Quick disclaimer: Below are student thoughts about Yunnan, of which a large part relates to our tour guide. At first he seemed just a little strange, but as time wore on it manifested into something much bigger, and quite disconcerning that this was the person directing our trip. I think he may have been schizophrenic, however, his mental troubles aside, he was just a really bad guide, plain and simple. I am so proud of the way all the students were able to focus on the positive things while we were traveling, the scenery, Mahjong and the bonding as a group on the bus. Some of what follows is an attempt to give you a better understanding of how this person changed our lives though his eyes, if you don’t understand its ok, neither did we at the time, just go back and enjoy the pictures from previous posts.
Weather In Yunnan
The window seat view of the plane ride to Yunnan showed a gradient of opaque clouds changing to deep, clear, blue. Stepping out of the Kunming airport, we marveled at the clarity of the air, an aspect visible even under the cover of night. Sometimes it’s scary to breathe in Xi’an. We joke about how this trip will take 5 years off of our lives, but on the really bad days when the air quality is close to 500 (on a scale where 300+ is considered hazardous to your health), I solemnly believe it. Nowadays, the air has been relatively great compared to the first few weeks in Xi’an: I’ve admired the “blue skies” countless of times on my ride home from school. But still clouds grey our days here in Xi’an.
Weather in China seems to be as diverse as the country itself. Yunnan, a province down further south, is seemingly clear of those pesky clouds, minus the occasional times they help paint a picture mimicking the Boston sky. The sun shines through strongly, and tans us through the windows of our tour bus, aka our home away from home. I return to Xi’an to my host father telling me, “You’ve tanned so much!” I choose not to tell him it was just from having a window seat during our countless hours on the road.
But even sitting in the bus is bearable due to the weather. Yunnan is topographically very different from Xi’an, boasting hills and mountains as well as gorges and valleys. The biggest hill I’ve biked over in Xi’an is the man made one in my apartment complex. Not everything is shrouded in grey, but instead highlighted by the natural light.
On our third day we got caught in late-night traffic. Unable to read, and restless, we walked out of the bus onto the highway among standstill traffic. Upon looking up to stretch our necks, we saw a sight we had never seen in Xi’an – stars! Though due to the light pollution of the stalling trucks they weren’t abundant, but they were there. Quickly an astronomy lesson taught by Mr. Wolf commenced, and we located the Big Dipper, Orion’s belt, Betelgeuse, and other starry sights, the highlight of a frustrating day spent with our tour guide. Blessed with a window seat on our return flight also, I was able to see our beautiful Yunnan weather reverse itself back into the gloomy Xi’an smog as my lungs cried in sorrow.
Yunnan Through the Eyes of Marty, the Tour Guide
“Hey, Ciggy, what do you think this group will be like?”
“I don’t know man, there are a bunch of kids. Hitler told me before that the past groups have been pretty rowdy.”
“Oh, I have a good idea, I’m gonna try to impress them with anything I can. I’ll sing ‘em a song.”
“Here they come, put me out.”
I should probably give them the roses. Should I give one to each person, or bouquet to the teacher? Doesn’t matter. One to each. “Here you go, please take a rose. Have you guys eaten breakfast yet?” It’s already dark outside, so they should have eaten.
“How you doing, Marty?” Mr. Wolf said to me as I handed him the rose.
“Oh I’m good.” I responded.
“What’s the plan for the night and tomorrow?” asked Mr. Wolf.
What does that mean? I guess the safest way to go is just not to answer and ask Ciggy or Jesus later what it means. Maybe Moses, he’s a smart guy, too. Okay, let’s get on the bus so I can get to my song. “Alright guys, let’s get on the bus!” I watched as all the annoying little kids piled in. Once we were going, I started the song. I think it’s by some band with a bird as a name, but I’m not sure. “Hotel California, hotel California. What a lovely place? What a lovely place? Welcome to the hotel California? Hotel California.” I knew I didn’t know anything else, but I kept going because I saw they liked my singing. Why are they laughing? Oh, Ciggy, these kids are especially annoying.
Hey Ciggy, the big guy’s Chinese is pretty good, don’t you think?
“Yeah I think so. You should definitely go up there and tell him about yourself and our friends.”
You’re right Ciggy. Hello Amir.
“Oh hey 你好”Amir says in an earnest tone.
*The following conversation continues in Chinese*
So you’re Israeli right?
I was talking to Moses yesterday, and he said you all should forgive the foreign guide”
“Oh really, that’s interesting. Where’s your friend from?”
Oh, he’s from Heaven.
“Oh I see. Who else are friends with?”
Oh you know, the usual: Hitler, Jesus, Muhammad, Confucius, Mencius, Mussolini, Stalin.
We continued on in conversation for 20 minutes.
-Roy’al and Josh
Leaving Lijiang and that lousy tour guide: Jack; letting sheep roam free: that is not a tour guide: that is an inept scum. Probably doesn’t know anything about tanks; doesn’t even know how to relate to the clients. After we left the North we got on the bus for a 3 hour ride to Dali-the driver was ignoring me the whole time for no reason. Even wouldn’t respond to my inquiries concerning the well-being of his second wife. Quiet guy. The bus ride was fine, except for that attention stealing, impatient Kung Fu teacher. Lao Zi said that she does not even know how to kick correctly, so when we stopped I made a point of putting out Ciggy in order to show her how to roundhouse kick. She thinks you have to do more than watch Walker: Texas Ranger in order to execute a perfect roundhouse kick: ignorant pupil! She insisted stubbornly on her way being right; good thing for her I hardly ever listen to Hitler or I would have shown her who is the Aryan in that situation. Then, after taking my spotlight and stealing the foreigners from me: she asks me, “How long until we get to Dali?” That woman has the attention span of a goldfish. I swear by Moses, I told her: “I said, listen to me now, if you want to get there faster, you can get off and take a taxi.” And then she acts innocent; “I was just asking” she tells me. Whiner.
After that unbearably embarrassing incident (for her that is) I lead them to this amazing restaurant: handpicked every year for its quality, tons of tour groups go there, plus I get a coupon every time I bring a tour group. So who is losing? Win-Win. But these insatiable foreigners cannot get accustomed to cold food! So I wander over them the whole time with Ciggy in my hand, talking to them: do you know what this mah-jongg tile means? Would you like a cigarette? How is the food? Are you enjoying your breakfast (lunch)? They hardly respond: the Kung Fu teacher already taught them how to play Mah-jongg. “It should have been you” Mohammed tells me; Jesus backs him up; but Mussolini held me back: “Wait,” he tells me “patience is the way to show them who is the real tour guide. They will love you yet.”
So we jump back on the bus: we arrive at this old mansion: donated to the Chinese government during the Cultural Revolution; the house itself is not anything special; but they can’t tell the difference anyway: the show is amazing though. So I lead them rapidly through the house: I bide my time and instead of wasting my breath on these uncultured stools I chit-chat with Moses about his favorite type of beer. He apparently likes a lot of different brews: I guess I have to try them all tonight. Right after the performance we leave Dali to go to our hotel in Quxiong: it is a 2-9 hour bus ride, then all of a sudden they all begin to question my tour guiding abilities; “I thought we were supposed to be sleeping in Dali?” In order to placate them I simply respond, “We will get there in 3 hours.”
It turns out to be an eight and a half hour ordeal: with them acting like sinners: fondling their balls, promoting violence, playing cards, and losing money. That Kung Fu teacher was leading them astray from my righteous path: she taught them how to play Chinese Poker. Furthermore, she was playing mostly with men: so I tell her, “If you keep playing poker, you will contract HIV”. And then she starts shouting at me! What an ungrateful, card-playing player. The drive stretches long into the night; every time traffic stops I go and talk to Ciggy about the Dao de Jing: he is the only one who understands me. I keep on making more Ciggy friends because they always cut me off when they burn my fingers: bastards. Jesus, with his great view from up there, gives me some vital information concerning the severity of the traffic.
Finally we arrive to the restaurant, and they don’t want to eat. I call Ciggy over to discuss the dilemma at hand, after 30 minutes of arguing, at 00:00 I finally convince them to go in. I put on my best ingratiating scowl and ask them to sit down: obviously I hover over them and try to make them like me. I see the young Korean, no, Israeli, no, Spaniard sitting desolately, looking at me with disgust. I go over to him, in an effort to make him see my perspective, what I was talking about with Ciggy “Everything I do I do it for you” I whisper into his ear sensually. “Bryan Adams” I reiterate as if my meaning was not clear enough already. I see the American teacher looking grim: I decide to buy him a beer and cards so I will be memorialized in his heart, in a positive light, forever. And then he refuses: what is wrong with a good nice 5 liter at night to cease the voices in one’s head? Nothing. Back on the bus I show them a Harbin, I tell them that it is the best beer in China, sponsored by FIFA, Adidas, you know Adidas? I ask them. They respond mutely with an affirmative grunt. As we tuck in at the hotel the American teacher tells me that I should make things clear beforehand. “That’s all I am asking.” He reiterates over and over again. He goes off to bed exhausted to the bones from a long and wonderful day: one that I led him through. Between you and me, Ciggy, I think they are starting to like me.
-Amir and Borja
On the last night of the trip, we decided to go out to dinner without our tour guide Marty. The Wu Shu teacher had a couple of former students who wanted to take us out to dinner. Two gigantic buff guys pulled up in large black and silver Mercedes. We hopped in their cars and they sped us to an open-air restaurant in the new part of Kunming. After a whole week of sub par tourist food we were dying to get out hands on (or rather our mouths) on some authentic Yunnanese cuisine. Outside the restaurant there was a wide variety of raw meat and ingredients for sale. Ranging from cured beef to maggots, you could pick what ever you wanted to eat for dinner. We choose the latter. Along with fried maggots, we had a big plate of grasshoppers and a cut of dog meat. While the selection was strange, we preferred this to anything we had eaten earlier that week.
The next day we were finally about to explore Kunming on our own. Sans tour guide, we went to Kunming’s downtown cultural center and walked around little street markets. In the merchandise market we exercised our bargaining skills. The main novelty for sale was the Bao Ding Balls. Bao Ding Balls are most commonly found in the hands of the elderly. They come in pairs so you can rotate them in your hands, an exercise meant to bring relaxation, hand strength and mental health. Earlier in the trip Josh had bought a pair, and after taking turns fondling his balls, we were all anxious to get our own. We got prices starting at 60 kuai all the way down to ten. After every one had a set of balls we moved on to the pet market. Here we found all the conventional pets and many odd ones (including neon frogs, chipmunks, and buckets of beetles) for sale. As we walked through the overwhelming pet market, antsy fish were jumping out of their buckets. Rachel and Diego made a heroic attempt to save one. After getting their hands completely slimy the owner of the stand came to their rescue and scooped the squirming fish off the sidewalk. Although we got very limited time on the trip to enjoy freedom and roam around, when we did we always had a blast.
-Rachel and Izzy