Sunday, October 09, 2005

An Introduction to the Latest Adventure

Taking the Yak by His Horns
Originally uploaded by billmcgonigle.
(All pictures are now available for viewing at: )

For some reason, which makes sense but only in China, the weekdays after the national vacation are reorganized, which has left me more confused than usual and slow on the report of my vacation. I apologize.

Regardless, the yarn starts now. Why did I go to YunNan? Well, its almost as far away from Harbin as you can get and yet still be in the PRC. It was not my first choice, as I really wanted to tour Tibet, but that would require too much time and too much cash. Second on the list was to take a boat down the ChangJiang (Yangze River) through the Three Gorges and to the dam, but that plan fell to the wayside as all possible tour groups were booked by the time I knew my own schedule. YunNan, my third choice, became the destination.

I'd be gone from Harbin for 9 days, almost twice as long as everyone else simply got off for vacation. My contract promises "week-long" vacations, but our boss tried to pass off 5 days as a week. Having my desire to travel, I argued for my due vacation, and got it. Thanks to my existing class schedule, it was easy to lengthen the break to a full 10 days. And it was off to YunNan.

As mentioned, I traveled with a tour group even though this practice is against my prediliction towards protcting my personal independence in traveling. However, my predilicition towards saving a buck was stronger in this case, and a tour group it was.

During the first two or so days, the group was very small, only myself and a mother/son combo from Harbin. This was fine for the most part, at least until we got to shopping time, in which case the mother co-opted most of the time to satisfy her own bargain hunting desires. Argh. This drove me crazy.

Three in the group seemed perfect, and I was hoping we'd stay as small, but as I headed north we picked up more and more fellow tourists. While I was not thrilled at first, worrying that this would only result in more time waiting for other people to conclude their shopping, it actually turned out to be great.

One of the new additions was a Chinese who has been living in San Diego for 5 years. Her English being fluent, and her ideals now being closer to American than Chinese in certain regards, it offered a breath of fresh air, convenience, and good ol' American sense amidst the tide of Chinese tourists.

A few of the other travellers were also quite friendly. There were some Mongorians, a mother & daughter from HeiLongJiang (my home state in China), some dude whose eyes seemed as though they'd pop from his sockets at a moment's notice, a young woman who danced and jumped more than she walked, and then a few fatherly gentlemen who took simple interest in the sole foreigner on the trip.

While I didn't make much effort to reach out to any of these people, many of them became good friends for the trip. Many forced fruits or drinks down my mouth non-stop, which resulted (perhaps) in a mild case of dysentery or another strain of food poisoning. Regardless, thanks to them I ate more pomegranate than I ever had before. This was, of course, easy to do as I've never even seen a pomegranate before. This also lead to my poor translation of the Greek myth of Demeter, Hades, and Persephone on countless occasions.

The tour itself was spectacular, as YunNan's landscape varies more than any other province in China. The northern mountains were my favorite, but that be because I'm attracted to mountains and repulsed by crowds. Luckily, as I began my vacation earlier than the national holiday properly began, we didn't have to deal with many crowds.

The merchandise, for the first time in China, really caught my interest as well. I havent bought much for myself (outside the essentials and tech crap) nor for other people as so much I find can be purchased, with greater quality, back in the West. Otherwise, and this occurs more often than not, I can only imagine a Westener judging the average Chinese gift as being tacky. But as I bounded from town to town and met one or another ethnic minority, I found more and more items that were truly unique to the region and were of good enough quality to be worth the purchase. Which is not to say I loaded up on gifts, but I did come home with a bag full of jade, gems, silver, coffee, tea, wood carvings, silks, wools, dolls, and other valuables.

Enough introduction. Let the tale begin.


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