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Published: March 6th 2010
Hani men enjoying a smoke
Who needs cigarettes when there are three-foot water bongs to be smoked?!
The final stage of our South China adventures sent us flying into the vast Yun’an province of southern China. Everywhere we looked, it seemed that the motto for visiting Yun’an sounded such that, “However many days you have planned to spend in Yun’an, double it - you will not be sorry.” So we doubled it. And we weren’t sorry. Not even in the least.
Kunming sits squarely on the Tibetan Plateau and on the edge of the world’s largest mountain range. The elevation of the city lies at 2,000 meters above sea level and the air felt wonderfully cool, crisp, and clean - a much appreciated reprise from the usual odors and haze typical of most Chinese cities. The residents pride themselves with their overall calm demeanor and almost everywhere one can see signs of a slightly different attitude than that of the rest of China. Compared to other Chinese cities of similar size, Kunming enjoys a laid-back attitude, cleaner streets, and relatively fewer drivers. This may not last for too long as we have read that the city is licensing an average of 500 cars daily. Most Chinese drivers of any vehicle, be it mo-peds or articulated West-Wind tractor
Traditional Water Pipes
The local men can be seen toting these pipes around everywhere. The tobacco has a sweet smell and is teased into a ultra-fine moss-like texture.
trucks, honk at similar intervals to the sneezes of a hay-fever victim - erratically and constantly, sans assonance or explanation. As it stands however, the horns on the currently registered cars in Kunming remain more or less quiet and instead of honking at random intervals, most drivers choose to flash their high-beam head lights instead. Apparently drivers around here prefer blinding over deafening on-coming traffic.
Along with the local lack of honking and a reduced body of traffic, it seems as though the highway patrolling force lacks in numbers as well - on more than one occasion we past fiberglass cop look-a-likes, mounted atop meter-high white-washed pedestals placed along the shoulder or in some cases the median yellow line of the road. Perhaps the force is lacking money to hire more full-timers or perhaps the statue system is simply the best cop facsimile the local policing force could muster. Nearly every mountain pass in the northern portion of Yun’an Province had a statue of a good looking Han standing with perfect posture donning a weather-proof fiberglass three part suit, a sharp looking police hat and a sign politely asking for slower driving speeds.
While the overall
experience traveling through Kunming surprised us, our attempt at traveling south to the beautiful rice terraces of YuanYang struck a perfect par for the Chinese course… The city, like most cities in China, feels compelled to grow, construct and expand at a break-neck pace. Kunming used to have a convenient and centrally located long-distance bus station, but in the last three months decided to open five new stations located a minimum of 15 km from the city-center. No big deal except that officials never bothered to publicize the change of routes or stops and as a result every bus driver, cab driver, local patron, and hotel clerk all have different opinions about where one actually had to go to catch a bus.
When we did finally arrive to southern Yun’an Province, a stone’s throw away from the Laos border, we spent time walking the beautiful rice terraces carved into the mountains by the Hani
ethnic minority. The terraces covered over 12,500 hectares and housed a group of people with ethnic ties back to Tibetans. Rumor has it, says Lonely Planet
, the Hani
people descend from a past history as frog’s eyes - no kidding. The people didn't choose to
Served hot with a chicken broth and a splash of cilantro and a sprinkling of fried pig fat, this dish makes for a prime breakfast option
live in the nose-bleed section of China; at least not originally. The Hani
people initially lived at lower elevations on the edges of the Tibetan Plateau, like any culture of reason would, growing crops with longer growing seasons, warmer temperatures, and all the other bonuses of not living at 6,000 plus feet. Sometime during the third century A.D. China managed to break up into three warring kingdoms, the We, Wu, & Shu
. As the Shu
set up shop, and a capital, in Nanjing, the dynasty pushed south and west and ultimately began moving into Hani
territory gobbling up prime real estate. The Hani
people then felt a less-than-subtle encouragement to migrate uphill. From there, one shovel-full at a time, they carved a living from the steep hillsides now defining the Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam borders. That was over fifteen hundred years ago and still today, Wikipedia writes that, “there exist a total of 928 settlements in Yuanyang county, 826 of them being inhabited by only one single ethnic group,” that being the Hani
The manner in which locals dressed reminded Kelly of travels back in Central America; women maintaining their cultural dress and the men moving on to
The Twin Dragon Bridge of JianShui
Can you see the twin dragons? This bridge is one of the top-ten oldest in all of China and took two periods of the Qing dynasty to build.
something “better”. Many of the women still wear beautifully crafted, hand-woven clothing with large ornately decorated squares of fabric hanging from their waist and covering their rear. We also saw women wearing intricate headdresses containing all sorts of dangling shiny objects. The men, on the other hand, didn’t seem to care much about how they looked at all and mostly wore the common uniform of dirty old polyester suits. They did however, take great pride in their three-foot water bongs; many had fashioned their own homemade pipe from any odd assortment of round pipe-like materials -- PVC, bamboo, or aluminum. To pass the time men would sit in a row on small benches alongside the paths, people watching. With great conviction the stoically squatting men would lean over their pipes, lodge the lower half of their face in the top of the water pipe and then begin the process of taking slow, long pulls as the finely-teased yellow tobacco sat burning in a small bowl some three feet away.
In reading China Road
by Rob Gifford, we learned that China, aka the Han people, has a long history of fairly brutal absorption or “welcoming” of other cultures into their
own, and only until very recent history did the government change its approach to cultural minorities. Now, instead of forcing much of anything, the Party simply builds schools in the area and makes Mandarin and Chinese History two mandatory courses, ironically or not so ironically, taught by local teachers. Families desperately want their children to have an education and when the only free choice is the Han choice (by any standard a reasonably good school). By this passive and quite peaceful method, the ethnic minorities, one class at a time, one generation at a time, slowly become more and more infused with Han culture.
As we explored the multiple villages cut into the sides of the massive surrounding mountains we stumbled across a block party of locals slaughtering a pig and ended up joining the party as we watched the entire process from the start to finish; from the initial bleeding to the making of bacon. After puffing away on more cigarettes than I care to remember and even trying one of the massive water bongs myself, we had a small meal with one of the family members, a young man named Hei. As we sat there and chatted
with him we came to learn that very few of the locals spoke Mandarin Chinese; as it turns out, almost anyone over the age of thirty rarely spoke anything but than their local colloquial tongue. To the villagers, our attempt at speaking Mandarin was almost as futile as their attempt to speak Mandarin to us. At the end of our meal we thanked him and his family for their hospitality, took a photo with him, and then thinking it a long shot, asked if it would be any trouble to email him the picture. He said it wouldn’t be any trouble at all and as we parted scratched out his QQ address (the Chinese version of Instant Messaging) on the back of a an empty cigarette box.
Tot: 1.339s; Tpl: 0.052s; cc: 12; qc: 55; dbt: 0.0129s; 1; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 1;
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