From there, I took a bus to Leshan.

The bus ride was through some spectacular rice field scenery. After every couple of fields, there would be the random paper processing plant clearly unrestrained by any sort of environmental regulation. When I got into the city itself, I was pretty lost as the bus had dropped me off at some random bus station, so I tried looking for a hotel nearby. Stepping off the bus, a man with a trishaw was waiting around to take people to hotels. Not even knowing a specific place I could tell him, I ignored his Hello!'s and started walking in the other direction. Either desperately poor or accustomed to weak-willed foreigners, the man was hardly deterred by my snub.

I had been so proud that I knew the language, that I made an effort to understand the things around me, that I did a reasonable job of not acting like an obnoxious tourist. But it was Harvard boy who was getting the sweet desserts

Instead, he started pedaling, rode by me for about 20 seconds, beseeching me, "Hello! Hello! Hotel! Hotel!" Seeing he was making no progress, he then pulled in front of me, cutting me off. I made a Barry Sanders-like jig and I broke away from him, to the laughter of a group of people watching that goofy foreigner.

There is an incredible oversupply of hotels trying to cash in on the big sight of the area, the Great Buddha. I walked into one place, a Chinese luxury hotel, looking for something in the $3-4 range. I saw the sign, which said $20, and started to walk out, when the concierge, the bellboy, and these two women whose job was to open the doors and look pretty, all pounced on me and were begging me, "Please stay here! Ignore that price! We can bargain!" I almost felt bad for walking out on them.

I finally found a place that was within my budgetary constraints, a sort of wannabe backpacker place. In the lobby, I met a pot-dealing Harvard boy named Josh who was there writing for the Let's Go! guidebook for China. I was wearing an old Tewksbury cross country T-shirt at the time and he happened to have been from Tewksbury, NJ. We went down to a nearby outdoor restaurant for dinner and talked mostly about college. From what he told me most of the students at Harvard, they were all obnoxiously motivated and eager to show off their societal status (i.e. higher than yours). I'm rather glad I didn't go there. My ego was thoroughly stroked when he told me the only thing he knew about Swat was that his guidance counselor at his fancy prep school thought it would be the only school that he might have problems getting into. He also complained about how the Chinese program at Harvard was so intense (There was a couple of hours of homework every day! Oh my GOD!), so much so that he put his studies on the backburner so he could concentrate on his pot dealing.

Buddha: Sustaining the economies of farming villages since 1000 A.D.

He bragged to me how extensive his clientele was, ranging from the future George W. Bush's of the world to guys from the ghetto riding on fat aid packages.

Then he started to brag about how he banged some 29-year old housewife when he was hanging out in Chengdu. He said that he was standing around, completely lost, sticking out like how foreign tourists trying to figure out maps tend to stick out, when this woman approached him, gave him some help with his directions. Before he knew it, he was in bed with her. I was absolutely dumbstruck. My impression of Chinese women was that they were very conservative. One of my SOAS friends in Beijing went out with a Beijing girl for three weeks but dumped her because he couldn't get further than a peck on the cheek.

Harvard boy's hypothesis was that females in China are very "traditional" (i.e. chaste) before they're married but after they're married, extra-marital affairs (waiyu) are commonplace. It seems possible, but the evidence was hardly conclusive. Of course, I was a bit jealous. I had been so proud that I knew the language, that I made an effort to understand the things around me, that I did a reasonable job of not acting like an obnoxious tourist. But it was Harvard boy who was getting the sweet desserts.

Then he started talking about what it's like Japan. He told me that he's visited Tokyo and Osaka and met a bunch of foreigners doing the JET program there. The JET program basically consists of the Japanese government paying Westerners a decent salary and taking care of their housing in order for them to act like a human tape recorder in English for several high school classes. There are two distinct types of people who do the JET program. There are nerdy Japanophiles who spend all their free time studying the language, Aikido, and calligraphy and are in bed every night by 9. And then there are those whiteys who blow their salary every night at the bars and, despite not being particularly handsome, come home every night with a hot women with whom they can barely communicate. The women do it for the status symbol of having a whitey boyfriend or for the free English lessons while the men do it because the women are always good to go. Or that's what you can read about on some of these bulletin boards.

He then ended the dinnertime conversation with saying that he had to go back to his room to work on the write-ups for the Leshan part of his book.

Only in China...

He said that since he had real problems with the Chinese maps (what else could you expect with a Harvard education?), his Chengdu woman was coming over to give him some help, but it was all complicated by the fact that she was the cousin of the owner of the hotel we were staying at in Leshan. I left him to his work and his sordid soap opera story and prowled around the streets. I didn't find any exciting night markets, but there's this whole string of karaoke bars along the waterfront. I was about to enter one of them when the spicy food I had for dinner decided to come back with a vengeance. Or should I say, leave my body with a vengeance. It was a case of la duzi second only to the one I had in Kaili. I ran back to my room and watched a Eurocup game on my lousy black and white TV, which was at least within running distance of a toilet.

The next day, my stomach cleared up, so I went down to the Great Buddha. More than 1000 years ago, some random Buddhist monk had 90 years of spare time on his hands, so he carved this 70 meter tall statue on the side of a mountain, thereby providing his 20th century descendents their only viable source of income. For those of you whom are fond of reading the newspaper, the Leshan Buddha is very similar in size and stature to those Buddhist sculptures that the Taliban were blowing up in the spring of 2001. Those Taliban wackos are idiots. Those statues were extremely valuable. I'm not talking about cultural value, but economic value. This statue in Leshan was sustaining an economy of at least 50,000 people. Anyways, the statue itself was impressive and I played the dutiful tourist around it. They constructed several cheeseball statues and temples around the place in order to turn it into a veritable theme park. Tacky.

I took a bus back to Chengdu that afternoon.