- 1 - Danba in Western Sichuan: A Tibetan City I was Actually Allowed to Visit
- 2 - Exploring the Tibetan Villages of Zhonglu and Suopo
- 3 - Hiring a Tibetan Driver and Somehow Surviving the Experience
- 4 - Homestay in Jiaju Where A Film Crew Steals our Feast
- 5 - Leaving Danba Difficult Thanks to Minivan Drivers
Once we had gotten rid of our drunk, lunatic driver, we had no choice but to walk around Jiaju village with all our bags until we found a place offering homestays that actually had rooms available. It took us about an hour, but we eventually ended up staying with a really nice family who had no other guests, leaving us with our choice of rooms. Of course that choice was between a large hall where we would be sleeping on mattresses on the floor and another slightly smaller hall where we would be sleeping on mattresses on the floor. It was hard to decide.
Since we were their only guests, they made a huge fuss over us, showing us the various dishes we would be enjoying that night, including a bunch of chicken-like carcasses that they were calling something other than chicken. Who knows what they were, but they smelled delicious.
We wanted to walk around a bit, so we asked them when we needed to be back before heading out. We walked through the town taking pictures of fields and cows that were soaking up the last rays of the sun before it disappeared behind the mountains. Then we ran into this crew:
They were Chinese tourists on vacation and they had some kind of party planned for that evening. They seemed pretty drunk already, but they might have just been excited: the average Chinese doesn’t exactly get a lot of vacation time. In fact, I believe they rank just ahead of slaves and Americans in terms of the fewest number of vacation days per year.
Naturally, they invited us to their party. We told them we were tired, but they had no interest in that excuse. Or any excuse. So we lied. We told them we had to get back for dinner, since our hosts were already busy cooking (true) then we’d meet them at their place (completely untrue).
I’m sure it would have been fun, but I had already spent two years working in Shanghai and had been to plenty of parties. I was, quite frankly, a little tired of it—it can be pretty taxing trying to communicate with drunk people all night long when neither of you speak much of the other’s language. As for the Israelis, they, like many backpackers, were not really enjoying China at all. In fact, they kind of seemed to hate it and couldn’t wait to get out of the country, so they had no real interest in partying with Chinese people.
I have to admit, that was kind of a shame. I think it would have been good for them to see a different side to the Chinese, but I doubt it would have helped. Many people simply prefer the fake friendliness of touristy areas in countries like India or Thailand, where everyone automatically loves you because you bring money, to a place like China where people don’t really seem to care much about you at all, because the tourism industry is driven by domestic tourists and your small contribution makes very little difference.
Personally, that was actually one of my favorite things about traveling in China—I like being left alone when I want and I always knew that, should I feel like interacting with some locals, all it would take was a few Chinese words and I’d instantly have ten new friends, all more eager to learn about my culture than I about theirs and all bombarding me with offers of free food. And cigarettes. Always cigarettes.
When we got back to our homestay place, we found it much less deserted than before. The hall we had chosen as our bedroom was suddenly full of Chinese people enjoying a huge feast. We asked our hosts if we were supposed to join them, but we weren’t. Instead, they pointed us to a stone wall in front of which they had set up a little rickety wooden table with a couple of plates of basic Chinese dishes—a few roots on one, some vegetables on another and one plate with meat scraps.
The chicken-like things were nowhere to be seen. Actually, that’s not true. From our vantage point in the unlit yard, we could see them quite well on the brightly lit banquet table, surrounded by an amazing selection of multicolored vegetable dishes, steaming bowls of rice, brightly smiling faces and clinking wine glasses.
After a few minutes one of those brightly smiling faces actually came over to our dark corner of the yard and explained himself in excellent English. He was a film student at Beijing University and he was shooting a documentary on the Tibetan tribes of the Danba region, mainly because the women are said to be some of the most beautiful in China.
The documentary would air on national TV, which was obviously a big deal for our hosts. So big, they had very quickly forgotten all about us and left us to eat a pretty pathetic dinner outside in the dark with their dog. The filmmaker assured us he would let us have any leftovers, but they had to shoot footage of the feast before he could do so. I won’t keep you in suspense: there were no leftovers. On a plus note, the roots were quite tasty, as was one of the vegetable dishes. The meat scraps were disgusting. At least I still had a few kilograms of peanuts left in my giant bag.
Once the banquet had been filmed, inhaled and cleaned away, our mattresses were laid out in the now empty hall and we went to bed. So did a few million bugs. The Israelis were freaking out about that and tried closing all the windows, but when your windows are simply holes in the walls covered by scraps of wood, insects will find a way in. They weren’t biting us—well, most of them weren’t biting us—so I didn’t really mind. I actually slept pretty well considering the conditions and woke up bright and early for a nice breakfast of bread with a teaspoon of scrambled eggs. I guess the film crew needed their protein.
Continued in part 5: Leaving Danba Difficult Thanks to Minivan Drivers
“Many people simply prefer the fake friendliness of touristy areas in countries like India or Thailand, where everyone automatically loves you because you bring money, to a place like China where people don’t really seem to care much about you at all, ”
Hear, hear! g-knows that’s exactly the case here in Vietnam. The banana-pancakers come here from “The Land of Smiles” (Thailand) and grumble ‘cuz the Vietnamese don’t fawn all over them.
Like you, that’s preeecisely why I like Vietnam. Folks here can’t be bothered with you as they scurry about their busy day. They leave you blessedly alone, unless… you make the smallest effort to say hello and interact with them, and then they’re the smiliest, most playful people on earth.
Yes, yes, Daniel. We need to get you here to Vietnam. ☺
Daynne@TravelnLass recently contributed to world literature by posting..Wordless Wednesday: The Elephant Conservation Center, Laos
Daniel McBane says
It is sounding more and more like I would enjoy traveling in Vietnam. Especially since the people who hate Vietnam always seem to love Thailand and I didn’t love Thailand quite so much.
Daniel McBane recently contributed to world literature by posting..Four Simple Ways to Go Broke In Beijing
Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) says
For what it’s worth, we have met a lot of travelers in our 9 months in Asia and we have yet to find a single one who loved both China & Vietnam. I have no idea why this is, because there are many similarities between the two, and yet, no. The ones who loved China HATED Vietnam, and the ones who loved Vietnam couldn’t stand China. My husband & I fell into the latter camp. We haven’t spent too much time in Thailand, but we worried we wouldn’t care for it much, but actually enjoyed what we did see quite a lot. We made a concerted effort to visit some of the less touristed places, and so that might have made a difference. I guess the lesson here is that the only way to know if you’ll like a place is to just go and see for yourself!
Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently contributed to world literature by posting..Confessions of an Adventurous Eater & An Apology to the Pangolin
Daniel McBane says
Interesting theory. I haven’t really noticed if people I know who’ve been to both China and Vietnam also feel so differently about the two countries. I guess I never asked though. I do think I have one example where the pattern doesn’t hold true: Agness and Cez from etramping.com. They’ve been to both and, as far as I know, they liked them both as well.
When I say I didn’t like Thailand, that’s relative: relative to my expectations, to all the other countries I’ve visited and to other people’s opinions on Thailand. I liked the country; I just didn’t like it as much as I expected to, definitely not as much as everywhere else I’ve been and nowhere near as much as most people seem to love it.
Daniel McBane recently contributed to world literature by posting..Funny Bad English on a Japanese Notebook
Tamara (@Turtlestravel) says
We loved the “Beauty Valley” and that whole region of China when we visited…such gorgeous scenery; we felt very welcome there. We based ourselves in Danba town, and explored mostly from there, moving on to Tagong later on. Tagong is highly recommended if you’re in the area. Truly amazing hikes, fresh air, and pure relaxation. Jiaju was a great place to walk around…we loved looking at the architecture, and the prettiest flowers we in bloom when we were there!
Tamara (@Turtlestravel) recently contributed to world literature by posting..Don’t Skip: Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Daniel McBane says
You were there at the perfect time then–we didn’t really see any flowers in bloom. At least we had nice weather though.
The two Israelis I explored Danba with went to Tagong after we split up and continued to Yunnan from there. I originally planned on doing that trip in reverse, but visa issues forced me to return to Shenzhen when I was in Kunming. I really would have liked to see Tagong. I did make an attempt to go to Langmusi in the north of Sichuan, which is another grassland area, but they closed it to foreigners just before I got there.
Daniel McBane recently contributed to world literature by posting..Who Needs a Guard Dog When You Have a Cow?
that cow’s hair looks so luxurious!
Daniel McBane says