No, I wasn't trying to deceive everyone by sending an email with such a bad-ass title and then typing "undefined". What happened instead was that there was an error in the To: field when I sent it. It gave me a chance to correct it, which I did, but the original message didn't appear. As much I loath to retype that epic novel of mine, I realize that I really shouldn't leave audience of this size unsatisfied. Here it is again.
So we had this week and half break at the end of December for a number of occasions: Xmas, New Year's, and the handover of Macau. For the uniformed, Macau is this dinky now former Portuguese settlement next to Hong Kong which basically consists of several casinos and their subsequent organized crime rings. Supposedly most Chinese politicians don't want it back but the state media was in full force, talking about the second of the three part reunification of China being complete (never mentioning that the third part is Taiwan). Anyhoo, I went to Yunnan province for the break with a couple of lovable Brits, ditzy Amherst girl, and this rich boy UCSB graduate.
First stop was Panzhihua. Subtropical temps that we never saw again. Dingy industrial town where we lounged around in shorts and ate sugar cane while waiting for a sleeper minibus. I would like to take the time now to further refer to sleeper minibuses as RDM (ratty death machines) because they are 1) dirty as fuck. The thin blanket and pillow they provide were rather scummy. The second my head hit the pillow, my head began to itch and 2) the way the bus drivers drive makes them death boxes. From Panzhihua to Lijiang was about 150 km or 14 hours overnight. Why so slow? In no way what we drove on could, in the industrialized world, be construed as a "road". Also, it broke down three of four times, much to our fear that highway robbers were ready to pounce on us. Furthermore, rdm drivers have a tendency at night to not drive with their lights on in order to 'sheng jiayou' (save gas). Not comforting considering we were going over some steep mountain passes.
Lijiang, like Dali, is aimed purely for the western backpacker. Cheap western style food, Jewel playing on some creaky tape deck, proprietors offering free pot to entice customers (or...so I hear. The stuff grows all over the place.) I basically swallowed my cynicism just because it's the only non-McD's western food I've had since I've been out here. But it's so fucking cheap. For about $5 per day, you can get a bed to sleep on and three hearty meals.
After a couple of days in Lijiang, I abandoned my wussy travel friends for a group of Minnesotans I met to go to this Tiger Leaping Gorge. On the rdm on the way there, it started to snow heavily as we went over some other mountain pass. Since the rdm didn't have windshield fluid or a defroster, the windshield got heavily fogged up. The bright rdm driver decided to pour hot water over the windshield, so of course after a minute it was frozen. Not having a scraper, the driver completed the 90-km drive with his head out the window.
The TLG is the first nature place I've found in China that didn't have loads of littering, spitting, smoking Chinese tourists yelling "Hello!" whenever they see a white person. In fact, we didn't see anyone else except for Sean of Sean's Guesthouse along the path. We stayed a night there, talking with Sean, this cool Tibetan guy who makes a mean walnut pancake, has a collection of dirty movies and CNN on satellite in the middle of nowhere, and loves to talk about the Han Chinese, who he describes as "soulless." But the three day trek overall was excellent.
After spending a low key Xmas in Lijiang, we took a rdm to Dali. Dali is much the same as Lijiang. After a day, we decided to go to the town of Ruili, which is on the border with Burma, another 15-hour rdm drive away. Golly, Ruili was full of border town hijinks. We arrived at 8 AM, napped in our room until lunchtime, which we decided to opt for some yummy Burmese food: pig intestines and skewered chicken feet. We rented some bikes in the afternoon to check out the nearby farming villages, which definitely felt like we were in some other country with really dark-skinned people going around in sarongs and spreading some sort of talc all over their face and chewing opium leaves. That night, we decided to have dinner at this one stall that the Lonely Planet said was particularly good. We ordered some random curries, a bunch of cans of Pepsi, and a bottle of the worst rum ever made. When we asked for the bill, about 7 random Burmese guys came out of nowhere and surrounded our table. One of them was fiddling with something that sort of resembled a knife. We were presented with the bill. The proprietor in a kind and considerate voice enumerated how he raised the price on everything we ordered. For instance, Pepsi was normally 3 yuan per can, but for us laowai it was 10 yuan per can. Instead of bitching, which I always do before getting ripped off, we decided that it would be prudent to pay for it. But we didn't have exact change, so we waited about 20 minutes for the change while these suspicious characters wanted to make small chat with us ("ni shi na guo ren?" sort of stuff). Then one of the guys asked me for my address back home. He asked in this really friendly voice, like he was looking for a penpal. I made up something like "123 Main St. Boston, MA" and they finally gave us our change and we booked it out of there. During the night, Ruili is crawling with prostitutes and karaoke bars. In fact, during the day, 3/4 of all the stores are closed up, which open at night to "hair salons" with women wearing tight shirts cooing 'Hello' and karaoke bars blasting Chinese and Burmese pop music. Supposedly, with so much prostitution and opium around, Ruili literally has something like 60% of all of China's AIDS cases. The next day, we went to the actual border. You'd think that since just about all of the drugs exported from southeast Asia through Hong Kong have to cross the China-Burma border, that they would erect something like, I don't know, a fence. It was completely unguarded. We took a rdm along this road with one side having Burma, the other China and the only thing separating the two was a small creek. The one official crossing point we found consisted literally of a 19 year old boy reading a magazine; he was what stood in the way of the millions of tons of smack that get exported. Sneaking across a Mass Pike toll would be harder than sneaking opium out of Burma. Actually, though, on the rdm back, we got stopped three times by the PSB in order to be searched. One guard took a particular interest in the Henry James novel I was reading at the time, thinking it some sort of contraband.
And the train ride back, we got into some interesting discussions with some Chinese people about politics. One guy, after asking my name and where I was from, asked what I thought about the embassy bombings. I actually agreed with him in that the American people are foolishly naive to believe the US military upfront. Also, one of the Brits with us was part Arabic and he got to talking with a Hui minority (Muslim) guy about how much the Zionist establishment sucks.
And that's it. The vast majority of my break was spent in the cafes in Dali and Lijiang, relaxing and avoiding thinking about finals this coming week. After finals, I will go travelling yet again. Haven't decided yet, but I might train it down to Thailand, stopping in Guangxi and Yunnan province and Laos. Word.