Jim buys a hat

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October 9th 2011
Published: October 11th 2011
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The adventure started the day before. The five of us were in Menghun, a village near the Myanmar border in the hills of southern Yunnan province of China. We had decided to take an evening stroll in advance of the Sunday market. Here the air was fresh and the pace was slow, a stark contrast to the big cities of Beijing and Chongqing. Here all vehicles proceed leisurely. The town itself consisted of just two long wide intersecting streets. Our street was dusty and had broad sidewalks. Lots of motorcycles, bicycles, motorized carts and street vendors. Not only did we have to dodge the holes in the sidewalk but we had tto watch out for motorcycles that preferred the sidewalk to the street. Here the pickups and trucks were interesting. They had an exposed chassis and exposed engine in front, a steering wheel and a throttle wire but no accelerator pedal and often no cab just a naked seat. A leftover vestige Of Mao and the communist revolution – a vehicle for the masses.

Lining the sidewalk were the usual assortment of shops – your metal fabrication workshop, your plastic housewares, your fabric shop, dishwashers and televisions, etc.. It was a sort of Mad Max Wild West world but gentle, not really raucous at all.

Anyhow, there we were – the only whites in town, sticking out immensely. Lots of people walking about. Men smoking and laughing. Groups of young beautiful Dai women dressed in colorful long skirts followed by groups of young Dai men out for a Saturday night on the town. As we strolled along headed for the market area I suddenly became aware of a woman tugging at my sleeve. She was about 75 years old, couldn't have been more that four foot two, was dressed in black and had on a beautiful, predominantly silver hat. A member of the Hani ethnic minority group. She repeatedly held up this lovely cloth shoulder bag and said something over and over again in her native tongue.

I wasn't interested. As a tourist you sort of expect to be bothered occasionally by vendors but we had not really experienced that in China to any degree at all. But there she was. She wouldn't go away. She didn't have much in the way of teeth but she sure had determination. When I wouldn't bite on the shoulder bag she reached into the folds of her dress and pulled out a cloth purse, equally nice, and continued with her, to me, unintelligible utterances.

She held the purse up to my chest so that I could admire its beauty and utility. I went from polite refusal to totally ignoring her. That didn't work so well either. She continued to walk with us. I continued to ignore. Finally, after a hundred yards of this, she appeared to lose faith in her ability to score a sale. She reached one last time into the folds of her dress and pulled out a hat. Wow! I definitely was interested in that hat. It was black and had all kinds of baubles on it. Just the kind of thing with which I would love to return home. However, I pretended not to notice the hat because I was in the mindset of wishing she would just quit bugging us and would get lost. And so she did. She got lost.

That night I thought a lot about that hat. I wanted that hat. I had to have that hat. How could I have been so stupid as to not buy that hat from that persistent very tiny old lady? What a doofus I can be. I hoped beyond hope that tomorrow - market day – I would find that wonderful woman and that she would sell me that beautiful hat.

And that is exactly what happened. The next day I didn't see her for about an hour as we were exploring the early morning market inside. But when we came out on the street there she was, this time with a younger woman – maybe her daughter and who was also dressed in the Hani style. Reinforcements.

They saw us. I saw them. They made a beeline for us. My little old lady immediately pulled out the hat, maybe you would call it a cap. I grabbed it and showed every one of our group how absolutely lovely it was. My Hani woman laughed a melodious bird-like laugh and smiled. She had a sale.

Karen ended up buying a hat, also. It was different and much more expensive, but also of native origin and quite beautiful as well. She bought hers from the companion of my diminutive woman. And we were all happy. Very happy.


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