Day 7: Too many Tourists in Lijiang
Three Israelis, two Americans, and an Australia are all sitting at a Breafast table. While this sounds like the beginning of some sort of racist joke, this was the beginning of our day. Our discussion reminded me that I was becoming more and more accustomed to the Chinese Culture, particularly their bad table manners and lack of hygene.
After the quick bus ride that Paul paid for, we helped the girls, who did not speak any Chinese, learn a few words that would make their stay more comfortable and less expensive. Imagine the example of the fruit from day 5, that went from being 5 kuai to free, but apply that to hotels, and to some laowai who can’t speak any Chinese. Upon returning to the bus station, we found Paul speaking English with a man who stared at him puzzled. Paul did not have a ticket. He had a “reservation number.” I laughed half-heartedly, because there was no such thing as a reservation number in the Chinese countryside. If he had not paid, he would not be getting a ticket. The bus was full, and the reservation number turned out to be the puzzled man’s phone number. I spoke with him for Paul, and with the help of a Chinese girl, (and a little applied pressure learned from none other than Betsy McKenna), we got him a seat on the next bus to Lijiang with a discount.
The bus ride home included the same things as our ride in, except we were on a big bus, and not with people who would soon become our friends. I read, listened to music, and enjoyed the beautiful sights. I did not however enjoy the traffic jam with the impending doom of a dying I-pod.
Once in Lijiang, we got dorm beds for almost double the price of our first night there. Then while we were walking through Old Town, the tourism hub, it became clear why it was so expensive. I experienced crowded China for the first time. I was not a fan, mostly because, while unlike New Yorkers, these Chinese walk as slow as one could imagine. Maybe it has something to do with leg size, but there is no excuse for not looking where you are going. I felt like a one-man monster truck rally as we tried to find a good place for dinner. During our hungry wanderings, we found a strip of bars with shinning, multicolored strobe lights.
That morning at Luguhu, we discussed minority culture with Paul and the three Israeli girls. We discussed the comparison of genuine cultural tradition and performance to yield tourism (I also wrote 5 page paper on this topic, so if it interests you, let me know), and how sometimes both became one. These bar’s however, were the perfect example of simply the latter. Women were dressed in minority garb, and from what I understand were of the Han majority. They sung and danced on stage and probably entertained many drunken tourists. They were doing their job, and unknowingly doing the minorities injustice.
After dinner, we followed the routine of finding a beer and then a bar (yes in that order, because you can bring beer into a bar). We returned to the bar from our first night in Lijiang with good old fat cat.
The main strip of bars was on a hill, so we descended into the bar. I had a little more trouble on my descent than Brent did, as I smashed my head on a rotating disco light. Typical tallest white boy in Kunming problems… except I was in Lijiang. With my hand on my head, I sat down at a table and told the waiter that we did not want anything yet. We had until the end of our 5 kuai beers to either get free beer or get out.
The bar had a wide variety of ages and classes. A table in front of us looked like a group of Black society or Chinese Mafia. One of the fatter gentlemen sat across from two others and a girl. While the natural order might suggest that they sit two by two, the three to one ratio suggest the power imbalance was immense. They were drinking green tea and Hennessey. A casual Thursday night cocktail that cost them just south of 4,000 kuai.
In the corner, a group of seemingly powerful men from late twenties to early fifties sat like whales in the ocean as the woman and boys floated like remora fish. Or maybe like sharks.
Our beers were emptying though, and we thought we might have to turn in for the night. On cue, two girls starting taking photos with us and yelling “cheers” or the Chinese equivalent, “ganbei.” Chinese woman are a good way to meet people at a bar, as they will passively engage with you, for example: taking photos. They turned out to be very much with the eclectically aged group in the corner, so when our beers were empty they went to retrieve more for us. While woman are surprisingly warm, you know if you are “in” a group when the men invite you to sit and offer you a cigarette. Then all you have to do is get drunk with them, speak their language, and laugh about how bad you are at it. So, all of these things ensued.
Two of the men invited us to play a rocks-paper-scissors drinking game. In its simplicity, the game gets you drunk. If you lose, you drink. If you lose you want to play again, and since there is always a loser, there will always be another game. It plays upon drunken pride. Anyways, these men clearly played quite often, because when I first saw them playing I thought they were dancing. After playing this game for a very long time, knock over multiple beers, and one the men taking his shirt off (then trying and succeeding in taking off mine), we learned who these people were. It turned out; we had been getting free beer from the managers and owners of the restaurant. The group started to make sense.
A singer finished a song and then man with his shirt off (the manager) grabbed 500 kuai from his pocked, opened a beer with his tooth, and made the five 100 kuai bills look like a flower coming out of the beer. The waiter brought this loaded bottle and a bouquet of roses. The singer was a good friend of the boss, and returned to the table with a smirk. He thought he had just made 500 kuai. Instead, the owner grabbed the money back from his friend. Later that night, the owner used the same 500 kuai to tip a woman later in the night. He took it back again. It was all a show.
The next day we caught a bus back to Kunming. It was a somewhat surreal ride, as we were in the front row on the top floor with a giant plexi-glass window in front of us. Everyone filed into the dorm slowly and steadily. We were all home.
P.S. No pictures… sorry