This piece about Lüchun is the fourth instalment of my bicycle ride from Yunnan to Cambodia – if all goes according to plan. Titled “Slap the Belgian!”, it is simultaneously published on Crazyguyonabike.com, where you’ll find a map with the itinerary and many other bicycle diaries by me and others. I hope you’ll enjoy.

I wasn’t going to do articles about the places I rest at. I wanted my blog to be a hard-core bike-riding rollercoaster. But I’m mellow. And I snapped a few pictures I want to share with you. Just because. For those who really want to know what I did today: absolutely not much. Slept until forever o’clock, wrote the previous article on this blog, ate instant noodles, drank some berry liquor, went out, ate tofu, chit-chatted, and followed a drunk man with an empty bird cage around for a bit. I did ponder, too. Read on if you really care.

Psy, the Korean Bird Uncle snacks
Psy is called the Korean Bird Uncle. In the bag are snacks.

I pondered how it must be to live in a place like Lüchun. In small places, everyone obviously knows each other’s ways. But Lüchun is not only a small place, due to its silly location on top of a mountain ridge, it’s also a single-street small place. Sure, there are some side streets here and there, but they almost invariably lead to a school or a deserted back alley. There is really only one way to get from one end of the town to the other. That’s via the main road, which doesn’t really have a name. It’s just provincial highway 214.

Now imagine you’re a young teenage girl in Lüchun, and you just had a little fling with the boy who lives at 23 provincial highway 214. But he turned out to be more interested in motorcycles and baijiu than in you so you break up. Painfully awkward indeed, but how do you avoid this man? There’s no taking a detour, you can’t take another way to school.

Lüchun on the mountain ridge
Lüchun has a very dramatic location

Or how about this: you’re a sex worker and you get a call from someone else down the street. You come in discreetly only to find out that it’s your neighbour who called a random number while his wife was away. There’s no anonymity, everyone knows what you do. The brothel, the school, the restaurant, your house, the post office, the bank, the bar, it’s all on the same street. I bet that causes some confusion.

You don’t even have to be local to get into this kind of trouble. Almost all hotels anywhere in Honghe prefecture have numbers on display that promise “adult health massage”. Call any of these numbers and you’re bound to run into your masseuse the next day, quite possibly stuffing her face with stinky tofu. I’ve always found small places and their internal dynamics fascinating, but Lüchun takes it to a whole new level.

Vietnamese Candy from Ben Tre
Vietnamese Candy from Ben Tre. Fake, experts say.

I also did a boo-boo today. I saw a bunch of people sitting at a long row of tables installed on the pavement. A bit like the Hani long table banquet that celebrates the Hani new year on 30 November. So I cheerily inquired whether they were having another new year’s celebration today. “No we’re mourning for a lost one.” I make a lot of apologies and myself scarce. The head-scarves should’ve given it away.

Still snacking on all kinds of sugary crap from the local supermarket, I walk into a random massage place. It says pedicure on the side so I figured they’d be able to give me some tendon relief. The lady asks me what I want. I explain my situation and she says she has just the thing for me, pointing at a 128 RMB course. I don’t have time to protest or even inspect what it is, but I guess I’ll find out. I check the window one more time just to make sure it’s not one of those funny massage places. Nope, no pink lights or hints at adult health.

Cooking for the dead
Cooking for the dead
Feast for the dead
Feast for the dead

The girl who takes care of me is summoned from some galaxy far far away because it takes ages for her to show up. She starts massaging pretty much everything but my legs but at least I get to soak them in a bucket full of hot water and Chinese medicinal herbs. All the while she talks to me in a horrible local accent infused with Hani language, and I have trouble understanding what she says.

The gist: her mom is from Chongqing and her dad is local. They live in Shanghai but she didn’t like it there so she came back to Lüchun to work. They adopted a brother for her from the orphanage who is now studying in Kunming. A cousin went to study in England but hasn’t been in touch for three years. She lives together with her brother when he’s there. New year’s is boring because her parents never come so she only celebrates it with her grandparents who live in town. Her daily life is mostly playing on the computer, chatting and sleeping. She thinks it’s not that much fun. When her parents come, they want to climb the mountains. She thinks that’s tiring and boring. She also wants to go abroad, but she thinks she’s a bit too dim for that. Nothing new there. I politely decline an offer to go for dinner with her.

belly on fire
I’m on fire

Perhaps that’s why she set me on fire. Or perhaps it’s because the cups she was trying to get sucked to the bottom of my feet kept falling off. Whichever it was, suddenly she just lights an alcohol-soaked cloth on my belly and the flames rise high before my eyes. It’s an enjoyable feeling, but I wonder what’s the point of it all. She admits she normally doesn’t do massage. But her cousin knows she likes foreigners so he called her over. 128 RMB well spent.

Belly on fire 2
I’m still on fire

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