My sister thinks we live in the boondocks because most of the photos she happens to see are of us against a backdrop of mountain ranges, but we live in a city called Jinghong, capital of Xishuangbanna. It’s an even bigger city than where we last lived which is Dagang Youtian, but it’s population of foreigners is not as big as TEDA where we first settled in China. Still, there’s not much to ask for in this city except more friends but that would have to come naturally in time, not forced in desperation.
We are renting a unit on the ninth floor as everyone in Chinese cities mostly live in buildings but here, the view is of the mountains all around. The kids easily bike around our xiao qu (neighborhood) and their favorite American playmates are a twenty-minute bike ride away. The malls and big supermarkets are a ten-minute drive away and there’s easy access to small groceries and affordable eateries downstairs. No time is wasted in needless traffic unlike Manila where the quality of life diminishes with way too many hours spent inside vehicles stuck and blocked every which way.
Our landlord invited us for lunch in their home an hour from the city and it turns out he was a chef in Sichuan, home of the most delicious, spiciest food in China, so we relished lunch like we won the lottery. After that, our landlord took us to Gan Lan Ba, a tourist area where the festival of throwing water at each other (Po Shui) is re-enacted daily at 1:30 in the afternoon. Joshua and Jimmy donned the local colorful outfits and partook of the merry ritual that starts with a parade and dance then they let ‘em rip, roaring water fun, graceful curves of water thrown in the air, arching droplets and liquid poetry. They say that during the actual festival day in Jinghong, you wouldn’t be able to move because it gets extremely crowded. In Gan Lan Ba, there are no crowds so you enjoy the graceful spectacle.
Joshua who has recently been unusually obsessed with anacondas got the opportunity to meet and touch a snake. Although, not an anaconda, it was still thrilling enough. The four of us also hopped on an elephant which at first, I was hesitant to do seeing his sorrowful eyes and his big leg in chains, but our landlord happens to be friends with the elephant’s owner, called him up and obtained for us a free pose and picture. We didn’t have to pay 30rmb per person because of guanxi, the Chinese word for connections.
For several times since November, we’ve driven to remote mountain villages three hours away from Jinghong. The roads twist and wind too much I wish we could target areas that were closer but the ones we end up being invited to are further afield like Xiao Lu’s brother’s girlfriend’s town had us crossing a river by ferry which was nice but there were still dizzying roads after. We also attended a roadside barbecue picnic overlooking recently planted tea bushes after which, we trooped to see the king and queen tea trees fenced in. People took selfies with the king and queen while I wondered what was so kingly and queenly about the rather ordinary looking specimens but if you know tea you’d probably understand, kowtow and take a selfie with royalty.
A popular tourist area in Jinghong is called Gao Zhuang. Most people go there at night to see the temple lit up beautifully and wander through a maze of vendors and street shops selling more or less the same souvenirs. During the day time, there is a lot less activity so this is the perfect time to bike if the sun is not too intense. We feel automatically right at home, trying out swings and hammocks belonging to store owners. Outside one of the restaurants, Jimmy played with a little girl and her toys sprawled on the sidewalk. The city and everything beyond is our playground.
This is the Xiao Qu where we live called Xing Hu Wan.
Our landlord prepared a feast for us.
Memorable Gan Lan Ba
At the village of Xiao Lu’s brother’s girlfriend
Day and night at Gao Zhuang