Take that, China's internet censoring system, I have triumphed again? Little buggers think they can up and block blogspot on me (well, the truth is they can and now Emily's, Janie's, Dan's, Annalisas's, and Cedric's blogs are inaccessible to me.) However, after some extended finagling I found a loophole in the system that allowed me to write in my blog. Score.
So, we left off at my adventure in Lunan, which seems silly to write about now since I'm in Xishuangbanna at the moment and, despite an unfortunately timed gan mao (catching of a cold) I am pretty psyched.
So, Lunan in brief so that we can get to the good stuff. At least, the beginning of the good stuff because the good stuff is also right now and I should probably get back to letting it happen.
So, the whole program went to the Stone Forest last weekend. I'd been before with my parents but this was still as amazing as I remembered. The Stone Forest (Shilin in Chinese) is this unique geological phenomenon that happened because Yunnan used to be an enormous sea. This tall rock formations, some of them hundreds of feet tall, were under that sea, but when the basin the sea was in rose during a time of a lot of earth quakes the sea disappeared but the rock formations stayed. It's truly something that you need to see to understand. I can't post pictures because blogspot is a loser, but I urge you to google it yourself.
Anyway, I read about a cool market town 10 km away from Shilin and so John, me, Mike, Tania, Diana and some other Duke kids took the early bus down, which was an adventure in itself (Chinese bus stations = pure chaos). I had a wonderful moment on the bus looking down from a mountain into a valley below and seeing two horses galloping playfully on a village path-- I wrote my next Argus column about it, and I'll post that when I'm back in Kunming. From the bus station we took a minibus (shockabsorberless box on wheels) a terrifying 8 km into the Chinese dustbowl, then wandered around town garnering stares until we reached the Sunday market, one of the most foreign feeling places I've ever been. Minority peoples from the whole area come there to do their shopping, the place was teeming with brightly dressed people in silver jewelry, bright headdresses, the works. We took a LOT of pictures.
There's more, but really, let's get to the good stuff. Our 5-day Yunnan Exploration Project is in full effect, and Lee and I caught the overnight sleeper bus to Jinghong, approximately 10 hours south of Kunming, last night at 8 PM. I'm not sure what we were expecting (My tripmate Sophie described her idea of a sleeper bus as "very Harry Potter") but that was not what we got. It was more cattle car than boy wizard. Picture a regular-sized tour bus-- now picture it with three columns of 4-foot by 2.5-foot berths and two aisles, a moving set of bunkbeds gone horribly wrong. There was a whole to-do because they thought I was too wide to be in the top birth (hearing everyone say 'ta ne me pang, ta ne me pang' ("she's too fat") didn't feel so great) but in the end I got a better berth so it wasn't a huge deal. Lee, on the other hand, seemed like he was going to have a coronary. His berth was even smaller than mine, and he's a pretty tall guy. In the end we both got comfortable enough to sleep at least a little bit. I also watched a really terrible horror movie that they showed, with hilarious English subtitles. The bus didn't have a bathroom, but we made a few stops during the night to stumble out and pee. I didn't drink much water.
We got into Jinghong, the capital of Xishuangbanna Autonomous Prefecture, at about 7:30 AM, just as the sun was coming up. Exhausted, I caught a motorcycle taxi to the road where I thought I might find a hostel I saw in the guidebook, but once I got there no one knew what I was talking about. I started walking again, feeling more tired by the minute, and incredibly conspicuous with my big suitcase and complete lack of Asian ethnicity. Just when I realized that I was looking at the wrong part of the guide book, it started to rain (wah wahhhhh.) I pulled out the poncho I brought along and started walking again, finally giving up and getting a taxi whose driver promptly cheated me out of money driving me for about 2 minutes and demanding an exorbitant Y5. I didn't care, though, I found the hostel and, with some trouble, opened the gate, found my room (it's supposed to be a dormitory but there's no one else staying there at the moment), and collapsed for 4 hours.
The hostel seems pretty wonderful. The rooms are in Dai-style bungalows, all bamboo and wood, with banana trees in the courtyard and a solar heated communal shower (I didn't bring a towel though... that might be a problem.) I'm moving on to Ganlanba tomorrow, but I'll probably come back here to stay one more night during my travels around Banna, as the locals call it.
I've done some exploring today, as well. I made friends with two kids about my age at a backpacker cafe, when I realized I hadn't eaten in 18 hours. Over an omelette and coffee (I'll try Dai food tonight) they told me about the various things to do in the area. I ended up giving them an overview of American history while showing them some American change, and gave them both English names, which they were very excited about. Aixin became Alex, Zhuang became Zoe. I'm supposed to come back and hang out with them tonight at 9.
After returning to the hostel to get my poncho (it started raining again, natch) I did some wandering in the neighborhoods around Manting Lu, a very traditional Dai village. It was enchanting. At one point I wandered into a monastery, completely on accident. The monks all bowed to me (there's a better name for that that I'm forgetting) and I got some wonderful pictures. Now: back to exploring. Hopefully this loophole will keep up, and I'll update you all soon.