Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Qinghai Travels, Part IV: Turning Down a 15-Year Old Girl in Marriage

The next day was taken up by a day trip to a town called Nangqian (囊谦), about three hours' ride through typically beautiful scenery in a van taxi from Yushu. Nangqian was even smaller, more remote, and more traditional than Yushu. The surrounding scenery was also even better, and we later regretted allotting only half a day for the place. Thankfully there are places like this that haven't been caught up in China's frenzied modernization drive, where there is no Construct the Nation Road or Liberation Street and women can be seen washing clothes in the river.

There was a colorful and attention-grabbing temple in the town which afforded great views from the top. Andrew wasn't too taken with temples and while me and Stephen explored and caught a few minutes of monks performing music, Andrew remained in his element outside, talking with a small crowd of people in Chinese. In the 20 or so minutes we had been gone, he had already received a marriage proposal to a shy, pretty 15-year old Tibetan girl. A jovial woman was half-jokingly (maybe) trying to talk Andrew into the deal. "Are you her mother?" Andrew asked. "No, her sister!" "Her close sister? [it's common in China to refer to cousins as brothers or sisters]" "Nope!"

While searching for a bathroom on our way out, we walked through an outdoor pool hall. The crowd of 96% young men all paused in their games to look at us, and if it were a movie it would have been the scene where we knew we had stepped into the wrong bar. A small boy came up to Stephen and begged in Chinese "Foreigner! Take our picture!" Several times Chinese people have said to me "I guess in America you call us foreigners, huh?" And then I picture an American pointing and staring at a Chinese person on the street and saying loudly to his friend "foreigner!!" He would look like an ass, but we are on the receiving end of this several times a day in China. Fair enough that we draw attention when there are so few of us, but I do resent the lumping of every single foreign country into one single "not Chinese" category, and tiresome comments like "foreigners have blond hair. Why is your hair the same color as ours?" After a year and a half I don't think I have been called a Westerner here even once, simply "foreigner."

Upon returning to Yushu we went out to dinner with Natalie, the woman from South Africa who we met randomly on the first day in town. She took us to an authentic Tibetan restaurant (which had been surprisingly hard to find during our stay) and we had a pleasant conversation over a decent meal.

The next day was the epic return journey to Xining by sleeper bus, and after saying our goodbyes to the beautiful Tibetan girl in the hotel that had befriended Andrew (so many missed opportunities), we set off. This bus was in fact a sleeper, to our great relief, but we soon had other things to worry about. I'm not overly picky about cleanliness, especially in China, but the bus was absolutely filthy, and smelled. The blankets were so disgusting that we refused to use them, throwing them on empty beds where they were later claimed by other passengers. I already knew the road was rough, but the bus was in such poor shape that it shook dramatically for the entire 17 hour journey. It felt like being in a violent storm at sea, or asking a couple of friends to shake your bed for 17 hours straight. To top it all off I wasn't feeling particularly well, possibly due to the high altitude. Near Nangqian we had seen signs declaring over 4,300 meters and I was feeling a little lightheaded in that town. The supremely greasy rolls I had bought for the journey didn't go down well (I still can't look at similar rolls without feeling sick) and finally I had a hearty vomit or two on the bus. Fortunately I had empty plastic bags with me, but unfortunately (at least for Stephen and later Andrew) I was in the middle row and had no choice but to ask my friends to dispose of them out the window. Oh, the ups and downs of China. When traveling through her she's as fickle as a Greek goddess, but you love her just the same.

No comments: