Friday, December 01, 2006

To Civilzation

After the Duobugou trip I was ready to move on. Dzongsar and Duobugou had been interesting, but also a little disappointing. That night, when I wasn't kept awake by the dogs, I dreamed about pancakes, chocolate and Jack Daniels. When I finally did wake up I knew it was time to not only get out of Dzongsar or Derge, but to get somewhere where I could relax. I had been alone for four days, and most of that was in a place with almost no one who I could talk to. I was getting really lonely.
I had asked the guesthouse owner to wake me up again before I went to bed. This time I tried to make it very clear that I had to wake up on time- otherwise I might never get out of Dzongsar. In the morning, however, it was the honking of the bus horn that woke me up. I had to rush to pack up my remaining things- luckily I had packed up most of my stuff the previous night. When I finally got downstairs the guesthouse owner told me that I had better hurry up if I wanted to make the bus in time.
On the way back the bus was extremely crowded. It was made to seat maybe twenty five people, but there were about forty people taking it plus several large bags of produce. I sat next to an elderly-looking man who wore a huge hat that looked like it was made of fox skin. For entertainment the driver put on a mix of music videos, some of which were horrendously bad. One of them was a karaoke video which only had synthesizer music and no singing, though the words to the song were on the bottom of the screen. The video consisted of everyday scenes of Tibetan nomads doing things like churning yak butter, feeding their children and making yak butter tea. The other videos were more like what you find in the West or elsewhere in China, though with a lot of images of grasslands, horse races and traditional Tibetan dances. The music for these videos was also more sophisticated, and even a bit more interesting than the average Chinese pop music you here in the east.
After going through the music videos a couple of times the driver put on a movie, which like all movies on buses in western China was extraordinarily violent. This one, however had a relatively interesting plotm and actually revealled a lot about the way Chinese people see foreign countries. It took place in a made-up country that was supposed to be a former Soviet republic, although all the people there spoke English with stereotypical New York accents that sounded like what you would hear in a bad '70's TV show. This fictional country was filled with crime, prostitution and corruption, and everyone was racist against Asians in general and Chinese in particular. The heroes had to deal with the racist and corrupt authorities while hunting down some Aum Shinrikyo-inspired terrorists. Frankly the portrayal of foreigners as blatantly racist and totally immoral made me feel a little uncomfortable. Chinese people in the mainland have it programmed into their minds that they are perpetual victims, and I think this fuels nationalism and xenophobia. At first I thought that by making the fictional country be Eastern European but with English speakers the filmmakers were taking jabs at both Russia and the US at the same time, but now I suspect they simply used English as a stand-in foreign language- to many Chinese people English is what you're supposed to use when you talk to foreigners anyway. Chinese people do not like or respect Russia, and feel Chinese people in Russia are particularly discriminated against, so it makes sense that they would just target Russia.

Once back in Derge I felt like I weas in the most luxurious place in the world. There were piping hot public showers, several restaurants, an internet cafe and a Chinese-speaking populace- what more could a lone traveller have wanted? After being on the road for so long, however, I felt like I needed a little more. I had several options: I could head back east to Chengdu, go south to the famous (some would say infamous) backpacker haven of Lijiang, head north through southern Qinghai or sneak into Tibet. I was loath to backtrack all the way to Chengdu, and had mixed feelings about going to a place as backpacky as Lijiang. Southern Qinghai was appealling as one of the most Tibetan places in China, but was probably too cold by then, so that option was definitely out. The more I thought about it, the more tempting seaking into Tibet appeared to be. Tibet isn't exactly a luxurious destination, but I thought that Lhasa might balance out the comforts of backpacker culture with worthwhile sights. On the other hand, I didn't think I was up for hitchhiking, which would probably be necessary if I did sneak into Tibet.
By the time I woke up the next morning, I had decided to go back to Ganzi. I still hadn't decided what I would do after that, but most of my options required heading back there anyway, so I could think about it on the road. I was leaning toward heading to the relative comfort of Lijiang- if I was having dreams about pancakes, I figured it was a pretty clear sign that I had had enough of this kind of travelling.

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