Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Pashaning in the Yulin + Wanna Eat That Spider?

Thanksgiving Weekend Day III

The next morning I was woken up at 5 (which is really 4 Yunnan time) by the Zhang’s menagerie of animals, specifically their evil rooster that just struts around the yard like he’s hot shit all day and doesn’t make a peep unless it’s dark outside and a time for sleeping. Not that I’m bitter, or anything. But I did sleep really well in our attic hidey-hole ‘till then. When we woke and went downstairs, we found the women in the kitchen preparing breakfast, while the men (Xuedan’s father, brother, and several other relatives and/or village members) preparing to go out to the fields to farm. They were planting beans. Since the village is very communal, they were all getting ready to work the same field. I’m not entirely positive, but I’m pretty sure that no one has private land, except for their homes, in Xiangming, and even the homes are practically public land, the way people come and go. Xuedan’s father was in the front of the house cutting large bamboo strips lengthwise to become trellises for the beans to climb. The rest of the men headed down to the field. Since we, once again, were not allowed to help in the kitchen, we asked the guys if we could help in the fields. They at first refused, and wouldn’t even let us go down and watch. But after some insisting, and after befriending a man introduced to us as Xuedan’s grandfather (who clearly wasn’t her zhende grandfather, and whom we from then on referred to as hao pengyou), they decided they could teach us how to plant the beans and let us help. Our desire to farm, however, continued to baffle them to the extreme. They’re probably still not over it. We were each equipped with a poking stick and were told to poke holes about a fingers depth and place 3 dried black beans into the hole. Then you use the blunt end of the poking stick to sift dirt over the top of the hole, but not pack it down. Each line of bean field was covered with a strip of saran wrap type plastic that we poked through. I was told this plastic was to keep the land warm enough (although I can’t imagine this is a severe issue, as in November the average temperature was in the 70s).
After planting for a bit, Xuedan and her mother called us up to the kitchen for breakfast where we had leftovers from the night before as well as homemade zhou from tea and rice, and discussed our pending rainforest hike. Xuedan asked if we wanted to shower first, but we (wisely in retrospect) chose to abstain ‘till after the hike. So Xuedan gathered her pengyous, and we gathered some granola bars and water (they took none and looked at us weird) and set out. We blindly followed 20 year old men with machetes for a bit before one of them pointed out the small mountain we were to climb. It was beautiful. I’ll post a picture.
We set out on a little marked dirt trail that winded through the back of the village and out through some tea fields before plunging full force into the forest. It sounded like the rainforest café soundtrack, but it was real life, and I kept expecting to see a monkey leaping out at me, but was consistently disappointed. Oh well, I guess there’s no wild monkeys in that part of Yunnan.
We hiked past waterfalls and along side of some treacherous cliffs. At one point we began commenting on all these crazy spiders along the trail. They were huge, and black with neon yellow spots. They were also everywhere. The second our friends realized we were interested, they let out an “oh!” and simply grabbed one down, deftly wrapping up its legs with its own web. It was crazy, within seconds this spider was sitting helpless between Xuedan’s fingers when she offered it to me as a xiaochi – snack. I just stared in shock and managed a few zhendemas. They kept insisting that it was delicious, and that I could either eat it now or take it home and fry it up. I ended up declining, and so did my friends. Xuedan and her friends weren’t hungry either, so before I could say anything, Xuedan just flippantly tossed the spider over her shoulder and into the bushes. It was so sad: that spider, I suppose, will just wait to die there since it’s all tied up so tightly in it’s own web – oh the irony!
After going up and up for a while we hit a riverbed that we followed for quite some time. After a bit of walking one of our new friends decided they needed a smoke break and a snack, so we stopped and rested on some rocks while he went, selected what seemed to be a random lilly pad and yanked it out by the root. He then went and cleaned it off in the river, stripped it down with his machete, and offered it to us to eat. Xuedan busted out with some spicy/salty dipping stuff that we had used for peppers at breakfast. These roots were delicious! They were super sour, which was offset by the dipping stuff, but then had a sweet aftertaste. It was quite the rollercoaster for the tastebuds, and I’m really hoping I can figure out an English name for them sometime.
We continued following the river for a while, but pretty soon the banks severely narrowed and it became a pretty extreme game of hopping from slippery rock to slippery rock. Eventually we had to give in and accept the fact that we were going to have squishy socks. While the squishy sock phenomenon is for the most part uncomfortable, the coolness was quite welcome during the extreme morning heat combined with our intense hike.
Our next smoke break (I’m convinced that every man in China is a chain smoker – great combo with the pollution) we stopped at the village’s bamboo collection site. It was just a little hut where a farmer could live for a day or two while harvesting bamboo. It also served as a bamboo storage site.
After a bit more rock hopping/wading we emerged in some dried up rice paddies. The rice had already been harvested, and it was the start of the dry season, so we were able to just walk straight across the fields. It was here that we walked up to what appeared to be a solid wall of woods climbing a steep hill and were told that the Buddhist place was just through there. We were also told that we couldn’t touch about half of the plants because they were either poisonous or dangerously spiny. Fab combo. This did look impenetrable, but we were told “Meiwenti” and to roll our pants down. They asked us to wait while two of the boys went in with machetes and hacked a path through for us. We had been using those machetes throughout our hike, but this was just extreme. Really, if it weren’t for them, we would never have been physically able to reach the Buddhist site.
A few minutes later the boys yelled for us to come up, so everyone else began the scramble up the hill, which involved grabbing onto tree branches and vines and hauling yourself up. It was only a few meters, but it made Simatai look like child’s play. At the top we came out into a small clearing with a miniature grotto. There was one small grotto with a Buddha in it, quite high up, and a carving of a local god at eye level. I later learned that the local god has the ability to enter the earth and reemerge wherever he feels fit, just seconds later. Pretty sweet power. Above the clearing were some crazy stalagmites (or tites? whichever one grows down from a ceiling). We learned that the vegetation around this area was so extremely thick because it’s only visited (usually) once a year, by children who are bringing offerings for good luck for the year. Here we also pulled out our granola bars to share. The nature valleys went over HUGE with our new friends, so I’ve made a mental note to mail them some when I get home. Maple syrup is not a flavor that exists in Asia.
Continuing on our way, we stopped to say hello to some people working in one of the fields neighboring the rice paddies and pick some wild tangerines and some other fruit that’s a relative of the pomegranate, but I have no idea what it actually is. I didn’t really like the pomegranate thing, but the tangerines were AMAZING. Highly recommended.
After this we kept hiking and eventually reached the summit of our climb. The view was spectacular. In this picture you can see the village of Xiangming nestled in the valley below. Rather than go back through the rainforest, we took the direct, but steep, path down this slope. I only tripped once, but I fell on the tangerine I had been saving for later and completely juiced myself. Along the way we passed tons of these little huts; some even had farmers hanging out in them that we stopped to chat with.

Thus ends a very successful rainforest hike. I saw and learned a lot. It was spectacular. When we returned to Xuedan’s house
her mother made us eat something and take a nap before we could do anything else. After our nap we showered off the rainforest and just chilled with the family for a bit. We did some karaoke in the living room, and taught her brother how to play BS. Then Xuedan offered to show us around her town. It didn’t take long to walk from end to end (5 minutes), but we met a ton of people and played some intense games of badminton with the kids who had just gotten out of school (around 6 – count your blessings, America). Xuedan also taught us how to harvest and eat our own sugarcane and youzi, which grew in some random person’s backyard, but since this is a communal village it was meiwenti that we went in there unannounced and macheted ourselves some sugarcane. Pretty cool stuff.
That night after dinner we went downtown (a 5 second walk) to hang out with our new friends. We sat around Mrs. Zhang’s Shao Kao stand (where she grills a whole range of random items) and chatted. We sat on low stools around a short table made of wood set up on concrete blocks. The boys heard that we thought their motorcycles were cool, so we got rides around town. Basically we just sat around hanging out and eating sunflower seeds for 4 hours while having a good chat.
The next morning our bus left at 8, so we just woke up to the rooster and headed out with little ceremony, although we made the family let us take their picture so we can send it to them later. They have precious few pictures, and those three that they have they clearly treasure, so I think a family picture would be a nice gift. Our bus was uneventful, except for our waiguorenness being commented on every five minutes by the other bus patrons. We made it to Jinghong around noon and found ourselves with the rest of the day to spend before we left for Kunming around 7:30.
Dai food for lunch and market exploration till late fit the bill, as well as a quick stop at the Blind Massage College for a sample, which turned into an hour-long sample. My suspicions are confirmed, however, that I am super ticklish and massages probably are not the best option for me. Cest la vie. One night bus, one plane ride, and one shuttle bus later, and I arrived back at Bei Wai by noon with a whole day to spend recouping and prepping for the next day’s tingxie. A Thanksgiving weekend well spent, and certainly one to be thankful for.

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