Leisure in Xishuangbanna

Lucky or not, while volunteering as English teachers in Jinghong we have a lot of spare time. Personally, I have only six lessons a week and some of them are during the same day. In the end, I work (hard to call it like that) only three days a week. Although we asked for more lessons or suggested our help to other English teachers, it didn‘t work out. Very naturally, step by step we had to find a lot of new activities (besides learning Chinese, of course).

First weeks were easy: in the middle of the day I could hardly move because of the heat outside. Being from a country were temperature hardly reaches 30 degrees in summer, but easily drops to -20 in winter, it was quite hard to adapt. During that period, life here starts only in the evening. At 11pm locals are still having their barbeque all around the city. Small pieces of meat, some seafood, vegetables are grilled upon the fire with lots of spices. Saying “I don’t want spicy” was one of the first phrases I learnt in Chinese. What’s more, food here is quite oily, so I started going to the gym. Helps to keep in shape and good way to spend the time actively every day. (For future volunteers here: it’s close to the Peacock lake, in front of the Government of Jinghong. Price is not really adequate for the stuff you get, but better than nothing.)

In the middle of the day, that gym is almost empty. There are several men working out intensively, but others work out fingers on their phone touchscreens more than their bellies. Also, it’s quite common to come here with office clothing and run on a treadmill for a while. There are at least 20 treadmills here and many of them have separate TV’s. Each local turns on his/her favourite channel loudly and together they create amazing atmosphere to work out. Also, you might have heard that spitting in China is a very normal thing. Special buckets are in each corner… I will never get used to that, so let’s just switch to other topic.

During weekends, we tend to go somewhere out of the city and explore suburbs of Xishuangbanna. Sometimes we join “Healthy hiking group”, where 50-100 people gather together and walk 10-25km a day. It’s a good way not only to travel and exercise but also to meet bunch of locals and practise speaking Chinese.

Some other weekends we’ve spent travelling alone in suburbs of Xishuangbanna. To say the truth, the city of Jinghong itself isn’t so special, so to see some untouched nature (hard task) or small villages you have to go out. There were two trips that I especially liked.

First one was in the Eastern part of Xishuangbanna. We got to the county of Mengla by bus and then took another one to Wangtianshu. It’s a park with a really high biodiversity, really tall trees and some touristic attractions, (have a student card for discounts) but I wouldn’t say that it’s a must to see. After it, we hitchhiked a really nice couple and reached one small village called Mandalian. I can bet that in some time you’ll have to pay for the entrance here, as all the touristic infrastructure was being built at that time. Surroundings are really nice, houses (like in many other villages here) are built on poles, and on the ground floor all the buzz is going on – barking dogs, running chickens, cars… And people live on the first floor. We got a chance to sleep in a house like that. In the main square of the city we found a guy and declared: “we need to sleep in this village”. He was definitely the right person to ask for help. In several minutes we already had a small room to rest in. That night we had dinner with some locals while trying to explain that throwing rubbish the river is a bad thing. I think our message in poor Chinese about cleaner environment wasn’t understood…

The next day we crossed the bridge to banana plantations and moved forward to another village called Mandan. Once you get to the road in the mountain, amazing views are changing one another. The road was quite, only sound of running water and singing birds could be heard. The nature in most during most of the path is untouched and wild, but only is there is a human-being somewhere around, a pile of rubbish will follow… (This topic probably requires a separate blog entry.)

It takes around 3 hours two reach Mandan, so by that time we were quite hungry. It a small, cosy village, surrounded by mountains, some fields and water. There we met some tourist from Eastern China. It was a group of painters, possibly looking for some new inspirations here. We had some really interesting conversations and delicious food together. On the way back we hitchhiked two young guys who dropped us in Mengla, so it was really easy to come back to Jinghong.

Another trip was even better, this time we moved to the Western part of Xishuangbanna, where it meets the border of Myanmar. The hiking this time was more intensive. During the first day we went From Xiding to Zhanglang, where again slept in a local house. We also ate dinner and amazing breakfast in the same place and the owner was really hospitable. Zhanglang is situated on the edge of a hill, so all houses are connected with small twisted paths. It was the first village that was really clean. Maybe because it had only one small shop and most of the food here comes straight from the field or unpacked in hundreds of plastic layers. It was such a joy for my eyes!

Next day we took a small path to Manwa. To reach it, we had to go down from one mountain and go up to another one. In the bottom there is a river, nice place to have a small snack. Slopes of those mountains are used for farming: sugar canes, tea trees, corns and other plants are growing there. Manwa is a bit bigger village on the top of the mountain. Hundreds of pigs with small piglets were enjoying the warming sun while all the people were participating in deconstruction of one house and small children having a “meeting” at a local shop with some game machines.

The path from Manwa to Bada wasn’t really hard. There is a wide, sometimes muddy road where during the time of our walk we could see some drowning clouds in valleys. Last several kilometers we were accompanied by a group of kids, who have to walk around 7-8km to school every week. Those kids were well educated: although very curious about us, they always kept a distance. Any time a car past us by, one would shout something and all of them would quickly walk off the road. With the kids laughing around, we reached Bada faster… and then we realized that on Sunday that place is quite empty. Some locals suggested to try “youtiao” which is something like Spanish churro. We were waiting, waiting… and in the evening, when it was already getting dark, the only car of that day with some businessmen from Kunming agreed to bring us. We not only were brought to the gates of our home, but also invited to a really nice dinner with them.

Every time we are hiking or travelling around Xishuangbanna, we meet some amazing, very generous, friendly and welcoming people. This makes me very eager to travel around other parts of China, explore beautiful nature (although very often overpriced and overdone), huge cities, meet people and hear their stories. After the exam session in school and last goodbye parties in mid of January I will start my journey around China. There is so much to see, so much to do, so many peaks to climb in, that I don’t know how to put everything into 7 weeks. How it will work? I might share it with you here.

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