Once we had gotten rid of our drunk, lunatic driver, we had no choice but to walk around Jiaju village with all our bags until we found a place offering homestays that actually had rooms available. It took us about an hour, but we eventually ended up staying with a really nice family who had no other guests, leaving us with our choice of rooms. Of course that choice was between a large hall where we would be sleeping on mattresses on the floor and another slightly smaller hall where we would be sleeping on mattresses on the floor. It was hard to decide.
Since we were their only guests, they made a huge fuss over us, showing us the various dishes we would be enjoying that night, including a bunch of chicken-like carcasses that they were calling something other than chicken. Who knows what they were, but they smelled delicious.
We wanted to walk around a bit, so we asked them when we needed to be back before heading out. We walked through the town taking pictures of fields and cows that were soaking up the last rays of the sun before it disappeared behind the mountains. Then we ran into this crew:
They were Chinese tourists on vacation and they had some kind of party planned for that evening. They seemed pretty drunk already, but they might have just been excited: the average Chinese doesn’t exactly get a lot of vacation time. In fact, I believe they rank just ahead of slaves and Americans in terms of the fewest number of vacation days per year.
Naturally, they invited us to their party. We told them we were tired, but they had no interest in that excuse. Or any excuse. So we lied. We told them we had to get back for dinner, since our hosts were already busy cooking (true) then we’d meet them at their place (completely untrue).
I’m sure it would have been fun, but I had already spent two years working in Shanghai and had been to plenty of parties. I was, quite frankly, a little tired of it—it can be pretty taxing trying to communicate with drunk people all night long when neither of you speak much of the other’s language. As for the Israelis, they, like many backpackers, were not really enjoying China at all. In fact, they kind of seemed to hate it and couldn’t wait to get out of the country, so they had no real interest in partying with Chinese people.
I have to admit, that was kind of a shame. I think it would have been good for them to see a different side to the Chinese, but I doubt it would have helped. Many people simply prefer the fake friendliness of touristy areas in countries like India or Thailand, where everyone automatically loves you because you bring money, to a place like China where people don’t really seem to care much about you at all, because the tourism industry is driven by domestic tourists and your small contribution makes very little difference.
Personally, that was actually one of my favorite things about traveling in China—I like being left alone when I want and I always knew that, should I feel like interacting with some locals, all it would take was a few Chinese words and I’d instantly have ten new friends, all more eager to learn about my culture than I about theirs and all bombarding me with offers of free food. And cigarettes. Always cigarettes.
When we got back to our homestay place, we found it much less deserted than before. The hall we had chosen as our bedroom was suddenly full of Chinese people enjoying a huge feast. We asked our hosts if we were supposed to join them, but we weren’t. Instead, they pointed us to a stone wall in front of which they had set up a little rickety wooden table with a couple of plates of basic Chinese dishes—a few roots on one, some vegetables on another and one plate with meat scraps.
The chicken-like things were nowhere to be seen. Actually, that’s not true. From our vantage point in the unlit yard, we could see them quite well on the brightly lit banquet table, surrounded by an amazing selection of multicolored vegetable dishes, steaming bowls of rice, brightly smiling faces and clinking wine glasses.
After a few minutes one of those brightly smiling faces actually came over to our dark corner of the yard and explained himself in excellent English. He was a film student at Beijing University and he was shooting a documentary on the Tibetan tribes of the Danba region, mainly because the women are said to be some of the most beautiful in China.
The documentary would air on national TV, which was obviously a big deal for our hosts. So big, they had very quickly forgotten all about us and left us to eat a pretty pathetic dinner outside in the dark with their dog. The filmmaker assured us he would let us have any leftovers, but they had to shoot footage of the feast before he could do so. I won’t keep you in suspense: there were no leftovers. On a plus note, the roots were quite tasty, as was one of the vegetable dishes. The meat scraps were disgusting. At least I still had a few kilograms of peanuts left in my giant bag.
Once the banquet had been filmed, inhaled and cleaned away, our mattresses were laid out in the now empty hall and we went to bed. So did a few million bugs. The Israelis were freaking out about that and tried closing all the windows, but when your windows are simply holes in the walls covered by scraps of wood, insects will find a way in. They weren’t biting us—well, most of them weren’t biting us—so I didn’t really mind. I actually slept pretty well considering the conditions and woke up bright and early for a nice breakfast of bread with a teaspoon of scrambled eggs. I guess the film crew needed their protein.
Continued in part 5: Leaving Danba Difficult Thanks to Minivan Drivers