Monday, April 30, 2007

Ring Around the Province, Part 3: You Want to Put That Flaming Alcohol Where?

So, I've arrived in Nujiang Valley, and I've ceased to be sick (hopefully) although I'm still subsisting basically on a diet of Sprite, water, rice, bananas, and various biscuits/breads. Slowly, slowly become better and better as they say here (that sounds weird, but I'm not the only one whose grammar is deteriorating. Yesterday Tania was guilty of uttering both the phrases "one children" and "I am happy to see her when I get back.")

Anyway, when we left off I was getting pickpocketed by adorable but terrifying monkeys. The next day we spent most of our time hiking down Shibaoshan (the name of both the temple and the mountain the temple was on.) First we hiked through an area of considerable repute, which has old and very cool stone grottoes carved into the side of it. These date back to the Tang Dynasty a thousand years ago and are notable because they show Western faces with curly hair, denoting trade with countries in the West. They also have a cool story that's more modern-- during the Cultural Revolution, a time when China was against anything that had come before Communism basically and was destroying all sorts of cultural history, the Red Guard came to try and destroy the grottoes as well. But the head monk living at the temple there was friends with Yunnan's governor, and together they created a ragtag army and defended the temple with cannons. Because of that, the grottoes are some of the only remaining cultural relics of their caliber.

We passed through the grottoes as a short cut and spent the next two hours hiking down the mountain. It was absolutely beautiful, clear weather with the Shaxi valley spread out before me, green hills/small mountains emerging from the mist and a checkerboard of farmland, fallow fields, and small villages. I took longer than everyone else to get down: it was all stairs and at times extremely steep. Twice I fell and twisted may ankle-- anyone who has walked anywhere with me will know this is not an uncommon occurrence. The second time I could feel that my ankle was sprained, but I had to keep going. Lu Laoshi kept me company, chatting with me about her life before her time with SIT (she was a journalist with Xinhua, the Communist newspaper but left after the Tiananmen incident-- something to discuss during my Lijiang entry, I think) and calling me "hen bang" (really excellent) for persevering instead of giving up. My quads have never been so sore as they were after we went down the mountain, but the view and the experience, looking back up at where we had been, were worth it.

After lunch we were introduced to the village of Sideng, the main town in the Shaxi valley. It's historically important because it is the only surviving town on the ancient (and I mean REALLY ancient, thousands of years) Tibetan Tea and Horse Caravan Trail. The Caravan would come through a few times every year with provisions from Tibet and would collect supplies unavailable at higher elevations. Because of its historical significance, a Swiss company has taken an interest in Sideng and has put a great deal of money into rebuilding it responsibly and accurately, promoting public health and economic welfare. The town is pretty exquisite, very traditional with cobbled streets and lots of old courtyard-and-house compounds the way Beijing was once. But it's also very rural, and that's why we were there-- to get an idea of the rural lifestyle. My homestay, however, wasn't quite "rural"-- I stayed with a husband and wife, retired, who now run the only classy inn in town. I was basically an inn patron and, to be honest, the inn was nicer than my homestay in Kunming. We had a big screen TV, DVD player, majiang table, beautiful courtyard, shower, bathroom. I had my own room. Other people had varying accomodations-- Tania's house was nice but had cows and ducks running around. Ali's house had only mud floors and a hole in the ground. Lee's house had no bathroom at all-- he had to go in the fields.

After I got settled in in my homestay, I went with my homestay father on a house call-- he was a doctor before he retired but still ministers to a few older people in the community. He just had to give an old woman a shot. Afterward, he took a look at my ankle, which was puffed up, sore, and definitely sprained. Before I could ask what he was doing, he had gone and gotten a bottle of bai jiu (the hard rice wine, if you'll recall) and was lighting it on fire, dipping is fingers in the flaming alcohol, and rubbing it on the swollen area. It didn't hurt, surprisingly, because the flame was self-limited, but it certainly felt (and looked) a little strange. Afterwards, he applied suction cups which are a specialty of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and left them on for 20 minutes while I watched Korean soap operas dubbed into Chinese. I don't know if it helped, but it certainly didn't hurt. I asked him if he had any ice and he insisted on scraping the freezer burn off of the sides of his refrigerator. Between the two of us my ankle was much better within the next few days.

Next time: I do 15 minutes of farm work and get endless amusement from it (sample conversation: John: You's a ho! Me: I used a hoe this morning!); Shaxi life; a wonderful market

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