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Hotter Weather Near Myanmar

We spent 5 days in the Ancient City of Dali, a hippy/backpacker enclave, complete with freshly brewed coffee, cheesecake, quesadillas etc etc... (none of which we felt were worth the exorbitant price). Unfortunately accompanying the "laid back attitude" of the grey haired hippies and the youngbackers are drug-dealing villagers. Stores casually display bags of weed and old Bai women have traded their traditional handicraft sales for the more lucrative practise. Initially funny, quickly pretty depressing.
We took a few excursions outside Dali, including a morning at the Friday Yousuo Market, a colourful extravaganza of vegetables, animals, spices and anything else the nearby villagers might need until they return the next Friday. It was fun to see the thousands of people arriving with their big empty baskets, on foot, by bike, by scooter or crammed into the back of trucks. We didn't buy much but we had fun haggling for some shoes and dried fruits, tasting all the fresh snacks and meeting the always smiling villagers. The next day, the young driver we had hired to drive us to the market, picked us up early in the morning to go fishing with his father, Mr. Yang. His father is a cormorant fisherman, an old fishing practise now almost extinct in the world. Cormorants (big water birds) are trained to fish for their masters. A small blade of grass is tied around their neck to prevent them from swallowing large fish and these large fish are then degorged onto their master's boat. According to Mr. Yang, there are only 7 families left on Erhai Lake who cormorant fish (Erhai Lake, near Dali, is the 6th largest Lake in China). He explained he would have long been out of business (no more fish left in the lake) if it weren't for the tourists. We eached paid 30Y to go out fishing with him, in comparaison to the 5Y per kg he would make selling his fish at the market. He was friendly, weathered from years of fishing, didn't speak a word of English but gave us a good show.
We ate dinner and lunch at the same dumpling stand for three days in a row, and would have continued had we been staying any longer. After waiting patiently for our order the first time there, we became regulars and were promptly served before anyone else the next times we showed up. Unforunately I developped a condition that required the use of our trusty Ex-Lax chocolate bar which I must say worked very well (maybe a little too well).

Having now been on the tourist circuit for over 2 weeks, we opted to head south west to a town called Tengchong, a volcanic area with lots of geysers and hotsprings. You would think it would be quite touristy, but its quite out of the way 8 hours on the bus in the complete opposite direction of any major city in the province. We arrived there only to find that every single hotel in the Lonely Planet no longer existed, luckily our kind taxi driver drove us around (on the flat fee we had agreed upon leaving the bus station) until we found a hotel that would accept us and that was in our price range. The young hotel attendant was incredibly sweet, speaking not a word of English, and yet insisting on talking to us extremely quickly and extremly Chinese. The first night she walked us to a restaurant for dinner and helped us pick dishes, then headed back the hotel with a "I don't know if they're going to make it" look on her face.
The next morning, we were primed to go see the volcanoes, that were about 30km outside Tengchong. We followed the Lonely Planet instructions to head to Huguo street where "frequent mini-buses head to the volcanoes". We walked down the street for over an hour (Tengchong is not a large place) with no luck, but locals encouragingly pointing us onward. As frustration was setting in, two young girls (maybe 11 or 12 years old) on their bicycles started following us, and practising the few English phrases that they knew. We explained to them our wish to see the volcanoes. They didn't know how to get there, but they were determined to help us, they asked people, they led us in a hundred different directions around town, then they used their own money to call their English teacher at the school. After a brief discussion with us, she explained to them where to catch a bus and what the price should be. We headed to the two local bus stations where these two tiny girls haggled with dozens of large Chinese men to try to get us a cheap ride. After at least half an hour and older woman came running down the street, (everyone around was now trying to get us a ride to the volcanoes) she had found someone willing to take us to the volcanoes for 8Y each (the original quote had been 150Y), we rushed off with the two girls waving goodbye, jumping up and down and celebrating their conquest. We handed them a giant (revolting, unfortunately) Chinese "Euro-style" chocolate bar from outside the mini-bus window (hopefully they'll enjoy it more than we did). The mini-bus driver dropped us off right at the ticket window to the volcanoes.
We were two among about 5 tourists at the volcanic site (a very large site). We climbed up to the largest of the volcanoes, aptly known as the Big Empty Hill. Sad-looking locals tried to sell us their lava rock sculptures in the blazing sun. Black Empty Hill and Small Vocano looked about the same as Big Empty Hill so we headed back to the entrance where we caught a minibus back to Tengchong with little difficulty.
Our next destination was the border town of Ruili, sitting only a few km from Myanmar. We were interested in visiting a town whose population was purportedly only 50% Han Chinese. The town is the entry point for the highly in demand Burmese jade, and is also the heart of the opium and arms trade. You don't see any evidence of this, except for maybe the rich looking people driving around in Audi's or Hummers. For us, the town didn't really live up to our expectations, although it was nice to meet some Burmese people and admire their beautiful dark skin covered in gold paint or tattoes. We also drank lots of freshly squeezed lime juice and mango juice and enjoyed the hot weather. We were however, eager to leave our crazily crusty hotel.

We took a 15 hour sleeper bus to Kunming where we were squeezed like sardines into absolutely miniscule beds enduring all-night smoking in the non-smoking, air-conditioned bus. We stopped at various military checkpoints, one where we were all escorted off the bus so that soldiers could search mattresses, take apart bunk beds and tiles and search through the cargo compartments to check for drugs. A process which they repeat for every single bus coming out of Ruili and lasts almost an hour. Oh, and a note, you stop for bathroom breaks if the bus driver feels like it, kind of like long distance car rides with Dad!

13 comments:

Jean Richer said...

very fascinating. Is marijuana legal in that part of China?And if it is ,what will the US do about it?

Papa

Jean Richer said...

Yann and the cormorants is an awesome shot.

2par4 said...

That's as close as you'll get to Myanmar? Respecting Aung San Suu Kyi's request to avoid it?

2par4 said...

Cormorants are cool. There are quite a few double-crested cormorants now living on the Ottawa River. 5 years ago they were a rare sight.

mom said...

The child portraits are full of life. i love them.

denise said...

Coucou a vous deux,

Encore une fois Emilie tu es epatante pour décrire vos allées et venues. Eh que dire de Yann avec les cormorans, très belle photo, peut-etre que lorsque tu arriveras au Canada tu feras la meme chose mais avec des MOUETTES....

Bye bye et on vous aime beaucoup
beaucoup
xxxxxxx

Super-Mario said...

Bonjour à vous deux,

Le dernier reportage est magnifique. Les photos sont très belles. Tout le monde parle de Yann avec les cormorans mais les photos d'Émilie avec les cormorans sont aussi belles.

Bon voyage au Laos.

Super-Mario said...

Yann et Émilie,

L'une de vos plus grandes admiratrices (Jing) est épatée par vos photos et la description de votre voyage sous la forme de blogue. Elle me disait que vous devriez publier vos écrits en anglais et aussi en chinois. Elle me disait que vous avez visiter plus d'endroits en Chine qu'elle-même. Elle me disait que Dali est n endroit qu'elle a toujours voulu visiter.

Bon voyage de la part de Jing.

2par4 said...

What's with the gold cheeks? What does it mean?

Y&E said...

Drugs legal in China, no way! Evil tourists make young people think drugs are cool though. I think the drugs coming from Myanmar are more of the poppy seed variety

Y&E said...

The gold paint has multiple uses from what I have read. Its good as protection against the sun and the humidity and it smells nice and it looks nice and has anti-fungal qualities.
Apparently in larger cities modern cosmetics have diminished its usage in public.

Y&E said...

Oh yes, and the gold paint is called thanaka and its worn by women and children

Y&E said...

For now this is as close as we will get to Myanmar. We havent taken up our ethical position yet, if you have any opinions we are happy to hear them.