Friday, January 11, 2008

I'll Miss the Corn Popsicles

We have only a couple of days left in China, because we're heading south to Laos and plunging into the unknown -- namely, South-east Asia. We're in Jinghong, after a nine-hour bus ride from Kunming. The bus ride wasn't luxurious, and the roads were sometimes bumpy and winding, especially through the mountains, but it was worth it. I had no idea that a China like this even existed! There are palm trees everywhere, and it is warm. Blissfully, humidly warm -- I'm in heaven. Yesterday we visited the botanical gardens and walked amongst bougainvillea, coconut palms, and groves of mango, orange, and papaya trees. We even saw dozens of jackfruit trees, heavy with my favourite fruit.

Today might just have been one of my favourite days in China and maybe on this trip so far. We rented mountain bikes, and after a few tense minutes dodging traffic on the highway out of town, headed into the outlying villages. Our plan was to find the village of Ghasa, spend the afternoon there, check out the hot springs, and return. Instead, we got lost. For the record, I was not navigating. (Everybody knows I can't find my way around a city unless I can find the mall, and there is no mall in Jinghong.) We took a wrong turn somewhere in the rice or maybe banana fields and popped out in the front yard of a local farm. I imagine we took the farmer and his family quite by surprise, two westerners on fancy mountain bikes stumbling through their property, but they were so kind. Immediately his wife ran towards us and insisted that we take a huge chunk of boiled taro (starchy root vegetable), his mother motioned us to sit down with them and poured some tea. We were handed mandarin oranges. Neighbours and small children arrived shouting "Apple! Banana! One, two, three, hello! Bye bye!" We tried our few shaky Mandarin phrases and got blank stares -- humiliating, but fun. We sat and rested for a bit with our new friends, communicating via the "Languages" section of Lonely Planet, and then moved on.

(When travellers talk about getting "off the tourist track", I suspect this is what they're talking about. I actually get really tired of hearing other travellers say things like, "XXX was nice, but it's way too touristy. I wouldn't go back again." I can't help but wonder why these travellers expect a place that's lauded as worth seeing (because aren't they there for that same reason?) to be completely devoid of other travellers. As a corollary to this, why would a place that's popular with tourists not have the amenities that tourists like? The people that complain that a place is too touristy are the first ones to order a cold beer with their French Fries at dinner, or have a banana pancake for breakfast instead of rice porridge with salted meat -- and I can't say I blame them. I just don't think I can in good conscience complain that things are too touristy when I'm the one causing the changes.)

ANYWAY. We got firmly off of the tourist track today, by accident, and had one of those great moments that are called "Interacting with the Locals" (as though they're animals in a zoo.) I had to ask myself -- if a pair of foreign tourists burst onto my property on bicycles, looking lost, and not speaking a speck of English, would I offer them enormous amounts of food, hot tea, and a rest? Would I call my family and friends to come and keep them company? Would I make a concerted effort to have a conversation? I don't think I would have before, but now I'm thinking that I probably will -- if this bizarre scenario should ever occur to me (again, I mean, and under slightly different circumstances.)

I think we did learn something today, after all.

Also, my butt really hurts.


Heather said...

You make getting lost sound incredibly amazing! I'm completely enamoured with your description of the villagers, the rice and banana fields and the hospitality. Enjoy every minute (except those spent in the loo).

Christie said...

What an amazing experience!!! :)