I follow C. through the hot streets of Jinghong, smiling. We got out of bed early today, to experience the market in full swing. Although it's just 7 o'clock, the sweat is dripping from my forehead and my spine. My cotton clothes are too heavy and too thick. It's unthinkable to wear jeans. The silk clothes from home that have been with me these two years have become threadbare. All that's left is a skirt and a fluttering yellow dress. My wardrobe just isn't up to snuff anymore. It's ideal for a day watching Netflix, but a bit flashy for a market day on which I'm supposed to photograph the "locals" in their element. A task I'm reluctant to do anyway, but since I will not use the pictures myself, I agree. I haven't fully understood what my hosts are hoping for from my work, but since they cannot explain it to me, I assume they don't know it themselves. So, I do what makes sense to me and hope that they can use it. I feel like that's all I can do.
I'm sitting in the dark in one of my host's dorms. From the street, I hear the karaoke bar around the corner and the subtle noise of the night market. For every traveller, these sounds are a lure. For me, the bait has lost its pull. I haven't been looking for adventures for months. I'm nervous, although there's no reason to be except that the internet is too slow to watch movies and my Dropbox is blocked by the Chinese state. I can neither save my photos nor correct my English texts. It's this unsecured status that makes me nervous. What if just now my computer decides to break? Then the pictures are gone forever. On the one hand, I want to get out of China, to finally move closer to Australia, on the other hand, I like it here. I have so much to learn and could eat my way through this fascinating country indefinitely. However, I will never learn Chinese, which makes a prolonged stay futile.
The Stone Forest tears a big hole in my budget. First, I decide not to visit it at all. But meeting N. makes a trip out of the city seem possible. I decide against my initial gut feeling and am ultimately convinced by the beautiful photos. It's one of the excursions that I bitterly regret. China is a stronghold of controlled tourism. Everything is organised, everywhere you have to pay unwanted fees, buy the ticket in places that are miles away and in the end you get a Disneyland experience.
Kunming is a big city. Not in the eyes of the Chinese, of course. It has only 6.7 million inhabitants, after all. This is common in China. Once more I marvel at the relativity of all things, size in particular. On exiting the train station in Kunming, I get on a scooter taxi, and for the first time, I am on an overloaded bike, like I've seen so many times before. The taxi driver and I, with all my luggage, sit on one little machine. It's getting dark. We slide through traffic. My backpack and I are substantial. We hit the buffer with every major hump. I lean back, so I don't have to touch the driver. It's refreshing to feel the wind blow through my hair and to hold my nose skyward. I hold on with one hand, with the other I check the route my driver is supposed to take. He's a good one, makes no detours and does not talk. Just how I like them.
From the centre of Lhasa, I fight my way to the station. Because of miscommunication between the receptionist and I, the taxi driver demands me to pay 50 yuan for a 15 yuan journey. I stay in the back seat for a whopping 20 minutes. Finally, I give him the 30 yuan that stand on his meter. He is offended and I am annoyed. Because of my little standoff, I have thirty minutes left to catch my train. The train station square is vast. To get to the entrance I have to walk in serpentine lines across the square, through two security checkpoints and into a separate building to get my ticket. I stand in line for 20 minutes. When it's finally my turn, my phone does not load the file on my ticket number, because it was sent to save space in the cloud, so that only a pixelated black and white image can be seen. I break a sweat, I act innocent and present my ID. Fortunately that's enough. She gives me two tickets and I drag myself out to walk to the main building, where I suspect the train station. Bingo. I find train station boards and uniformed officials, who now control my passport for the fourth time and now also my tickets. Since I can not decipher the Chinese characters, I follow the crowd. Although the train station in Lhasa is a vast facility, only one train leaves.