Owen in China 20: Of carnivals, mud and sayings (June 3rd, 2016)

Hi everyone, this is Owen and this is my podcast for Friday 3rd June, 2016. Welcome to my 20th episode. If you’ve been listening from the beginning, you probably know by now that China is a smoker’s paradise. So, apart from reaching 20 episodes, there is something else I’m quite proud of this month: I’ve almost quit smoking. I don’t know many people who have managed this in China. Quitting smoking, of course, is never easy, but it’s especially hard in China. To help me give up smoking I’ve taken up a bit of sport and I’ve stopped going out as much… it’s been a tough month.

Today, I’ll be talking about a weekend away and a Chinese saying.


Vittoria and I took a little trip this month. It started with a long bus ride heading south-west of Kunming. Fortunately, it wasn’t as long as our bus trip to the Nujiang Valley in the far west of Yunnan, which I talked about in my 2nd podcast. For the first third of the trip, we were on a motorway, but then, as we headed into the mountains, the roads got very narrow and windy [1]. Our destination was a town called Cangyuan, right on the border with Myanmar. There is actually a border crossing in the town itself, but it’s closed to foreigners. Only the Chinese and Myanmarese can pass. But we weren’t there to cross into Myanmar, we were there for the Monihei Carnival. It’s a festival celebrated by the Wa people. The Wa people are one of the ethnic groups in southern Yunnan. The Monihei Carnival is the annual mud [2] festival which is celebrated to mark the start of a good planting season. It’s basically a huge mud fight. On the main square of the town they prepare huge vats [3] of mud, or rather muddy water. The organisers claim that mud is good for your skin and has other mysterious health benefits. Before the fight though, thousands of people stand around the vats of mud watching an amazing performance by Wa women. They are famous for doing a dance which looks a bit like the headbanging you’d see at a heavy metal concert. There were a couple hundred Wa women on a big stage when we were there. They were all dressed in their traditional clothes, long black skirts and black tops, and they all had very long, thick black hair. When the drum music started they all started shaking, swinging and banging their heads and long hair in unison [4] to the beat of their folk music. It was a mesmerising [5] sight. Then, the moment the music stopped, all the people in the audience ran to the vats of mud, filled their little cups and started throwing it at each other. It didn't take long and everyone was covered in mud from head to toe. And then, as if on command [6], the skies opened and it began to pour. Everyone stood there, arms outstretched [7], looking up at the sky, showering in the rain, all the mud washing off. The perfect end to a massive mud fight. It was great fun.


The next day, we caught a bus a little way out of Cangyuan. We had a couple days left, so we decided to spend them in a Wa village. We didn't really know what to expect. One of our friends, who had also participated in the mud fight, recommended it to us. We didn't realise that the village gets quite a lot of financial help from the government to keep it authentic and traditional. By traditional I mean that they have kept their traditional houses, which are made of wood and stand on wooden stilts [8] with thatched [9] roofs. It also means the village gets quite a few visitors. It’s a bit controversial [10] and not all residents are happy about it. However, one young man we spoke to said he preferred to make money from tourists in his village than in a factory in Guangdong [11]. Apparently, it’s the last Wa village in China which has been kept this way. The sight, as you enter the village, is quite beautiful. Lots of thatched houses with narrow lanes in between, all perfectly maintained. We quickly found a room to stay in and started exploring [12]. On our second day there, we met a family from a different Wa community in the south of Yunnan. We started chatting to the daughter, who was 14 years old and could speak Chinese. She told us that the village is quite well-known to the Wa people, so her family had come to visit it. The whole family was wearing their traditional outfits from their community which was quite different to what the locals were wearing. The girl explained to us that all the different Wa 20160603 E villagecommunities have their own dress. Theirs were a little more colourful than the locals, whose clothes were almost completely black apart from some pink and orange horizontal lines. They also had different hats on. We were then all invited into somebody’s house for a drink. We climbed a little wooden ladder [13] into the house which was one very large, square room. Their houses are like little pyramids on stilts. There are no walls. The roof meets the floor. In the middle of the room there was a big open fire place, which the family was cooking over. We sat down around a little table which had a small pot of tea and a bottle of local booze [14] on it. It was very smoky and dark. There was no chimney and only one small window in the roof, where a little of the afternoon sunlight shone through. The ceiling was covered in soot [15]. The host got out his cigarettes and offered them to everyone. I couldn't resist [16]. We then all got a little glass of tea and a little glass of corn alcohol. They were all talking in Wa in very soft and hushed [17] voices. Vittoria and I didn't understand a word. Nevertheless, sitting in this dark smoky house with a fire burning in the background was magical. One of those moments which reminds me why I love to travel. And then something rather unexpected happened. Everyone stood up, it went very quiet for a moment and then one of the visitors sang a song to the hosts. One of the hosts then replied by performing a song of his own. After each song we took a little sip [18] from our glass, complimented the singer and eagerly [19] awaited the next song. This went on until everyone in the room had sung. Once the last song had come to an end we put down our glasses and walked back out into the afternoon sun. We said our goodbyes to the visitors and promised to visit them one day.


On my street there’s a s little restaurant that has just opened. They serve big bowls of spicy rice noodles in soup, which is a very popular dish in Kunming. I’m not a big fan, so I haven’t actually tried the restaurant yet. But the food isn’t the reason I’m telling you about it. The reason I’m telling you about it is the entrance to the restaurant that I walk by every day. There’s a saying in Chinese which goes ‘cha bu
duo’. Literally translated it means ‘difference not much’. Depending on the context you can translate it as ‘close enough’ or ‘more or less’. You hear it all the time. Whenever you don’t get exactly what you asked for or were promised, they’ll say ‘cha bu duo’. Anyone who likes
things done well, anyone who is a bit picky or pays attention to detail, any perfectionist, finds the phrase really annoying. You could argue 20160603 E tilesthat it represents a certain mentality here. At times they seem to prefer to do things as quickly as possible and not worry about quality so much. In the case of the restaurant on my street, they clearly didn’t worry about quality when they renovated the entrance area. In front of the restaurant they put down about 20 square meters of tiles [20] with a geometrical pattern on them. Because of the pattern all the tiles had to be placed facing the same direction. However, the worker who was laying the tiles managed to put one of the tiles facing the wrong direction. It’s right in the middle as well. I’m telling you, it really stands out [21]. Everyday I have to walk past that restaurant and I can’t stop myself from looking at that one misplaced tile in the middle. It really annoys me every time I pass it. I wonder about the owner of the restaurant. I wonder what his reaction was. He must have looked at the tiles, turned to the worker, who was no doubt proud of his work, shrugged [22] and said: ‘Cha bu duo.’


As always thank you very much for listening. I’ll be recording one more podcast before the summer break. I hope you’ll join me again then. Gerry will be back in two weeks. My next podcast will be on 1st July. You can listen to all the podcasts on our website www.podclub.ch or by downloading our app. You can also download our vocabulary trainer to help you learn new words. Have a great month! Goodbye.

[1] windy: here: having many turns
[2] mud: the result from mixing earth and water
[3] vat: a large container which holds liquid
[4] in unison: a simultaneous performance
[5] mesmerising: holding the attention of someone
[6] on command: instructed to do so at that moment
[7] outstretched: extended out to the side
[8] stilts: here: posts which support a building
[9] thatched: made from straw or a similar material
[10] controversial: about which there is disagreement
[11] Guangdong: a province in the south-east of China which has many factories
[12] to explore: to visit an unfamiliar area to learn about it
[13] ladder: a piece of equipment used for climbing up or down something
[14] booze: alcoholic drinks
[15] soot: black powder that is produced when you burn wood or coal
[16] to resist: to say no to something you want
[17] hushed: quiet and serious
[18] sip: a small mouthful
[19] eagerly: strongly wanting to have something
[20] tile: a thin piece of material, usually glazed pottery, for covering floors or other surfaces
[21] to stand out: to be very visible
[22] to shrug: to lift your shoulders






Armin 20-01-2017 15:32
Hi Owen, thank you very much for all your interesting stories. Today, I really liked your picture with the geometrical pattern. It's really awful. I was always wondering, if I was the only person who gets disturbed by such things, but now I'm confirmed ... cha bu duo! Goodbye.