Monday, November 26, 2007

Never Doubt the Kindness of Strangers

Thanksgiving Weekend Day II:

We pulled into Jinghong at 6:30 am, but it looked like 5:30 because China is all on one time zone. This picture of the entry gate was taken at sunrise, so it's a bit dark. The first thing we did was to buy return tickets, since we weren't sure when we would be back in Jinghong, and if then there would be open seats on the bus. Next we went straight to a cafe for some breakfast - crazy overnight busses really take it out of you. We looked at our map of Jinghong that we had brought along and determined that the bus stop was labeled as being on the North side of town and assumed that we would find cafes in the center of town. So we pull out our handy dandy compass to figure out which was is South and set out. We quickly found that this was the incorrect decision, since the buildings started to fade away and the landscape turned into rainforest. We asked a few construction workers which way it was to the center of town. They all laughed and pointed back in the way we'd come. Now, Jinghong isn't very big, but this bus station had been moved obscenely far down, so we were in for a bit of a trek North. Silly outdated maps. We eventually settled into some muesli and discussed our next move.
According to our original plan, we were to head to the bus station on the North side of town (for real - we asked several people to confirm) and buy tickets to Damenglong, get there by 1ish, complete a 6 hour hike/tractor or elephant hitch, and then find a place to sleep. We ran our itinerary by the people who ran the cafe we were in and they agreed that it was a good plan. Fantastic! We make it to the bus station around 10 and inquire about tickets. Not only does the driver try to charge us twice as much as the Chinese people for the ride, we also discover that because of road construction our original 2 hour journey had become a 4-6 hour one. Since we still needed to do a 6 hour hike, the trip just became somewhat impossible. It's not exactly polite to ask around for a place to sleep if you arrive in town at 10ish at night. While we're sitting around in the bus station lamenting and trying to figure out another town to go to, a girl who was helping us fight for a fair ticket price asked us why we wanted to go to Damenglong in the first place. We told her that we wanted to hike in the rainforest, see some Buddhist sites, meet a bunch of minority people etc. She thought for a minute and then said (in Chinese of course) "You know, you could do all that at my place. My friends and I could show you around. I bet my parents would let you stay in the attic." Obviously this sounded like the best plan ever so we quickly agreed. Her bus was leaving in 10 minutes, and as it turned out there were only 4 seats left on the bus - and four of us. It was fate. Suddenly we found ourselves on a minibus for a five hour ride on a dirt road through some of the most beautiful tropical landscape that I've ever seen. (Kyla, if you're reading, I'm pretty sure a Chinese minibus = a Kenyan matatu). Along the way we chatted with our new friend - Zhang Xuedan - and confused the heck out of everyone who boarded the bus and did not ever in their lives expect to find waiguoren sitting in the back seat.
Xuedan lives in a small town called Xiangming. I've since tried to Google this town, and tried to find it on a map anywhere, both with no success. How crazy is that? It's a tiny Yi village, and most of the people who live there are communal farmers. There is a bit of a downtown that stretches along the main road that's comprised of a couple shops, a market and even a KTV, but it only covers a distance of a couple hundred meters. We were the first white people to visit the village in about a decade, and thus the first white people many of the children there had ever seen - it was pretty exciting stuff for them, and they lined the streets to stare and yell hello in our direction (all Chinese schools offer beginning English, so no matter where you go, you're always greeted with a hello of sorts). Xuedan's home was hand made of bamboo, you could see the sky from our attic spot. There was obviously no need for much protection from the elements - it's late November and the average temperature during our visit was about 75 degrees. Since Thursday was Thanksgiving (which we explained to our new host family), Xuedan and her mother cooked up quite the feast in the giant wok that served as the only implement in their kitchen. They wouldn't let us help, but we did observe the cooking process (and took notes on how to do it) and familiarized ourselves with the many animals that lived on their farm.
Our Thanksgiving feast was spectacular. Everything we ate was grown on the farm. The Zhangs are entirely self sufficient. They grow beans and rice and several other veggies. They have fruit trees and sugar cane in the village that are communal. They have several chickens and pigs that are used for meat. They also hunt (they shot down what they claimed was a mouse, although I'm quite sure it was not since when they showed me the head it was quite large, for a celebratory we-have-white-people-in-town meal). Everything was pretty spicy, and the beans (the Zhang farm specialty) were absolutely spectacular. Like really. Who ever would have thought I'd be blown away by beans? After dinner we met a couple of Xuedan's friends, and her father when he returned home from hunting, but since we were so tired we went to bed early with promises of rainforest hiking in the morning.
Xuedan gave us a candle to light our way to the blankets she had laid out for us in the attic, and we fell asleep looking at the moon and the stars through the spaces between the bamboo that made up the roof. It was glorious.

All in all, it was a pretty spectacular and once-in-a-lifetime Thanksgiving. How was everyone else's Thanksgivings? Please keep me posted! I'll write more about my trip when I have the time.


1 comment:

  1. my thanksgiving was nice!! i miss you and can't wait for you to come home to meee