A Day in Xīshuāngbǎnnà

Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
Trip End Feb 28, 2013

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Flag of China  , Yunnan,
Sunday, January 29, 2012

XīshuāngbǎnnÓ (西雙版納) Car tour with Kevin and Mindy 8AM to 5PM

Jǐnghˇng (i景洪) is the capital city of XīshuāngbǎnnÓ (西雙版納) Region. The city is a hub for Chinese package tourists and westerners traveling onward to Laos. The temperatures here in January are as ideal as it gets. Refreshingly cool in the mornings.
 It warms up by 11:00 but doesn't get very hot unless you are working in the direct sun. We had no need to use the air con or heating at our hotel. We are enjoying the weather immensely.

People come here for trekking to the Akha or Dai villages, exploring what is left of the rainforests, observing how tea is grown and processed, or just enjoying the fine weather. We’ve done a fair share of trekking in Laos and northern China so we didn’t feel compelled to do more now. We would have loved to see the tea processing but found out they won’t be doing any until the season begins in April. Kevin and Mindy were keen on a car tour of western Xishuangbanna so we picked one of the suggested itineraries from Mei Mei CafÚ idea book.  Car Tour #2 info is also on http://meimei-cafe.com/ . The car tour includes stops at a morning market, historic temple, a traditional paper making family and a handmade roof tile making area. Let’s go!

XīshuāngbǎnnÓ Car Tour

1st stop, the Produce Market

We started early and met our driver at Mei Mei CafÚ. Our first stop was the morning market at Měngh¨n, an hour and a half from Jinghong. 
 We explored the 'typical’ small market and perused the stalls of vegetables, meat and live piglets in woven cages. We were absolutely shocked to see a torch being taken to a Doberman size dog to sear off the hair, just like they do with pigs. Despite it being outlawed, preparing dog for consumption is done in the open.  They also had chickens with blackish skin there. We wondered if it tasted any different but didn’t find out. We didn’t see very many women in traditional dress but there were a few. The area has a lot of Akha towns. The Akha are said to be closely related to the Hani people that live further north. They go by Akha in Myanmar, Northern Laos and here. Dai people are also a common ethnic group. On the street in front of the market we saw many women dressed in traditional clothes. We always like to see that. Some were there to sell their handicrafts. Michelle found a bag made from bark that she liked and couldn’t pass it up.

We drove near the town’s hill top temple and made the obligatory run up the steps for a quick look. The view of the area from there is good. The temple itself isn’t memorable. But like so much of China, the temple is under construction. Many of the old temples didn’t make it through the Cultural Revolution intact. And now there is a lot of money available, and a willingness, to reestablish them. I presume it is the same case with this one. We saw the shiny golden pagoda and new temple roof but the inside of main hall is not finished at all. This is one best seen from the outside.

Roof Tile Factory

We continued on toward Măngzaō through an area of open fields and farms. Here and there we saw clusters of a few houses and very small villages.   We pulled off and stopped a cluster of mounds with stacks of ceramic tile in front. The mounds are large walk-in dirt covered kilns used to fire the handmade traditional roof tiles; these are not the fancy glazed decorative types that are associated with Chinese architecture. The type made here are plain flat rectangles with a tab. They look like a simple shingle when installed. It fact, the roof tiles are on most the roofs around but I had been mistaking them for aged wooden roof shingles. I really needed to get an up close inspection to reassure me the tiles on the old roof tiles were this ceramic kind. They have a machine that forms the tiles from wet clay and the unfired tiles are dried for some days. Then the tiles are brought by women into the kiln and fired using wood collected in the area. After the tile is fired in the kiln, women remove them by hand and stack them by the road. It is heavy dirty work.

Handmade Paper Workshop

We continued down the same side road a kilometer or two to a paper workshop at a house. This is the place they hand-make paper from bark using an ancient traditional process. I read a placard that described a five step process and an eleven step process. It did not say which process they were using in this workshop but the process is; chopping pulp, soaking, cooking, pounding, casting, drying.  The finished product is a rough natural colored paper. The paper is used for tea packaging, writing, painting, lanterns, umbrellas, photo frames and albums. They were not making any paper during our visit. They had books made from the paper and large sheets for sale. At the market in Měngh¨n, Mindy had declared that she didn’t need anything and wasn’t going to buy any souvenirs. But now she saw the unique paper and had to buy a short stack of sheets. Mindy confessed that she is also an artist and the paper sparked a few creative ideas.

Field Workers

I’m always impressed by the people work in the fields. All over China, we see individuals working the land with simple hand tools, or an ox, or just a small tractor. They must have big combines and massive farms somewhere in China, but not here. Behind the paper workshop was a pond that was being cleaned out by a man and a woman. They work wearing rubber boots and gloves grabbed handfuls of what looked to me like last season’s rice stalks. Clump by clump they would throw the spent stalks out of the pond. I guessed they were making way for the new season of rice planting. Kevin speculated that these were starts for new rice and this was the nursery. Neither of us knew what we were talking about but the new rice starts I had seen in Japan rice paddies were delicate new green shoots. What they had here looked like tough old yellow straw. And on the other side of the road, men and women were working with hoes between leafy green vegetables. A small tractor came by carrying four workers either going to or from the field. They all wore smiles. It all was backbreaking hard work.     

Octagon Temple Stop

Octagon Temple in Jingzhen gets name from its octagonal shaped pagoda that was originally built in 1701. Here is an example of a cultural relic that made it through the Cultural Revolution. The oddly shaped pagoda was mildly interesting but I spent more time looking at the gnarly and twisted ancient tree growing next to it.  The temple and monks quarters behind the pagoda were being refurbished. The murals were almost completely gone. The inside of the temple looked like a living and breathing religious site and not just a tourist draw (luckily). Despite the small entrance fee, it is always nice to discover a temple that is a real temple. But the most fun thing at the site was the young monk playing video games while sitting on a basketball. What talent!   

Amazing Lunch
We continued on to the nearby big town and the driver pulled over to an open front restaurant that, frankly, didn’t look like much, but what the heck, we will try it. Kevin and Mindy are adventurous eaters, as are we. We were ushered over to the fridge at the back wall that doubles as the ‘menu’. Kevin Mindy and Michelle pointed out some ingredients that looked nice to include in our lunch and returned to our big round table. I don’t know my chard from a hole in the ground so I let them decide. Minutes later, plates of banana flower, snow peas, tofu soup, a pork dish, and a mushroom dish appeared and we dug in. It all was absolutely delicious. The bill? It was something like $7 for the five of us (including our driver).

Akha Village

We drove onward toward our next stop. None of us remembered what was next on the agenda. We followed a dirt road into the mountains and crested a high scenic ridge. We were in tea growing county.  We asked the driver to pull over and let us take in the gorgeous views. In the distance we saw a large village clinging to the steep hillside. A large white pagoda decorated the ridge top behind. In front of us was a field of tea where a man was clipping the plants with hedge clippers. There was a checkerboard mix of other crops dotting the landscape. We all spontaneously began taking a hike though the lovely scene. The driver let us go for a few minutes. But he was anxious to get going and soon he herded us back into the van.

He took us to a small village of a 50 to 100 structures bordered by large bamboo forests. I presumed this was an Akha village. The houses were traditional wood structures, most on stilts. There were other smaller huts on stilts that were used for storing straw.  I examined the roof tiles, Sure, they looked like aged wooden shingles but nope, they were same as the ceramic tiles we had seen being made earlier in the day. Ahhhh, so desu.

There did not seem to be very many people in the village and the ones we saw were wearing Chinese factory made clothes. Nothing they wore distinguished them as any particular ethnic group. Perhaps the architecture of the wood houses on stilts was a clue. If only we knew the distinguishing features.

We walked though the footpaths of the village a came across the local bootlegger’s home. He was boiling something in a barrel connected to coil tube that dripped alcohol into a pan as the vapor cooled. Michelle remembered something from her childhood science class about liquid substances having boiling points differences so that alcohol can be separated out in a distilling process. We were watching the science lab in practice now. The moonshiner didn’t seem to mind us checking out his set-up and taking video. He was working and concentrated solely on his business at hand.

We circled back along the main road past a two new small temples that were, like everything in China, under construction.
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