An American Abroad

Xishuangbanna Redux–Part II

After morning toast and a couple cups of coffee Wednesday morning at the Mei Mei Cafe, I rented a bicycle and crossed the Mekong River heading east. My route took me through parts of Jinghong that have been developed as tourist destinations. There were rows of handsome shops and restaurants fronted by elephant statues/streetlights/flowerpots. At the end of the street was a large Buddhist temple.
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New apartments are being built as vacation homes for wealthier Chinese people. And though I don’t usually post examples of Chinglish, the signs for this development had a certain crackpot poetry that was just too good to pass up.
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It didn’t take too long, though, before I left the rich resort atmosphere behind and was in the midst of some of the most severe poverty I’ve seen in China.
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Down one of those streets, though, was an amazing sight.

There were two kids, about eight years old.

Lying on a piece of cardboard.

Under a parked truck.

Doing their homework.

On a school holiday.

I had to admire their dedication and resourcefulness. It was doubtless cooler under the truck than it was in the nearby shacks. I recall that at that age, there was a sweetly neurasthenic quality to lying down in a confined space. And if I ever hear American students complaining that they couldn’t do their homework because they had no place to study, I’m going to think of those kids.

I didn’t get as deep into the countryside as I’d hoped; I wilted a little in the tropical heat. I headed back toward Jinghong, stopping along the banks of the Mekong to see motorcycles being washed and elaborate riverboats pulled up at a dock.
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I arrived back at my hotel soaked with sweat, but definitely happy.
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After a nap, I was picked up again by Rachel and her husband, who took me out to dinner with her high school English teacher, his wife, and a former schoolmate of hers who is now a cardiologist. Once again, the food was delicious (a beef stock hotpot, broiled potatoes with hot spices, and chive soup) and the company was warm and welcoming.
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Just when I thought the evening was over, we decided to head back to the Mei Mei Cafe for tiramisu and ice cream. Rachel’s extended family showed up and a good time was had by all. However, I’ve probably gained five pounds in two days from the constant eating.

Read Xishuangbana Redux–Part I.

Read Xishuangbana Redux–Part III.

Read Xishuangbana Redux–Part IV.

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