Thursday, July 8, 2010

Driving from Yangjuan to Zhongdian

Installment 2 of the Trip to SW Sichuan

On the morning that we left Yangjuan it started to rain, which was good news for anyone who wants running water and lives in most of Production Team 6. Fortunately we navigated the dirt roads back to Yanyuan without too much trouble. Josh had driven this stretch of road 5 times over the last 10 days, so we didn't expect any problems. We even dutifully checked out with the Baiwu police (the whereabouts of foreigners need to be registered everywhere. If you are staying somewhere other than a hotel with registration forms, you need to register with a police station).

After depositing 10 days worth of garbage in the dumpster at the bus station, we headed on the road to Lugu Lake. We had decided to take the longer route, around Lugu Lake, instead of a shorter way directly toward Lijiang because a) the road was marked as provincial instead of county and b) Lugu Lake is supposed to be quite beautiful. The drive to the lake was reasonably pleasant. The road was good and we got to the lake by lunch time. It turns out that Lugu Lake is really developed. We had to pay an entrance ticket to get into the lake. Unfortunately Liz and I didn't have our student ID cards, so we couldn't get a discount. The map we were given was extensively annotated for the Sichuan side and had nothing at all for the Yunnan side. Strange. Only a small bit of the lake is in Sichuan. In any case, we drove around the lake and enjoyed the beautiful, misty scenery from the car. We sort of half kept our eyes open for lunch opportunities, but I am the only one from the group that can read Chinese fast enough to spot what restaurants there are at car speed, and I have a hard time making restaurant decisions. Finally we stopped at an overlook and saw a little water-side town which we decided would definitely have food. Brian had previously been to Lugu Lake, but wasn't sure where he had been before and the area has developed a lot since then.

Lugu Lake is famous for scenery and local culture. There is also some decent trekking in the area. The local people, the Mosu (I believe that's how it's spelled) are a matrilinial culture, where people live in their mother's house their entire life. Once women are adults (around age 13), they are given their own "flower room" where they receive their boyfriend for evening visits. Custom requires that men return to their mother's home before dawn each morning. Generally people have long-term relationships but short ones are not uncommon either. Local culture dictates that one of the worst things is to be a jealous lover and that no one in a family should talk about the love lives of relatives. This helps to keep jealousy from being a problem. Often children don't know who their father is. My understanding is that the culture dealt with the issue of needing economic security, romantic love, growing families, and having the security of a loving family by having strong maternal family units and open sexual relationships. It certainly is a unique solution. I don't know a ton about the culture, but really enjoyed the book Leave Mother Lake as a description of one woman's experience growing up there. In any case, because of the "walking marriages" (the practice of a man visiting his girlfriend's room at night), the area has been romanticized in the Chinese mind as an area for easy sex. So there is a whole business of Han women dressing in Mosu clothes and working as prostitutes to visiting men. (On a side note, Josh is fairly certain that the hotel we stayed in in Xichang had some undercover side business going on because he and Brian got a call after we went to bed which Liz and I didn't get. Josh thinks it was a woman asking if they needed company for the evening.)

We had lunch in a youth hostel next to the lake. The hostel was cute and set up in Chinese independent tourist style - hanging benches, wooden tables and benches, and a hearth to sit by in colder weather. We had a lovely Chinese lunch and then piled back into the car. Brian thought the place was too touristy, but we decided to veto his vote to find a different place to eat because the whole area seemed really touristy.

We figured we were making good time to Lijiang (our destination for the night) but then once we entered Yunnan the roads deteriorated rapidly. We had roads under construction and otherwise not great roads which finally ended in a traffic jam for 2 hrs while we waited for the paver to finish working for the day. The road was closed until 6:30 and so we hung out and hiked a little during that time. Once we got through the roads deteriorated further and at one point we were driving on a cobblestone road, which was hugely unpleasant. We didn't get to Lijiang until nearly 10 pm. By the end of the drive we were on mountain roads in the fog with random piles of sand on the sides. Really scary, especially as our tires weren't quite up to snuff. Once in Lijiang, we found a parking lot and walked into the old town. Between Brian and my memories of the town we found a hostel to stay at for a reasonable price and a nice Tibetan place for dinner. The hostel had internet so we all stayed up too late on our phones/computers.

The next morning we went for breakfast at a place recommended by the Rough Guide writer that Josh and I know and then went in search of a place to get new tires. Basically we re-learned that in China if people don't know where to send you, they will give you BS directions. People kept trying to stop us to buy tickets (maybe for entering the world heritage site?) and we drove back and forth and back and forth on the same roads forever. Finally we tried a different road and found a tire place. Phew. For about 250 USD we got our tires changed. They weren't going to balance them but I caught them and thanks to the dictionary in my phone we were able to communicate that the tires needed rotation. The new tires made a world of difference in our driving experience.

The road to Zhongdian was uneventful. It is a fabulous road and there weren't many people on it. Nothing particularly stands out other than that I remembered a lot of sights that I had seen 4.5 years ago when I was last there. We got to Zhongdian in the middle of the afternoon and Michelle met us and helped us check into what looked like a beautiful hostel. Josh and I had a gorgeous room on the top floor. The honeymoon suite of the place. Or so we thought....

You'll have to wait until tomorrow to hear what it was really like....


amanda :)

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