Sunday, May 8, 2011

Chivalry is dead

Jinghong isn’t a particularly interesting city. In fact, skipping it on your tour to China is an easy choice. Unless, of course, you happen to time your trip with the Bai New Year that happens in mid-April every year. When we touched down in Jinghong, the streets were full of the colorful, festive side of China’s minority populations. The city looked more like Myanmar or Thailand and the main promenade was packed with vendors’ stalls and ladies out to impress. Under the main bridge, people bathed in the river to cleanse themselves of evil spirits. Later that night we watched a firework show from the same bridge, accompanied by hundreds of glowing Chinese lanterns floating down the river.

On the third day the tranquility was broken. Bucket commandos hid behind buildings waiting for passersby to ambush, trucks filled with people and makeshift swimming pools patrolled the streets, little boys with water pistols aimed at eyes. And the fountains… Don’t even dream of getting close to those. The Jinghong Water Splashing Festival had started and we were sopping wet within minutes of leaving our hostel. Quickly realizing that we were outmatched, we purchased overpriced plastic dishpans to defend ourselves. They seemed to prefer Tia for the shrieks she’d let out when cold water hit her back. At one point, I held up my shield to a pair of men armed with Super Soakers (or Chinese equivalent) and they shook their heads and waved me by. Sensing a trap I kept my eyes on them and, sure enough, watched as they mercilessly drenched her. Hilarious.

The Banna Guesthouse also deserves an honorable mention. We’ve stayed at some strange places in our travels, but nothing’s gonna top this place. We didn’t have a lot of options (true to form, we waited until the last minute to book), but the Banna Guesthouse was listed on Hostelworld and had a 91% approval rating so we thought it was a safe bet.* As it turns out, the “private” room we booked also served as the only entry to the communal laundry area. The four other guests weren’t really the problem. No…the problem was that the whole apartment was constantly full of relatives and the owner’s friends and, in the few waking hours we spent there each day, it felt like someone needed something from that room every 10 minutes. Also, since it was a holiday and the owner was obviously a budding entrepreneur, he and his posse were constantly in the process of making massive quantities of food for sale: chopping onions on the floor of the common room, peeling carrots in the bathroom, etc. It was only when we had to fish the detachable shower head out of a greasy bucket that they used for washing dishes that we decided we weren’t going to write a nice review.

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