October 19, 2011
Day 5: DaLiuShui and Taking the Dirt Road

Someone was most definitely hosting a tap dancing lesson in the room above us. We begrudgingly woke, packed our bags, and ate a breakfast of Mantau and rice porrage. I took off my warm, clean, and jacket and jeans and changed into my light, stinky, muddy socks, long underwear, quick dry shorts, and an old WASABI jersey (shout-out to my ultimate frisbee team). I took off my hat and stretched my back before I got on the bike. Running my hands through my hair, I quickly realized that it matched my change of clothes perfectly, not because it was the right color, but simply because it too was stinky and dirty (but knowing me you could have inferred as much). I snuck off to the lake on my bike while Brent was finishing packing.

Looking out of LUGUHU, I smiled and thought to myself, “This is the life.” And looking back now (in a Café in the middle of Kunming), it was the life.

Soon enough, we were on our way and backtracking the same marshy stretch that had reintroduced us to the lake the day before. We arrived at scarf central once more and took the bridge that got us back on the main road. Many pig-trough-owning locals were taking Chinese tourists from this bridge to the center of the lake. It was yet another overcast day, but no one cared, everyone still wanted to enjoy nature’s ingenuity.

We passed people on our bike and the local children whispered, “Laowai,” or “Waiguo.” A louder “hello!” usually followed. We took our 51,676,834th photograph with a tourist and continued around the lake. The views were breathtaking as usual, so refer photos to adequately understand Lugu’s beauty (as frankly I have grown tired of trying to explain it, and you have probably grown tired of me explaining it).

We found ourselves at a fork in the road, and while I wanted to take Yogi Berra, I resisted. There were two options. First, we could continue on the same paved loop. Or, we could take the small dirt road heading directly towards the lake. I’m sure you can guess which one we took. We came to a tiny village. A man pointed to a dirt path. He made a looping motion and told us to take it.

I looked at Brent.

He made a look that I knew to mean, “Let’s do it.”

I nodded.

The muddy path led through rows and rows of corn. The path was absolutely gorgeous and a lot more fun to bike on.

A farmer we passed said, “this path meets the road but it was a very bad path.”

We shrugged at one another and said something like, “sounds like our kind of fun.”

The path took us to the lakeside and I ate a snickers dipped in peanut butter while I looked out on the lake. It was funny to think how connected I felt to the lake. I had only touched the water (physically) once, and I had not yet circumnavigated it yet. I could only imagine how the locals felt about it.

I licked my fingers clean of peanut butter and we hopped back on our bikes. As the farmer said, the path met the road and we were back to cruising on the pavement, which was now somewhat boring compared to the dirt path. We passed three villages, all apparently Han (the Chinese majority). Along the way, We had one moment where we almost caused a accident. Somehow, it wasn’t even our own fault. A car had stopped and to take photograph of the view, so we asked them the name of the town they were photographing. Instead of answering us, they began to snap photo after photo of us. We continued to ask as cars whizzed by with the driver’s hands on the horn. Finally, looking nervous at the truck carrying rocks heading at us with full steam, we decided to push awkwardly away from the people, who were still photographing our backs.

Once safely in DaLiuShui, We asked the usual question, “Nimen youmeiyou yi ge zui pianyi de fangjian,” or directly translated to, “do you have a cheapest room?” After some awkward laughter with the man running the Luguan, we haggled one from 70 kaui to 60. The room was like all the others. Two beds, clean sheets, a tea set, and a broken television. We were living large!

DaLiuShui was by far the largest village we ha seen thus far, but it consisted of four kinds of stores much like the rest of the lake: Something resembling a Bodega, restaurants, Luguans, and scarf/shawl stores. We met an Israeli couple along the strip of shops at the water’s edge. The woman mentioned that they were no liking the area and that they were leaving early. Then she explained that they didn’t speak a word of Chinese. It made sense. Apparently they had gotten ripped off on their hotel room because they arrived late and could not bargain.

“I feel like I’ve a lot of Israeli travelers in China,” I said.

“Israel is so small, so there isn’t anywhere to go. You cant see a lot.”

I did not quite agree. Considering everything that is going on there, I’m sure there is a lot to see. “You’ve gotta travel,” I said trying to be diplomatic.

“You’ve gotta.” She smiled in agreement.

We continue on and the shore came to a point. Tourists flocked to it like birds. At this tourism epicenter, locals offered horse rides, boat rides, and their products like dried apples and the often-mentioned scarves. I returned to the Luguan and took a much-needed nap. Then, I went in search for my first cup of coffee in nearly two weeks to work on my journal. It was a surprisingly expensive 20 kuai, just over $2 American. It was odd to think that my coffee was just 10 kuai less than my share of the room. This was also the first place where the waitress told me that I needed to order something in order to sit. I guess it meant that we really weren’t in the ancient villages anymore.

Eventually, Brent joined me, and he too worked on his journal. After a few hours, Brent stopped and picked up a guitar. The owner had been playing, and so Brent joined him. I wrote about the universal language of Basketball in my Day 4 entry. Music has a similar quality. It doesn’t matter what language you are singing, it doesn’t matter whale scale you play, or what instrument you play, when music sounds good, it just sounds darn good. It becomes about the comradery of enjoying something universal.

As we began to leave a Chinese couple that had been watching intently asked, “Where are you going?”

“We want to go eat,” I responded in Chinese.

“Why don’t you eat here? They have western food,” the young man replied. His shiny addidas-immition clothing indicated that they were well-off. But then again, most Chinese that went to Luguhu were well-off.

“We are going to eat Chinese dishes.”

“Why don’t you want western food? Isn’t the western food good here?” She seemed embarrassed now. She had come here to eat good western food as was afraid she had paid extra for nothing.

I laughed to reassure her. “We can eat American food every day in America, but while we are in China, we want to eat Chinese dishes.”

She nodded. I think that it made sense to her, even if she could not really relate. Most Chinese have not and will not leave their country, some will never leave their province, and many minority members will never leave Luguhu.

After searching far and wide, we settled a restaurant and chatted with the frustrated waitress to get something we actually wanted. It was a success. We got a ground beef dish with just the right amount of spicy veggies. To complement the spice, we ordered bowls of rice and fried, shredded potato dish that we did not get the previous night. It was wonderful and rewarding that we could use Chinese to get exactly what we wanted, instead of using an English translation that gave us what we kind of wanted.

The altitude, bad water, and biking had combined forces to dry up my lips, so the cracks allow the spices to burn deep into my lips. We finished dinner and decided to grab some beer, and holding the heavy bottles loosely at our sides, we sipped our way down the main street. Everyone was still eating, in fact, past 5:00pm, they never really stopped. Brent’s stomach began to hurt, a malady we later diagnosed as a caffeine overdose, and so we returned to our beds. He explained that he had been drinking tea all day, and that perhaps the coffee before dinner had put him over the edge. It was comical that our bodies now could easily handle the vast diversity of bacteria that live happily in Chinese food, but a drink that we once had every day now made us feel sick. We blamed it on culture shock, but we weren’t sure which culture was shocking us anymore. Was it western or eastern culture? Then I wondered where west and east was? Then I closed my eyes.