Shaxi: Life in a Rural Chinese Town

After a few days in Lijiang we arrived in the town of Shaxi. Shaxi is a small town with the aspiration to become a tourist destination- but it will be a while before Shaxi is ready for for more than the occasional backpacker. As soon as we got off the bus everyone was shocked. 17 of us (including Marketus and Lao Yang) walking through the town with suitcases- all of varying ethnicities, heights, etc etc. I have to say, we are a pretty diverse group. For the most part, there are a lot of pretty decently tall people in Beijing, but in the south people are short. At 5’4″ I’m taller than most of the men in southern China which is amazing to me! I finally know what it feels like to be tall! -But then I stand next to Nate who is a foot taller than me and I feel short again.

When we dropped our stuff off at the guesthouse we were informed that we would have electricity after 5pm.. good, I guess I’ll be using my phone as a camera.. After dropping off our things we headed up the road to the local market. It was such a different experience seeing this local market! There was definitely nothing touristy about it- vendors sitting on the (dirt) road were selling everything from mops and underwear to pig heads, traditional herbs and live chickens. All of the people (mostly women) at the market had giant woven baskets on their backs that they used to carry the weeks goods to their homes in the hillsides around the town. It was definitely an interesting experience and I have to say I love experiencing markets like that. While many people on our program weren’t as enthusiastic as me, I still had fun. At the market Marketus told us we were on our own for lunch… scary!! There were no real restaurants anywhere so I had no idea what I would eat! Eventually a few of us found a noodle shop and, after climbing onto the sidewalk via ramp (the sidewalk is about 3 feet from the dirt street) we went inside. The noodle shop was very dirty and a little, okay a lot, under-code, but since it was full we decided it was safe. Since there were no menus we pointed at the noodles a man near us was eating and hoped for the best. When the noodles came to us they looked really great.. except for the meat. The meat was a weird white-grey ground beef. We tried to kind of spoon it to the side, but we still ended up eating half of it anyway. If I had to guess what kind of meat it was I would say brains.

After “lunch” the girls I ate with all headed back to the guest house for a little nap, but I decided to wander around and try and find the rest of our program. I eventually ran into them at another (cleaner) restaurant eating edible food. I should have stuck with the group! I chipped in 5 kuai and ate a little of one table’s food, which was a little more.. normal- as in not brains.

Later in the day we all walked out of the town and across farm fields to a Bai village. It was definitely very different than the town- no shops or roads. While the town had dirt roads, these were more like dirt paths. The houses were all made out of some sort of dirt-saw dust combination and there were little gutters along the side of the road with all sorts of trash. There were also some areas that smelled so bad you had to cover your face and speed walk. In the village we found a woman who was kind enough to let us into her home to look around. Inside was a large open courtyard with different rooms branching off. There was a bedroom and a kitchen with dried meat hanging from the ceiling. The courtyard contained two cages of bunnies and chickens (dinner?) as well as baskets and farming equipment. It was a really interesting experience going to the village, and I’m really glad we got to go.

After the village a few of us went to this little cafe for dinner. After the electricity FINALLY turned on, we were able to order coffee, tea and dinner. The cafe had some really great food, including this awesome curry dish. After dinner we spent the evening playing cards until we realized that people were dancing in a circle in the courtyard outside the cafe. So, knowing me, of course I had to go dance. We danced outside for a long time until we were told that Windsor (my roommate) had become friends with the head of Yunnan tourism. He was having a BBQ in the courtyard later that night and had invited us all to join. Of course we all wanted to go make Chinese friends! The group of us all went and sat on crates and grilled unidentifiable meats while attempting to speak Chinese. The night would have been a little more fun except the Chinese men, especially the man who invited us, was very adamant that we drink alcohol. Marketus, however, was very adamant that we NOT drink alcohol, which angered our hosts.

At the beginning of the program Marketus told us that even though we can all drink legally in China, it causes problems if we drink in front of him because we are not all 21, and since it is an American program, he doesn’t want to cause any problems. His insistence that we didn’t drink alcohol, however, DID cause some problems. It’s pretty impolite to refuse a drink from a Chinese person, unless for some reason (health, religious or otherwise) you never drink alcohol. Since they knew we weren’t drinking because of Marketus, they have him a really hard time. The worst part was that they were all singing patriotic songs, and then asked us to sing a song from America- so (Thanks so much for this suggestion Nate) some people decided to sing the Star Spangled Banner. This was all good and fine until they found out it was our National anthem- and then they were not so happy. Marketus said it is always hit or miss with things like that- sometimes it’s fine, sometimes it’s not fine. After we left we all had a meeting in Marketus’ room so he could ask us if we were okay. We were all fine, but we had no idea that the men had been so hard on Marketus for not letting us drink.

I have to say the BBQ in Shaxi was one of the most random, culturally interesting experiences I have had thus far in China. We were invited by the minister of tourism (of either Yunnan or the area- I still don’t know) because we were international tourists, which makes us special. This is a phenomenon I’ve seen in China- give the foreigners free things so they come here. It’s definitely something that I’m going to look into and maybe I’ll write a post about it sometime soon.



About Richelle

Expat, traveler, and spicy food lover, I've spent the last few years living in China and traveling around Asia. In my spare time I enjoy salsa dancing, exploring night markets and stuffing my face with street food.

4 comments on “Shaxi: Life in a Rural Chinese Town

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