Yesterday an older woman from Ireland and I tried to find the Night Market at the end of the bridge over the Mekong River where you used to be able to get great BBQ meat cooked over coal fires. Not found.
Of the many uninterested Chinese we stopped along the way to get information, a young strolling couple with a few words of English helped us. The man called his old English teacher from school on his cell phone so we could explain what we were looking for. But after my simplified request, she kept asking “what do you want” obviously not understanding me. And she was his English teacher, I thought!
Finally we gave up the idea of the Night Market when they said “follow us.” They took us to an open-air shack near the new beautifully lit bridge. In the “kitchen” we pointed to a few vegetables and some pork. In a matter of seconds we were feasting…on delicious food so full of flavor but probably loaded with MSG. Turns out the woman is a doctor at the local hospital but her husband said he “lost his job” at the same hospital. I was curious as to why he “lost” his job but didn’t want to pry. She was six months pregnant. “I want a boy,” her husband said. Knowing the Chinese can pay a fine for a second child I asked how many children they intended to have. “I only need one,” she said with finality!
Later, back at the Mei Mei Cafe where foreigners hang out, a 45 year old good-looking adventure-hooked guy from Belgium who has lived here several years regaled us with stories…many of them dealing with corruption. For example, a few years ago he, through his girlfriend, rented a building to remodel for a cafe. He signed a contract for the rental for five years. But after two years he was informed by the police they were tearing down the building for a big high-rise. So he lost his investment. A contract in China means nothing, he said.
The Night Market is no longer, he says. The Chinese are glad to be rid of it…having been full of prostitution and the drugs coming in from nearby Burma.
Then we discussed the latest biography simply entitled “Mao” that is banned in China. “Yes,” he said, I have it locked up in my room!” “My god,” he said, “if only 5% of it is true…!” We talked about “The Coming Collapse of China” written by a Chinese Professor at an American university which I had mischievously passed on to a Swiss girl studying Chinese economics in Shanghai on my last trip to China a couple years ago. Steven agreed with the tenuous situation in China where the dangerous rate of growth of the GDP can’t continue indefinitely. But the book was written when Deng (who said it was “glorious to be rich”) was President. President Hu, Steven says, is trying to help China avoid a crisis.
Steven, the Belgian, is planning on taking his Dai girlfriend of three years to Belgium for a 12 week visit. He said he could hardly wait to see her eyes! Getting her a tourist visa will be very tedious because so many Chinese try to get into Europe using falsely filled out papers. “They all lie because all Chinese want out of China,” he said. Besides the bureaucratic red tape, they will have to travel to Guangzhou for an interview at the Belgian Embassy. She will only be able to visit with a “Schengen” visa while there. (If you don’t know, the Schengen countries are the ones in Europe (I think there are four) who no longer recognize borders.
Then we talked about the attitude of the dominant Han Chinese toward the ethnic “minorities” as the ethnic groups are called. About one third of the 800,000 people of this region are Dai. Another third are Han Chinese and the rest includes the Hani, Lisu and Yao as well as lesser-known hill tribes such as the Aini, Jinuo, Bulang, Lahu and Wa. These beautiful friendly self-sufficient intelligent people, who live in the mountains with views that Californians would kill for, have historically been viciously discriminated against and the attitude of the Han is that they are dirty and stupid. Consequently the minorities are turning against their own cultures…so Steven has been teaching his Dai girlfriend, Orchid, about her Dai history and origins including that fact that many years ago the huge Dai army once defeated the encroaching Han dynasties. Ironic that it takes a western foreigner to counsel his culturally bifurcated girlfriend. The 37 year old Orchid, who owns and manages the Mei Mei Cafe, is certainly not stupid. Also ironic that since China has discovered that Western tourists are interested in seeing the minorities, it is starting to help promote their welfare as a source of tourism.
With my Irish friend off to Dali, I had breakfast this morning with a lovely woman from Holland who has traveled all over Indonesia. Hmmm. Think Sumatra may be next after Thailand. This is a good time to visit there, she said, as it is not the rainy season. Good! We had a long discussion about China. We agreed that one does not “like” China so much as one finds it incredibly interesting!
Other travelers can be just as enlightening as the country one is visiting…