I'm back in Wenshan, ready for the new term, and trying to catch up with my musings on recent travels and events. The next stage started with my trip to Lijiang in the north of Yunnan province to stay at the house of one of my students.
After the usual seven hour bus trip to Kunming followed by the sleeper bus to Lijiang we arrived in the early morning to be met by my student's brother who drove us home. The family couldn't have done more for me but I soon discovered that my lamentable 'putonghua' was to be of no use whatsoever. They spoke Naxi, a local language and totally incomprehensible to me,sadly cutting out any direct communication.
The house was large and clean, a traditional Naxi dwelling with chickens, farming equipment and plenty of storage rooms for rice and grain. The bedroom I was in was windowless and spartan but comfortable. Thin partition walls separated it from the parents' room. The two other students with us shared one single bed while I had the other to myself in the same room. The kitchen was where you went to get bowls of heated water for washing, which was a pretty public affair either in the kitchen or the courtyard. The kitchen was also the place for socialising in the cold evenings as it had a fire fuelled by dried old corn on the cob which emitted much -needed heat. Food and left-overs were stored here in basic wooden cupboards, ignoring the brand new fridge in the living room, which seemed to be for decorative purposes only. All the floors in the house were stone, barring the living room which had wooden tiling. Susanne politely asked me if I wanted to go to the 'rest room'. In my ignorance I said yes, thinking she meant the living room. The 'rest room', however, was out back, a shed with the usual squat toilet. Not much rest to be had here. I prayed I wouldn't need to make the trek in pitch dark in the middle of the night.
The mother, always in traditional Naxi dress, wouldn't let me lift a finger. As honoured guest I had to rest...and eat. I did my best and Susanne became my 'mum,' ordering me to sit down, rest, eat, eat more.... I ate 'baba', a Naxi bread which was delicious but I think she'd expected an army for breakfast from the amount she prepared. Then I was given a local drink which was pure cholesterol - milk, eggs, some sort of cheese. .. Though far from keen I managed to force this down, ignoring my jingling arteries. Then for the piece de resistance. Would I like the local speciality. What is it, I ask. Pig's blood with rice, they answer. I made feeling-full gestures and got away with eating only a little - it wasn't too bad. Later, in the park, I needed and used my Immodium for the first time! The girls ate 'liang fen' from a street vendor for lunch. It looked green and slimy and I played the 'resting my stomach' card to get out of it. Susanne must have felt sorry for me not being able to try another local dish. Guess what we had big bowls of at home the next day. Again, it wasn't too bad. It wasn't meat but couldn't find out what it actually was. Disguised with chilli, salt and MSG (!) it wasn't too bad - in small quantities. The amount left in my bowl was embarrasssingly large when I was 'full'. They must have thought I had a small appetite. Most of the food was wonderful however and I hope I did it justice. The hospitality was amazing and I tried to keep smiling inanely as neighbours came in to glimpse the live foreign devil. One of them had a new grandson who now has a new English name as requested. The grandmother was very proud of her new grandson 'Tom' and needed to say it loads of times to get it right causing huge amusement to the various relatives and friends who kept dropping in.
Susanne, Jenny and Goldie showed me around Lijiang, a very pretty old town, touristy but still with cobbled streets, waterways, women in traditional Naxi costumes and loads of atmosphere. Being a small world I bumped into two VSOers working way up north but now travelling through Yunnan. My students took me up Elephant Mountain and into Black Dragon (?) Park, round a local lake with its new golf course and to a local 'hot-pot' restaurant where I caused hilarity at my lack of dexterity in cutting ten -inch long pieces of cabbage with chop-sticks.
During my stay with Susanne I certainly got a good picture of family life but also realised my foreignness. It was a great experience but I was ready, after three days, to meet up with Jayne, a fellow foreigner, again to do the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek.