Continuing yesterday's postcard from Jayne's flat from more or less where I got to. My trip to Baoshan was fascinating to see my fellow volunteers in their placements, Carol is also enjoying her life here and her flat is snug. Unlike me though she doesn't have a Western loo and her washing up has to be done on the balcony outside. I have the Western loo that gets horribly blocked if you forget the rules and throw paper in it so maybe she's better off. While I was there we went for a massage (other people call it relaxing but, for me at times, it's excruciatingly painful), gossiped in cafes drinking Carol and Chiu's favourite Myanmar tea, a slightly sweet white tea that's surprisingly tasty and celebrated New Year and Chiu's birthday in a wonderful restaurant. Baoshan seems to be another of China's rapidly developing towns and will be un-recognisable in a few years time.
En route to Ruili we passed through Mangshi, Dehong where my placement was originally intended to be. I was due to visit Jackie there but holed up in Kunming instead as I caught a really bad cold on the last day of my term and didn't want to pass it on. Mangshi 's ethnic minority groups wear sarongs and colourful headgear and in Ruili also we saw a lot of this. It's wonderful to see the women in the fields, on bikes, on the back of trucks etc looking so beautiful and elegant in their sarongs and managing not to get themselves stuck in the wheel spokes as I would.
In Ruili we visited LP's recommended temple and Chiu negotiated a taxi. If my placement was with Chiu I might become really lazy with the language but it was great to have her there. Bob's a Buddhist so he talked us through the paintings of the story of the Buddha's road to enlightenment. He also got chatting to the lovely old monk who pressed oranges on us and posed for photos. We visited another Temple where we drank tea and ate bananas with a young monk who had been there since childhood. In Dai families it's tradition to send sons to the monastery to train for a while and it's a common sight in Dai villages to see teenage boys, in Buddhist robes, with a cigarette in their mouths. playing snooker or basketball. At first it looks pretty incongruous.
What fascinated me in Ruil was not the town, which is becoming like any other , but the overall Burmese atmosphere, the bikes, the women's clothes, sitting on low stools eating noodles and watching the world go by. Five on a motor bike with one building site type helmet between them, pedicabs, the hustle and bustle of the market, the Dai script on the buildings... It was a lovely trip until we found that there were no taxis back (our driver had offered to wait and now we knew why) and the buses were all arriving full from the Myanmar border. So we started walking and eventually a bus did stop for us and we got back in time for my first visit to a Chinese cinema to see 'The Curse of the Golden Flower' in Chinese with English sub-titles. Other memories of Ruili are fantastic Burmese bread type food. The only British food I miss is non-sweet bread so this was heaven.
From Baoshan the next morning I embarked on my mammoth bus journey to Jinghong in the sub-tropical Xishuanbanna region. It 's a 24 hour journey on a good day and this wasn't one of them. 29 hours later after a 2 hour breakdown and the usual country loo stops, meals en route etc I rolled up, feeling surprisingly fresh after a not so good night in the sleeper, I booked into a hotel near the bus station and set of for the Mei Mei cafe, a haven for lone Westerners like me looking for cheap trips and coffee. More about these in my next postcard.