Friday, January 30, 2009

Mangosteens, bicycles and more food!

So, last I spoke I was still in Xishuangbanna...
We had just arrived in town. Spent a couple of days just relaxing, taking naps and eating lots of crazy Chinese food. Recovering from the week of traveling everyday and showering even less!

Mangosteens- a purple round fruit that is like a tennis ball in size and weight, with four green leaves on top. It's dee-licious! you crack it open with your thumbs, which stains them purple and leaves you sticky. The rind is thick, and inside is white, segmented like an orange, but with a texture more like a peach. There is a big seed inside one or two segments.

Eating barbeque at an open air restaurant where we sat crowded with a million other Chinese eating out on a pleasant New Year's evening.
On the menu? Anything that can be strung up on a stick and roasted... Miscellaneous meat parts that couldn't be identified rightly by sight, and others that could... skinned frogs, bits of octopus, whole little chickens and fish, pig brains (those were in a tray, I don't think they would hold up on a stick), immature chicken eggs, and banana leaf packets of herbs and tendons.

It was the banana leaf packet that did it- I was fishing out the herby minty lemony green bits that tasted so good- and suddenly I noticed it was getting hot, like really hot. And I figured, it'll pass, it always does. I love hot foods! But no, this was heat to end all heat- I was hyperventilating, guzzling beer and pulling my hair out silently until the others noticed me. I couldn't even talk it hurt so much! Man, I will never forget that night! It lasted a good 15 minutes until I felt reasonably normal again, and my tongue felt traumatized the rest of the night! Anyways, we finished it off with a bowl of pineapple rice, glutinous rice made inside the pineapple itself, not bad, but our friends said they'd had better. Our friends were San San and David, a couple of young Chinese kids who ran the hostel where we stayed. We took them out to dinner for the advantage of being able to order more food, and therefore taste more dishes! They were so cool we ended up out with them twice, and each time the food was amazing. San San spoke English, and was very patient with teaching me some Chinese phrases. I'm still terrible at getting the pronunciation- and when I finally get it right, I sound to myself like someone completely different. Chinese is something else entirely. It's very interesting that I've met many westerners who live in China and have learned to speak Chinese. There are some who have been here for years, living and working here. Others seem to have picked it up in just a few months. I feel like the only one who has to speak in sign language, hopelessly repeating a few words in English to see if anyone can recognize what I'm requesting. I haven't been very good at picking up even the basics. We'll see- I still have about 4 and a half weeks left here.

I'm a little over half-way done with my trip! I'm so excited. I've been having a great time, but I do kind of miss the steady routine of being home and sleeping in my own bed. I know I'm going to miss this when I get back though- it's hard to believe that the grass is just as green as it needs to be right where you are now!

The next thing we did was go on a bicycle riding adventure out to a Dai village.
The Dai are what's called an ethnic minority. They are indigenous group of non-Han Chinese- there are over 55 ethnic minorities classified by the People's Republic of China. This group lives about 27 kilometers down the Mekong River- a beautiful bike ride, it took about 2 hours to get there. Once there, we entered the "park", a section of the village that has been cordoned off in order to charge admission (100 RMB). This section of the park has a bunch of temples and houses, which the Dai people have conveniently set up as restaurants and guesthouses (their homes, not the temples.) (The temples are manned by sleepy young Buddhist monks wearing orange robes. They all seem sleepy while they are manning their posts by the temples, but then you see them tearing up the roads on their scooters (in their orange robes) around town. Kids these days!)

It was nice to ride around and wave to the villages, who practiced their English by yelling out "Hello!"
We stayed the night at a home overlooking the river. They served us homemade rice wine with dinner, and I drank a little bit much. :-( It really didn't seem so strong going down!
Showers the next morning were ice-cold, being a solar shower. The bike ride back was quite painful as well, the right side of the road going home being more bumpy than the right side on the way there- either that or my rear-end was a bit more stiff!
But all in all, quite a satisfying and enjoyable trip.
Back in Jinghong (the capital of Xishuangbanna), we boarded the bus that night for an overnight ride to Kunming, and from there straight to the airport for a noon flight to Guiyang, Guizhou, where Tanque is living.
The weather here is a cool 59-44 F/15-7 C. Brrr... (No central heating- no heating at all, in fact!) But it's nice to be in a home for once, where I can wash clothes and take hot showers at will. Pictures coming soon!

Oh yes- I forgot to mention the other park we went to- the one with all the wild animals... A bear on a leash who had no teeth, who stole a coke out of this lady's hands and glugged it all down, just like the polar bear commercials...

The man riding an ostrich around in a little pen...

The guy in a yellow suit who looked kind of like Elvis, carrying around a matching little yellow monkey...
Don't worry, I have pictures of all of this! We had expected a quiet, peaceful, jungle hiking sort of park and instead we rode on a zip line and watched little kids get their picture taken with tame peacocks.

So much for living in harmony with Mother Nature...

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