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’ in Laos

Get a 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!”


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.

Want my help Discovering Laos?

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…


20 meter passageway to the restaurant

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


“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?


(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.

Want my help Discovering Laos?

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 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 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.



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!)


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


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.


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


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.

Want my help Discovering Laos?

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!


I felt bad for the elephants.

So, I stopped.

…closed the booth.

…tossed the sign.


…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.

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.


Xishuangbanna Living, Parts 1, 2 & 3

CHINATRAVEL.net asked me to do a series of special posts on what it’s like to live in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan Province, China as a Jamaican nomadpreneur vegan minimalist. So, did!

CHINATRAVEL.NET INTRO: In this first of a three-part series, Jamaican in China Walt Goodridge moves from chilly Beijing to China’s sunny south and the balmy warmth of Xishuangbanna. A tropical paradise more usually experienced as a backpacker stop en route to neighboring Myanmar, Laos or Thailand, Walt invites us to join him in getting away from the tourist trail and living from a local perspective, as he sets up home in the capital Jinghong. Over to you, Walt! >>>

(Links open in new browser windows)

  • PART 1 (Nov 17, 2010)
  • PART 2 (Nov 24, 2010)
  • PART 3 (Dec 3, 2010)
  • Bye Bye, Kunming!

    From: walt@jamaicaninchina.com

    Subject: Jamaican in China! –Bye, Bye Kunming!

    Date: November 13, 2010 1:06:35 PM GMT+08:00

    Things have been moving fast, but before we go any further, I’d like to express my sincere thanks to some Beijing friends I made during my two months there:

    – To Susan, my couchsurfing guide, who helped find one of the cheapest hotels in Beijing and has a book’s worth of money-saving tips for anyone living and visiting the city! Thank you!

    – To Shang Mei, one of the first people I met outside the Apple Store, who was just so sweet and friendly and who helped me look for apartments in Sanlitun. Thank you!

    – And, thanks to Ben, whose Chinese language skills I envy, and whose insights into the Chinese female mind made for great conversation…(oops, sorry, Ben, was I not supposed to say that in public?)


    Now, those of you who know me know that, for healthy lifestyle reasons, I NEVER use air conditioners. The air is unnatural and often toxic, and I love heat! I’ve lived in Jamaica in the tropics, New York during hot summers, and Saipan for four years, and never used one. I mean never. So much so, in fact, that I didn’t know you could get warm air from an air conditioner until Cong told me during my last days in Beijing!

    However, since I’m told that the heat in China doesn’t get turned on until November 15, I had to make an exception and use one to blow warm air into my room!

    So, once I arrived in Kunming, and once I realized it was still a bit too cool for me here, and once I discovered that the hotel I was staying didn’t have an air conditioner for me to use to warm the place, I switched after one day to another hotel (thanks, again to Cong!)

    This one was called the Dock Inns–a set of modified studio apartments on several floors of an apartment complex a bit outside of the city center. The daily charge was only 129RMB.

    Dock Inns. Second home in Kunming
    the Dock Inns front desk
    Great room, nice view, and an air conditioner for warmth.
    The view from my window

    So, things are improving. I’m starting to feel more alive. There’s sunshine streaming through my window. That can only mean one thing: Time to eat!

    Thanks to HappyCow.net, I had discovered there’s a vegan restaurant in Kunming. It’s called Yu Quan http://www.happycow.net/reviews.php?id=10372 Chinese Name: 昆明玉泉斋素食餐厅 Chinese Address: 昆明平政街88号圆通寺大光明酒店二楼

    I knew I was in the right place, when shortly after I entered, a troop of Buddhist monks entered and went upstairs to the special dining room.

    Okay….play it cool…try not to be too obvious that you’re taking their photo. Keep the camera on the table.

    No chopsticks, you ask? I told you, when I’m really hungry, I go with the fork. I can get more in my mouth that way! 🙂

    However, even though I’d visited it on two occasions, Yu Quan restaurant was an expensive 30RMB taxi ride from my hotel. However, Su Qun (aka Michael), the manager of the hotel, was nice enough to drive me there for my third visit, while showing me the bus route I’d need to take to get there on my own in the future.

    Su Qun (aka Michael), manager of the Dock Inns. (Lest you think I only meet and take photos with women here in China) Please note the colors of my scarf–the colors of the Jamaican flag–as there will be the customary test for extra credit.

    So, yeah. Kunming is pretty cool, but it tuns out, as I said, it isn’t as warm–temperature-wise– as I thought it would be. When I chose Kunming as a place to run to escape the cold of Beijing, what I failed to include in my calculations was the elevation of the city. If I had paid more attention in geography class, I would have recalled that it’s not just the latitude that determines the climate of a region. The higher a spot is, the further from the warmth of the earth, and thus the cooler it is. Why didn’t anyone remind me????

    So, just for your edification, perhaps, and for mine, I’ll share what I discovered. Here are a few elevations and latitudes of some relevant cities for comparison. (higher elevation means higher up; lower Latitude number means further south)

  • Jamaica’s elevation is 9 meters (30ft) above sea level (Lat: 18 degrees North (N) )
  • Saipan’s elevation is 474 meters (1554 feet) above sea level (Lat: 15 degrees N)
  • Kunming’s elevation is 1,900 meters (6,200 feet) above sea level. (Lat: 25 degrees N)
  • Jinghong, Xishuangbanna: 490 meters (1,600 feet). (Lat: 22 degrees N)

    See? Kunming is pretty high up there in elevation, so even though it is 25 degrees N latitude, the weather is still too cool–at least this time of year–for my taste. It’s just not my dish.

    On the other hand, while Jinhong isn’t as far south as Saipan (where the temperature is ideal), and is just a BIT further south than Kunming, it’s got about the same elevation as Saipan, and thus should be a bit warmer!

    Did you follow all that? Anyway, the point is: It’s time to say, “Goodbye, Kunming!!”

    See you in Jinghong!

  • My aunt called me a chicken, but Myrna Chen is now my friend!

    From: walt@jamaicaninchina.com
    Subject: Jamaican in China!–My aunt called me a chicken, but Myrna Chen is now my friend!
    Date: November 10, 2010 11:35:48 AM GMT+08:00

    Big Tings a Gwan!:

    In Jamaica “Big tings a gwan!” means “Big Things are Going on!

    1. Aspiring journalist, and new friend, Gao Ying (aka Nicole) in Beijing, found me online and was inspired to write an article about me in Chinese for the Chinese version of Jamaican in China! (Check out the right hand column with a photo of Nicole)

    2. I was recently interviewed by Aimee Groom of ChinaTravel.net*, the sister site to Ctrip.com (the largest online travel service provider in China), and my story, “A Jamaican in China and Nomadpreneur Lives His Dream!” has just been featured in their China Blogger Profile on the site!


    ChinaTravel.net is a travel resource providing up-to-date, quality content and information on destinations, attractions, news and events for people traveling in, or planning to travel to China.]

    Wow! With articles in Chinese, ChinaTravel.net’s thousands of visitors, their 50,000 subscribers, facebook page, and twitter feed…..um, I’m thinking you’d better make nice with me now before I get too famous and have no time for the small people! I’m just sayin’! You know how these things happen.

    Or, as they would say about me in Jamaica, “‘im get rich and switch!”


    Now, a little review and geography lesson, especially if you’re new to the adventure!

    The story so far: I’m Jamaican. I’m in China.


    I am chicken, hear me run!

    In my ongoing nomadpreneur escape from the rat race, I left the tropical paradise of Saipan to see and experience China! I was in Beijing for the past two months. (See “B” on map above.)

    Things were great, but as the weather got colder, I found myself spending more and more time indoors, retreating to bed and the warmth of the covers earlier and earlier every day. That was no way for a sun worshipper to live. So I decided to jet!

    In my previous post, I mentioned that I was escaping the cold weather of Beijing, to head to south to Kunming, and then to Jinghong. (See Yunnan Province, east of Myanmar, on map) to where it’s warmer.

    Well, my Aunt Nye, who lives in Canada (think frozen tundra, and obscenely cold winters), and whose milestone birthday celebration I chronicled in Jamaican on Saipan (my escape from America), replied: Dear nephew, Well! My first thought was “chicken – he is actually running from the cold”, but then I said, “who wouldn’t, if it were possible?” So, it’s good luck to you and I hope all goes well as you follow the sun in Jinghong! –Aunt Nye

    Well, for those of you who might be thinking the same thing. I’ll share my response to my aunt:

    LOL! Chicken??? Absolutely! See my feathers? Yes, just as a real chicken would run from a pot of boiling water, this Jamaican chicken runs from cold weather as fast my little legs will carry me! (and, fortunately, as you know, we Jamaicans have the sprinting genes for it). Yes, I have no shame in admitting in my distaste of cold weather! And, for the record, that’s “MISTER Chicken” to you, madam!

    p.s. The funny thing about this is….remember the “That’s MISTER Milk to you, madam” blog post from a a while before? Well, I actually adapted that line from a friend of mine (Erroll P., a very funny guy). Years ago, when we were driving in Maryland, we passed a Mexican restaurant in Silver Spring called Señor Chicken.

    He’s got a great wit, and after reading the sign, turned to me and said, offhandedly with a tone feigning icy contempt, “That’s MISTER Chicken to you, buddy!” and we died laughing. Anyway, now that my aunt has called me a chicken, I finally get to use the line the way it was originally “performed!” That makes my day!


    Myrna, YunYun, me, and Michael

    While dining, I discover that Myrna is also co-author of The Buddhist Healing Touch, and she’s had a desire to publish more books–this time independently–something I know a little about, and have promised to help her with! Check out the book on Amazon!

    After breakfast, we meet up again so I can share some self-publishing tips, and I got to meet a special young lady in Myrna’s life and current mission.

    According to Myrna:

    “Je Lan finished high school through a scholarship from the Peach Foundation. She had trouble getting into the college and was despondent. She started to call me in the States. I kept close contact with her, explain her options and encouraged her to study hard and try again. She did, and finally got into an occupational(?) college which she’s happy with. I’m so proud of her, and know that she can apply herself when she graduates!”

    Je-Lan, “Lucky Orchid,” Myrna and Me. There’s value in an education, Je-lan!

    Michael and Myrna head back to the US, where they’ve lived since 1966.
    So, yes, my aunt called me a chicken, but Myrna Chen is now my friend!

    There’s always a song!

    From: walt@jamaicaninchina.com
    Subject: Jamaican in China!–There’s always a song…
    Date: October 31, 2010 8:43:46 PM GMT+08:00

    “All my bags are packed, it’s early morn,
    taxi’s waiting, he’s blowing his horn….”

    Those are the lyrics from the song, “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” by Peter Paul and Mary. Ok, so, in this case, it wasn’t a taxi, it was actually my friend, Cong, who was nice enough to drive me to the airport for my 9:00am morning escape from Beijing!

    But, I digress. I have a point to make.

    My point is that if this were a video biography, I would have certain relevant songs playing as the soundtrack. Why? Because I love music!

    I’m sure I’m not saying anything particularly profound or revealing, here, so I’ll tell you a little about myself so you can appreciate that statement.

    Once I landed on this planet many years ago, and started really appreciating the music here, I realized that there were a few decades of recorded music that I had “missed,” and that I needed to catch up on. So, while a youth in New York city, I would listen endlessly to every radio station I could, including WCBS101.1-FM, the “oldies” station, to catch up on the music of the 30s, the 40s, the 50s, the 60s, the 70s–every conceivable genre and artist from Ray Charles, Mose Allison, Frank Sinatra, George Jones, Ronnie Milsap, Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and everything else I had arrived too late on the planet to experience first hand. Radio is man’s greatest invention! However…The most frustrating thing about the whole concept of radio, in my opinion, is that while I’m listening to one song on one radio station, there’s another 20 songs playing on all the OTHER stations that I’m missing!

    The second most frustrating thing about the concept of radio is waiting all day to a specific station to hear a particular song, but because of my habit of listening to several stations at once, arriving back at that station only to hear the deejay say “….and that WAS Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry! Thanks for waiting all day to hear it!”

    The third most frustrating thing about the whole concept of radio is arriving at a station to hear the final notes and lyrics of what sounds like a GREAT song, and then have the deejay NOT mention the artist and song title. Aaaarggh!

    Music marks the memorable milestones of life and has the power to transport me back to certain moods and moments long forgotten.

    I alluded to this in Jamaican on Saipan, upon discovering what now ranks as one of my favorite radio stations–KZMI-FM on Saipan–and all the happy memories that program director, Lewie Tenorio, and his choice of music evokes in my own life.

    But, here too, I digress, and delay the final arrival of my point….which is that there’s always a song running through my mind playing as the soundtrack of my life. So, today’s episode includes a little soundtrack for your listening pleasure. (And yes, these are all some of my favorite songs!)

    “I’m leaving, on a jet plane,
    I don’t know when I’ll be back again…”
    Leaving on a Jet Plane (1967/1969) by Peter Paul & Mary  (Lyrics: John Denver)


    Chinese readers: http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XMzE0NTYzNzY=.html

    After a three-hour flight, I arrived in Kunming, in Yunnan Province, China at about 12:30pm. As I exited the airport, I was greeted by a blast of warm air, hot sunshine, and…..while others were hustling about, queuing to get a taxi, bus or meet their loved ones to depart the airport as quickly as possible (you can see them in the background)….

    I found a spot directly in the sun, lifted my face to the life-giving rays, and just soaked it in for about half-hour!….

    [Cue music….

    “I look up to the Sun,
    to see if the day is done,
    to see my future that lies within…”

    Elements (1983) by Black Uhuru  Anthem LP
    Chinese readers: no youku.com equivalent, sorry

    So, the plan is to hang out here in Kunming for a few days, enjoy the sunshine, then I’ll be on my way. Cue music….

    “We can sing in the sunshine,
    We’ll laugh everyday,
    We’ll sing in the sunshine,
    Then I’ll be on my way…”
    “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” (1964) by Gale Garnett

    And the beautiful ladies at the Spring City Star Hotel say hello! It’s such a lovely place…Waitaminit! Aren’t those the lyrics to Hotel California!!!????

    “Welcome to the hotel california

    Such a lovely place
    Such a lovely face
    Plenty of room at the hotel california
    Any time of year, you can find it here”
    Hotel California (1977)  by the Eagles

    Chinese readers: If you can’t access youtube, try http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XMTA5MTY5MTI4.html

    Hmmmm…Now, how does the rest of that song go?

    …You can checkout any time you like,
    But you can never leave! “



    Bye Bye, Beijing!

    From: walt@jamaicaninchina.com
    Subject: Jamaican in China!–Bye, bye, Beijing!
    Date: October 30, 2010 5:44:19 PM GMT+08:00

    To quote the words of famous Beatles song that I’ve always used as the prime directive for my life and my nomadpreneur adventure:
    “…for tomorrow may rain, so….I’ll follow the sun!”

    Yep, it’s a bit too cold for me here in Beijing, so it’s time to head south! Basically, the way I decide where to go is pretty simple, someone tells me about a city I should visit (Kunming, Jinghong, Dali), I look the city up on the getty.edu site (one of many that gives the longitude and latitude of any city in the world) and I choose the destination with the most southern latitude (i.e. the warmest temperature)

    And, so the winner is….. Jinghong! Jinghong is in Yunnan Province, which is Latitude: 21 58 00 N degrees

    For comparison:
    Kingston, Jamaica is Lat: 17 58 00 N degrees minutes
    Saipan, CNMI is Lat :15 degrees

    So, Jinghong may not be EXACTlY as warm as what I’m used to, but if I go any further south, I’ll be in Myanmar (aka Burma), and that’s an adventure for another time!

    So long, Cong (pronounced Tsong)

    Before I leave Beijing, I must give “’nuff respek,” props and kudos to my friend, Cong!

    She’s been a very, very key part of me getting acclimated to and enjoying Beijing to the degree that I have! She’s been a one-person welcoming committee, translator, tour guide, and good friend!
    I met her on the couchsurfing.org site, we met shortly after I arrived, and since then, she’s been there for me to help me find an apartment, find a hotel, find vegetarian restaurants and more!

    If I’m lost or having trouble communicating precisely what I want in a particular situation, I can always count on Cong to help me out. The scenario usually plays out something like this (this one actually happened): Say I’m on a bus looking for a particular station to get off so I can meet Hong for an event, but I have no idea where I am, and, since I can’t read Chinese characters to save my life (yet), I need some help. So, I call Cong. Then, I tap a complete stranger on the shoulder, smile, and hand the puzzled stranger my mobile phone. She and the stranger then talk in Putongua, while I wait.
    I’ve never been quite sure exactly what she says when I do this, but I figure it must go something like this:

    “Hello, complete stranger. My foreign friend in front of you is lost and only speaks enough Mandarin to ask for soy milk, and even then, it’s hit or miss. Could you help him, please? Could you tell him when to get off this bus so he can meet me at 123 Main street? Thanks. Now, could you hand the phone back to him so I can tell him. Have a nice day!”

    Cong relays any necesary information to me in English, the stranger and I smile wordlessly at each other, and I continue on my merry way with the right type of fried rice on my plate, the directions to the hotel I’m looking for, or whatever!
    I’ve done this to security guards, hotel managers, office receptionists waitresses in restaurants, and strangers on buses! So, thanks to me, Cong is pretty famous.

    Anyway, Thanks, Cong! Beijing was a blast thanks to you!

    To everyone else in Beijing, sorry for the short notice! I bought my ticket just last night, and my flight leaves 9am today! The plan is to spend a day or two in Kunming, then head further south to Jinghong!
    Stay tuned!

    Bye byyyyyyye, Beijing!

    Cool Ruler come an’ gone!

    From: walt@jamaicaninchina.com
    Subject: Jamaican in China!–Gregory Isaacs, The Cool Ruler, R.I.P.
    Date: October 27, 2010 11:46:36 AM GMT+08:00

    This is a brief, but important interlude from my adventures here in China, to let fans of Jamaican culture, and Reggae specifically know that noted Reggae singer, Gregory Isaacs, (aka “The Cool Ruler”) passed on Oct 25, 2010.

    Gregory Isaacs’ astonishing collection of music (some say he recorded over 500 albums) was a staple of my playlist for the five years I was known as “Sir Walt” the Reggae DJ on New York’s WKC-FM radio station. Every Thursday night, from 11:30pm to 1:00am, I would play the music of an international array of Reggae artists with different styles, particularly Lovers Rock.

    In case you’re not aware, within what the outside world simply knows as “Reggae,” there are, in fact, many different “styles” and sub genres.

    The fast-tempoed, dance club oriented style popularized by artists such as Sean Paul, Shabba Ranks, et.al, is just one of these. A visit to a well-stocked Reggae shop or private collection, however, might have music arranged in the following categories:

  • Roots & Culture
  • Lovers Rock
  • Studio One (the famous recording studio that, because of its unique sound, is considered a genre unto itself!)
  • African/International
  • Dancehall, and
  • Slackness (a dancehall style that tends towards the risque, to put it mildly)
    Within Lovers Rock, certain names reign supreme: Dennis Brown, Freddie McGregor, Sugar Minott, John Holt, Beres Hammond, Maxi Priest, June Lodge, Frankie Paul, Winston Reedy, Delroy Wilson, just to name a few, and, of course, Gregory Isaacs, who is credited with originating, popularizing and essentially, being the epitome of the Lovers Rock artist in lyrical content and his signature delivery in which he punctuated key verses of his songs with a seductive moan that only Gregory could pull off!His most popular song was the international hit “Night Nurse.”(Search for it on youtube)

    Tell her try her best just to make it quick
    Woman tend to the sick
    ‘Cause there must be something she can do
    This heart is broken in two

    Tell her it’s a case of emergency
    There’s a patient by the name of Gregory
    Night nurse
    Only you alone can quench this yah thirst

    My night nurse, oh gosh
    Oh the pain is getting worse!

    To add a variation on the  theme, he followed it up with “Private Secretary”

    She said she wants to be
    my personal secretary

    She’ll fix my desk, she’ll fix my chair
    Yes, she told me she would take good care
    You’re a middle-aged business man, (she said)
    and I sure want to give a hand

    My own top favorite Gregory albums are

    – Extra Classic
    – Red Rose for Gregory, and
    – Out Deh (the cover for which the photo below was taken)

    Even though Gregory was most popular as a Lover’s Rock artist, he had many songs which made revealing social commentary, and chronicled his own life’s journey. Out Deh, the title track, which means “Out There” was written by Gregory while he was incarcerated.

    OUT DEH!
    I was taken from my people, robbed of my liberty
    I was tired of the jail house, but the jail house wasn’t tired of me
    Every day you take a stock, [it’s] just war along the whole cell block
    And all that I can hear the prisoners say, “a strictly out deh!”

    Out Deh!
    A so me hear dem say
    Out Deh!
    A so me hear dem pray. One day.

    Photo of Dennis Brown, Freddie McGreggor, and Gregory the don in the white hat! (early 1980s, perhaps; from the Jamaicans.com forum)


  • That’s MISTER Milk to you, madam!

    From: walt@jamaicaninchina.com
    Subject: Jamaican in China!–“That’s MISTER Milk to you, madam!” (Language Lesson #1)
    Date: October 22, 2010 8:00:08 AM GMT+08:00

    Tales of Dating and Cereal, (Cereal Dating???)

    As I’ve said to many a friend when discussing inter-cultural and international dating, “Language is highly overrated.” You don’t need to share a common spoken language in order to meet, date or even marry! In fact, I had a friend in college who went to Brazil, fell in love, and married his new sweetheart all within a week or two, and he didn’t speak a word of Portuguese, and his bride didn’t speak a word of English!

    Within a few weeks, he was speaking Portuguese and, while I haven’t heard from him in many years, I’ll attach my own “…and they lived happily ever after” (for as long as the relationship was destined to last) to that story. I’ve always believed that the right motivation is necessary to do just about anything–like learning a new language in two weeks. So, anyway, my point, as I’ve said, is that language is highly overrated!

    In fact, in the dating game, I’ve found that NOT sharing a common language keeps the interactions between two people basic and uncomplicated. It forces you to get to the essence of the relationship more quickly when dealing with misunderstandings.

    I’ve found that in a relationship with someone who speaks the same language (worse if they speak it well and have an advanced vocabulary) you can spend hours nitpicking every little detail and nuance of “what he said, she said, he meant, she implied, what did you mean by that?” until the cows come home!”

    On the other hand, when you don’t have the luxury (or excuse) of hiding under layers of words, or behind shades of meaning, the discussions are brief, simple, and the end result comes quicker. You can forgive misunderstandings that are caused by differences in culture and language much more easily, and get to the essential questions, and answers (Do I love this person? Will I forgive this misunderstanding and move on? Is the essential attraction and commitment still there? In other words: I like you. You like me. Let’s go!)

    Yep, it’s pretty basic, perhaps even simplistic, I’ll admit, but I never said I ever graduated to mature or sophisticated levels of dating interaction or romance. Functioning at a third-grade level is good enough for me!

    However, with that said, there ARE some instances where being able to negotiate the subtleties of language are very useful.

    So, I’m here in China, see, learning Chinese (Mandarin to you westerners, Putonghua to us Easterners), and like many foreigners raised with a foreign “ear,” the most challenging part is learning the tones of Chinese words. Very briefly, the meaning of a sound in Chinese is determined by the “tone” you use when speaking it. There are four tones to every “word” and whether you raise, lower, keep flat, or dip-and-raise the tone of the word affects the meaning–in other words, it becomes a completely different word. This is profoundly difficult for (former) westerners like me to grasp. Tones for us, affect the emotion behind a word, not the meaning. About the only similarity we have in English, is how we raise the tone of the last word when asking a question. Do you know what I mean?

    Check out this link with sound clips for each pronunciation


    high level – first tone

    rising – second tone

    falling rising – third tone

    falling – fourth tone

    “Pinyin” is the system of roman character phonetic representation of Chinese characters


    Chinese Character


    Sound Clip

    mā (ist tone)



    má (2nd tone)



    (3rd tone)



    mà (4th tone)



    To a westerner, unaccustomed to differentiating such subtle tones, mā, má, mǎ, and mà sound exactly the same. To a Chinese person, the subtlety is detectable, and very confusing in trying to understand a foreigner. (So, using the example in the chart above, if you mispronounce “ma” you could end up saying: Have you seen my mother’s hoofs lately? She’s been grazing and galloping out in the fields for a long time. Do you think I need to re-shoe her?)

    Similarly, to a Chinese person, the English words “bowl” and “ball” sound pretty much the same, and they might pronounce it as such. However, “I am looking for a bowl” and “I am looking for a ball would place you in very different locations, and produce quite different outcomes!

    That’s “MR.” Milk to you, Madam

    My friend, Cong (pronounced Tsong), is nice enough to help me practice precise Putonghua pronunciation. I shared with her some of the challenges I was experiencing during a recent shopping adventure. I had walked into a store and asked for soy milk. (I had learned that basic ability back on Saipan, for heaven’s sake! I thought I was an expert!) First a little language lesson.

    Language Lesson:

    Wǒ = I

    yao = want (pronounced “Yow” like how)

    dòujiāng = soymilk (pronounced dowjyang)

    So, putting it all together, I thought I was saying:

    yao dòujiāng

    Which means “I WANT soy milk.”

    However, when I practiced it with Cong, she explained to me that what I was actually saying was

    Wǒ JIAO dòujiāng

    Which means “I AM CALLED Soy milk.”

    You see, what had happened was….jiao (pronounced “Jyow” like “how”) and

    yao (pronounced “Yow” like how to the untrained ear (and that’s how I learned it), they are pretty close;.

    Yep, sure. Go ahead, laugh.

    Picture me as I stride confidently into a store, look the sales clerk/cashier straight in the eye, and announce:

    “Hello. I am called Soy Milk!”

    HER: [Blank stare. Perhaps a chuckle]
    ME: “I said, I am called Soy Milk!”
    HER: “um…pleased to meet you? um… Milk.”
    “That’s Mr. Milk to you, madam!”
    Hmmmm. Something’s not going right here.

    The subtle difference between yow and zyow was lost on my foreign ears, so I confused the two hoping, as I always do, that any compassionate listener would at least be able to figure out what I was attempting to communicate in the context of our conversation. (I’ve found that to be a very optimistic expectation, unless the listener is motivated by virtue of being a good friend or a romantic partner!)

    So, anyway, in such a situation, I have two choices. I can

    1. leave empty-handed, go back home, and eat my breakfast cereal dry.


    2. start using foreign hand gestures and sign language to communicate the concept of soy milk to someone who already thinks I’m a bit strange to be named after a plant-based beverage.


    Dry cereal’s not so bad, really.


    Next time in the Language Lesson Series: Foreign hand gestures and sign language!

    An alternative travel narrative: Pursue Passion! Break Free! Cross boundaries! See the world!