In Chinese there is a word, chunyun, it is used to describe the high traffic during the Chinese New Year. Everyone heads back to their family home from the holidays. Knowing this, it wasn’t so surprising then that they were sold out of tickets for the sleeper section of the train when we went to buy them not much more than week before travelling to Lugu Lake.
The area is made up of a number of small villages surrounding a large mountainous lake which crosses the border of Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. It is advertised as “the kingdom of the female,” as the Mosuo ethnic group there continues to live in matriarchal societies. Depending on which section you go you will find either a fairly traditional style of Mosuo life or a lot of hotels and tourist shops. Although the spring and summer months bring in a lot of tourists, the winter is still very quiet. It is in the mountains so it does snow and is quite cold during the morning and night, but generally sunny and warm in the afternoons.
Luckily we did manage to get soft seats for the ride there. I was worried that I might end up standing next to the toilets, baggage stored in the sinks, and a sleepy looking guy across the narrow hallway from me rocking back and forth with his container of instant spicy beef noodles. That is how one of my train trips in China a year and a half ago went, in case you didn’t guess.
After the thirteen hour train, five hour bus, and two hour van ride we finally arrived at the hostel we were staying at by the lake. I went with my friend Yaoyao, her childhood friend, jr, high school classmate, high school classmate, and two younger university students who she is friends with. As soon as we went into the communal area of the hostel, the first question asked was, “is there internet here?” When told there was wireless, five of my travelmates rushed for their bags to take out their laptops.
I think I am probably more embarrassed about my internet addiction than most Chinese kids. There is no shame here in spending all day on computer. Yaoyao, the only other person who didn’t bring a computer, admitted she would have if there was room in her bag. After repeatedly asking her friends to use a computer someone eventually agreed to let her use one. She then said the names of Chinese websites “Douban!” and“QQ!” with great excitement,
The first hostel had a number of problems with heating. The buildings were generally poorly constructed with holes in a lot of the walls, no form of indoor heating aside from electric blankets, and continuous problems with having hot water, or water at all. Despite this, the owners were nice people. On the second morning the younger worker offered us shots of some kind of Mosuo or Tibetan liquor. It was before nine in the morning and everyone declined except for me and Yaoyao, who left before finishing one shot. I stayed as there was a fire in the room and wanted to keep warm. Unfortunately this meant the worker would continue to refill my glass, even when I told him not to. I suppose telling him that he drinks to slowly didn’t help any of this, he responded saying “a foreigner saying I drink slow!” and then pouring another glass for me.
On the third day we moved to a different hostel on the Yunnan side of the border. It was considerably nicer and more importantly had hot water. We went to the shop nearby to buy food and it quickly became evident how badly young people in China eat. Cookies, chips, bean congee in a can, powdered milk tea, or instant noodles are considered perfectly acceptable meals here, whether it is breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The other alternative generally was to eat large amounts of carbohydrates from the hostel kitchen; fried rice with a few vegetables or a big bowl of noodles with some tomato and egg in it. Unfortunately, even after the trip ended I still wanted to eat like this.
We stayed there for around ten days and rode bicycles through the empty mountain roads, got lost walking through the mountain forests, visited tourist ethnic minority villages, rowed boats in the lake, and went to all the designated sights for the best views of landscapes. Additionally, going with Chinese kids, especially ones’ who own expensive cameras, means posing for group photos again and again. I can’t say I put my heart into this part of the trip every time.