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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Welcome to Myanmar

[I don't know that Alan intended this as a post, exactly, but here are his first impressions of Myanmar.--ed.]

The border crossing was as smooth as could be. I started in Lashio, then went to Hsipaw, and now Pwin U Lin. The diversity in this area is stunning, with Indian, Nepalese, Chinese, Burmese and Shan, and other minorities as well. The landscape has been nice: waterfalls, an abundance of yellow flowers, those big water buffalo you see on National Geographic specials on Asia, and here in Pwin U Lin, a lot of old colonial architecture, these Wells Fargo-style horse-pulled wagons for taxis, and a few cars that look like the ones they used in the old west to transport money.

At night it gets dark early, and you can see all the stars, and at sunset it has that dusty orange quality, the air, that never fails to please. In the countryside, it is quiet beyond quiet..just your footsteps and the breeze, and maybe immense stalks of grass swaying, and if there is a stream, water burbling. And if there are birds, say a flock of pigeons, their wings fluttering. Or if there is wildlife hidden in the brush, rustling.

So I guess it isn't really that quiet.

And everybody who passes waves, smiles, or says hello, or where are you going
or where do you come from, or they do all of this. I already want to come back to this region...I will get to Mandaly tomorrow, and that will be the beginning of the more touristed sites and bigger cities.

Three weeks to go. A little sad today about the Bengals, but at least Steelers lost. The hotel I'm staying at (8 USD for a nice room, a bit of a splurge) has satellite so I saw the first half of the Chiefs game on ESPN, and thus saw highlights.

What else? I think that will have to suffice. I should say more about the greeness or the splashes of red or fields of yellow or massive old trees or shacks in the fields or beautiful young girls and boys with this yellow chalky looking paste decorating their faces, protecting it from the sun...

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

One final post from China

[Before getting to Alan's final China post, here's another historic photographer of note for his activities in various parts of Asia: Felice Beato.--ed.]

Well, here it is. The last day in China. Well, the last full day. It is just after midnight and I am in Ruili, the last large town before Myanmar. I have already met quite a few Burmese here and in Jinghong, but I am sure it is not the same. One thing I will say, though: I have never been so happy to see men chewing betel nut in my life. Why? It means they aren't smoking. At times on the 27-hour ride from Jinghong, there was more smoke on the bus then I have seen in some Central European bars.

At one point I kind of snapped and went on a bit of a rant about how bad smoking was and how I didn't care if the smokers wanted to kill themselves but that it was a bit troublesome that they were out to kill me. The girls behind me laughed and I heard a couple guys across the aisle saying "Hey, his Chinese isn't bad." Then I heard the sound of a lighter and they were all soon smoking. I settleed for calling them all a lot of really bad names in English.

Ruili is a late night town, which is why I am up late (12:30 is way past my bedtime). The guidebooks talk about it being a bed of prostitution and heroin addiction, which I'm sure exist, but what I have seen is people roller skating and people walking around trying to get others to pay them to sing a song. Not exactly the wild border town I was expecting. Still, mountains around, and it's much cooler than I expected. A lot of faux European architecture, buildings maybe 10 years old with elephants on the pillars instead of gargoyles, and already showing more cracks then the 300-year old buildings they try to emulate...good old Chinese construction.

So, almost 4 months in China are coming to an end. I feel like I should write some sort of obituary for this, or some in memorium, but I don't think I have it in me at the moment. I am ready to leave though, and right now I have a lot of pissy things to say which I am not going to because I want to save them for other things.

And as for Myanmar...when I think about the fact that I will cross the border in less than 36 hours it seems to me a bit like it must before facing a prostate exam. The entry process, I fear, will be quite a bit painful, or at least uncomfortable, not least because I don't know what to expect. Afterwards, though, and once in, things I hope should be allright, not too difficult, and perhaps even a tad bit pleasant. [I don't write this stuff, folks, I just post it!--ed.]

Hmm...I don't think I pulled that metaphor off as well as I wanted to, but I will blame it on being up past my bedtime. [OK, we'll forgive it /this/ time.--ed.] I will be driven into Myanmar Thursday morning and dropped off in a town called Lashio. On Friday I plan to go to a place called Hsipaw and then maybe to one more town before getting to Mandalay...a name that has such romance, even if it proves to be nothing much of anything...just to get there, and the towns around, with silk production and pagodas and blah blah...lots to be excited about.

After a few days in the Mandalay area it will be off to the temples of Bagan, and then to Inle Lake. From there to Pyay and to southern Myanmar, at some point getting to Yangon, or Rangoon as I've always preferred for some reason, before flying to Bangkok on the 12th and to San Fran and then to Cincinnati on the 13th.

I don't expect that I will be writing much more here in the foreseeable future, so I offer this nutshell in advance. If I do have a chance, I will try to send an update of sorts, but I don't know how strong my efforts will be. At any rate, I will now say zai jian from China, or good-bye...I hope you have enjoyed my time here as much as I have (well, most of it at any rate).

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Where have I been?

Where have I been? I haven't been writing about this trip, that's for sure, or at least the most recent parts. Apologies, but hey, not in the mood. Really just too busy writing and moving around to want to sit at the internet for long periods of time.

The last week-and-a-half took me from Dali back to Kunming, where I spent one busy day organizing everything for my Myanmar trip, which will launch next Wednesday or Thursday via a 175 USD bus trip across the border. A bit pricey, yes, but cheaper than flying for my purposes. From Kunming I went to a place called YuanYang, or more exactly, XinJieZhen. This area is famed for its long-cultivated (by Hani people) terraced fields, which when full of water glow and sparkle in the sun, and appear a multitude of colors. They are amazing. The road took me then to LuChun, and then to JiangCheng. Along the way are stretches of terraces that you could not believe, as much art as farmed land. I would have loved to walk that entire stretch, except that it was raining really hard and my time is kind of limited. Of course, because of the rain, the roads were at times washed out, and most of the time sloppy piles of mud with recent landslides inching across the surface...it was not fun. From JiangCheng I took another long bus ride (in the rain and up and down horrendous roads) to Jinghong, where I am now.

The last leg of this trip took me into what I will call Southeast Asia, China style. Jungles and rainforests, thatch roofed houses interspersed in towns with tile buildings, but then out in the fields looking just like Laos (which is not very far away). Brown muddy rivers flowing past (and here in Jinghong, the Lancang, better known as the Mekong, my favorite river). Bright flowers and elephant grass taller than Yao Ming, huge leaved palm trees and banana trees, and men walking around in flipflops with their pant legs rolled up, faces hidden by straw hats, women in sarongs. [Check out this link, also given below, for Xishuangbanna.--ed.]

What is it about this kind of place, or perhaps my reaction to being near the Mekong that just slows everything down and makes it feel just about right? A beer at sunset by the river. Some wats...a few orange robed monks playing cards on a grassy bank near the river, naked boys jumping and playing in mud...all of it. Also, green, green fields being sprayed and planted with tomatoes, beans, eggplant, and corn, lined by banana trees.

I have been looking forward to leaving China, to a change of pace, and now I feel like it has come. Today I got even more of a sneak peek at the last month thanks to the street near my hotel that is lined by shops run by people of Burmese descent, or people who have come from Myanmar.

So, a few more days in this area known as Xishuangbanna and then a long bus ride to Ruili, which is where I cross the border. After that, you can expect to hear very little, I suspect, until I am home. I guess we will see, though...

And as an afterthought, a few people of late have been emailing about info regarding China or Taiwan, both travel related and teaching related. If anyone else has questions, feel free to write, or as I've said before, go back into the Feb through June archives for a lot of info and pictures...

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Mosuo experience

If you have read David's link added to the Yongning post, you may be familiar now with the Mosuo society, moreso than I was. I knew of them as a matriarchal society where women control things, and where marriage is not a consideration. I had also heard of the walking marriages practice, in which a woman might indicate to a partner that he should come to her room in the evening, and then in the morning he would return to his mother's house. Children born are not raised by the father at all, but instead by the woman's sisters and brothers.

I did not see much of any of this in Yongning. What I did see was a Mosuo woman who was married and has two daughters. I saw rough hands and lined faces telling of a hard life. At Lugu Lake, things changed.

I had heard that a large number of Chinese tourists have been going to Lugu, as much to see the lovely blue lake and soaring mountains as they did in hopes of scoring a Mosuo girl for the night. I did see a large number of Chinese tourists, though most were in Luoshui as opposed to Lige where I stayed.

The day was nice. Lots of hammering and sawing as new guesthouse rise up. Smiling people everywhere. A nice long walk to Daze village where I met a lot of people and ate some good food and drank a very sour Mosuo alcohol.

The nighttime was where things got interesting. I went down to the small restaurant, well dining area in my guesthouse. A number of men were just sitting down to eat, all the men who had been working in the day. They were of Yi and Li minorities, and there was one Han. A case of beer was brought and we started ganbeis. Then a few Mosuo girls joined. Men were very noticeably seeking their attention, and Im pretty sure two of them went home happy this morning.

After a long time, eating beef and potatoes grilled over a plate of fire and coals set under the table, and several ganbeis, I went outside and joined a group of men and a few girls who were taking turns singing. One of the girls was Mosuo, the other a 40-some Han woman who had fallen in love with a 20-something Mosuo boy and had been staying in Lige now for several months. The Mosuo girl could speak some English with a heavy French accent, as she had once had a French boyfriend for about a month. She was badmouthing H A N people left and right, and Chinese boys in general, and also going on about how difficult life was for the women, having to do farm work and house work and that things just were not fun.

"So many nights I drink a lot," she said. (This was before she and another guy at the table vomited-they had been drinking bai-jiu).

Anyway, at one point this girl grabbed my hand and scratched my palm. I did not think much of this until just now when I was reading about Mosuo culture. It seems that scracthing the palm of a man is how the women indicate they want the man to come to their bedroom that night. I guess she did not think of my having a girlfriend the same way I do.

Needless to say, I slept alone.

It was an interesting night, though. To hear many different languages being spoken by people of the same country. To see first hand a large change being wrought on a society, and the way outsiders are taking advantage of traditions, and hearing reactions about this (some are happy with the number of people coming as it means more money - but I don't think that lake will stay blue for long).

I thought about staying there for one more day, but I decided instead to come to Ninglang before going to Dali tomorrow (and a word of advice for anyone going to or coming from Lugu Lake: do not do this drive with a hangover. Bad bad bad). In the morning, as I was eating breakfast, the girl who scratched my palm walked by.

"I am very sorry about last night," she said. "I am so embarrassed, I drank so much."

"No problem," I said. Had I known about the scratching palm perhaps I would have apologized for standing her up. Then she asked if I was staying and I said I was going. She waved and walked off. I wonder if she will find the foreign boy she is looking for, one to come to her bedroom at night and perhaps take her away.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Looks relaxing, doesn't it. Im relaxing now as well, a bit odd from my first malaria pill and down to less than two weeks in China. Thought I would take this chance to post a few pics to illustrate some aspects of the last month or so of travel. There are so many pictures Im not posting, for which I apologize. I would classify these as the best of the worst, and I hope that they will be enjoyed...This was in Guilin by the way. Also, apologies for the sporadic nature of the posts. Posted by Picasa
A church in Dali. Posted by Picasa
Yongning, rush hour. Posted by Picasa
Inside a Mosuo home. Posted by Picasa
Lugu Lake...more pictures of here later. Posted by Picasa
Mosuo youth, waiting for someone to want to take a boat ride. Posted by Picasa
Naxi women enjoying some ice cream...got some nice portraits of them... Posted by Picasa
Lijiang. Posted by Picasa
A girl sketching in Lijiang. Posted by Picasa
On the way to Deqin, passenger side view. Posted by Picasa
Street scene in Deqin. Posted by Picasa
Natalia, DONT LOOK, part 2. The market in Deqin. Posted by Picasa
A splash of red. Posted by Picasa
Near the viewing area for Snow Mountain, which was not visible when I was there.  Posted by Picasa
From fall to winter in one day. Posted by Picasa
Walking outside of Deqin, enjoying the fall colors. Posted by Picasa
I had just taken a portrait of the laughing girl. The woman in the wild hat is her mom, who did not want to pose. Yi minority. Or is it Dai? Im sorry, Im just getting all confused of late. Too many pictures, too many people, too many places. Posted by Picasa
Hey...who is that handsome man in the mirror?  Posted by Picasa
Mosuo people. I would like to share a lot of the portraits I have taken because pictures like this are quite boring, but not yet... Posted by Picasa
Looking out on Lugu Lake. Posted by Picasa
A home near Lugu Lake, That is Lion Mountain in the background. Posted by Picasa
Fallen. Posted by Picasa
A great sign in Kunming. Posted by Picasa
A stone formation near Kunming. I thought this looked a bit like Goofy in profile. Posted by Picasa
A child asleep at the market. Kaili. Posted by Picasa