We awoke later than we had planned, a common theme on a trip that is supposed to be a vacation and exploratory all at once. We called Yun Qi, who advised us to come ride a boat with everyone from yesterday’s bus ride. We agreed, slid into some warm layers, as the weather was overcast and threatening rain, and met with our new friends. The legend goes that two Mosuo children were wandering through their enormous mountainous valley when they discovered a large fish stuck in the ground. When they pulled the fish out, water began to gush out of the whole where the fish had once plugged. Soon enough, the whole was flooding the whole valley. Luckily, a Mosuo mother three her children into a nearby pig-trough. The trough was circumstantially buoyant, and they were the only two saved in the massive flood. Afterwards, the two floated to shore and began the Mosuo society at Lugu Lake. Sooo, the pig-trough-canoe-esk boat fit all eight of us, now including Tange’s girlfriend who had taken the bus we all missed, and the woman sterning. We were heading for a point that could view more of the lake. Lugu looks like a pair of lungs, and this point allowed us to see the whole northern lung. As we rode our guide sung and it was great to hear another generation singing the folk(lore) of the Mosuo.
We landed and quickly climbed a steep and wet path to the point. The point itself had only a simple monument, probably dedicated to the Mosuo Mountain Goddess (but now that I think about it, the prayer flags may have indicated Buddhism). The lake was still. Pig troughs swarmed to and from inlands like aquatic anthills. The young mountains illuminated why the lake might be the deepest lake in the Yunnan Province. We began to explore more of the point to leave Tange and his girlfriend alone on the point. Nancy was providing music and photography, but we did not have the Chinese teenage ability to ignore social ques. We stood chatting when all of the sudden we head a yell.
“Hengri!” It was Tange’s excited voice. “Hengri! I succeed, I succeed!” For a moment I was quizzical. Why was he running? Why was he speaking English? What what was he talking about? Then I put I together when I saw the empty, tiny red-velvet box in his hand.
“What’s he doing?” Brent asked.
“I think he just proposed,” I responded.
Tange stumbled down the path. It had already begun to rain and so he slipped as he gave me a hug.
“Gonxi!” Brent told him, “Congratulations!” so I copied his pronunciation (as I didn’t know what it meant yet).
He hugged Brent and Yun Qi. Typical awkward Chinese: propose to your girlfriend and then run away right after to tell everyone. His bride-to-be made her way to us and despite the rain; everyone was so elated for them. We jumped back in our boat and the rain picked up. Nancy held the umbrella as I paddled with Brent back to Li Ge. Eventually, Nancy insisted that I take the umbrella so that she could paddle. I laughed and gladly handed it over. She reminded me of my 6th grade campers at Camp Nebagamon learning how to use a paddle. We sung songs together, and Tange even showed off his singing skills, and his wife moved closer to him. Their love was clear and beautiful and nervous.
We were cold and wet, so we decided to warm up with some spicy noodles. However, we needed to meet up with Er Che Lema. It is typical if someone does a favor for you (like organize our room for us like she did) to join him or her for at least a cup of tea. Erche Lema explained in Chinese where we could stay at a low expense which was almost nowhere. Luckily she turned out to be incorrect in most of her advice, but graciously, she offered us free bikes. I was not yet thrilled to bike the circumference of the lake. I gazed at the puddles forming in between the rocky street. We thanked her for everything and got those noodles we were craving. Yun Qi joined us.
While slurping our way to full stomachs, we contemplated what to do next. We even tried to make a plan (what a silly notion at Luguhu… nothing went as planned). Li Ge had to be the most expensive, and we needed to move on, we needed to move on, we needed to tough it out, we needed to bike for the next few days in the rain. I was sitting there; dry as ever, stomach full, mouth still warm from huajiao (Sichuan hot peppers), and I looked at the cold, damp weather outside that told me not to move. That being said, we decided to got for it. The bikes were free, and it we hoped it would be a fun way to get around the lake.
Since Erche Lema wanted Yun Qi to pay for his bike, he decided to proceed on foot. We said only brief goodbye at the end of Li Ge, because we expected to see him at another village. Yun Qi was planning on getting to the northernmost part of the lake, so he did not want to have the bother of returning the bike before he went even further north into Sichuan on foot.
We peddled up the hill to get on the main road. We tried to buy a map at Lema’s hostel, and a woman laughed, explaining that we wouldn’t get lost.
“There is only one raod,” She said in Chinese with one finger up.
So we found that one road waiting for us at the top of a winding hill. We began our bike and I immediately enjoyed viewing the lake from above. The lake’s topography is interesting. The Yunnan and Sichuan border runs right through the center. Ironically, the most diverse region of China is the more gentrified and less diverse side. Nonetheless, this allows the Han, Mosuo, Yi, Mongols, Naxi, Lama, Lisu, Dai, Hui, Bai, Hani, Wan, Yao, Bulong, and Bui to have one thing in common; one of the most beautiful lakes in China. The water connects them physically and emotionally. The lake is everyone’s livelihood, and has been for centuries. Biking above it allowed us to physically recognize it for the first time. The little villages stood red a brown aside the overcast lake and green mountains. So we followed those same mountains around the lake, battling up hills and blissfully gliding down them.
Then we met another road block after two-or-so hours of bike riding. Brent came up walking up a hill with bike in hand and face at half mast and said, “My tire’s popped,” he yelled through the drizzling rain.
“Shit,” was the only response I could muster. What else was there to say?
Yun Qi had rejoined us, as he had luck hitch hiking. He helped us translate at the next village. They suggested a village where the bike was fixable, which was our set destination on bike, not on foot.
We wandered from this small shop to all places in between asking, “Xiu zi zi xing che de di feng zai nail?” or, “bike fixing place is where?”
The only responses we got were, “mei you,” which means: “don’t have.” Or, “bu zhi dao,” which means: “Don’t know.”
Eventually, we came to a small village called Xiao Loushui, which turned out to be my favorite place on the lake. It had a handful of Lu Guan (guest houses) and a tent under which the locals seemed to simply play cards and eat. The shore of the lake ran up to this tent, which was conveniently beside the single dirt road that ran downhill from the main road. We tried asking different guest houses but got the same responses. In the meantime, we tried to find a place to stay and found a good price of 80 kuai. We also wandered into a Lu Guan that we would never have even looked at, as it was too expensive. In doing so, I suddenly found a Chinese man speaking perfect English. He offered hot water and a place to sit while they helped with my bike. I explained that while I did have enough money to pay for a bike fix, I did not have enough money to pay to stay at his beautiful establishment.
He laughed, “Please take a seat and enjoy some hot water.”
“Where is your friend?” He stood and walked towards me. He was surprisingly tall for a Chinese man.
“I think looking for another place to fix the bike.”
“We are your best bet. Give him a call. Maybe I can give him a cup of hot water too.”
I called Brent to get him over here, and he had a bag of Pu’er tea in hand by the time he had gotten to the Lu Guan. One thing lead to another, and while he could not fix our bikes, he could give us a lecture on Pu’er tea, being a Chinese Diplomat in the USA, the Middle East, and Africa, bribery in Chinese Politics, The Chinese Family Temple, and how to party. Ok maybe not the last one, but everything in between. After I finish this journal, I will be sure to add a section with my notes on his “lecture.” Anyways, the conversation was so exciting that we did not realize how many glasses of tea we had drank, how much time had passed, and how much we had to pee. Suddenly, the town was filling up with cars. We said goodbye to the man, Mark, and hustled back to the place that had given us a good price. We planned on joining Mark for dinner or drinks to talk some more. Unfortunately, the woman at the guesthouse had apparently just sold her last room for the night.
Brent and I looked at each other and laughed. This was how our day was going, and we were enjoying every part. Had we not popped that tire, we would not of met Mark, and so we knew that this would open a whole realm of possibilities. In less that five minutes, we haggled our way into a three-wheeled-motorcycle with our bikes, and we were headed to the next town to stay in a place for an equally priced guesthouse. Within the next five, we were walking to a different one in the same town, because the previous one was trying to rip us off.
“Just ahead,” he nodded and close his eyes reassuringly, “just ahead.” His shinning yellow jacket made him respectable and yet somehow hard to take seriously. This was typical clothing of the minority men on Luguhu.
We walked to the very last building in the town and stumbled through the gate. Brent went up with the Lama and walked around the house. This not a guesthouse. This was most certainly someone’s house.
“Henry!” Brent interjected the Chinese of Yellow Jacket.
“You should come check this out.”
“Is it that bad?”
It was a little off-putting at first, but on a fifth glance we realized there was not a ton of options left and one night for 60 kuai was a good price. We took it. The lama guy told us to put down our bags and come with him. so we obliged. The house looked very old and worn. The grandmother of the guesthouse walked out. She seemed as worn as the house. Her legs were covered in dirt, and as she smiled sweetly at us I saw a few missing teeth. I’m sure more were missing out of sight. The ones that were there were not much whiter than her farmer’s brown skin.
We walked into what looked like a barn and found a something of a living room. Yellow Jacket was already sitting beside an old man.
Later Brent said, “I thought he was high on opium.”
I agreed, “Word. Me too.”
He looked old enough to have been around for the opium wars. We later found out that he was far younger, and that he was really just a simple, soft-spoken, and very-very tired man. But Chairman Mao’s poster sat above the cushion he seemed the lao nan (old man) never seemed to leave. The poster stood there to emphasize why he was that way, how he had come to be the man that he was now, but not to apologize for any of it. I wondered if he had fought for Mao. Regardless, he and his wife had certainly braved the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward.
This was Wild China. In a half hour, we went from drinking tea with an extremely well educated and wealthy diplomat to chewing sunflower seeds under three raccoon pelts with Mao and a two over seasoned veterans of his regime. They were living in the simplicity of poverty.
Then the power went out. The energy infrastructure of the lake seemed to be solar based, and since it had been overcast power came and went as it pleased.
Later into the night, a 14-year-old boy, his older brother who was 18, and their father who was in his early 30s joined us. Grandma place potatoes on the fire in the center, below the constant source of water, a giant teapot. Grandpa moved for the first time to offer us cigarettes. There was absolutely no refusing these ones, I mean the man moved for god sakes.
We chatted with the two youngsters and their father about Music and the NBA and a guy by the name of Mi kul Zhak shun, who turned out to be Michael Jackson. After agreeing with Yellow Jacket about getting his help in fixing our bike and telling the two teenagers that I would play with them the following morning, we headed to bed. I have never seen such a beautiful bed that was rock hard with gross sheets and was next to my piss bucket. It looked like home for a moment. I tried journaling as much a I could, but exhaustion was teasing my eyes into closing. I fought as long as I could, but finally it was over. We slept like rocks at the bottom of Luguhu.
P.S. Since I have been typing this from my written Journal, I have not been proofreading it. Please, please, please let me know if that becomes annoying and I will work on it. I just have so much to say and such little time!