Asia | China | Yunnan Province | Honghe | Gejiu – Living on the Gejiu City Communist Party’s generosity
Living on the Gejiu City Communist Party’s generosity, riding in a police car for the first time in my life, visit to the poorest village around gejiu, what Gejiu people thought of Americans…it was five days of information overload for my little brain.
Gejiu is my dad’s second hometown, so i came with a similar mentality as those who want to trace their roots. it used to be (or might still be) the second biggest city in yunnan, but i couldn’t tell that at all from it appearance. the city is squeezed betwen two hills, lao yin shan and lao yang shan. lao yin shan sits in the east and is quite high, so the sun always rises an hour or so later in gejiu (yin in chinese means cloudy). the city flourished in the middle of last century for its tin mines and my grandfather relocated there in the 50s to work in the mines as an engineer. stuck in the mountains, the only way to reach the outside used to be by the narrowest PASS in the world, not much wider than a cable car, the pass ran for a stretch of about 20km. the rail tracks were eventually abandoned in the 70s when the road was built. as the resources disappeared, the city gradually went into recession and a lot of people were laid off from work.
nowadays it reminds me of any other small cities in china that’s stuck in the urbanization process. everthing is new, yet built so quickly and with such poor quality. there is still this one street with pre-communist old buildings that had the typical gray tile roofs, and there are some communist era buildings built in the 50s along the slopes of lao yan san, skyscrapers still under scaffolding and rising higher than lao yan shan. my dad walked around and gasped and awed at the changes. he pointed to the department store and said, ‘this used to be the most glamorous building in the city when i was here. back then it had 3 stories.’ nowadays it stands at 7 stories. his old house used to stand on the top of the hill on lao yang shan. now it’s replaced with a nine-story residential building (w/o elevator), and the part of the hill where the old house used to stand has been reduced to flat ground.
like every other part of china, ge jiu is also partially westernized in a weird way. bleached hair, loose jeans, and tight halter tops are not uncommon among the trendy youth, whereas the older people standing next to them still wore Mao hats. not developed enough to attract a McDonald’s or KFC,ge jiu came up with its own alternative–Mekinmu, a fast food restaurant with golden curvy lines on its big red banner and sells fried chicken. according to dad, nothing has changed about the people. they still walked about with a non-chalant and relaxed air.
we met up with uncle Li, a high school friend of my uncle’s who were asked to help us find lodging. he is now one of the communist party members in charge of gejiu’s legal institution. and like the ge jiu people we had heard about before, he was friendly, almost to a degree that made us feel guilty. as we went to the reception desk to pay, he held us back and said, ‘don’t worry about it. we’ ve already taken care of that.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘this hotel belongs to the city government. no one we bring here needs to pay.’
‘but we are here for personal reasons and are not guests of the government.’ dad got a little nervous at the thought of being linked to the government, ‘don’t you have any privately owned places?’
‘no! i would not be a good host if i let you pay.’ he was blocking my dad’s way with his arms. Dad finally lost in the physical struggle and gave in, ‘fine. we’ll stay here tonight. but please find us another place tomorrow where we do have to pay.’
Uncle Li calmed down at our concession.
as we walked back to the hotel from dinner, ge jiu was swinging in its night life. in the narrow alleyways, dim yellow light shone in a ma jong bar near the train station as four men sat around a square table, playing their night away. the train station has been shut for years and stood lonely in the faint music floating out of the windows of the nearby karaoke bars. the old tracks ended abruptly at the base of the building, their past glory no longer remembered.