Friday, August 22, 2008

Concerto: Basan Part 6

The raindrops on the huge glass panels of the airport terminal does nothing to suppress my frustration as I wait for the sixth hour in the Chengdu Domestic Airport. Weather in Jiuzhaigou is not favorable for air travel, says the flight attendants. Chinese travelers scatter newspaper leaves on the ground as makeshift seats, sit in rings and play cards, smacking poker hands down in traditional Chinese poker fashion, full of power and anger. The instant ramen noodle cups in the airport stores are sold in bundles by the hungry who expected to have their morning porridge on the plane.

Genevieve and I met up with Eleanor and Jeff the night before. Unfortunately, Jeff is down with a cold. Today he is lying on the airport seats passed out under layers of coats. The flat-screen televisions broadcast the championships of the Olympic ping-pong competition and of the beach volleyball competition. I can't tell what the middle-aged men sitting around me are staring more at, the flat abs of the Brazilian women or the concentrated face of the Chinese ping-pong athlete.
If wonderlands exist, Jiuzhaigou Valley must be one of them. The sceneries evoke images of fairytales in dreamlike eloquence - so natural, so pure. The unnaturally blue and green lakes, waterfalls, verdant forests, snow-covered mountains, and the folk customs of the Tibetan and Qiang peoples are overwhelming. Its name is due to the existence of nine stockaded villages of Tibetan origin, and it is always regarded as a holy mountain and watercourse by the Tibetan people. Oddly enough, in order to preserve the antiquity of the Valley, the Chinese government forced the native Tibetan minorities to move to other villages. The nine gullies in the valley were almost completely deserted, save for the few merchants selling scarves, necklaces and toilet paper.
Blue, sky blue, celadon, kingfisher, green blue, blue green - the colors of the water are created by the minerals that wash away from the local rocks into the lakes and rivers. The water is so saturated in minerals that dead logs fallen in these waters sustain new life.
After two days in Jiuzhaigou, the guesthouse service attendant recommends that we explore Zhongchagou, a village not too far away from the Jiuzhaigou National Park. After a rough taxi ride up rocky dirt paths coiling a mountainside, we find ourselves in a quiet little hillside village. We barely walk two hundred meters and come across three children holding plastic bags filled with colored paper and prayer sticks.
"Would you like a tour of our town? We can take you to all the fun places," says one, smiling.
How could we refuse such innocent looking children? We walk through piles of wheat and walls of firewood. Wheat seems to be a municipal affair - all the townpeople lend hands, including eight-year-old children, who heave eighty pound loads of wheat on their backs. The firewood is necessary for the long winter. In one day, the entire town will burn enough firewood to build a house.
The children take us up the hillside to a grassy opening littered with colored paper. Prayer flags weave together among the trees to form a web of sorts, the center of which is a prayer stupa. At this point, the children look down at my feet as they rub their feet together, both hands clinging to their bags.
"Will you buy some colored paper? You should pray for your happiness. Buy some prayer sticks, prayer for future fortune! How about some prayer flags?" they plead. I cannot say I didn't expect this to happen. We buy several packs of paper and bundles of sticks to burn and place inside the stupa.
"What do I do with the paper?" I ask.
"As you walk around the stupa, throw it up in the air three times while repeating your wishes to yourself. This way, your wish will come true," the children explain.
"When did prayers become wishes," I mumble.

I wonder, as a traveler, if I change these villagers' view of the world as much their lives change my perspectives. I feel guilty for tainting this valley by treading all around it in my worn shoes, guilty for bursting this cultural bubble. I wonder if these children, selling so much prayer paper to so many passersby, see the world differently from the villagers to harvest wheat and collect firewood. Is their world made up of school during the fall and spring, and business during the summer? When they are of age, will they join the ranks of wheat cutters and wheat transporters? Or will they refuse, having seen the luxuries of travelers, seeking the excitement of travel for their own? I fear, as a traveler, that I exchange cultural deconstruction for cutural enrichment.

share on: facebook


blogger templates 3 columns |