We arrived in Mengzi, a large modern town of little interest in itself, after a tip off about a market in a village two hours away where some of the craziest traditional tribal dress in Yunnan could be seen.
Having stared at us gobsmacked as we entered the hotel, clearly very unused to seeing travelers, one of the women who worked there now trotted down the street in front of us in search of a taxi as fast as she could in her high heels, repeating the word "sorry" time and time again. After she had packed us into the taxi we set about the difficult task of making the driver understand that we wanted to catch a bus to the village of Lao Zhai. Despite our knowledge of the Chinese word for bus, saying it followed by the name of the village produced only blanklooks from the poor driver, although he recognised the name of the place. Thinking that perhaps our pronunciation of the word for "bus" was unintelligible to him I pointed to a bus passing us on the street, then to us, then said Lao Zhai. Still nothing. Several minutes passed and both parties got considerably more
and more exasperated, he unable to understand what we wanted and us unable to see how he could possibly not get the message.
I drew a bus on a piece of paper, pointed at it and said "Lao Zhai". Somehow he just could not make the connection. I had the idea of drawing lots of buses to indicate that we wanted to go to the bus station but still he did not see what we wanted. I racked my brains for the name of every town or villae anywhere nearby that I could remember from maps, guide books or conversations and began pointing at each bus drawing and saying the name of a different town. Suddenly his face lit up and, like Paul on the road to Damascus, he was filled with sudden understanding, finally delivering us to the bus station. Possibly Chinese people's minds are different to ours in some way on this level, or possibly they are just not used to dealing with foreignors, but the majority of those we have met seem absolutely incapable of understanding miming or indeed anything other than direct verbal communication.
After a two hour bus crawl up into the mountains
we arrived at the remote village of Lao Zhai, its streets already bustling with buyers, sellers, shamans, dentists, hairdressers, monks and others out to make a quick buck or find a good deal, sell their week's produce and pick up anything else they might need. Whatever had influenced the design of some of the tribal dress we saw people wearing seemed finally to have crossed the border from the mere psychedelic to the extra-terrestrial.
Click this link for advice on independent travel in Yunnan Province
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