Eight Days in Laos….The first Jamaican to…..!

Hear Ye! Hear Ye! Let it be known by one and all that…


On December 8, 2010, at approximately 10:20am, Walt F.J. Goodridge became the first Jamaican to cross from Laos into China!

It all started innocently enough with an early morning rise to catch my 7:30am tuk tuk ride to the bus station. As this would be the last time I would have unrestricted access to Facebook (as well as Youtube, Twitter, Blogspot and other subversive US media), I penned a special goodbye to my facebook friends which read:


A COUNTRY WITHOUT FACEBOOK??

“Please note: effectively immediately (upon boarding the bus from Laos to China), I will no longer have access to Facebook. My email–walt@jamaicaninchina.com–will be the ONLY way to reach me.

I know this is difficult to imagine for those who are now among the facebook-addicted, but when I’m in China, and I type facebook.com into my browser, unlike you, I get a blank screen with an error message.

That means I cannot see wall posts. I cannot reply to messages. I cannot reply to any of your friends’ friend requests. I cannot effectively poke or be poked.

Of course, there are ways around the block they call “The Great Firewall of China,”, but these aren’t dependable and functionality is limited.

So, when thoughts/conversations arise on why I haven’t responded to people’s friend requests or comments (“I thought you said he was a nice guy!” or “How rude! I asked him a question and he just ignored me!”) Remember the following (please rehearse now:) “That’s right. I remember. Walt cannot read this. He’s in China, the country without Facebook.” “

And with that, I was on my way to check out of the Zuela Guesthouse in Luang Namtha, Laos. The tuk tuk would pick me up at Minority Restaurant, so I would have a chance to say a final goodbye to Vanxai.

Vanxai

Vanxai Inyasone, owner of Minority Restaurant. Check out the website to meet his wife and staff.

After a short tuk tuk ride to the station, the bus to Jinghong arrives, passengers board, and we’re soon on our way!

bus

at the bus station. “Hope this helpful stranger gives me back my camera before the bus pulls out.”

We drive for about 1.5 hours… We arrive at the Laos Immigration departure station, and get quickly processed through and, as I did when entering Laos a few days earlier, walked the few meters separating the two nations’ border crossings toward the Xishuangbanna, China Immigration center, so I could speed up the process.

And then, it happened.

On December 8, 2010, at approximately 10:20am, I became the first Jamaican citizen to attempt to cross from Laos into China!

I know this because the border agents told me so. And soon, everyone else on the bus would know it, too, because since the border agents had never seen or processed a Jamaican passport ever before at this port, the processing of my re-entry into China delayed the entire bus load of people for almost an hour! Yes, a bus load of Lao, Chinese, two Americans, and an (equally annoyed) bus driver were camped outside in the parking lot waiting for the border agents to do whatever it is that border agents do when they encounter a passport they’ve never seen before.

agent

Wait a moment, please. Please have a seat. I will go upstairs.

Meanwhile, I got a chance to practice my Mandarin with the agents who were waiting with me. (Always willing to educate border guards to learn more about Jamaica than Usain Bolt!)

As time dragged on, however, I realized that I had to do something. This could turn into an overnight trip. I was already feeling bad about delaying the other travelers, so, when the bus driver edged ever closer to the immigration checkpoint, and started giving me an encouraging sign to go upstairs to where the agent had taken my passport, I was in agreement with him and headed upstairs to put a little pressure on the process.

I started wandering around the second floor of the Immigration Center peeking into each open door to find the lady agent who had disappeared with my passport.

Soon, another guard spotted me in the (official/restricted) area, and approached me. I communicated to him that my passport was being held up in a process, and I pointed down to the waiting bus driver and passengers some of whom had gathered at the Immigration exit area to see what the delay was.

“Do not worry,” the guard said, “the bus will wait for you.”

“I know they’ll wait. That’s just it. I don’t WANT them to have to wait. The whole bus is being delayed because of something that I know has nothing to do with the authenticity of my paperwork–since my passport is valid, and I have my valid entry-permit, but most likely has to do with the administrative stuff in YOUR computer system.”

(Of course, that’s what I WOULD HAVE said had I been able to speak fluently in Putonghua. Instead, I just said, <<“I know.”>>

Soon, the young lady agent who had been scrolling through microfiche for that hour saw me outside her door, and came outside. The guard communicated to her the delayed bus situation, and, quite agreeable, she told me she would photocopy my passport and continue what it is she needed to do while she let me go through the immigration processing.

I retrieved my passport from her, headed quickly downstairs, and, whoaaaa! I then encountered a long line of passengers from another incoming bus who were attempting to go through Immigration. Not wanting to wait any longer, I called to a guard and asked (signs and gestures) if he could assist.

He understood my intentions and told me to go to the front of the line, and then explained to the waiting queue (I imagine that’s what he said) that I was to be next on line.

agent 2

“You go first.”

NOTE: Um, by the way, as one of the guards told me earlier, there’s no photo-taking allowed inside the immigration area. I have no idea how those last two photos got into my blog post! Wikileaks?


One rubber stamp later, I was out the door and–along with the driver and few other passengers by my side–heading towards the parking lot and back on the bus. To tell you the truth, no one on the bus really seemed that perturbed, but I didn’t like delaying the “3-hour-trip-that-takes-6-hours” bus ride any more than it had to be delayed!

So, please make note of this new bit of international Jamaica-China-Laos foreign-relations trivia. Here it is, again, in case you missed it: On December 8, 2010, at approximately 10:20am, Walt F.J. Goodridge became the first Jamaican passport-holder to SUCCESSFULLY cross from Laos into China! (There may be a test later, or it may come in handy for a “Jeopardy” or “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” question. Pay attention, and you won’t need to use one of your lifelines!)

So, about an hour later, we’re on our way! Over hill and dale. Ever northward through scenic southern China….

scenic

scenic southern China

Back to Jinghong City, Xishuangbanna, Yunnan Province, China!

Jinghong

Back “home” in Jinghong! What’s that, you ask? Ha! THAT’S nothing! Wait until I show you a photo of FOUR people on a moped! You think I’m kidding?


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Eight Days in Laos….Days 4 through 7!

So, by now, I’ve established a daily routine…

Up at about 5am to work on the computer until sunrise.


computer

At the computer

Head out to the market


morning market

Luang Namtha Morning Market

Watch puppies and monkeys playing…


monkey

“Which way did ‘e go? Which way did ‘e go? This little chimp is making a monkey out of me!”

Make new friends…


Tik

Tik, from Minority Restaurant on her way to evening English class.

More cycling on Day 7

sunning

Cycling and sunning

Photo opps to remind myself I was in Laos

laos


Eat at Minority Restaurant.


food

Big Noodles & Vegetables (2) Fried veggie spring rolls, (3) Tofu Soup

But, I’ve also started to talk with Minority Restaurant owner, Vanxai about Jamaica, about Saipan, about Laos, about America, and about the tourism industry in Luang Namtha. I offer to update the webpage for the restaurant a bit to make it a bit more appealing, and give a few tips on places to promote the restaurant on the web.


Happycow

Introducing Vanxai to HappyCow.net

He also teaches me about the eco-tourism/adventure business and we agree to keep in touch upon my return to Jinghong.

Kayaking

Make sure you go Kayaking with Vanxai. That’s his passion!

Tomorrow morning, I return to China!



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Eight Days in Laos….Day 3!

Soooooooo….I’m in Luang Namtha, Laos. NOTE: Since you may not be inclined to do the research yourself, I’ve invited the prototypical, documentary-style, voiceover man to over-dub a few excerpts from wikitravel.org as well as the namtha-river-expericence-laos.com website for today’s episode. see text in blue.Okay, narrator, you’re up!

Luang Namtha lies on the banks of the Nam Tha river, and the meaning of the name is “The area (luang) around the Tha river (nam Tha)”.[Wikipedia]

Now, that I’m here…What to do. What to do.

The international award-winning Nam Ha Ecotourism Project was established in 2000 as the first community-based ecotourism project in Laos. …. organize community-base ecotourism-forest trekking, Hiking, Kayaking, Rafting, Biking, River trips and Village home-stays-designed to produce economic benefits for local people, protect cultural heritage and raise funds for environmental conservation. [namtha-river-expericence-laos.com]

So, let’s see. I could go trekking. Luang Namtha is known for its trekking adventures. I could do a 1, 2 or 3-day trek.

No. I like to be on my own clock. Maybe next time.

I could go whitewater rafting. I did that once many years ago with some college friends. It was fun. Been there. Done that.

I could rent a moped and go out on my own and see the countryside. Now that’s appealing, except, it’s a bit noisy, and based on the way I like to travel, it’s a bit cumbersome.

Waitaminit! I know! Just at the street entrance to Zuela Guesthouse, I saw some bicycles for rent. It’s only 10,000 kip/day to rent one.

Now, 10,000 of anything is a lot of things, but that’s about $1.20US. I can deal with that. It’s quiet, easy to maneuver, plus I can get some exercise and work up a sweat, and an appetite. And, I’ll still be contributing to the local economy! Yep. cycling through Laos. That’s the ticket!

I’ll head north out of Namtha towards Muangsing.

cycling

Luang Namtha is a mountainous province, located in northwestern Laos bordering Myanmar (Burma) and China with 5 districts (Namtha, Muang Sing, Vieng Phoukha, Muang Long and Nalea) and a total land area of 9,325 square kilometers. The population in 2005 was about 152,285 people or some 16 people per square kilometer. [namtha-river-expericence-laos.com

lush

Lush vegetation, clean air….

up in the hills

Dam

Dam. That’s a lot of water. (get it?)

kids

These kids’ bicycle chain had come off and gotten wedged between the gear and the wheel. I pulled it free for them while they stared and pointed at me. What? Haven’t you ever seen a Jamaican in Laos before?

Most people in Luang Namtha live in small rural villages and practice agriculture as their main occupation. There are over 17 ethnic minority groups in the province, making it perhaps the most ethnically diverse place in the entire country. [namtha-river-expericence-laos.com]

glass house?

Forget the glass house in the desert. My new dream home is a wooden summer retreat in the mountains of northern Laos.

15 out

Ended up riding 30 kilometers….15 out

15 back

….and 15 back

Luang Namtha province has a wide range of guesthouses. With the prospects of getting more tourists with the new No.3 Road and the upgraded international airport, many new guesthouses have been built in recent times and new hotels are being planned in the center of Luang Namtha town. in Luang Namtha Province there are about 73 hotels and guesthouses with 951 beds and 144 restaurants. [namtha-river-expericence-laos.com

And, speaking of restaurants, after a day of cycling, there’s nothing better than to replenish the nutrients than with a Minority Restaurant Happy Meal!

seaweed

fried seaweed….



rice

Fried rice with vegetables….(I’ve found it a challenge to get brown rice at restaurants, so white will have to do this time)


I think I had a third dish, but I really got into it and forgot to have it pose for a photo.

To do my part to make life more pleasant for vegan nomads as well as the restaurateurs who serve them, I tweaked the Wikitravel.org mention of Vanxai’s Minority Restaurant and added a link to his website. Check it out at: http://wikitravel.org/en/Luang_Namtha


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Eight Days in Laos…..Day 2

You know what? I haven’t been in a sauna since leaving Saipan. And you know what else? I’ve never had a professional massage.

It’s something I had wanted to do in Beijing, Kunming and Jinghong, but just never got around to finding a location. Well, here in Laos I found one.

There’s an Herbal Massage and Sauna spot located on the same lot as Minority Restaurant. So, since I’m here, there’s no need to put it off any longer!

So today’s agenda is simple:

Sit in the sun.


Laxin

‘Laxin’ in Laos

Get a massage.


Massage

Yes, I do have a photo of me getting the massage, but you’ll have to be a member of my extra-extra-EXTRA special mailing list to see it.

Do the sauna.

The sauna room is constructed of bamboo. It’s a little hut that sits atop some wood columns. Out back, behind the sauna hut, there’s a huge pot sitting over a fire, with a hollow bamboo pipe positioned to direct the herbal steam into the hut. It gets pretty hot in there. Dare I say “oppressive!”


Sauna

The sauna engine room out back

No Minority Restaurant today since today was one of those days I didn’t eat. The sauna shop opens for business at 4:00pm each day. I kept an empty stomach all day in preparation for the massage and sauna. They finished squeezing and boiling me at about 7-ish, which is too late in the day for me to eat.

I’ll eat tomorrow.


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Eight Days in Laos….Day 1, continued

So, I’m walking down the main street in Luang Namtha checking out the scene. Every other entrance is a guest house, with a restaurant and trekking, but I’ll talk more about the local economy later. Now, we have more pressing concerns.

Just a few feet south of the entrance to Zuela Guesthouse I pass the entrance to a place called Minority Restaurant. Minority?? I’m offended! I’m appalled!…..I’m hungry.

I’m attracted by the notice on the sidewalk billboard that states they have vegetarian meals. So, I take a look.

Sidewalk entrance to Minority Restaurant

sidewalk entrance to Minority Restaurant

I walk down a passageway…

Passageway

20 meter passageway to the restaurant

…and at the other end I’m greeted by the owner.

Sawadee

“Sawadee” (Hello) Vanxai Inyasone, owner of Minority Restaurant,

I get a good, calm vibe from him, and the place. We chat for a bit. (Vanxai speaks English fluently, by the way) I tell him what I DON’T want in my dishes (MSG, dairy, eggs, meat, seasoning salts, butter, sugar, etc.), and he says no problem. So, I look over the menu and choose a few items.

Whistle a happy tune while I wait.

Get served in good time. (No one else in the restaurant at 3pm in the afternoon)

And prepare to enjoy my first meal in Laos.

Care to join me?

Care to join me?

Food

(1) Fried Big noodles & Veggies, (2) Fried river seaweed, (3)Black Mushroom and vegetable soup.

all done

>slurp< >smack< aaaaaahhhhh! All done.

Actually, please don’t take those sound effects literally. Having grown up in a British-influenced society of impeccable manners and meticulously- enforced “proper” eating habits, the worst offense one could commit in my presence is to make noise when one chews. Chewing while talking to me on the phone is another unforgivable transgression in the same category. I’ve disowned friends and even a few family members because of this. (And, I’ll hang up the phone…politely, of course.) It’s a deal breaker for a potential relationship if on a first date, my date slurps and smacks while eating. Yep, ranks right up there with pretty feet as one of the “non-negotiables.” But, forgive me. I digress.

Back to the meal.

It was fabulous! It’s the best meal I’ve had in a long time! (Hmmmm…maybe I should change that line. It doesn’t reflect well on my own cooking, does it?)

I think my plans have changed. I WAS going to spend just two days in Laos and then head back to China. However, the fried seaweed has thrown a random, unexpected element/loop/monkey wrench into my plans.

I think I’ll be staying in Laos just a wee bit longer.
15,000kip for the seaweed
15,000kip for the noodles
15,000kip for the soup
45,000kip TOTAL (approx $5.50US, or 37RMB)

Good deal!

Yep, Minority Restaurant gets five stars from Walt the Wandering Vegan!

You can read more about the restaurant and the reason for the name by checking out the website: http://www.namtha-river-experience-laos.com/our_restaurant.htm

While you do that, I’ll be having dreams of sugarplum fried seaweed fairies dancing around in my head! You think I’m kidding, don’t you? You have no idea.

I know EXACTLY what I’ll be doing tomorrow.


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Eight Days in Laos–Day 1!

So, here’s the deal. As you may recall, I have a multiple-entry visa for China. That means each time I enter the country, I can stay for up to 90 days. Well, the maximum stay of my first entry to China has ended, and I must depart China in order to return for my next entry stay.

When I was envisioning this journey back in August, I had anticipated that a trip to Hong Kong might be in the cards for my first exit, since no visa is required for Hong Kong and I thought I’d be in Shanghai by now. However, since I’m actually in southern China–Yunnan Province– I decide to head to Laos for few days. Laos is just a 6-hour bus ride from where I am now in Jinghong City, Xishuangbanna (Yunnan Province), and the cost of the ticket is only 70RMB (approx $10US; much cheaper than a round trip ticket to Hong Kong)

The bus from Jinghong to Luang Namtha, Laos departs at 7:00am each day.

Jinghong borders Laos

Jinghong borders Laos

I got my ticket the day before. Just so you know (for when YOU take the same trip), the earliest you can purchase your ticket is the DAY BEFORE your expected date of travel. At that point, they will know whether the bus driver from Laos is coming to Jinghong and can be added to the day’s schedule. The reason? There are (usually) two buses between Jinghong, China and Luang Namtha, Laos each day. There’s a Lao driver who comes from Laos with a load, then picks up passengers in Jinghong to return to Laos. And, there’s a Chinese driver who leaves from China with a load, picks up passengers in Laos, then returns to China.

Taxi pickup at 6:30. Short ride to the bus station.

Gi me di morning ride!

Gi me di Morning Ride! (inside joke for Jamaicans)

Packing

Packing the undercarriage. I always like to see what’s going on with my luggage

Row to myself
Row of seats to myself. Everyone’s sleeping. No smoking. ahhh,yes. This is going to be great!

Mountain mist

Mountain morning mists over Jinghong

Sunrise

Sunrise on the road to Laos


*****IN AMERICA*****

In America, practically NO ONE would dare smoke in an enclosed space like an elevator or a bus! The awareness and acceptance that cigarette smoking, and more importantly second-hand smoke is hazardous to one’s health is widespread and gets government endorsement AND enforcement. Smoking is even prohibited in restaurants and office buildings! In winter time, your American coworkers have to take breaks and go stand outside in the cold to do their smoking.

And when someone DOES break the rules, we get to be smug and condescending and flash them mean, disgusted looks and ostracize them because they’re not playing by the rules! We can TELL them to put the cigarette out. Or, we can call the waiter or bus driver and have him/her do it. And he/she will! In America, the non-smokers have the power! [*by popular demand from my Chinese readers who want to know what life is like in America.]

*****

However, I’m in China. And, not wanting to be the pushy, out-of-sync foreigner, I would just bear it and not say anything like most every other Chinese person. However, the fellow on this bus who was smoking was in the seat in front of me, and I just couldn’t fathom the thought of 5 hours of inhaling second hand smoke wafting back to me.

So, at one of the rest stops along the way, a fellow traveler named Logan–the American on the bus told me how to say “body” in Chinese, so, while we were sitting inside the bus waiting for the driver to return, I tapped the smoker on the shoulder, bowed and said with a smile, “Ni Hao. Wǒ bù huì shuo pǔtōnghuà, dàn wǒ xiǎng shuō: Wǒ bù xǐhuan xī yān. Wǒ de shēntǐ bù hǎo.” Rough translation: “Hello. I don’t speak Mandarin (well), but I’d like to say that I don’t like cigarette smoke. My body is not good.”

I didn’t like “lying” (ie. My body is actually, um.. perfect. hee hee.), but I figured I would soften any perceived chastisement, and save him any lost face by appealing to any sympathy he might have for my “failing health.” It’s not in my nature to impose a Western standard of behavior on others. In America, feeling well within my rights to insist that others follow the stated law for the benefit of my health, I might say, “Excuse me sir, would you mind not smoking, please?

And he would comply. However, such a scene would never even happen in America, for, as I said, by now, everyone’s on the same page with the smoking rule.

So, here’s the cool part. That was actually my first completely expressed, multiple-sentence, unsolicited thought to a male stranger here in China*….AND HE UNDERSTOOD ME! Yay! Which means my tones were correct–or close enough–and I got my message across. At first he replied that he wasn’t smoking at that exact moment. (In other words, “Hey, it’s not me!”), but his seat-mate added a bit of clarification on my behalf, and then he understood that I was asking him not to smoke for the rest of the trip.

So, I achieved successful Mandarin communication, PLUS no more smoke (at least from him) for the duration of the journey! YAY! A double victory of sorts.

*I know it’s pretty basic, but hey, in my defense, I’ve sort of been letting the language grow in me organically through immersion and necessity. I’m definitely getting better, but I’ve had a lot of English-speaking Chinese friends and I’ve gotten into the habit of using sign language rather than forcing myself to practice my vocabulary.

Anyway, we get to the border, go through China Immigration departure, and emerge on the other side.

At the border

Across the border

Logan, who has done this trip several times, explains. Once through the CHINA Immigration departure terminal, we have a choice. We could wait for everyone on the bus to finish their processing, re-board the bus and then drive the few hundred feet to the LAO Immigration arrival terminal, get off the bus…. Or we could walk there and get things done a bit quicker. Easy decision.

walking

Helping

At the entry border to Laos, I get through rather quickly as I had purchased my entry permit visa from back in Jinghong. (210RMB, or $30US; still cheaper than a round trip ticket to Hong Kong!)

threshold

in Laos

We reboard the bus, and about 1 hour later, we pull into the Luang Namtha, Laos bus station. I ask the bus driver to change 100 RMB of my money into Lao currency, and he tells me I need to take a shuttle into town. 1 US dollar = 8080kip 1 RMB = 1200kip

waiting

Travel websites and schedules say this is 6-hour bus ride. For the record, I’d say it’s actually 3 hour bus ride that TAKES six hours! Um….guys? 🙂

The Mekong Cafe in Jinghong recommended Zuela Guesthouse. So that’s where I was headed. I hadn’t been able to contact them by phone to make a reservation, but I was told there would be many guesthouses within walking distance of each other, and that finding accommodations shouldn’t be a challenge.

So from the bus station, with Logan’s help, we got a waitress who know of the Zuela cafe to write the name and location in Lao, and then I found a ‘tuk tuk” to take me to town. A tuk tuk is a small open sided van ( a pick-up with a cover) used for local transport. It’s what we might call a “Jolly-bus” in Jamaica back in the old days! A ride in a tuk tuk costs 10,000 kip. Of course, I ascertained this from the bus driver ahead of time, so I didn’t fall for the old “charge the foreigner 5 times the going rate” trick that one driver tried to pull.

Logan and I say our goodbyes, as he’s continuing further south, and I head to the tuk tuk.

Tuk tuk

at the bus station; Tuk Tuk to the right.

The tuk tuk takes me to town (say that 10 times fast), I get to the guesthouse strip of town, check in to the Zuela Guesthouse.

The daily rate is about 70,000 kip/day (about $9US/day) It costs more if you want air conditioning. I don’t.

Zuela

My room (#22) is above the restaurant. That’s my balcony just under the coconut tree branch.

room

Where I’ll spend the next few days in Laos

Zuela Guesthouse

Zuela Guesthouse, Luang Namtha, Laos

So, now I’m in The Peoples Democratic Republic of Laos.

Let me get my checklist again.

Sunshine? Check!

Internet access? Check!

Kitchen? None. But, I’ll be heading out into town shortly to find a good restaurant for my short stay!

Stay tuned.


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Did you say Wild Elephants?!!!

When I was growing up in New York, I used to watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom on television every Sunday. (I’m dating myself, I know). Like many children, I was fascinated by animals. So, these days, while I’m not much into paying to see man-made structures and gardens as a tourist adventure, I WILL go see some wild animals if I get the opportunity! And, I’ve heard that Xishuangbanna is famous for its wild elephant sanctuary!

So, off I went! It’s a 50-minute bus ride from Jinghong City–where I’m staying–to the Elephant spot.

on the bus to Xishuangbanna

High spirits!
We’re off to see the wizard….oops, wrong lyrics…same tune
We’re off to see the wild elephants
The wild elephants of Xishuangbanna!


My first real touristy outing in Xishuangbanna. Look at the mountains! Breathe in that fresh air! It’s so exciting. Isn’t it, guys? Um, guys?


What the…? Hey, you guys! Wake up! You’re missing all the great scenery zipping by!


Elephants at the gate! Dwellers at the threshold


Well, we got to the spot. I think I was the only one on the bus who got off. Everyone else was on their way elsewhere. I paid my admission fee and joined the throngs of people heading to the see the elephants. In the middle of the compound there were elephants tethered to posts for photo opportunities. 20 yuan to have a photo taken. I was sort of expecting to trek through dense forest, on hidden pathways to sneak glimpses of rare elephants in their natural habitat while a seasoned wild elephant expert (the Marlin Perkins of Jinghong) engages us (albeit in Chinese) to help us understand all the mystery of these amazing creatures.

It’s possible I might have missed that part it since I can’t read the signs and opted not to take the Chinese-language guided tour.


Not quite “in the wild,” but, I can now say I rode on an elephant. Hope I’m not too heavy for you, big fella.

DISCLAIMER: On a very serious note, it’s important for me to say here that I don’t condone keeping wild animals in captivity. Mankind commits many thoughtless acts and atrocities against sentient beings in the name of food, entertainment, clothing and ultimately, financial reward. For a very revealing documentary on many aspects of this, see EarthLings The Movie (also viewable on youtube or other sites.)

And then, the usual fun started. As I made my away around the compound, I started to get requests from people who wanted to take photos with me.

Sometimes, if they’re too shy to ask me to take a photo with them, what the girls will do is: one will pose for the camera while I’m approaching, and the other will snap a photo just as I walk by in the frame. I’ve seen this strategy a few times, so I decided to be nice(r) this time, and just walk deliberately into the shot and put my arm around friend #1. Upon seeing this, friend number 2 gave the camera to a passer-by and joined us in the shot!


photo opp


Upon seeing THIS, a monk gave HIS camera to someone else and joined me in a shot of his own! All this is done with just smiles and gestures. No words.



(I now make it a point to give MY camera to whoever is taking photos of me, so I can get a copy, too, ’cause you wouldn’t believe me if I simply told you what happens!)


If I stayed there any longer, a line would have formed. Yes! Can you see it?! A booth! A sign! I’m charging 10 yuan a head!


“Step right up! Young and old! Come take your photo with the Jamaican in China! Only 10 yuan!”


Business is great!


Then.


I felt bad for the elephants.


So, I stopped.


…closed the booth.


…tossed the sign.


…um


…kept the money.


So, anyway, after fulfilling my obligatory quota of daily shots for strangers, I decided to stroll around the grounds and get some shots of my own…


Jamaican in China. “Up in the hills, somewhere…” (photo by Parasol Girl)




I think this is a guest house on the premises. Now THIS would be a cool place to live..if it wasn’t for the smell of elephant dung wafting through the kitchen every so often.

Then, I got down to business.


Through the forest


I started trekking through the dense forest, and on hidden pathways to sneak glimpses of rare elegance in its natural habitat, and like a seasoned expert (Call me Marlin Perkins), I engaged them (albeit, in the little Chinese I know) to help me discover all the mystery of these lovely creatures. Fortunately, I was able to grab some great shots! Wanna see ’em?


Not sure exactly what her job was, but she was simply out standing in a field (get it?) (literally) with her parasol, so I asked her if I could take her photo. Perhaps her job is simply to look elegant so that intrigued Jamaicans will ask to take her photo. Well, it worked.


The Massage Girls and me….




Zhang Li, at the front gate. She organizes the guided tours


Yes, it was a great experience. And, after a few hours out, I headed back home.

Expenditures:
14 yuan for the bus ticket to the Elephant Spot ($2US)
65 yuan admission fee ($9US)
14 yuan for the ride back ($2US)

Not bad for a day’s outing, some cool memories and photos, and a bunch of QQ numbers.

Oh! Did I mention that I now have a QQ number? What’s a QQ number????? Hold up.


Did you just ask me, “What’s a QQ number??”?? Come on now, get with the program, will you! Here in China, the second most asked question I get after “Where are you from?” is “You have QQ?”

Practically everyone in China has a QQ number.

You can’t be officially Chinese without QQ. So, now I’m on QQ. So now it’s official.

I’m Chinese.

I may not be able to SPEAK fluently in Putonghua YET, but, with the help of the “Google translate” software, I can now CHAT in Chinese with all my new friends via QQ. I won’t publish my QQ number here. Things could get out of hand.

Today I thwarted a pickpocket

NOTE: if you’ve arrived here after using google to search for a specific image or post, use MY search box in the column on the right!–Walt


thwart: to oppose successfully; prevent from accomplishing a purpose. (That part of my vocabulary comes from reading too many comic books growing up.)

Since I’ve been in Jinghong City, Xishuangbanna, I’ve seen two pickpocket attempts. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean there are more pickpockets here. The fact that I never saw any such activity in Beijing might simply mean that THESE guys here are just not that good at it! (i.e. easy to spot)

Both times I saw it, in fact, it was at the same bus stop, at about 2 or 3 in the afternoon as I was waiting for the #4 bus, to go back home.

So, it works like this.

The “perp” (short for perpetrator) will hang around at the bus stop as if he, too, is waiting for a bus. As the bus pulls in to pick up passengers, the crowd of people waiting will rush towards the door. The perp also rushes in with the crowd. Using the chaos, single-minded focus, and distraction of people pushing and shoving attempting to board the bus, the perp will swoop up behind his “mark,” (victim) employ a “slash” or a “grab and run.”

I think what I saw the first time was a bag slashing. Having watched where his mark places her purse, the perp will walk up, and use a blade to slash the bottom of the handbag and the purse will slide out. He rushed up, then did a quick “about face” and walked away hiding something under his shirt.

To the casual observer, it would appear that he rushed up to the door of the bus, like everybody else, then simply changed his mind and walked away. To those of us ex-New Yorkers who can spot suspicious behavior a mile away, we know something bad just happened.

I caught on to what he was doing just a split second AFTER he made the grab, so I didn’t actually see it happen. I knew for a fact what he had done–a guilt confirmed by his abrupt departure from the scene, and the hiding of his hands–but I hadn’t actually seen it. By the time another bystander alerted others boarding the bus that a pickpocket had just struck, he was gone.

I felt bad for the rest of the day. I should have done something. I should have chased him down, retreived the purse and brought it back to the victim. I thought about that for the rest of the day.

So, this time, I did something. Today, when I saw the same scenario about to play itself out again, I was ready.

While waiting for the bus at the same stop (I’m always now more vigilant at that specific stop since the first incident), I noticed a lurker. Different fellow, this time, but he was easy to spot.

Perhaps living in New York most of my life has given me a survivor’s vigilance, “street smarts,” as they say, or simply heightened paranoia.


(There’s an old joke that goes: I had to move to new York for health reasons. I’m extremely paranoid, and New York is the only place my fears are justified.)

In any event, keeping a watchful eye means I always know who is around me at any given moment. I’m never lost in a moment such that I’m oblivious to who is in front of, behind, or to my side when I walk, when I play and when I drive.

So, the moment I arrived at the bus stop, out of ingrained habit, I scanned the scene to note who was there. And there HE was. He was just sort of drifting aimlessly back and forth, just waiting– but not for a bus. People waiting for a bus have a different body language. So I kept conscious of where he was at all times.

Sure enough, as the bus approached. I saw him make his move. And this time, so did I. As he rushed up to the crowd of boarders, I, too, moved quickly towards HIM.

As he moved into the crowd seemingly to board the bus, I could see his eyes darting furtively among the unguarded bags and possessions looking for a mark. As he was just about to make his move I practically body-blocked him by forcing my way in-between him and a young lady who was boarding the bus, and whose bag he was reaching for. Everybody else had their backs to him as they, too, were boarding. I, however, was facing him, and like a basketball guard, preventing him from striking. He backed off. My own actions must have looked kind of strange to anyone looking. But I wasn’t trying to hide what I was doing. I wanted him to know that I was being deliberate.

I kept my eyes glued to him. With my own laptop and sidebag firmly in my grip, I stared at him letting him know that I KNEW what he was doing. He back off some more, having given up on that attempt, but he lingered a bit more until a second bus appeared….I kept my eyes on him….he looked at me. Then slowly, he moved out of my field of vision–behind a tree—and soon disappeared.

I have a suspicion that there were others working with him on the scene as there were about 2 others who also disappeared as well, though that could have been coincidence as I wasn’t tracking them.

A few people at the bus stop had quizzical looks on their faces as they had no idea what was going on.

His mark–the young lady whose bag he would have slashed or snatched–was none the wiser. She had already boarded the bus and was on her way home. She’s probably (hopefully) at home counting her money after a day of shopping.

I, however, feel a little better knowing that THIS time I took action and that some young lady somewhere in Xishuangbanna is at home with her purse still in her possession thanks to my interference. I just can’t stand idly by when such an obvious crime is being committed.

Sheriff badge crime in china pickpockets


[cue time-worn audio clip from old Hollywood western:]

“Don’t worry, ladies. There’s a new sheriff in town!”

Next time, I’ll take pictures of the perp and post it on my blog. (I don’t expect that any Xishuangbanna residents or their purses will be saved as a result, but perhaps in some way, it might help someone, somewhere.)


Notes & Commentary:

From what I’ve seen, the pickpockets are targeting “locals.”

It’s true I haven’t seen many foreigners here–and two crimes do not a valid survey make–but something tells me that a pickpocket who makes his living finding marks, would feel more comfortable and be more familiar with the moves and rhythm of the local population. I’m sure a careless tourist could fall victim, too, but knowing how to gauge a potential victim, knowing who is vulnerable, knowing the schedules and movements of his victims is something that is developed from watching the local population, not the tourists.

I’m just speculating but, I suspect that HIS unfamiliarity with the ways of foreigners would make ME, for instance, less of a potential target. I could be wrong. Why take the chance that the dark foreigner with the bag of cashews might just be a Jamaican who could outrun him and grab his stuff back? I’m just speculating.


[cue Superman opening sequence sample:]

Rasta superhero crimefighter logo Jamaicanman

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane!


It’s…It’s…. Jamaican Man!

Yes, today I thwarted a pickpocket.

Life.