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In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.

JINGHONG, CHINA

TINY STEPS INTO A MASSIVE COUNTRY

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

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 place.

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 next?

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 was noticeably 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 money!

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.

While only just a beginning, these tentative steps into the massive country of China were proving to be both surprising and unpredictable.

What will tomorrow bring? No doubt, a full two weeks of amazement and wonder awaited us.

About the Authors

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.

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