Message in a bottle

Yünnan province is the land of unknown miracles. Among its northwestern mountains, near the Burmese border, lays Nuodeng, the thousand-year-old salt mine town, where, as we will soon present, time has come to a halt in the 1400s. And only eight kilometers away from Nuodeng is a natural wonder, where the Bijiang river turns back in itself, writing a veritable taijitu, yin-yang-symbol in the landscape. We would expect masses of Chinese Taoists to pilgrim here, as they do to the similar Český Krumlov, but not. While the Chinese-language European guidebooks all highlight the wonderful yin-yang-shape of Český Krumlov, the wonder of Bijiang river is virtually unknown. The Yunnan company, from whom I rent the bus for our Chinese journey, on looking at the itinerary, hesitates, and says: “Well, explain this to the driver.” I show the driver the pin inserted in during my Yunnan wanderings, but he doubts, since, in spite of being a local, he was never there. So, before going up, he tests the info at a nearby restaurant owner. And he does it well, because thus we also have a gorgeous Yunnan lunch before the wonderful sight.

While we eat, a lonely man stands in front of the restaurant’s glass door, in a blue shirt and a military jacket, with an ageless, haggard face, somewhere between forty and seventy. For a while, he also looks at the sight which is a miracle to him, the unlikely epiphany, the eight white persons here, at the border of China, at the edge of a small town, in a roadside eating-house.

He tries to communicate with us, he waves the hand, smiles, grimaces. I open the door, speak Chinese to him, but he does not answer, this probably goes beyond the limits of credibility to him. I lift he camera. He immediately stands in a military position, salutes, shows his non-existent pistol.

For a while, I try to communicate with him, but from now on he only switches between these two gestures. I sit back to eat. He disappears. One dish later he comes back, and calls me before the door. He gives over a sheet of paper torn from a booklet, with beautiful calligraphic writing. I sit back, start to decypher it.

“I am from Chengdu, I was a soldier, I fought in the Vietnam war. My military number: …248. Sincerely, Yang Zhi Cheng, local resident. On November 17, 2017”

Chinese soldiers in the Vietnam war? I recall the Ukrainian Zenon from Bolekhiv, the former Soviet military officer, who told me in full about his Ethiopian and Middle Eastern missions, where officially no Soviet soldier has ever been. I search for it on the internet. The Chinese state leaked half-officially, what they had adamantly denied, that is, that three hundred and twenty thousand Chinese soldiers fought in the Vietnam war against the Americans. Can it really happen, that this man, who now saw white men for the second time in his life, wanted to tell them the secret, who he is, and what binds him to them?

While I’m reading, the chef bends over me. He quickly reads the letter, and then he shouts something to the man, while showing with his hand to get him out from there. By the time I finish the letter, and lift my head, he’s nowhere.

3 comentarios:

Tororo dijo...

Nowhere seems to be just the right place for shooting haunting pictures.

Languagehat dijo...

Could it be that he fought in the Sino-Vietnamese War? Or does the Chinese text make it clear?

Studiolum dijo...

Yes, I also thought about it, and the Chinese text does not exclude it. I only thought that he would have more reason to let us know about his involvement in the “other” Vietnam war than in this minor border incident where none of “us”, white people, have participated.