I found my friend, Li Jing, at his mother's tea shop. He was overjoyed to see me, almost as if he hadn't really expected me to show. When I introduced him to my friend, Nick, they immediately hit it off and started tossing back local beer with a vengeance.
Li was happy to practise his English on a real native English speaker. We sat outside to talk. By the end of the night, the ground under our table which was under the trees was littered with sunflower seed shells and bottle caps.
Back at our hotel, Nick and I had split on a room to save money so with two guitars at hand, a jam session was called for. He'd play me a song. I'd play him a song. It was great. It was my first jam session in years! The exchange of music and appreciation was a real high.
The next day after breakfast, Nick admitted that he was glad to be leaving China. He'd had his fill of the crowds and the craziness and was heading off to Thailand via Laos. In a way, I envied him the trip.
Since he wanted to change some money, Li and I took him to the local Black Market money- changer whom I had dealt with months previously. He remembered me, always happy to do business with wai goren foreigners. Nick was happy with the exchange and felt he'd gotten a fair deal. I looked askance and shook my head.
Then it was time for Nick to be leaving. The Black Market money-changer/bicycle box driver loaded his backpack into the box on wheels but as he approached to mount his bicycle, Nick said,
"No, no, let me drive. You ride for a change."
This completely floored our money-changer! His smile grew from ear to ear as he sat in the metal box. We waved them off as a startled group of onlookers watched in amazement. This was the show of a lifetime for the citizens of Mengla -a white-haired, blue-eyed Westerner driving a bicycle box down the main street in broad day-light!
A view of the Dai Village on the river in Mengla