From the vault: The guy looked at me a little strangely but didn’t laugh; instead he shook his head and walked on. I will admit that I was acting weirdly for I was mooing, trying to sound like a cow. I could have done the “oink, oink” sound of a pig but thought it wouldn’t be as convincing. It’s easier to be a cow. Besides, there was a picture of a cow on a nearby building and I pointed to it as I “mooed” although it didn’t help me find my way back to the livestock area and to my ride out of here.
“Here” was a large market in an unknown town in Yunnan, China, a couple of hours from Dali. I’d been driven here in a van with four American professors and sort of wandered off on my own. The driver—a charming, toothless, chain-smoker—could not speak a word of English but when he dropped us off in the livestock area I thought he indicated, through gestures, that we just go about as we wished.
So I went on ahead, past the cows (moo, moo) and the pigs (oink, oink), deep into the village’s extensive market. There were sections devoted to fruit and vegetables, another just to meat, one where candy was carved off of large sugary blocks, yet another where piles of noodles were weighed. There were tables and benches where you could sit and enjoy a meal. The meat market was a little too real as the parts of dead animals hung on display including the hoofs and head of cows. No wonder I could only think of “mooing”.
There are many ethnic minorities in Yunnan and several of them were at the market so it was a colourful place. This town has not changed in decades and most people still get around by horse and buggy. I came upon a young man who looked like a weight lifter. He let me take his photo and was so pleased by what he saw in the lens that I decided to show everyone their image when they let me take their picture. One old guy desperately wanted to keep his picture and we had a bit of a wrestling match as I struggled to get my camera back.
I came upon a line of men in white coats peddling dental services. Their dental clinic was right here and they were pulling out rotten teeth and putting fake ones in. I tried to take some pictures of what they were doing but they chased me away. That’s when it struck me that the Americans I had come with that day had not caught up and that there were no tourists here, not even Chinese ones. I decided to retrace my steps back to the livestock market but without success. Then I rather methodically walked one street after another but it was a maze and I couldn’t find my way out.
My big concern was that I’d be abandoned. Whatever would I do? That’s when I started “mooing”. Just as I gave up trying to sound like a cow my driver appeared. He seemed delighted to see me and I was sure overwhelmed with joy on seeing him. My fellow travellers were forgiving although a little perplexed that I wasn’t carrying an English-Chinese dictionary, which I blamed on travel in too many countries and barely being able to negotiate the various currencies much less all the languages.
We went on to a tiny Muslim village hidden deep in the hills, to a restaurant with two large tables, both round, one occupied by a noisy bunch of policemen and the other reserved for us. The cooks invited us into their kitchen so we could select the produce for our meal and when it was ready they brought bowl after bowl of the most delicious food I ate in China.
Later on, after I had gone through the photos I had taken that day, I realized there were no cows in the livestock market, only mules and pigs. I had cows in my head because of the meat market.
What sound does a mule make?
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses