Star Date: May 15, 2006
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
(Hello - Naxi ethnic minority)
"Some people grin and bear it, others smile and do it."
(Unknown. Which one are you?)
Smiling and doing it describes what awaits the intrepid traveler in remote villages of Yunnan. Many of the people are poor in material wealth but rich in simple pleasures and joy. Yunnan is brimming with surprises and diversity and has been labeled as one of the provinces of China 'Not to be Missed'. The 6th largest province is home to over half of China's plant and animal species, plus one third of all Chinese ethnic minorities. Terrain ranges from steamy jungles to snow covered Tibetan peaks. Our back road buses took us through many villages brimming with colorful markets, ethnic costumes and unique head dresses. The Xishuangbanna Region, in the deep south of Yunnan, is next to the Myanmar (Burma) and Lao borders. This fascinating cross cultural area has a real laid back feel to it and it's easy to spend a couple weeks just slowly visiting small towns; then hiking out into the Dai Buddhist temples and surrounding villages of the Hani, Lisu, Yao, Jinuo, etc. people. Xishuangbanna Region is home to many endemic species of plants and wildlife and has an ever diminishing number of wild tigers, leopards, elephants and golden-haired monkeys. We weren't fortunate enough to encounter any wild creatures face to face and we chose not to pay great sums for a 'wild' tourist experience. We instead went in search of the Jinuo people, a minority group 'discovered' in 1979. Warned by the guide book that they may not like tourists, after a 10 km. ride in a 'putt putt', we were warmly welcomed into a Jinuo compound by a Grandma, two grandchildren, a dog, and a cat. After cooking the kids an egg for lunch over the fire, from the wandering chickens, we were served boiled water from the ever present charred black kettle, plums, and a delicious papaya. A carpenter up the way invited us to watch him building a bed frame with hand sawn lumber from the surrounding hills, and from there we decided to explore the terraced tea plantations in the mountains above. Up and up we went snaking our way through the maze of trails. The views were spectacular and worth the effort.
We knew the 2nd Jinuo village was up the mountain, straight ahead but what we didn't realize was that there was a deep ravine between us and our goal. Stubborn ("Who me?") and not wanting to retrace our arduous path, we decided to climb down the hill, through a beautiful stretch of first growth jungle and bamboo, across a small stream and scrambled up a very dangerous cliff face, with Joseph carving toe holds as we climbed. It wasn't so bad as long as you didn't look down. Luckily it was the end of the dry season or the leeches would have been hanging on us. We just appeared out of thin air and startled some workers in a near by quarry. They wondered where in the H--- we had come from? They quickly offered us a seat in the shade, a drink of boiled water, and pointed the way. On the road to the 2nd Jinou village we decided to, in the future when faced with a similar decision, retrace our steps rather than risk injury. We are having too much fun and an avoidable accident would sure mess up our active lifestyle.
We soon discovered our third 'kidnapped' Chinese ethnic village being held for ransom. In this strange phenomenon, (as with part of the Uighur Old Town in Kashgar, the Dai Park in Ganlanba along the Mekong, and now this Jinuo village) some enterprising businessmen buy up the land under and around a village, put up a gate and charge tourists to wander around gawking at the people in their zoo. It's bizarre. (Actually there was also a Maori village like that in Rotorua, New Zealand but the community operated the tours and gift shops.) Again by chance as we hiked up through the jungle in the direction of the village we passed many friendly villagers busily carrying on, doing what they have done for centuries. As we got nearer to the official ethnic park with its statues, stages and soon to open gift shops, of course the locals got touchy as we witnessed a flurry of shutterbugs loudly swarming by in their Chinese tour group. Down a side path we happened on an old woman in her backyard. Assuming we were there to snap her photo she simply put a woven basket over her head. The sight was so funny that I stood there for a few minutes, in a sort of stand off at the OK Corral, never intending to take an unwanted photo. Besides the Jinou, who originally lived in longhouses of up to30 families, have done away with their colorful tunics and skirts, beautifying their teeth with black sap, and only the long ears of the elder women stand out amongst the newly donned tee shirts and pants. Take that tourists! Had they not been 'discovered' they would probably still be living in a mountainous wrinkle in time near Mengyang.
China has 56 ethnic groups and Yunnan is home to more than 20 of them; such as the Dai, Hani, Lisu, Yao, Jinuo, Bulang, Lahu, Wa, Miao, Bai, Naxi, Hui Muslims, to name a few. Han Chinese make up 92% of the country's population displaying a wide range of people from cosmopolitan city dwellers to tattered peasant farmers. One thing for sure the Chinese take pride in what they wear. After years of donning the required Party clothing and Mao hats, they are having a sort of 'coming out' party. Inexpensive modern style clothing is available in all the markets. This variety depends on the area and as you get to the poorer outer reaches many items sold may be factory seconds. What difference does it make if the shoes say "Adibbas" (Addidas); or the T-shirt has a picture of a "Wiff" (wolf)? Many don't understand English and it's all Greek to them! The women are able to put a stylish look together for next to nothing and the flashier the better. We have seen women dressed in slinky cocktail dresses or sequined tops, high heels and a string of pearls sweeping the bank office. None of the sloppy T-shirts and shorts of the west. Or men working construction or collecting rubbish in business suits. Once cleaned up from manual labor the men always put on fresh clothes, often a suit, are close shaven, and are ready to be seen. The dark colors are necessary as many homes and kitchens are fueled by coal and stains are hard to remove by hand. The ethnic women have an older work outfit and then don their best dress to go out and about or shopping. I noted how many people at the Spring Festival were buying their annual new pair of pants or shoes. Joseph turned to me and asked, "Well how many pair of pants do you have Nancy?" My reply of, "Only two" drove home how simple our lives have become. The pockets of ethnic minority groups add color and spice to an already vibrant country. The Bai of Dali have been living in the area around Erhai Hu Lake for over 3000 years. They have seen many ruling powers come and go from the Tang Dynasty to the Mongol hordes of Kublai Khan. In fact this long reaching history is a common story for many ethnic groups. Diversity of language, customs, and ideals has led to conflict through the centuries but most groups live in harmony with their Han neighbors. Now hordes of tourists swarm over Dali every summer but at least they are good for the economy.
So bring on the Chili Peppers! Celebrate the Diversity! This Rogues' Gallery shares only a portion of the colors, costumes and dialects that we have had the pleasure to cross paths with. The smiles are universal.
And so it goes....................................................................Next the outer reaches of Yunnan. Until then Keep in Touch and let's just smile and do it! Take care.
Love, xoxoox Nancy & Joseph
$1.00US = 8 Yuan