Billy and I often spoke of visiting China; it took us years to actually
line up the dots to do it. This time, conveniently there was an "excuse". Wanting to
experience the Chinese version of Song Kran, a water splashing festival
known throughout Asia, we heard that this smallish city offered Dragon boat
races, parades and a shortened time span during which these festivities took
Purchasing our Chinese "date sensitive" visas through the Chinese Embassy in Chiang Mai,
these visas had no extensions offered, and
travel dates were fixed. The price: $55 USD each. Thai Airway flight
tickets, directly from Chiang Mai, Thailand to Jinghong, China, round trip
were $104 USD each.
Upon arriving in Jinghong, Thai Airways' inaugural flight to
southwest China, the officials would not let any of us off the plane!
Something about paper work…a dozen or so Chinese workers were looking it
over, talking amongst themselves, pointing at all 20 of us passengers, and
finally it got sorted out. This took about 15 minutes, and then all of us were
told to walk through a water bath to clean our shoes.
Due to another recent outbreak of SARS, while passing through
security checkpoints, a laser "gun" was pointed at each of our
foreheads to take our temperature. A fever upon arrival, and entry would be
denied. A fever upon leaving, and we would be placed in two weeks
quarantine. A mysterious beginning! What would be
RUBBER TREES FOLLOWING THE CURVATURE OF THE HILLSIDES
Jinghong is located in the beautiful Yunnan Province. The
approach by air was the most spectacular scenery we have seen in ages.
Rolling hillsides, all grouped together with meandering waterways in
between. These miniature mountains were scalloped out in design and the
greenery was planted meticulously in rows following the curvature of the land. Rice
paddies and rubber plantations were everywhere. Green green green. The air
cleaner here. Leaving from Chiang Mai, Thailand this morning, the air
quality was worse than poor, and visibility was painfully short. Whereas upon
approaching Jinghong, one could see lush foliage for miles.
This area is where the Thais originally came from centuries ago, so our little bit of Thai language skills
should go a long way, right? We
were mistaken. Chinese is spoken here proudly, and there were only a handful
of people in this town of 40,000 that spoke any English at all. Two weeks
here! Oh Boy! Will it be possible?
After checking into the recommended Xishuanbanna Hotel (190 yuan per night,
about 24 bucks), and settling on a room, we went exploring.
Finding this quaint city to be very clean and well maintained, the
streets were expansive and the sidewalks are from 12-20 feet wide, done
in patterned and colored brick, like tiles. Most decorative and eye
catching! You can see groups of men or groups of women playing games,
gambling on card tables set up on the sidewalk under the old, low leafed,
thick trunked palm trees. Plenty of betting going on, as there are piles of
MANICURED ROUNDABOUT IN THE CENTER OF TOWN
We meandered, checking out prices to see what awaited us when meal time
arrived. A large beer in a store here is about 38 cents, and for the same
in a bar, it’s 67 cents. Not a bad deal, really. Peeking into several
restaurants, even at the ones that cater to foreigners, we found prices to
be reasonable. Many items are listed for under a buck and some for
$1.25. Internet cafes were sparse, but available, and are 2-3 yuan an hour,
from 25 to 38 cents.
Although known to be remote and very traditional, the
people here seemed friendlier than expected, and the town is cleaner than we imagined. Fresh air, affordable meals, internet available, cheap beer and friendly natives. Now it was time to relax and enjoy!
A MYRIAD OF GAMBLING GAMES GO ON EVERYWHERE
After walking a bit, an Aussie who was riding a bicycle handing out
business cards approached us. The card directed us to the Mekong Bar, and
since it was on our way, and easy, we stopped by. Appearing friendly, with
good prices, jokingly we mentioned that someone told us there was free
beer here. Surprise! Shock! We thought everyone would lose their shorts
right then and there. Jaws dropped to the ground. However, once they
realized that we were kidding, it was fantastic, and everyone wanted to play
along. A fun, cozy place.
The following morning included a beautiful saunter through town. The sky
was brilliant blue, the air crisp, and people were out and about. Entranced, this was our first real visit to China!
On the way to breakfast, we stopped at a
gathering where a dozen, young, twenty somethings were
gambling. The Chinese version of the shell game, using 4-5 seeds placed
under tin lids, it was like taking candy from a baby. Young men and women
were betting large sums of money that they knew how many seeds were under the tin
lid. Each time the better, or “mark” would turn to get money out of their
pocket or purse, the man doing the game would subtract a seed out from under
the lid. When the better came back to lift the lid, there was one seed less
than on what he had thought he placed his bet. The crowd roared! Many times
this happened, and the kids couldn’t wait to place their money on the game.
They “allowed” us to view, cashing in on the fun, but when our camera came
out to take a photo, the game quickly folded up and scattered. Walking down
the street, an older man in reference to the game, was shaking his head no,
apparently from experience, as in “don’t do that little bit of fun, you’ll
lose your ass”. Some things are the same in every culture.
Arriving at a place offering western fare for breakfast, the
English offering of eggs, ham, toast and jam looked good. To this was added a
vegetable omelet, and a fresh mango juice.
EARLY MORNING BREAKFAST VISITORS
After hungrily waiting 45 minutes, the English breakfast arrived. The
freshly baked bread for toast and shredded cooked apple in cinnamon sugar
was mouth watering, but the ham tasted really “piggy” - maybe it was wild or
an older animal - and completely saturated with salt.
The scrambled eggs looked deep fried, like egg “chips“ (!). The mango
juice was fresh and delectable, but the omelet arrived 20 minutes afterwards
swimming in cooking oil, with lots of MSG.
What will tomorrow bring? No doubt, a full two weeks of amazement and wonder
While only just a beginning, these tentative steps into the massive country
of China were proving to be both surprising and unpredictable.
About the Authors
Early Lifestyle appeals to a different
kind of person – the person who prizes their
independence, values their time, and who doesn’t
want to mindlessly follow the crowd.