Yunnan: The Most Un-Chinese Place in China (Audio)

Bai Wedding - Yunnan

We are at a wedding, in China. But it doesn’t look very Chinese. This is a Bai wedding on the shores of Lake Erhai in Yunnan Province. Yunnan is in the far south near Thailand. It is one of the most un-Chinese places in China. In fact, aside from Han Chinese, there are 25 tribes who live here. I got to this wedding by following a truck filled with people.banging on drums and honking on little horns. I didn’t know these people and except for “Ni hao, “which means “hello,” I don’t know a word of Chinese. My translator talked to the groom who invited me to be a guest at his wedding.

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Xian and Guilin, China

What else can you say about Xian? You go there to see the Terra Cotta Army…period. The formation of thousands of warriors, horses and chariots that guard the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang is truly a world wonder. 

Xian, itself, is a busy, industrial, polluted city. You wouldn’t want to live there but it has a fascinating street life. My traveling companions (several from India) were so tired of boring tour group food that we

walked 45 minutes one night to The Indian Restaurant (that’s the name of it) run by some folks from Bangalore. The street scene along the way was almost as tasty as the food. 

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Descending into the Borneo Underground

AUDIO STORY

 “…a terribly jungly place”
Somerset Maugham

This is my kind of background music. Insects prattling like powertools. We are walking through the Southeast Asia jungle. I love the sss ss steam heat, as long as I don’t have to do too much. I would have been one of the first ones kicked out of “Survivor.”

This is Borneo, home of some of the world’s oldest rainforests, an island that houses a freakshow of flora and fauna unmatched on earth: 1500 species of flowers (170 types of orchids), 262 brands of birds, monkeys, flying lizards and, should the jungle floor look at times as if it were moving, 458 appellations of ants.

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Nirvana Tonic: A Cruise on the River Kwai (Video)

I am a river rat. Not a rafter, but a lollygaging Huck Finn kinda swamp rodent who likes to flow with the current and poke around the slough. Lord Buddha describes The Dharma as a raft that floats one to Nirvana. A few days on a river and I find myself paddling pretty close to a perfect state of bliss.

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Return to Sarawak


“A terribly jungly place.”
Maugham
“They don’t call it a rainforest for nuthin.”
Johnson

I am back in Borneo. I first visited Sarawak in my childhood imagination. It was giant lillypad floating on the map of Oceania with a reputation earned from Victorian tales of headhunters, missionaries, orangutans, tic-toc crocs and cuddly pythons. When I saw Sarawak for myself, in the 1980s, it lived up to my dreams. Sure, penis piercing and the flattening of women’s heads in vices (a beauty treatment) were history as were the headhunters (even though ceremonial skulls still hung from the rafters), but the jungles still steamed, the macaques still screeched, the hornbills still displayed their magnificent schnozzolas, and Sarawak still had a faint aura of danger. Going there gave one bragging rights as an adventurer. So what if you stayed at the Holiday Inn, chicken feet were on the menu.

Today, Sarawak is still “terribly jungly” and exotic and inscrutable enough to evoke Walter Mittyish dreams of being one of the Rajahs who one ruled the place. There is a big difference, however.

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