This section about Mae Salong is the thirty-eighth instalment of my bicycle loop through South-East Asia from Yunnan – 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.

What! Explosions! War! Fire!

Oh it’s only Chinese New Year preparing to happen. Kids, of course, lighting firecrackers and shooting explosives at the sky. I’d have tumbled out of my bed if it wasn’t one of those beds where the mattress is practically on floor level. I love this liveliness but I also love my bed. I’m one of those people who can’t go back to sleep after waking up so I spend most of my morning reading while the sun rises over the hills.

Chinese restaurant, with a picture of a deceased general (perhaps a relative) and the usual maxims and wishes on the wall. These people are from Tengchong 腾冲 in Yunnan.
Chinese restaurant, with a picture of a deceased general (perhaps a relative) and the usual maxims and wishes on the wall. These people are from Tengchong 腾冲 in Yunnan.

I’d decided to stay another day in Mae Salong. To catch up with my writing, to wash my clothes, to visit a few things and to celebrate Chinese New Year with the hotchpotch of Thai, Japanese, Western and Chinese tourists, expats and volunteers.

I’m quite hungry when I get up so I trot across the street to the Chinese lady’s home. After yesterday’s dinner, I only have 50 baht left in my wallet and the ATM further down the road is down for maintenance. I’ll have to wait until 1pm before I can get any money out. I decide to check out the Chinese Martyr’s museum instead.

The memorial hall for the combatants of the Kuomintang
The memorial hall for the combatants of the Kuomintang

Located on a lower side road and shining brilliantly against a dark mountain background, the biggest attraction about the museum is the building itself. Outside, a massive golden hand holds a lotus flower, surrounded by all twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac. Ominously, the horse (whose year commences tonight) has broken off and fallen over. I think nothing of it and go inside.

The main room is a collection of name tags, presumably of fallen soldiers, or people that have donated … it’s hard to tell because despite the huge donation box, they have been very stingy with information tags. A large caption on the wall reads “serving the country with unreserved loyalty”. A bit ironic for an army without a country.

How they were driven out by the communists
How they were driven out by the communists

A man comes in and tells me I ought to pay a ticket. I really haven’t seen a ticket vendor so he points at the donation box. I lie in Chinese that I have already put my share in and hope he doesn’t go and check. Satan will be playing ice-hockey in hell before I donate to anything that glorifies war.

And glorifying battle is exactly what happens in this museum. The mostly Thai and Chinese-language museum also harbours a concise Chinglish synopsis of the events of 1949 and the early fifties, in which many names are dropped, usually with the epithet of having bravely sacrificed his life for the greater cause. Many of them were only just over 10 years old – one of the owners of my guesthouse was barely 10 when he fought alongside the Kuomintang and was forced to retreat beyond the borders.

"Serve the country with unreserved loyalty", and a kind invitation to put some cash in the box.
“Serve the country with unreserved loyalty”, and a kind invitation to put some cash in the box.

The gist of the story is that the Nationalists had been driven out of Yunnan by the Communist army. They then settled in Myanmar where they were attacked by the Burmese (whose regiments they routed). Their ranks restored, they launch another attack on Communist China but despite initial success are driven back to Myanmar, where they again have to defeat the Burmese army. Myanmar then petitioned the UN to remove the Nationalists. In Thailand, they are more or less welcome. They call on the nationalist government in Taiwan to set up a fund and to develop the Chinese community in northern Thailand. Money pours in, important people pay important visits and infrastructure is built, Chinese language and culture, as well as farming techniques are taught to the young. And so on …

Chedi and a giddy descent towards it
Chedi and a giddy descent towards it

Back at the ATM, they now tell me I have to wait until 3 pm for the problem to be resolved. I decide to explore a bit more and hop on the bike. I find a road that leads to the Veteran’s village, where almost everyone speaks Yunnanese Mandarin with each other, where Chinese characters dominate and where Chinese hygiene or the absence thereof is maintained. A sucker for altitude, I keep following the road as it goes further up, even though it turns out to be nasty business: some grades are as steep as 50% (22.5 degrees)! In return I get majestic views over the mountains and access to a beautifully located Chedi (a Thai stupa) at the end. This saves me the 800 step walk up.

View from Veterans' village
View from Veterans’ village

Finally in possession of fresh cash from the ATM, I go home to work a bit and then totter off with the two English riders to Sin Sheng restaurant, where the owner treats all visitors to a Chinese New Year’s meal, with free Thai whisky and beer. We give him a <i>hongbao</i> 红包 (a red envelope with money traditionally given on New Year’s Day or other festive occasions) in return. For lack of an actual red envelope, we just wrap 1000 baht in a piece of toilet paper and present it slightly embarrassedly.

There are all kinds of people at the dinner. Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese and foreigners. A Japanese woman suddenly produces a mobile traditional string instrument and bursts out in song. Pretty magical! The mainlanders go home when it’s Beijing time midnight, the Taiwanese stay longer. It’s not surprising that most Chinese here are from Taiwan, but a few mainlanders have found out about the place too. Most of them arriving just for a day visit in expensive 云A (i.e., Kunming) cars.

Mark, Becky, me and a Beijing girl on a trip
Mark, Becky, me and a Beijing girl on a trip

I get very drunk and am surprised I remember all this.

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