From the heights of Central China, Tibet being just around the corner, we travel over highs and lows to the earthquake-shaken country of Myanmar, home of Nobel Prize winner for peace, Aung San Suu Kyi.
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Tuesday/ Wednesday, November 13 and 14, 2012 - Since the pump for "Maggi's" power steering hasn't arrived yet, we have to stay put in Xining involuntarily. Thomas found out about a temple high up in the rock grottos. It is supposed to be a Taoist temple.
Contrary to our expectations, our escort accompanies us there. A Chinese proverb states; "The emperor is far away and heaven is high". We can shoot, but without interviews today, perhaps tomorrow, when we have a permit. The afternoon sun shimmers on the blue-yellow wooden ornaments on the temple roof. The silhouette of the city can hardly be seen because of the smog of Xining.
On the 14th of November, the Chinese commemorate the dead souls with the Guijie Festival. We are lucky to experience colourful liveliness in the temple. Relatives come and bring fruits and cakes so that the souls of their dead ancestors feel well. The atmosphere of the morning service is so festive that it touches us deeply. In the evening we meet up with a representative of the VW workshop in Xining at the airport. We are waiting for Jin who will bring the spare part from Germany. As he lands, we are all happy owners of a three stage hydraulic pump.
Thursday, November 15, 2012 - Early in the morning we drive to the VW workshop on the edge of town to pick up "Maggi". We interrupt the morning roll call of the employees. In an almost military-style ceremony, the employees commit to good customer service and more. Today we want to drive about 500 kilometres towards Chengdu. We are rewarded with an incomprehensibly beautiful landscape.
555 Yellow River, November 15, 2012 - We all pause for a moment for the beautiful view. After only 200 kilometres we come to a police check of the town of Tongren. They tell us the snow fall is too strong. But the real reason is another: We would have to drive through the town of Hezuo, but it is completely sealed off, since Tibetans live there. Someone saw Thomas shooting out of the bus and reported us.
Xu Shusheng, our Chinese escort, is able to convince the police, but we are to avoid Tongren. To make sure that we actually do that, the head of the public security office accompanies us personally for the next 150 kilometres - with emergency lights. It is absurd. We don't intend to shoot a film about the Tibetan minority. But they obviously want to avoid us even mentioning them at all. Then the escort leaves us. Carefully, we drive over the icy mountain pass at an altitude of 3,500 metres in total darkness. Around 10 p.m. we arrive in Linxia.
Monday to Tuesday, November 19 - 20, 2012 - We actually notice that we are heading south, we have 15 degrees Celsius, a few boats are on Lugu Lake. The lake lies on the southeast foothills of the Himalaya, it is said that the people of the Musuo live here in a matriarchy, at least the women are supposed to be in charge. The water is as smooth as glass and the mountains look like a film set. The Chinese spend their holidays here, especially the rich ones.
At our arrival, we are to meet La Zu, the cultural official of Luguhu. As our Chinese escort tells her of our wish to meet up with one of the people of Musuo, the modern, attractive young woman pauses for a moment, then invites us to her home. She lives on a farm. The flat main building is 200 years old, flanked with three-story high buildings to the left and right of it. Behind the residence live ten pigs, right next to a corn field.
The fire is cozily crackling, a bit of light shines through the roof hatch into the windowless room, which is constantly filled with smoke. We are in the house of La Zu's mother. She is a Musuo and in charge here. She is a cautious woman of 57 years with a warm, dark voice. She introduces us to her extended family; two brothers, two sisters, a cousin and her 12-year old son.
She briefly explains how the household works: they all consult each other, but she has the last say. One of the biggest decisions was about having the new building be leased. She had the idea to lease it to a hotel operator, and did not regret it. Her brother of about 55 years of age nods in approval.
The Musuos live with their grandmother’s family under the same roof. Marriages don't exist. After dark the men come over to the women and return to their own maternal households the next morning. More than one partner during a lifetime is normal for the women, as well as for the men, but not at the same time! If a man comes over, he hangs his hat outside on a hook, an obvious sign. Visitation relationships without weary divorce disputes.
Wednesday to Friday, November 21 - 23, 2012 - We are looking forward to the warmer Dali, a day's journey away from Lake Lugu. Dali lies in Yunnan, between the mountains and Lake Erhai, and awaits us with 20 degrees Celsius.
The modern centre on the other side of town was costly and beautifully renovated. Strolling through the spacious streets is a lot of fun.
Saturday to Sunday, November 24 - 25, 2012 - We leave Dali, which has enchanted us, and head over to Ruili, the town bordering Myanmar. We immediately are caught in a giant traffic jam that costs us four hours of travel time. Luckily, it is as warm as in spring time, and Thomas, our cameraman, uses the time to dry his freshly washed socks.
We arrive after dark. Big shopping streets, all very clean and rather slow-paced. The city seems to be relaxed. But Ruili is supposed to have changed a great deal since the end of the trade barrier between Myanmar and China. Casinos and night clubs emerged, and drugs are circulating, despite the drastic punishments. But this evening we notice nothing of all of that.
Monday, November 26, 2012 - We are at the border from China to Myanmar. During our customs clearance, we are standing between two giant trucks, which supply Myanmar. Beer, household goods, spare parts for automobiles, textiles - 85 percent of all goods come from the neighbouring China. Then we slowly roll over to the other side. Shin Daewe, a documentary filmmaker, awaits us in Myanmar. She has prepared our journey.
On our entry into Myanmar, the officer on duty turns our papers around and around. "It is unbelievable, unbelievable! Are they really legitimate?" Shin Daewe must have the papers verified per fax from Yangon. Half an hour later, the moment arrives: We are allowed to drive on! Ingo and Gregor are the first Europeans entering the country in their own vehicle for the last 20 years. An indescribable feeling! We head for Lashio to stop for the night. On our way there, we see astonished people everywhere waving at us. It takes us six hours to drive the 190 kilometres to Lashio on small, bumpy mountain roads. In the evening we sit in the warm tropical air in a small cook shop and are plain happy to be here.