven, and so the price was just a little higher than the bus. Unfortunately, the van only had room for only seven butts and fourteen feet and nothing else. Our bags had to go on top of the van, so we headed to the drivers house to load them up in a tarp and secure them to the roof. While he did this, we all got to know one another. Ah Li, one of the students, was from Pakistan. He had decided to study in China because he thought it had more to offer him than his own country. His two Chinese friends, Kevin and Nancy (Their English names as I can almost never remember Chinese names), were also students from Lijiang. Yun Qi is a teacher of physiology at Dali University and planned on trekking and hitchhiking from Luguhu into Sichuan, so naturally he perpetually had a lit cigarette in his mouth. Tange, the first man we found, was sort of mystery because of the language barrier, but he was well educated and as a result, well off.
Finally, we pilled into the car and started the seven-hour drive. To find so cheap gas for the journey, the driver drove us through the poorer part of town. Very simple, very traditional, and very different than the tourist driven old town.
The first leg of the trip was very muddy. The pavement had eroded entirely; leaving only muddy rivets that exposed jutting rocks. Huge trucks passed each other slowly, and the drivers stuck their heads out their windows to make sure they didn’t hit each other. They were playing games of centimeters every time they had to share the road. I was just glad a) we didn’t get stuck and b) we didn’t get run off the road. Then Mao (Zedong) and Deng (Xiao Ping) let there be pavement! And it was good. We rose steadily into the mountains and the view was incredible. The mountains were young and playful, so their bright green and rocky faces steeply pointed to the clouds. Terraces were built into the rising hills, changing the hue of green from forest green to a yellow-rice green. Herders pushed their mountain goats up and down. Children and women walked with their backpack-baskets filled to the brim. I was still so exhausted, but the views were jaw dropping. I have driven through Colorado, Arizona, California, New York City, Spain, France, London, Utah, and many other spectacular areas, but this was the most beautiful drive of my short life. Although it may preserves its number one spot for many years to come. The drive tormented me. We would rise and the view would get better and better, then we would round a mountain and another gorgeous and totally different view would surprise us. Then we would duck in to the trees and I might try to stop for five minutes, but we would hit the summit, and yet another gorgeous and totally different kind of view would surprise us. My camera clicked over and over. I am either used to the maniacal driving, or this driver was fast yet in control (… sounds like the first one, now that I think about what I just wrote).
We stopped for casual lunch on the Yangzi River. You never know how good the food will be, but got lucky and had a very good lunch with fresh egg and tomato, ground bee and vegetable, and a pork stomach dish (which I didn’t try). After more photography, we continued onto more scenery, which meant more photography. We passed through a small town and that we would have stayed at had we not found all of these comrades to ride with. Beautiful mountains surrounded the village, and while it could have been a lovely place to stay, we were determined to get to Lugu. We were happy that we were just stopping by.
After our 7th hour on this van and our 17th hour of total travel, we had arrived and were eager to find a room. We paid the driver, who apparently rose the price about half way through. Yun Qi came with us on our search for a cheaper room than the one supplied to us. Our home stay coordinator had a friend with a hostel, and we would have to pay 60 kuai a person for a room. Unfortunately, we quickly realized that while the Mosuo people appeared to dress like they were from another time period, the hotels in their town were gentrified and modern. We settled for our room at 120 kuai total. Yun Qi got the room net to us for a similar price, and we turned around quickly to eat dinner. Food was equally expensive as the lodging, so we decided to eat some egg-fried rice for 12 kuai (or $2 american).
After dinner, we wandered around the city and quickly made friends with a stylish and attractive young girl from Chendu, a city in the Sichuan province. She was eager to meet us and speak English. Soon after, a group of three 30 year olds wanted to take photos with us. Once they realized that we spoke decent Chinese, they wanted to drink with us. It was Saturday after all (and a national holiday week), so we joined them in some MAFAN. We had seen a bar filled with music and a mixed bag of minorities, Han, a British guy, Brent, and me. One Mosuo man was on his guitar, singing with his friend. Two others were playing a drum made of local wood and probably animal skin.
The singer not playing the guitar, who was bald (but no balding), took control of the show. He danced, rapped, and made everyone laugh between songs. The instrumentals were folky, but the vocalist reminded me of Native American chants. Our friends bought us beer in the meantime, and as they finished their far quicker than we, they spoke quicker sang louder along with the musicians (some things are the same in every culture). We moved to a table in the back and got raw sheep, potato, and grassy vegetable for grilling over the coals. This was common at Luguhu. A few circular Korean barbeques fit in this small bar and was used as a table, a kitchen, and just a place to socialize. We ended up sharing a table with three people from Beijing. After laughter, awkward silence, and even crying (only Brent and I were crying and it was because of the painful Sichuan Peppers), the Mosuo took a short break and asked us to perform for them. Now a little bit tispy, we jumped up and Brent grabbed the guitar. We sung “You Are My Sunshine,” “Wagon Wheel,” and “That was a Crazy Game of Poker.” The songs were extremely abbreviated and extremely out of tune, but we still got a cheers from the entire bar at the end of each song.
We returned to our seats and spoke a little with two Mosuo. The first was the singer and entertainer. Naturally, he was sitting a table filled with women. The other Mosuo was very interested in one of the girls from Beijing beside me. After my Chinese tones got better and my vocabulary got worse, I checked my watch, which read a blurry 11:30. It was much needed bedtime!
Chinese Goodbyes are either uncomfortably long or unfortunately short. Fat Cat, for example, had not even bothered to say goodbye. However, this one was uncomfortably long. We stood awkwardly trying to leave, but they kept grabbing our hands and asking for contact information. Finally, we jumped into our amazingly soft and warm beds and conched out.
P.S. If you are interested in knowing more a particular minority group, let me know via e-mail, and I’ll do my best to explain it on the blog. I also just wrote a paper involving a little analysis of the minorities there, so I can send anyone interested a copy of that.
My hands are grody, my pants are covered in mud, my hair has to be put in a beanie to stop the constant reminder of its gritty texture and offensive odor, and I am excstatic. It’s day three and I finally have time to start this journal. I guess I should start at the beginning though. I guess I should start with the two beers Brent and I had in the cafeteria after our exam. We cheersed to having an awesome Exploration Project, and soon after saw Zhou who wanted to photograph us for the website, who then realized that we were holding beer. We all laughed, lobsang the loudest (as he had already finished three glasses of Baijiu, the rice alcohol).
I went back to my room and I lay on my bed and chat with Billy about the week to come. We were both excited for totally different experiences: I, for Lugu and trekking and relaxation, and he for Rili and mafan and prostitution and border crisis. Soon the time, so Brent and I caught a cab to the bus station. Once there, we saw a kid who I played basketball with at our University. He helped us find our gate in a somewhat chaotic scene of pretend security where the guard was too busy staring at us to pay attention to the x-ray screen. We settled in a pair of seats and met a very pretty Chinese student from what we thought was the business college in Kunming. She spoke some English with us, and even though we go there an hour and a half early, the time passed relatively quickly. Then, we boarded the bus and realized that Chinese simply did not miss their bus, so we would be sitting next to one another. It was quite silly, as we were by far and away the tallest people on the bus. It would be like if a pair of NBA Centers flew in the USA and had to sit next to each other. Nonesense. After I got over this, I fell asleep for a good three-hour chunk of the bus ride. The sleeping bug had been circling me, but because I had been frantically studying and organizing travel, it didn’t bite me until I sat still for the first time on the bus.
I awoke in a sweat and really, really had to pee. I used the bathroom, which unless you are a little kid, is somewhat of a no-no. We stopped a half hour later for a bathroom break to my bu hao yisi (embarrassment). When we got going again, I began to enjoy the scenes of rural China. Shinning green and yellow fields of rice and corn. Farmers were wearing straw basket backpacks to harvest their crop. It was burning season too, so the slight fragrance of burnt crop invaded the bus. Smoke rose from the distant hazy fields. We were out of the big city bustle, and I realized that I was smiling. Brent must have been smiling too. The highway was pretty well paved, so we drove fairly quickly and consistently. Later in the bus ride, we got to watch Independence Day in English for about 30 seconds (the rest was in Chinese). Still, I enjoyed the movie, even if I could not really comprehend the dialogue. Luckily, Brent had already seen it, so he explained the basic plot: Aliens attempting to destroy the world.
We stopped again for dinner and sat next to a group of three. They, too, were going to Luguhu, and I asked if they would help us buy tickets when they did. They nodded and smiled, which is the internationally polite way of saying, “I have no clue what that white boy is saying,” but we didn’t realize it at the time.
We drove through Dali in the dark. Lights ran along the boarders of the building’s silhouettes like a cheap casino in Vegas. I don’t know much about the city, and I am excited to explore it in a few weeks, as this first impression did not give me much to work from. After that, we took a turn on a winding road, probably a detour, as everything is under repair or construction in China, and slithered our way up and down a mountain. I was exhausted and felt like sleeping but the but driver’s high speed on the mountain road was like a little pinch under the arm every time I tried to sleep. Instead, my mind absently wandered to and from consciousness and sleep, thinking distant thoughts about home and China and both becoming one. Then we finally arrived in Lijiang.
We got off the bus and got our belongings together. In that short period of time, the people who had smiled and nodded about helping us purchase a ticket were gone. The bus station was closed though, and apparently we couldn’t purchase tickets until the morning, so we had to wait. It was closing in on Midnight, and so we caught a cab to old town to find a hostel. We learned that if you want to find the right place in Lijiang you just have to walk down the dark alleyway, and then another. So, then, quite bedraggled, we stumbled upon the hostel we were seeking. Once in the dorm room of the hostel, we met another Zhongguo pengyou (Chinese friend). I call him this because the Chinese definition of friend is quite different than the American definition. The Chinese ask first if they can be your friends, and then get know you later. Then if you hit if off, you can become a best friend. This pengyou was named Fat Cat, a name given to him by a “friend” he met online. This English speaking friend dubbed him Cat, and then upon meeting him, renamed him “Fat Cat.” As this story is quite detailed, one can imply that he spoke very good English, as my Chinese language is not advance enough to translate such an anecdote.
We bought some beer and wandered around old town. The city was nearly completely closed down because it was now Midnight.
“Weishenme?” I asked.
“So people won’t get to loud,” he responded in English, which was common in China. Everyone speaks the other person’s language. Partially to practice, and partially to be polite. I laughed though, because rowdy teenagers now plagued the romantic Chinese cobblestone streets lit by red lanterns. The screeched and giggled and posed for some peace signed photography. We found ourselves at a bar that welcomed us, despite our already full beers. A girl and boy who worked there took particular interest in me, but because they speak Sichuanhua (or with a Sichuan accent), Fat Cat had to translate. Another spoke with Brent. The hostel closed the doors at 1:00 am, so after a half hour we returned to our beds. I slept better than I had in the last few weeks, and as food as when I was other-side-of-the-world jet lagged.
I’m heading off to Lugu Lake this upcoming week with a buddy of mine Brent from CU Boulder. It’s more or less my block break to explore south western China rather than the southwestern United States. What is interesting is that no one has work this week. The ENTIRE country has a week to go explore China and celebrate their national pride. Hopefully I’ll meet people from all over.
I have chosen to go to a place called Lugu Lake, by way of a bus that goes through the city Lijiang. I think it is ten hours to Lijiang and then maybe five or six to Lugu from there. I will be returning to Lijiang later in the program, and so we are only staying to night so we can catch an early bus to Lugu to do some trekking. The lake is home to a minority that has remained matrilineal amongst all of the change in present day China. It will be super exciting to break the routine for a week and travel somewhere new. Can’t wait to meet them, take tons of photos, and write a lot. Expect a bunch of posts about a week from now.
All the best,
P.S. Here is the wiki about lugu: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lugu_Lake
As you can see in my previous post, I have officially fallen into a routine amongst my newfound Chinese brethren. Despite being quite busy during my weekdays, I have found that weekends can be even busier if you are doing them correctly.
Between living in Salamanca, New York, and now Kunming I have been building-locked for the last few weeks. I felt the Colorado wild child in me craving mountains, and so handful of the guys decided to set out for a hike. We had talked to one of our teachers who gave us directions to head out of the city and towards the mountain. On our way to the bus station, a girl walked up to my buddy, Pak, and began to talk with him. His Chinese is not particularly strong, just like me, but he said “pa shan,” or hiking, to her and her face lit up. Before we knew it, we had another member of the hiking party. Shu Yu is from a southern city in Yunnan and is majoring in Cambodian, but her English was very good. Apparently, she was a new student and had no one to sit with, so she and Pak ate a dinning hall meal together. She was an immediate help and we jumped on the correct bus.
“Where are you going?” Shu Yu asked with a thick accent.
“The mountains,” I said, “Wo bu zhidao, I don’t know.”
“You are crazy,” she replied to all of us. She was crazier though. She was the one who had jumped along on a whim knowing even less than we did. With the realization that we were all a little crazy, it was nice to at least have a fluent Chinese speaker.
We started on a public bus, but somehow switched over to a private bus. This bus seemed to have no particular stop system, as sometimes people would get off the bus and buy groceries, get back on and then we would move on. At one point, a unidentified package was put on the bus, and then delivered somewhere else. Anyways, after a very dramatic scenery change from a flat urban jungle to shinning green farms and village life, we came to the final stop. This place is title among my photos as, “where the hell are we?” It was a fun feeling to have: not knowing where we were exactly, but knowing we were in the right place. As soon as I stepped off the bus, a Chinese woman was yelling at me faster than a normal Chinese person could comprehend. She was eager to drive us to the park that we wanted hike around. Our Chinese friend helped us find a reasonable price, and so we got in her small van and headed even further up the mountains.
She let us off at the base of some hills, and explained that there was a park one way and a road the lead in to the mountains the other way. One way was boring but free, she said. The other was beautiful and expensive to enter. We went up the supposedly boring road. Along the way, we had views of small mountain villages, mining sites, and all sorts of plant life. The road wound around the mountain, and we had no real idea where we were going. Shu Yu also mentioned that driving students were constantly passing us. This mountain was the perfect example of a steep learning curve. Learning on this mountain was sink or swim.
As we came around a bend, we saw a man that was standing in the middle a bunch of boxes on his property. As we got closer, we heard the buzzing and realized he was a bee farmer. We walked towards his stand on the street. On top of his stand stood three types of honey. The first one was fruit based. The second had been made with a flower. The third was made with a word that we did not understand. It was sort of like choosing the initial Pok’e’mon at the beginning of the gameboy game. Finally, we came to a consensus on the darkest one, which was fruit or melon based. We laughed a little with he and his wife, because my roommate speaks very well. His mother and daughter came out, and so we saw the previous generation of beekeeper, and in theory, the next one. It was such a simple life, and they knew it, and they seemed so happy about it.
Scooping the honey out with the toothpicks they gave us to taste the different kinds of honey, we continued upwards. If Shu Yu thought we were crazy before, I can only wonder what she thought then. Soon we found a path and wondered off the road. We found a nice view into a valley and pulled out some fruit for a snack. Billy had an idea, and the fruit ended up in the bottle of honey. Mandarin oranges dipped in homemade honey is combination worth trying (since the sugar is all natural, it’s good for you right?). The road took us higher, and we saw the it kept cutting around the mountains. We looked at our watches and figured that it was time to turn back. We hitchhiked in a small van down the mountain. At this point, the honey and oranges were not cutting it, and we tried to find something to eat. The only restaurant in the town was trying to rip us off, and so we bought some crackers and guess what we did with them. We dipped them in honey. Did I mention how good this honey was yet?
We waited for the woman who had driven us to pick us up, and one car did a loop around the small town three times, so that they could see us. It’s so amazing to think that many of these people have never seen white and black skin before. So, our group featured sights more exciting than the mountains: a black person and two blond, tall, white boys.
After almost slaughtering a cow with our bus, we made it safely down the mountain and into the city. We rode the public bus back into the city and pigged out on some Dai (a Chinese minority) food. Billy is a charmer and so he got the waitresses phone numbers. He gets about three Chinese girls phone numbers, and all of these girls want to practice English with him. That night after returning to the dorm, we found the girls, had some Dali (a Chinese beer), sung songs, gave each other massages, and caused some MAFAN with a few kids from Myanmar. It was one of those days so good that you wonder whether your life is real or not.
7:30 am – Wake up and pack up for schoool
7:45 – Grab a Mantau (boiled bread) and some unnamed object which is really just a churro, wrapped in tortilla, and with a spicy spread on it. To drink I have some awful instant coffee, and some warm soy milk.
8:00 – Spoken and listening Language Class
9:45 – Taiji (or Taiqi) with our master
10:30 – Grammar Language Class
12:00 (noon) – Lunch Time. I usually eat at the dinning hall, which is surprisingly good and inexpensive. Sometimes I go to my favorite dumpling place or try a noodle place. I have a few hours, so I do homework, write, nap, watch movies, and just relax.
2:30 pm – Culture Class: Two days ago, we had a doctor specializing in AIDS/HIV come in and talk. He brought two of his patients with him, and we got to ask them questions about their disease. It was a sobering class to say the least. Yesterday, we got to see live performances of Chinese minority music. Today, we learn about the Chinese economy. This class seems a little scattered brained, but the readings pull it all together
5:00 – Some more free time starts after class. This is a good time to get started on homework, but its funny how that rarely happens. I usually play some basketball before we head to dinner. Some nights when I actually do have a ton of homework, I’ll head to the foreign street to get hyped up on some coffee. The foreign street is one of the few places to get real, and most importantly, tasty coffee in the city.
6:00 – I usually eat diner with a handful of friends. I have found a few places that I like to go for dumplings, fried rice, and noodles. I am still discovering places with amazing dishes like pineapple wild rice with peanuts, chicken neck (o.k. so I haven’t actually eaten this one yet. I only had the courage to drink the broth), fried bananas, and really any kind of noodle you can possibly think of. Chicken on a stick is popular in the busier parts of the city, and cold noodles are common on the side of the street (they are also unbelievably spicy).
7:00 – This is when it all depends on the homework. By this time, sometimes I am finished and ready to MAFAN (some lingo my group makes for have fun, but the literal translation is trouble). Unfortunately, I usually have a few hours of homework, and this is the hour that I typically begin memorizing characters, paraphrasing dialogues, and writing sentences that use our new grammar points.
11:00 – With lots of distraction and a little MAFAN in between, I can usually finish my homework by this time. My group of 14 all live on the same hall, so socializing follows, and maybe a little beer does to.
12:00 (midnight) – I throw in my earplugs (as my roommate snores like a lion roars) and start counting sheep (or little Buddhas depending on the night).
Our bus whipped around a switch-backing road. Our Assistan Program Director, Charles, explained that it was actually safer to go fast up and down hills in China, that you were more likely to avoid accidents, (that in China the rules of gravity were seemingly backwards). I am yet to see any accidents, only very, very close calls, but I don’t believe that correlation indicates causation in this case. As I weightlessly bumped up and down in my seat, I looked out on the Chinese countryside. We passed a mine, dug into the greenest mountains. The cranes stood tall and the manmade cliffs seemed out of place among the shinning grassy hills. We came around a bend, and I saw a super highway in progress. The wide road floated high above our bumpy one, but all of the sudden it stopped. It was surreal to see such a sudden end to a road. The pillars on which the highway was to stand were finished for miles to come, and yet there was no highway. I couldn’t help but wonder where the workers were, as construction seemed to be halted.
Finally after avoiding head on collisions with a bus, a biker, and an ox-cart, we arrived in a high mountain village. Because this village was in fact in the middle of nowhere, they had succeeded in practicing Christianity through “The Great Step Forward” of Mao’s regime. Christianity arrived in China at the same as Buddhism, which so many consider the native religion. Despite being a religion frowned upon, there are many Chinese that practice. The village had no more than fifty or so families living there. Everyone had their own chickens, pigs, dogs, and some had cows. We even stumbled upon a shed, which at first smelled like a bathroom, but after hearing a “moooo,” we quickly understood that it was the cowshed. The houses were very small and modest, packing in big families of six and seven. I walked upon a family that was butchering their chickens. A couple of us were interested in seeing this process (unfortunately, my camera was dead so I couldn’t get picture of this), so they quickly pulled benches from out of their house. Since they are a minority group called the Miao, the parents and little ones did not speak Chinese, but the eldest son did. He chatted a little with my Tibetan classmate, and then we gave them a chocolate bar and we were on our way. The village was built into the hill of the mountain, and so we walked up the slope to see more little houses before we ran out of time.
The village itself was sobering to see, as so many of these people lived such simple and beautiful lives. Nonetheless, we had come to see the Christian service. We had gotten our paperwork, as it is illegal for foreigners to attend religious services, and so the group of twelve walked into this traditional church service. People quickly became more interested in us than they were in the service. One man easily took two hundred photographs of us. The service itself was not in Chinese, but the native language, and so none us understood it. However, I did notice one thing immediately. The preacher was a woman. I’m pretty sure this is abnormal even in the US. I also noticed that the men and women sat on different sides of the church, unless a married couple had a small child. The women were dress in traditional dresses and clothing that had many earth tones of blue, green, and brown. At the end of the service, a choir group walked up to perform. They sang beautifully, and the church had wonderful acoustics. (I might purchase something to record sound, so that I can post audio content on this blog. A friend has some of the music.)
The ride back proved to be just as exciting and bumpy, but in only an hour we found ourselves back in the bustling streets of Kunming. Such is China.