All the greats suffer for their art, and if you consider smart-ass travel blogs to be ‘art’, and wasting entire days in loud, smelly Asian internet cafes ‘suffering’, then it would appear that you’ve, on your own, just defined us as great. Gee, thanks!
But listening to Asian males in their 20’s screaming over online multiplayer games between their attempts to flirt with Western girl patrons wasn’t the only misery we endured for Herro Asia. Though our adventure had been fraught with agony since we first set foot in Bournemouth and subjected ourselves to the constant withering critiques of Nana George, our true moment of reckoning, and realization as bona fide artistes, came in the picturesque, UNESCO Heritage site-designated Old Town of the Yunnan city Lijiang, in the form of a more physically, rather than emotionally aggressive old woman.
Upon arriving and depositing with our Couchsurfing host Kevin the five pounds of oats he requested from Kunming, we intended to roam around as much of Lijiang as possible. This meant forsaking the multiple cats running around Kevin’s guesthouse, grabbing some dumplings for the road, and maneuvering through all the narrow lanes and ankle-detonating cobblestone staircases Old Lijiang had to offer.
What Old Lijiang mostly had to offer was plentiful shopping opportunities for Chinese tourists who were in the habit of forgetting that they had just seen the same exact store 20 seconds ago. Gems, gnarled yet shiny pieces of wood, knock-off clothes, big hats, multicolored scarves, Yak Meat, and carvings of animals advertised as traditional Naxi art, all could be ours for the low, low price of Too Much. Also, we saw a lot of people with weird pets.
So we abandoned our pursuit of a cultural experience and set our sights on capturing the perfect image of the old town. We climbed higher up the alleys, seeking out balconies and ladders, but catharsis was still out of reach.
Finally, we came to what seemed to be the top of Lijiang’s central hill. After attempting a few shots from inside a courtyard, Devon spied an inventive vantage point – the tiled roof of a guesthouse jutting out over the city. Passing through a narrow gate and sneaking behind the guesthouse, we came across a walkway where broad white sheets hung to dry. While Devon climbed on the roof and began snapping away, Steve decided to play the role of lookout.
Five months into our travels, we knew enough to expect the following out of this situation: Devon would get some good pictures of the town, and, grouchy and confronted with warmth Steve would start dozing. And we were right.
Now, here’s what we didn’t expect:
- The ghastly shriek of an old woman as she entered the walkway and spotted Devon perched aloft her home
- This old woman summoning her husband, who entered the scene stage right, carrying a brick, intending to murder one, or both of us
- Steve trying to apologize and get past them, only to be thrown into a thorny bush
- Our charming repetition of the phrases “Laowai!” (‘silly white person’), and “I love the Chinese People!” failing in any way to lighten the mood. In hindsight, this may have had to do with the couple being Naxi, and not Chinese.
- The couple, while shoving us and blocking our exit, to begin pointing at a broken roof tile we’d never come into contact with, and insisting, “You pay! You pay!” For a new roof tile, or possibly a new roof? Either way, things taking a scammy turn.
- Steve to have enough of this and start screaming at the couple. Really didn’t expect this one, actually. Nor did the husband, who turned quite taciturn and slunk into the background
- To spot behind the couple a massive pile of spare roof tiles, and for Devon to pick one up and hand it to the woman with, “Here you go! New roof! Problem solved!”
- The old lady to actually let Devon through the gateway.
- The old lady to punch Steve in the throat as he tried to make his escape.
- The old lady to throw the roof tile, very hard, and have it explode against the wall behind us.
- Devon to respond to this with, “You pay! You pay!” (That one is a little expected, actually, but was gloriously rewarding in the moment)
So, was the above photo worth the anguish and pain it demanded – by us, but mostly by the old Naxi couple? In our quest to create Art – to depict beauty in the world, thereby reflecting the beauty within man, did we lose our own humanity? In Art, there are no scorecards to keep track of such things. As we pondered these questions throughout the day, climbing up mountains, encountering unnerving government-sponsored street exhibitions of Tai Chi, and buying wacky sunglasses, all we could really conclude was that: