Southeast Asia 3
January 2001

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Comrades-

Our last stop in Laos was Luang Nam Tha, which featured the beginning of cold weather (a British lad said 'I could cut glass with my nipples!') and a bunch of small surrounding villages, each had a different resident minority, including Hmong, Thai Dam and Lao Thai. Our hotel featured huge rats - one ran across the sink as I was brushing my teeth (sorry Katie!). In our hotel restaurant, our waitress moved our french fries from one plate to the other by picking up each one individually with her hands, although we didn't mind because otherwise she was a complete doll!

After crossing into China, we decided to make up time by taking a 25 hour 'sleeping bus' (oxymoron?) from the border city of JinHong to the tourist city of Dali. These sleeper buses are a trip - a mobile Chinese version of MTV's 'Real World'. Each side of the bus has two levels of bunks that are intended for two people each. The bus is filthy with people chain smoking and hawking lugies in the aisle. We covered our bed with clothes and towels so we wouldn't have to lie directly on it. Unfortunately, you can only stretch your legs out if you're under 3.5 feet tall, otherwise you have to remain in fetal position. After 28 hours on the bus, we felt we knew everyone well enough to give them names. The guy who always stared was called 'creeper', the guy in front of us who chain-smoked 'smoker', the guy with nasal issues 'picker' and don't forget the guy behind us - 'stinker'.

In Dali we froze. On Chinese New Years, we took a last minute bus into the closest city and ran under the closing gates of a shop to buy hats and fleeces, which we haven't taken off since. I've been wearing my fleece and hat in bed! Chinese New Years itself was (is?) a bit of a hazard, with explosives going off randomly for almost a week now. Safety standards are dismal. On midnight of the night itself, people poured out into the streets to witness (and in the case of most, participate in) an alarming display of negligence… Most of the firecrackers explode on the ground (as opposed to in the air) and hop around as they do so making an incredible amount of noise, the ones that shoot up are generally held in the hand and shot just above "Chinese" head height - a little alarming. The sustained noise of firecrackers bursting continued for at least an hour. It's amazing that no-one within our sight was killed.

In Dali, after Robyn pulled a long black hair out of her french fries and put it on our waitresses' serving platter (she picked it up, looked at it and dropped it on the floor), we headed to the 'Naxi' (another minority) village of Lijiang. Lijiang is famous for it's extensive, rambling and cute old town. Unfortunately, we arrived in a blackout and it was even colder than Dali, being on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau.

After a couple days of wandering Dali we did an overnight hike though a huge gorge called "Tiger Leaping Gorge" (you gotta love Chinese names!) at the source of the Yangzte River. The hiking was beautiful and it was sometimes hard to remember that we were actually in China. Of course, we froze and we also got lost, but luckily we could still find our way out since we just had to keep sight of the river!

A couple days and markets later, we went back through Dali and into Kunming.... In Dali, Robyn ordered poached eggs for (what felt like) the 25th day in a row and was surprised for (what felt like) the 25th time when she got fried eggs. The next day I begged her not to order poached eggs for the 26th time, but she was finally vindicated when she got what she ordered - she didn't order them again for the rest of the trip.

Today we arrived back home - after 6 weeks, 10 books and 2000km's and a 32 hour train finale. Tomorrow we start a five-month work break (break from traveling), before the summer in Tibet. Hope some of you visit us before then!

Yunnan Party Cell
Keir and Robyn.

25 hour sleeper bus ride from Jinhong to Dali. 'Picker' is to Robyn's left.
Freezing in Dali. Robyn is pointing to the torn paper that covers the holes in our wall. We could see our breath in this room.
Above the old town of Lijiang.
Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Pig farmer at a Yi market. The 'Yi' were slave traders until the 1950s!
A dentist does his work in the market. On the table are his drill as well as some of the teeth he has extracted.

Created: February 4, 2001
Maintainer: Keir Paesel keir.robyn@usa.net