In which, surprisingly enough, traveling with someone else's family is hard

Alternate titles: An introvert’s nightmare, Friend-breaking-up is hard to do, Americans are like _this_ and Chinese are like _this_

So Langmusi (aka Lhamo, Taktsang Lhamo, Dagcang Lhamo, Lhamo Gompa, Lamo Goinba, but I will use Langmusi because it seems the most widely used) is this beautiful place about a day’s travel from Chengdu, so I head there. Only problem is, there’s no bus from Chengdu to Langmusi, just to Zoige (aka Ruo’ergai, but I will use Zoige because I am not a Klingon), about a half hour drive away. Zoige town, however, … kinda sucks, so I’d rather just get to Langmusi. As in most Tibetan Chinese cities, there are a fleet of drivers who can get you there or anywhere else; as with most drivers, they charge per car so you gotta find some friends to go with you, or pay like 250 RMB to get an hour away.

There’s this family that’s going there too, or something; they hear I’m going to Langmusi and they lump me in with their negotiations. (unwisely, it turns out; the driver at one point looks at me and goes “50 RMB, ok?” and I say ok, because it is ok, but it turns out the right answer was “no of course not you greedy scumbag, way too much.") Anyway, there is hardcore negotiating going on, involving me, the dad of this family (I think his name is something like “Ya”, even though that doesn’t really sound like a name, but it’s as close as I could understand it), the grandpa (“Yi”?), and their… friend I think? (surprisingly named “Shamma”?) It does not involve the mom or the ~4 year old girl. (I tried to ask their names at some point but it got lost in translation and they never volunteered them when we were going around doing names. Welp.)

God, I can already tell this post’s going to be long, and short on action. I need an editor. In the meantime, I’ll just explain all the constant ambiguity that accompanied this adventure, and you can read until you get bored.

Anyway, Ya and Yi and Shamma and driver figure it out, and off we go. This took about a half hour. We then go to this field on the outskirts of town while the driver goes in this building and does something? Who knows. Took another half hour maybe. The field’s pretty enough; it looks like the Windows XP default desktop. We take pictures and durdle around.

Driver comes back, and off we go. This time to about half a mile down the road, when the driver pulls over and everyone gets out. Then the driver goes home. I still have no idea what happened here, but here we are, six of us, on the side of the road. Ya and his daughter walk back to the city to … find another driver?

Then the police show up. Three of em; the one in charge looks kinda like my cousin Jordan, but a little older, maybe 40s? The next guy looks around my age and trying to do a good job. The third guy looks like he’s about 22, real gawky, and possibly stoned. Anyway, older-Jordan does all the talking, and I still have no idea what’s going on, but I’m guessing he’s telling us not to hitchhike? And then he and middle-cop tell us to walk back to town. Stoner cop never says a word.

So we’re off, back to town! Well, as we’re walking off, the cops see a mostly-empty van driving to town, and they ask them to take us back, and they do. After fiddling with the back seat for a while to get it to stay in one place.

Now it’s about 2 hours after we started, and I keep wondering, is Ya just lowballing everyone and the drivers are not driving us because we’re not paying up? Eh. I cast my lot with Ya and friends, and at this point they’re still my best bet to get to Langmusi. And, sure enough, they find another driver and we pile in, mom and kid in front, four in the backseat. I keep falling asleep on Shamma’s shoulder. He’s not real fussed about it.

Arrival in Langmusi. They’re like “where are you going to stay?” and I don’t know, of course, so they tell me to come with them and they find a decent place that costs us each 30 RMB ($5) per night. I mean, cool; I thought we were just ride share buddies but I don’t mind splitting a room.

We go for dinner. This is an absurd negotiation as well which I don’t really understand, but we walk in and out of a few places before ending up at a Sichuan restaurant. Ya: do you want some beer? Me: I mean, if you are. We go to a convenience store and buy 9 beers. We then find out they are pineapple-flavored after opening 4 of them (for the men, duh) and Shamma goes back to return the others and get plain beer. We then each have a pineapple beer and a plain beer, so I guess we’re double fisting?

The food is fine. We order some things. Yi wants some boiled lamb. They bring out the lamb and it doesn’t look as good as the photo, I guess, so he angrily sends it back. More debate. They keep asking me what I want. I’m seriously fine with anything. But the tricky thing is, sometimes it’s all easier if you have a preference, but then you can’t easily voice a preference after saying it doesn’t matter. Whatever, we eat.

Ya: do you want to all take a walk? Me: Ok, I guess. The family walks down the street. Ya and Yi and Shamma are looking at these elaborately decorated knives in the tourist store. Ya: what do you want to do? Me: I seriously don’t care. Eventually Yi still wants some lamb, so we decide he and Ya and I will go buy lamb and the rest will go home. What are we going to do with this lamb? I still have so many questions.

(by the way, we didn’t double fist the beers; everyone drank the plain one and then just left the pineapple one. Seems like a waste; I mean, come on, guys, every Chinese beer tastes like water anyway.)

Ya decides to buy some more beers. Ya: do you want to try some Ergotou? Me (thinking): ugh ok I mean I’ll try a taste to be a sport but really don’t want to be drinking tons of shots of 56% liquor. But that is hard to convey when you share about 25% of a language.

So we have 4 beers, a little ergotou bottle, and a plastic bag with like 2 pounds of lamb. We set up a little table in our room and drink beer and ergotou and eat lamb.

And you know what? The lamb is frickin' delicious, best I’ve had in maybe ever (Yi was on to something!), and the ergotou is really pretty decent too. (ergotou » baijiou in my book. wait, are they the same thing?) And we’re having a good time, talking about stuff, until the next day’s plans come up. They want to take me to Flower Lake. I think about the 100 debates we’ve had (rather, they’ve had, in Chinese) in the 5 hours we’ve been hanging out, and I can_not_ stomach another day of this. We’re buddies, but we’re not travel-across-the-country buddies. So I throw out excuses, like “I wanted to rent a bicycle”, but Ya is having none of it. We are Traveling Companions now. And I try to think of a kind way out of it, and the best I can come up with is, “I really prefer traveling alone.”

It’s like someone threw cold water on the room. Yi and Shamma seem to get it; I said as much in Chinese and they’re talking with Ya, but Ya is so sad. And, I mean, I’m sad too! Friend-breaking-up is really hard. But it seems there was no way we were going to remain friends but not travel together for days, and traveling with them, kind as they were, was stressful as hell.

So it goes, I guess! I’m not losing sleep about it, it was clearly the right decision, but it’s hard to tell someone who’s convinced that you’re best buddies, that no, we were rideshare companions and then I ate dinner with y’all because it’s nice of you to invite me. He’s gracious about it, but fighting back tears. He says something about “no, I understand. American style.” and I start wondering if, maybe, we can make a grand generalization about American and Chinese cultures based on how I like traveling alone and they wouldn’t possibly even think of it.

I feel like I’ve got a good quote in me, something like “travel is the art of getting into uncomfortable (but not dangerous) situations that you might not have done if you’d known what you were in for.” Editor, please clean that up, and then start making inspirational posters of it.


Daniel -

For the record, this was a fascinating blog post :)

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