Langmusi - How to Put One's Foot in One's Mouth

Trip Start Oct 19, 2007
Trip End Jan 23, 2011

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Flag of China  , Gansu,
Saturday, August 7, 2010

The bus to Langmusi left at an uncivilized 7:40am. I was non-plussed with the departure time and even less enthused about my unruly neighbours, who woke me up before my alarm went off. Little birdies often wake me up in Jinan with their chittering outside my bedroom window an hour before my alarm goes off, but I never get shirty at them because they are cute and don’t know any better. I cannot say the same for loud, whining Beijing yuppies who slam doors at 5:30 in the morning. It’s probably a good thing I had an early bus to catch, otherwise I would have either lay under my covers fuming, or gone out of the room in my pajamas and exploded in the hallway. Except that I didn’t pack any pajamas. That would have been embarrassing. Ah, a little known virtue of early morning buses - saving bad tempered foreign women from the embarrassment of a ‘run out of room scantily clad to explode in face of Chinese yuppies’ scandal. Well, I'm not sure how many other female foreign travellers would be in danger of doing this. Possibly just me.

I really like Xiahe, but after spending three whole nights in the same place, I was kind of eager to move on. Dysfunctional but true, it is almost like 3 nights in one place is synonymous with setting down roots or something. Plus, the knowledge that my friends in Songpan are only a couple of days away is also gnawing away at me and making me want to move on. That said, after my Linxia bus experience, which was spiced up with spew, a crash and police boarding the vehicle, I was not exactly eager to get on the actual bus itself. I had seat number one which made me very happy because the seats up the front had lots of leg space and a good view. The scenery on the way to Langmusi was the kind that makes you quite content to gaze dreamily out the window for hours on end. The bus driver was a legend because he stopped the bus at a couple of really beautiful places on the way to let us off to take photos. He got us there in 4 hours time which was better than I expected. When the ticket sellers at a station tell me it will take 4 hours, I generally brace myself for 7 hours of bus hell. However, this time I was pleasantly surprised. Despite a couple of sightseeing breaks, we still arrived in 4 hours. I told you the guy was a legend!

It was a fairly friendly bunch of passengers too. I guess because of our unscheduled photo breaks, we got to socialise a bit more than the average load of bus travellers do. I ended up seeing a lot of them around the place in Langmusi too (hardly surprising since Langmusi is a small place), especially the guy I was sitting next to, Sam. After we got off the bus, the two of us ended up wandering about looking for accommodation together. As far as I can tell, the accommodation in Langmusi is way over-priced. I ended up sharing a room (communal toilets and bathroom for 100 RMB) with Sam. I hate dorm rooms because I’m a light sleeper, don’t cope well with lots of people in the room and am willing to waste money to escape such a fate, but it is a huge relief to share accommodation when possible.

We then headed off to check out a couple of other places for the next night as well as the horse trekking company since I had horses on the brain. They're pretty, how could I not?! It made sense for me to go through Langmusi to get to Songpan anyway, but I’d heard good things about horse trekking and hiking in Langmusi and so was keen to do one or both while in town. The horse trekking company said that I had to have at least another two people to go with me and that they were fully booked the next day or so, which rather foiled my plans. I asked if I could go with one of the groups leaving the next day and the person in the office said she would call to check. At first she didn't sound particular encouraging because they were all Chinese groups. I said I spoke fluent Mandarin and had no problems horse riding with Chinese people if they didn't have a problem with me. It turns it was fine with the group. They are a group of 3 female teachers from Guangdong. Sounds familiar! It’ll be an extreme coincidence if they turn out to be my three jiejie from Songpan last year. If not, it should still be fun. It’s just for two days but we spend the night with a Tibetan nomadic family in a tent which is pretty special. Sam and I had lunch in a Sichuan style restaurant. The food was nice and spicy but too oily. Hope I don’t regret that tomorrow. I suspect stomach problems on horseback are not much fun.

After that we walked over to the monastery on the Sichuan side of Langmusi to walk into Namo Gorge. We went as far as a clearing covered in sheep shit (I recognized it immediately this time unlike at Ganjia… in such vast quantities the smell alone is impossible to mistake), then clambered back again. It was really beautiful and there were lots of  people out enjoying themselves. And a bunch of dogs. I wasn’t exactly expecting to see an old English sheepdog splashing about in a stream at Langmusi, but there you go. It was cool to see a bunch of monks lying about under the trees and splashing around in the water. Sichuan monks apparently know how to enjoy themselves.

Next we went over to the monastery on the Gansu side which was really beautiful and had great views over the whole town. The views got a lot wilder as the wind (and dust, blah) picked up, accompanied by some pretty crazy clouds and cool glimmering across the tops of temples over the town. Langmusi is extremely pretty.

On the way back it pelted down with rain and then hail, so we hid in the ticket seller’s booth with a monk, a little Tibetan boy and a twenty something Tibetan guy, plus two people from Fuzhou who were also on our bus and were planning on going to Songpan to do the Qizanggou trek. Good choice. I was replying to a couple of text messages, while sitting on a sofa, which immediately attracted the attention of the little boy who sat next to me, reading over my shoulder and asking me questions about the people being texted, Australia and various other stuff. For some reason we were talking about Vatican City (must have been something to do with small countries) when I chatted myself into dangerous territory, for which I really feel like kicking myself over because, sadly, I usually keep a fairly careful rein on my mouth when talking to locals I don’t know. The problem is the self-censoring ’rein’ I usually apply to my mouth is the one that protects me from saying anything controversial at work or rocking the Han boat. And it was this that got me in trouble in the ticket booth.

I said something about Vatican city being about the same size as Langmusi. This sparked the interest of the young man sitting nearby, who moved over and sat next to me and the kid and asked if it had any problems with other people recognizing it. Not really realizing where this was leading, I chuckled and said no of course not, why would there be any problems recognizing Vatican City. The little boy made a joke about Langmusi becoming a country. I joked back and said, I doubted that would work. When quizzed why, still completely oblivious of the hole I was digging myself into, I said because that would require Langmusi not being a part of China, which would hardly be possible. The little boy was bored by this point, unfortunately something I said must have gotten the interest of the young man because he asked how I was so certain that it would not work. I said, still tongue in cheek (reciting the headlines from any orthodox Chinese journalistic organization) that that would be splitting the motherland and as we all know from watching the news everyday, splittism is not allowed, highly frowned upon, very naughty (OK, the naughty was my own addition) and would not work. I was asked how much I knew about the ethnic history of this region and that I should be careful before saying such things. Yep, I know I should be careful about such things. But I always thought I had to be careful in the other direction (ie, careful not to say anything that could be construed as supporting independence, it had not occurred to me that I had to be careful not to make jokes about not being independent). My bad. I switched to talking to the little boy again (he was much safer) about kangaroos, koalas and dreamtime, but my changing the topic did not work. Five minutes later the young guy was back to independence. He leaned over and said to look at the history of this ‘country’ from an ethnic perspective then I would see whether or not it could be split. Yargh. Danger. He was about to go on when Sam piped up that the rain seemed to have stopped. Actually it hadn’t, but I was more than happy to walk in the rain for a bit if it got me out of an impassioned talking to about Tibetan independence (which is what I assume he had on his mind) in the presence of two Han and a monk. How on earth do I get myself into such things? I think I might have to watch my tongue when joking around from now on. Thank goodness Sam was about to save my hide.

I’m not sure any of my friends are actually going to believe this, since I am generally extremely opinionated about everything, but I have very little in the way of an opinion about Tibet, except that last year I decided not to go there because I couldn’t visit independently and had to join a special government tour for foreigners. I refuse to go to Tibet on some kind of sanitised government-approved tour, I want to travel independently or not at all. I have my own eyes and am quite able to judge for myself what I see with them. Actually, apparently this can be done now, so perhaps I will look into it.

This year, after visiting Xiahe and Langmusi, I would have to say that my opinion of the Tibetans I have met about the streets and the monks studying Tibetan Buddhism has been extremely positive. They have been super friendly and welcoming. I had one lady in a market the other night clasp my hand, stick out her tongue (although I hear this is actually a good thing here, kind of like a greeting… well, I hope so anyway because I‘ve had lots of Tibetans poking their tongues out at me in the past couple of days and I‘d be kind of sad to find out I was being teased after all!) and pat my arm after she found out I was from Australia. I’m not sure that was deserved, but there were warm fuzzies all round. They seem to look people in the eye and smile more too, which is nice because I think at home we do a lot more of that than is generally the case in China. I don’t know how to explain it, but I get a very positive vibe from the people in these towns. These areas were closed off to foreigners for a long time after the riots in 2009. I don’t want my presence causing any problems for anybody here, so no more dodgy conversations about politics.

We escaped to a second floor restaurant for dinner and beers. The view and atmosphere were great although one of the dishes at a nearby table with resembled a stitched up inflated balloon made out of innards that needed to be pierced before it could be eaten kind of freaked me out.

Some information for people who are reading for such things -
The horse trek was 180 RMB per day. You have to pay 15 RMB for insurance on top of this. Food and accomodation is included. If you turn up alone ask if there are any groups leaving the next day that you might be able to join.
I think Namo Gorge and the monastery on the Sichuan side cost 15 RMB, but I don't remember clearly.
The Lamu (Lanao) Monastery on the Gansu side cost 20 RMB.
The bus from Xiahe to Langmusi took 4 hours and cost 46.5 RMB.
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