Yuanyang in SW Yunnan is an amazing place, a hilltop town increasingly famous for its picturesque rice paddies extending out across the steep valleys. Even more exciting is that more than 88% of the area’s population are ethnic minorities including the Hani, Yi, Dai, Miao, Yao and Zhuang. Those two factors, and the fact that it seemed relatively remote, mean I planned to stay there for four days to finish some work, hang-out, meditate and enjoy the views and culture.
While the views were great on the first afternoon, the rest of the time it was quite cold, and the whole area was covered in a thick, thick mist. Seriously, you could hardly see 5m in front of you. But what I could see was great – every woman emerging from the mist on the road or in the markets was wearing some amazing hand-sewn costume that was both practical and beautiful. The fog was a blessing forgetting work done, though not for getting my clothes to dry out.
Below is a brief description of my experience on the last day in Yuanyang….
After being locked in my cell-like accomodation, I walk to the filthy, permanently wet toilet area then on to the slick streets. Emerging from Chen family’s guest house, my spirits lift slightly as the fog has cleared a bit to give nearly a full 20m of visibility! Sunshine too is reaching through, meaning there is a bit of warmth in the air. Even some patches of road are dry – something I haven’t seen for days.
With a few more steps I realise I am slightly delirious, probably attributable to releasing myself from the stage pattern of the last few days. I start quietly but insanely giggling with joy as I pass more of the beautiful and intricately adorned Hani women. I walk past one, standing slightly apart from a huddle of 5. Just as I look and admire the stitching and colour on her clothes, she makes a loud guttural noise, gathers a huge wad of phlegm and spits it out into the street.
How simply wonderful and divine!!!
This juxtaposition keeps me giggling for a good 10 minutes more… I wander in and through the markets full of fresh vegetables and freshly slaughtered domestic animals (goose, pigs, dogs) then on to my hot bun lady. Everyday I have been here I have stopped to get some steamed buns. Some with sweat or vegetable filling, some plain (although you can choose from five different types of flour, including one mixed with red beans) and all for 0.5 yuan: about 10 Australian cents.
But, I think I really need something substantial for dinner. It is, after all, nearly 17:30: in half an hour all the street restaurants will be closed and dinner will be over. I choose my vegetables as the man heats sauces and broth in a clay pot over a jet-like flame of gas. As I sit to eat, and consider adding a whole tablespoon more of MSG, just to be ‘crazy’. Instead, I realise what the dish really lacks a bit of fire. No chilli was added to this bowl, the owner probably presuming I can’t take it. Well, I add about ¼ teaspoon of the chilli mix. Somehow, that miniscule amount of chilli manages to turn every mouthful of nearly 1.5L of soup, noodles and vegetables into a eye-watering test of my mouth’s ability to handle heat.
I continue laughing. Additionally rejoicing in the fact that almost every meal, every ingredient used here (MSG excepted) was probably grown or harvested within 5km (including the water), and if picked or chopped, the earliest it would have been done was yesterday. I find this totally amazing. And, even the fact that I find this amazing is the tragedy of modern food systems in ‘developed’ nations.
After dinner, I spend the night in the local eco-tourism visitor centre, the best of its sort I have come across so far http://www.yuanyangwindow.com/. I spend most of the time emailing off the work I have just completed, and researching some more links and people to meet up with on the rest of my travels, especially in Australia. And, I then decide it feels the right time to leave Yuanyang.
The next morning I have meditated, packed, and am out the door by 6.30. A few more moments of joy and laughter borne of cultural and linguistic misunderstandings and I am on the bus towards Lunchun. Having not listened to much music this trip, and still being in a deliriously happy mood, I turn on my MP3 player. The first song that thumps out is a ‘Ministry of Sound’ uplifting house tune who’s sole line (repeated endlessly) is ‘I’ve got so much love to give’. I really do, did at that moment, have ‘so much love to give’ for the world, and my experience in it.
And then more minority women with beautiful hands – shaped by oil, sun, work and care for craft and children – hopped on the bus and started gossiping in a beautiful, tonal yet utterly unintelligible language. Oh, and carrying an insanely large sweet, iced birthday cake in a bright pink box. GOD! What joy there is in ‘not knowing’ – about the box, the language, or whether the bus driver will avoid driving off a cliff in the heavy mist. The beauty of not knowing, resting safe in the knowledge that you have no idea whatsoever what is going on. For everything I don’t understand, I want to know and am curious, but also hilariously aware of the incomprehensibility of it all.
So beautiful I started to cry. Cry at the beauty, love, joy that is always available in every moment if only I could be bothered to look. I celebrated my joy by coaxing a large glob of phlem out of the back of my throat and spitting it out the window of the bus. I felt so proud – another step taken towards being truly Chinese.
Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.