Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Conference Day 2 – The Mighty Mekong and an Evening Betrothal

On the second day of our stay (July 6th – a day before the conference really started) several of us took a couple of taxis to the Mekong River. We walked over the bridge and made our way through town, invading and photographing a small morning market and a tea shop, among other interesting sights. The afternoon was hot and many just stayed in their rooms to get caught up on email (through a dialup connection offered by the hotel). In the evening we attended a cultural performance, which lasted from 8 pm to almost 11 pm! – It was very long, and consisted of a lot more comedy and audience-on-stage types of entertainment (an early form of reality entertainment!).

The first of these audience skits followed the compulsory boy-meets-girl dance that is a part of all of there performances. They were looking for four male participants and I was asked a couple of times to do it and finally relented. (Little did I realize that all of the people behind me from our group had been pointing at me as someone they should select!) I did it because (1) I thought I should represent our group, since they had acknowledge our attendance and had an English interpreter on stage just for us, and (2) I had done this before in another part of China when I was the only non-Chinese person in the audience. That was probably a far more embarrassing performance as I participated in a four-way tug-of-war to win the hand of a maiden (and I lost). Anyway, I was used to this so I figured I could handle it!

It was rather easy. They gave me a Dai bandana hat, a courting cape and a flashlight. We were to replicate the previous dance by going from girl to girl in the dark and using to flashlight to select the one we most liked. As it turned out all of the other three men selected the first girl they came up to. I looked (quickly) at two and selected first one I came up to because she was still available. We were then to put the cloak around ourselves and the girl and help her spin her spinning wheel (making thread). After that the lights came on and we were to find the girl who we had originally selected and stand next to her. I thought I had found her, but someone else was already standing next to her so I took the last one available. It turned out that I was correct to begin with, the other guy was wrong.

Anyway, it was a painless experience and I received a wedding token for my efforts – which is small embroidered pillow-like object that is worn on a string around the neck. It is supposed to symbolize betrothal. (We all received one at the airport upon our arrival, as well.) We were all asked, in Chinese, if we loved our new brides and one guy yelled out some kind of positive response. I did not understand the question and was asked again in English. I answered, “Well, OK” – in a non-commital way that got a laugh – and at least I did not have to sing or dance (as Dallen did the following night).

Most people had arrived by the time the bus left for the evening performance. A few people, however, had not, though they should have – which caused me some concern. Earlier in the day, Liujun (a Ph.D. student who was a key organizer of the conference), had collected passports from those of us who would be going on the post-conference Field Trip, along with the12 photos that had been requested. The final passport was to arrive after 10pm that evening and was going to be hand flown to Kunming for delivery to the travel agency to get the visas for the trip.

The photo below is a panoramic shot (3 photos combined) of the Mekong River and Jonghong taken from a bridge crossing the river.


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