Let’s continue the story with Lijiang! I also have to elaborate about things I’ve noticed:

  1. There are big differences in the way different Chinese people appear. North versus south is the most distinguishable: in the north they are tall (170+ cm, women too), serious, traditional, hard workers and obedient to authority. They have an epicanthic fold more often than southerners, and their faces look pale and flat. In the south, they are short (140+ cm), good businessmen and -women, open-minded and jovial. Their hair is thicker and less wavy, and their faces are thinner and their features more prominent. Note: these are quite radical generalisations, as many Chinese people migrate within their own country and thus different types are represented well in different areas. Wuhan is a melting pot of different Chinese people.
  2. Chinese people seem to appreciate Finns regardless of their own origin.
  3. I’m starting to hear the difference between provincial dialects. For example, in Hubei province they seem to use just a “s” instead of a “sh” sound in “sh”-words, and “ts” instead of “ch” (“paitsao” (Hubei) vs. “pai chao” (Proper Mandarin)).
  4. The Yangtze river’s Western name was lost in translation. The river is actually called Chang Jiang. A Western priest was doing missionary work close to Shanghai hundreds of years ago, and asked a local what the river was called. The local thought the priest was referring to the village they were staying in, which was called Yáng Zì. Thus, the Western world got to know the Chang Jiang river as the “Yangtze” river.

On the way to Lijiang I almost suffered a heat stroke. The situation was saved by our local friend who bought three bottles of water and ice cream for me. He provided my neck with a cold, wet towel and I stuffed an ice-cold water bottle in my bra and underarms. Instant facilitation. The man was obviously nervous. He had not experienced this before, someone “getting sick from the sun. I think it’s because of where you’re from.” The following days I was like under the wings of a mother hen, with him constantly checking that I drink from a bottle of 1/3 salt-2/3 sugar -water he mixed together every ten minutes, and that I stay away from sunny spots. In the evening before going to bed my friend went to the pharmacy to get electrolytes and made me put my feet up against the wall. In the morning when I was sitting in the courtyard he rushed to spray sunscreen and placed his hat on my head. I was very grateful to him for his caring. Even though some Chinese guys like to appear tough (“I can’t wear a pink scarf, that’s what sissies do!” and show off their weight-lifting skills) they’re very helpful and protective.
There is also a significant gap between generations in the way they relate to “outsiders”, ie. foreigners. As I sat in the inner courtyard one morning eating blueberries by myself in the swing, two family members in their 60’s — a man and a woman — came out of the kitchen like cats, glanced at me and started to circle around me shyly at a distance. They were talking to each other. “A foreigner. Looks quite young. Seems to be alone. Where’s the man? Is she married? “I said,” I’m not married YET (with this addition you will avoid distressing extended questioning). “Speaking the Imperial language! How old are you?” “25.” “25! You look like you are 20. How old do we look then?” (About 50-55, I think. They start to laugh and come a bit closer.) A twenty-year-old boy, presumably their grandson, climbs out from one of the rooms and starts to speak excitedly in Chinese and offers me some Pu’er tea. So, basically:

  • The 60-year-olds’ approach: like cats, interested but shyly wandering in circles around the alien-looking stranger from a distant outer state. “The foreign comrade speaks our language.”
  • The 40-year-olds’ approach: “Finland? Do you speak English in your country? You don’t? I’ve heard about Finland. Our President praised your small country after his visit.”
  • The 20-year-olds’ approach: “From Finland! I have a couple of friends in France and Austria. I’m going to Great Britain this year. I want to go to Finland at some point too!” Differences between generational attitudes are like night and day. One generation in China is counted as ten years because the change is happening so quickly.

The next day we rode on bikes from Lijiang to small villages called Shuhe and Baisha (“white sand”). The bike is an equal vehicle alongside the car, which means that the bikes run in the same lines as cars. In Baisha, we ate lunch and admired the typical architecture of the Naxi people. I found a label from a restaurant in an inn, which another Finn had left there two years ago. Here, behind god’s back, another Finn! A small warm glint from my other home. Despite Lijiang being somewhat of a (domestic) tourist trap, I enjoyed the people’s warmhearted approach, and I recommend other travellers to at least give it a few days’ time to seduce you with its people, villages and food. 😀

Mili

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