During the Cultural Revolution, Red Guards descended on Xishuangbanna and wreaked havoc on temples belonging to the Dai minority who believe in Buddhism. In recent years many of those temples have been rebuilt or restored. Many young monks and local artisans have been encouraged to paint new murals on the temple walls. The result has been an explosion of colour and Manga- style imagery. Take a look at the following:
In February 1991 our bus from Kunming pulled into the dilapidated bus station of Xishuangbanna’s capital Jinghong. It had taken 3 long and uncomfortable days to get there. The bus was old and worn out; its seats broken and on their last legs, with sharp metal edges digging painfully into our sore thighs. In spite of the length and discomfort of the journey, most passengers, a mix of gloomy backpackers and Chinese officials, seemed unwilling to engage in conversation and no spirit of group solidarity had sprung up among us; something that usually happened (and still does) on long trips in China. Only we and a gaggle of youngHong Kongers seemed to be enjoying the tropical scenery and the gradual rise of temperatures. The main relief was provided by the nightly stops in extremely basic, but surprisingly clean road-side hotels and the decent food along the way.
One of the highlights of the seemingly-endless journey was an early encounter with one of Xishuangbanna’s many minorities. It happened during a toilet stop near Simao, when a pair of shaven-headed Lahu girls, who were walking by the side of the road, started screaming and pelted for cover in the jungle as soon as they saw Margie and I disembark. And we hadn’t even started peeing…
On arrival, we had the satisfaction of beating our unsociable fellow travellers to the reception desk of the Xishuangbanna Binguan (or Banna Binguan) where we managed to grab the last cheap room in the old wing and settled down to a cold beer and a shower of the same temperature.
In the next few weeks we’ll be posting texts on Xishuangbanna in China’s South-west Yunnan province. The articles will compare Jinghong, Xishuangbanna’s capital, from when we first visited in 1991 to this summer 2008 when we revisited.
We also write about the wonderful Tropical Botanical Garden in Menglun.
A few posts below we have already put up an article about the Thursday Market at Xiding near Menghai.
We abandoned our driver, his car buried deep in the mud, and mounted a motorbike. Ironically, the previously treacherous mud bath soon became a reasonably smooth, semi-asphalted road. The drive was stunning: we passed Dai villages with their traditional raised wooden houses, thick jungle and vistas of mist-covered hills and valleys flashed by, and just when it seemed that the scenery couldn’t get better, we arrived in Xiding, looking like an island floating above the clouds. Unfortunately, on closer inspection, the town revealed itself as a bit of a dump.
The small, grubby market town of Xiding may seem a strange destination, especially if you have to spend so much time and effort trying to get there, but its Thursday market is one of the most authentic ethnic markets in Xishuangbanna. A hive of activity from dawn to midday, the market attracts nearby Dai, Hani (Aini or Akha), and Bulang minorities. It is said that Lahu also drop in, but we didn’t see or recognize any. The only real sign of Han-Chinese presence are the huge military barracks overlooking the town, a reminder that the Myanmar border is only a few kilometres away.
The market occupies a large square, just up the road from the bus station, as well as some of the adjacent streets. There is nothing touristy about this market, the only things on sale are local produce, household goods and cheap clothes. A few noodle stalls feed the hungry shoppers. With everybody busily going about their business, nobody tried to sell us anything. The local kids, pipe- smoking old men and colourfully dressed women occasionally glanced at us with a certain amount of bewilderment, probably wondering why we had made it all the way out there. Even if you can speak Chinese, it is quite difficult to explain that you have come to see them.