Old China, Old Tai-land in Mengla, Xishuangbanna…

20181104_100110If I didn’t know better, I’d almost swear that on some cosmic drafting table in some corner of the universe there is a blueprint for the Tai diaspora out of China from a couple thousand years ago, or maybe outta’ North Vietnam in half that, in which the northern and southern flanks of this proto-Tai state are laid out on either side of what would become Laos like a mirror image of each other, in which the northern Tai towns of Jinghong (Chieng Rung), Mengla, and Mohan (Bor Han) would become Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Sai, respectively…

And Lampang may even mirror Menghai, though I haven’t been there yet, so unsure. And the further irony is that both of these areas were indeed part of the same Kingdom, known as Lan Na, which ranged from one to the other, with parts of Laos and Burma added in for good measure, and to secure the Mekong, which ran between, and was apparently the geographical feature that linked them…

So that as recently as 60-80 years ago, maybe even less, you could have convinced yourself that this area of Xishuangbanna/Sipsong (12) Pan Na was at least as much or more Tai-like in style and character than the predominant Chinese style of the country of which it was at least a nominal part…

20181119_105845But that would be a hard statement to make now, as the majority Han Chinese have pretty much overwhelmed whatever it was that was here before. But I imagine it much resembled the Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai of the same era. And if it’s any consolation, it does resemble somewhat the modern versions of those same two cities, which have also changed much, of course, and these may even be nicer…

So basically we’re talking about language, and the sharp reduction in use of the local Tai Lue dialect vis a vis Mandarin. And if it’s any consolation the local dialects in Thailand and Laos have suffered equally vis a vis the standard dialects there, both of which I know, fortunately, along with some northern Tai dialect, which is probably closest to the dialect here…

And which I try out every chance I get, thanks to the predilection of the local Tai (Dai) women of wearing cool beautiful trad rags, so I can pick them out of the crowd, and racially profile them as potential Tai speakers, haha. Not that I’m on some holy quest to save Tai culture (I’m not Thai), but simply that there is a much better chance of having an actual conversation in Tai than Mandarin Chinese, and I could probably be fluent in 2-3 months if I could find a book to help, judging by my previous experience in Laos…

20181117_112650And it will take me a cool year or two to become fluent in Mandarin, no matter how hard I try. So Mengla has been my makeshift home for the last three weeks, while I finish my current term for online studies, and plot my next move. Frankly I really don’t want to travel much in mainland China, due to the difficulties of indie travel there, here, mostly in the booking of rooms, but that is not so much of a problem here in Mengla. I’ve been at the same place for three weeks and never even registered!

That would be unthinkable elsewhere, where foreigners are often not even allowed, especially in the cheaper digs, and always thoroughly registered, complete with color glossy photos or at least smart-phone pics. Remember that in case you need to ‘lay low’ somewhere sometime. But don’t expect a ‘travel vibe’ here, as I have yet to see another western soul the whole time. I’m sure Jinghong has more, but not much…

The bloom is off the rose in China, and rightfully so, as it ain’t so cheap any more, and the hassles are endless. But that’s the deal. It keeps the riff-raff out. Fortunately in this neck of the woods cheapie hotels are ubiquitous and not hard to find, so kinda’ like the old days where you get off the bus and just start walking, Lonely Planet optional. Forget the booking sites, except for reference, or just to book the first night and then take it from there…

20181116_201545People are friendly here, and that’s what is important for me, not some abstract considerations of tourist spectacles. There are still tribal people here and they fill the morning market, something hard to find elsewhere in Asia. Food is dirt-cheap, and the rooms are not too bad for the easy bucks. That is not always true elsewhere. This in fact is probably the cheap-room capital of China, so enjoy it while you can, because elsewhere is sure to be more dear.

True, it’s mostly a nitty-gritty working-class town, with few spectacles to entertain, but it’s big enough to have two supermarkets, so you know what that means. And ‘Thai-style’ is little more than a design motif now, temple styles ubiquitous on buildings and houses now, where they were never intended. But people exer-dance in the parks at night, every night, and it’s only a matter of time before they drag me into it, haha…

So if you want throngs of foreigners just like yourself, then Cambodia, Laos or Thailand is probably more your speed. But if you want to learn Chinese language, then this is not a bad place. You won’t have much choice, actually, if indeed you do come. Just remember that no social media nor anything Google will work here unless you have a VPN, something to consider B4 you cross the border. Did I mention that you’re only an hour from the Lao border here? So now you know…

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