I haven’t been writing anything in my notebook, and so the days are blurring together. To the photos!
Our last few days in China were pretty uneventful, for several reasons, some of which were weather-related. I’m not sure I’ve mentioned lately just how hot it is in this part of the world right now, so, again: It is crazy hot. Plus, we keep making the rookie mistake of heading out in the middle of the day, when any sane person would have her ass firmly planted in a chair under an air-conditioning unit. Above you see a couple photos from one such blunder. After we came back to Jinghong from our trek I thought we’d spend an afternoon exploring the city, but it was all we could do to find the river, look at it for a second, and then drag ourselves to the nearest bar, drenched in sweat.
Our midday exhaustion might be partly due to our malaria meds, which can apparently increase sensitivity to the sun even for people such as us who were already pale, delicate, oversensitive flowers to begin with. Here I am, about to wash down my daily pill with a beer, which was a pretty good idea I’m sure.
When it wasn’t hot and sunny, it looked a lot like this. I’m on my second poncho of the trip so far.
So, that was the end of our time in China. Sweat, doxycycline, rain, and fried rice from this delightful man:
This was the mom ‘n’ pop place across from our guesthouse that we discovered on our first day in Jinghong. We went there at least once a day because their food was good, and because we were lazy, and because it’s nice to develop little micro-routines in a new city. They were also very sweet and patient with us. One day, while we were eating a late lunch and they were shelling peas at the next table, we speculated about how they would make a nice host family for a Peace Corps Volunteer. We found ourselves doing that on our trek, too – walking around the villages, watching TV with the homestay families, and thinking about what it would be like to be a trainee in that place, with those people. This is a strange new dimension that Peace Corps has added to our travels. I’m pretty sure that, the last time we were on vacation, we didn’t spend a lot of time wondering what it would be like to insert ourselves into peoples’ home lives.
I’m sure we get a lot of things wrong when we look at the lady frying our noodles and picture her at home, but just conjuring that picture is easier now, after living with our Mongolian host families and spending two years in Erdenet. Basically I just hope we’re a little more empathetic than we used to be, and that much less likely to become raging sociopaths at some point in the future (I sometimes worry about becoming a sociopath).
In case some poor sap Googles his way to this blog, looking for concrete information about how to get across the China-Laos border:
We didn’t need American dollars. We spent a stressful morning in Jinghong trying to convince various bank branches to give us cold hard Benjamins (just one Benjamin actually), only to get to the border and see another American pay for his visa in Lao kip.
I’d been worried about being the only visa-less foreigners on the bus to Laos, and about how the driver and all the passengers would surely get impatient and abandon us while we waited in line. But even though the ride started out with a bunch of locals on board, by the time we’d actually reached the border the only people left were us and a handful of other tourists. The bus driver even disembarked and patiently shepherded everybody through both immigration checkpoints.
The disparity in infrastructure between these checkpoints was pretty crazy. Gleaming new glass on the Chinese side, dusty squat concrete on the Lao side. It reminded me of the time we crossed the South Korea – North Korea border, except the Lao police officials looked a lot nicer than the DPRK ones.
Speaking of which: We said our first “sabai dee” to the jolly Lao policeman who came on the bus to search (not very hard) for drugs.
Basically, everybody was very friendly and helpful, except for the ladies who came onto the bus to change our yuan to kip, who pretended to be very, very, very, very bad at math.
And then couple hours later we arrived in Luang Namtha, where our breakfasts stopped looking like this:
And started looking like this:
I ain’t complaining.