Big news here at the moment is the herd of 17 elephants that have been slowly making their way north from the forests of XiShuangBanna (500km away) to our city of Kunming. They have been marching and munching their way through various towns and villages and are currently some 20km from the Kunming outskirts!
Nobody is quite sure what's prompted this epic journey. Some point to the deforestation in their traditional areas whilst other jokingly mention the "International Biodiversity Conference" being held in Kunming next month! Maybe the pachyderms want to have their say?
Whatever the reason, we'll be keeping our eyes and eyes peeled, just in case!
Last night was Chinese New Year. Cathy (my Chinese teacher) kindly invited me to spend it with her family, which was a lot of fun. The food on offer was a veritable feast and everyone got very full, very quickly. Cathy's uncle also got very drunk, very quickly! After the table was cleared, the mahjong and card games started, with the Chinese TV Special rabbiting on in the background.
The fireworks and firecrackers in the city built in intensity as midnight approached. Cathy's young cousins got in the mood by letting off fireworks and I got to wave a sparkler! Cathy's parents' house is in a built up area, and the noise from the firecrackers echoed to deafening proportions as we entered the Year of the Rabbit.
Ava and I had a lay in today, after a late night getting back to the hotel yesterday. We managed to get bus tickets for tomorrow's onward journey, and then heard that my good friend Nita, and her friend Shasha, were soon arriving in Jinghong. We met up with them for another Dai meal in the evening, along with Ava's ex-classmate, Lao Bie. I fear all this Dai food is ruining my recent months of hard work at the gym!
Ava's friend Catherine and her family joined us in JingHong late last night and we set off today to GanLanBa, a group of three Dai minority villages about 45 mins drive away. The last time I was here was four years ago when my parents were visiting me. They visit me again next month, too!
Dai architecture is particularly famous for strange roofs and the peacock decorations on their houses. We enjoyed a selection of Dai dishes in a traditional Dai house before exploring the villages some more and then heading back to Jinghong.
Cathy's Mum drove us to MengLun's excellent Botanical Gardens today. It's the largest in China (indeed, Southeast Asia, they claim) and has an amazing collection of trees, flowers, etc divided into various areas, including an enormous tropical rainforest.
The highlight for me was the "Unusual Plants" section! As well as some very strange looking exhibits, there was mimosa which moves when you touch it and, new to me, a plant which (apparently) dances when you sing. Cathy sang a song to the plant to demonstrate [see photo]. Gasps from the Chinese onlookers and raised eye‐brows from the foreigners who suspected that a small puff of breath might accomplish the same feat! Still, it was fun to watch Cathy go hoarse trying to persuade us otherwise!
I also really enjoyed the wildlife there - quite a change from the norm in China where animals are generally caged, tethered or eaten!
Cathy's uncle gave us an eclectic tour of the JingHong area today. We started at a strawberry-picking farm. Jiajia (Ava) claimed the best formed strawberry, Peter the largest and I the most [see photo, top right].
The next stop was a traditional Dai minority hospital to see some of their strange medicines and healing methods. No sooner had Cathy's uncle complained of a sore back than he was on his front with needles sticking out of him. He claimed it worked wonders. I couldn't say the same myself, after being persuaded to have a massage from the same doctor to try and fix my neck problems. It was a painful experience and left me sorer and stiffer for days to come!
After lunch in a traditional Dai house, we visited a pottery to see how they make their bowls and vases.
We saw a factory making enormous polished log tables from tree trunks on the way back to the hotel, tired!
Ava and I headed off for our holiday today - a 45 minute flight south to XiShuangBanna, a sub‐tropical part of our Province, near the Thai border. We both have friends in the area and quickly met up with Cathy (my Chinese teacher, centre in photo), her English friend Peter (taking the photo) and Ava's old schoolmate Lao Bie (who picked us up from the airport and took us out for a banquet of Dai minority food in the evening).
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