Asia | China | Yunnan Province | Ruili – The Burmese section
Jiegao, 8 minutes away from Ruili, is a trading port between China and Myanmar. I pictured a busy street with Burmese women in their long straight skirts selling jade jewlery, and local Dai people trying to entice passersby with bowls of colorfully spiced food. But jiegao seemed quite depressed. Although there are some Burmese walking around, they didn’t seem to be up to doing anything. Most of the restaurants were Sichuanese. The taxi driver pointed out the border to us, and it was no more than a small check point. Ajian’s borderholic side came through, but was utterly disappointed when I got turned back at the checkpoint for not having a Burmese visa.
While he left to explore the casinos featuring transvetite performances on the other side of the border on his own, Wang rui and I came back to Ruili. By the long distance bus station, we noticed some big umbrellas covering some fruit stands, and started wandering in that direction. As if the market was a maze, a few fruit stands lead to a produce market, then another lane of shops, then a semi-outdoor gemstone market selling endless piles of jade processed to various stages. I got a little excited thinking how much money all these rocks are worth. Some Burmese sat quietly behind the counter polishing the stones or weaving the ribbons, while their Chinese employers skillfully bargained with retailers looking for a deal and patiently informed unknowledgable consumers like us the differences between the types of semi-precious stones.
Right outside the market is a Burmese community where Ruili’s international flare is best evidenced. Most of the vendors spoke no Chinese, and we had no idea what they were selling. I saw a man putting a white paste on a pretty green leaf, then wrapping some spices in it. I chewed on one of these little packets like everyone else was doing, and a strong taste of toothpaste mixed with cheap perfume rushed to my stomach. Putting my manners aside, I spat it out, but had already swallowed a big gulp of juice that didn’t seem to get diluted no matter how much shaved ice I had. A Burmese woman later told me that it was good for my teeth. I sucked on my numb tongue and nodded in agreement with a bitter smile.
We got a full load of Ruili’s nightlife starting with dinner in the Burmese section. We ordered by pointing to whatever everyone else was ordering. Accustomed to a relatively homogenized Chinese society, or at least one where I never had a language problem, I felt as if I was travelling in a multi-ethnic section of New York or London. The friendly owners gave us two complimentary lighters as a gesture of welcome.
Ruili’s well known night market was newly built, and a good part of the complex was still unoccupied. But the opened shops kept it busy enough. The aroma of BBQ meat and roasted tofu lured me ahead to a make-shift screen, where the majority of the locals on the square were watching a kungfu movie with such concentration that the flash from my camera startled them. I sipped a smoothie and joined them, taking a deep breath of the cool night air.