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Aliens in Ebian 峨边的外国人

‘Are you from Singapore?’ the man at the petrol station asked me.

‘Singapore?’ I said, wondering what part of my fair skin, freckles and light hair looked exactly Singaporean. ‘No, no, Australia. Ao-da-li-ya’
‘Australia!’ he repeated, but mixed up the syllables so that it came out sounding like Italy in Chinese.
‘No, not Italy: yi-da-li, Australia: ao-da-li-ya’ I clarified.

‘Yes! ao-lo-di-yi!’ I’m pretty sure that was an entirely made-up country just for my benefit. Australy. Itstralia.
‘Yes!’ I said, handing over the money. ‘Very big! Not many people!’
Meandering south from Leshan’s Giant Buddha, we entered the long river valley of the Dadu River in southern Sichuan, a place very similar to my standard description of Australia – very big, and not many people, even fewer of whom seemed to have heard of my home country. Perhaps it was my accent.

The area was remote and beautifully wild – tall craggy cliffs rising vertically from the river bed towards the sky, with plummeting narrow waterfalls rushing back down to the river at intervals. In such remote and mountainous country flat land for farming was scarce.

你来自新加坡吗?加油站的那个男士问我。
新加坡?我重复了一遍,难道是我的皮肤,雀斑或是头发使我看起来像个新加坡人。不,不是的,澳大利亚,我来自澳大利亚。
澳大利亚!他重复了一遍,但是混淆了几个字母所以导致用中文发出澳大利亚这个词的时候听起来像意大利。
不对,不是意大利,意利,是澳大利亚,澳我澄清道。
好的!澳意!我完全相信这一定是出于对我的尊重他组合了这个国家。澳大利,意大利亚。
是的!我说,一边把钱递给他。地方很大,但是人不是很多。
乐山大佛向南漫游,我们进入了四川南部的大渡河的一条河谷,这里很符合我刚刚对澳大利亚的描述很大,但是人不是很多,这里的人似乎更少听说过我的国家。但也许是因为我发音的缘故。
这个地方偏远而独具野生的美丽高大崎岖的峭壁沿着河床直冲天际,倾泻而下的瀑布不时冲击着河流。在如此偏远而遍布群山的乡村,几乎没有用来耕作的平坦的农田。








I thought, mistakenly as it turns out, that we had covered all of China’s worst roads in Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and Qinghai. But Sichuan had saved the worst of all for us – a 68km stretch of rocks and mud weaving in and out below the construction of a new riverside highway, alarmingly punctuated now and again by landslides.

The road, if I can truthfully call it that, was only one lane wide, so we drove in a caravan between trucks until there was a slight widening, then stopped so the caravan of trucks and cars travelling in the opposite direction could pass us. The going was painfully slow.

The road also welcomed us with a sign saying:

‘LESHAN COUNTY: ALIENS NOT PERMITTED TO ENTER’

which we neglected to photograph on the grounds that it might later incriminate us.

‘Are you an alien?’ I asked my husband. 
‘Certainly not!’ he replied. ‘Are you?’
‘No!’ I said, as we both failed to make eye contact with the police patrol parked under the sign.
‘I’m sure they’ll let us know if we’re considered aliens’ we decided, knowing full well we might be turned around at any minute by the men in black. Except turning a campervan around on a single lane mud track when there are sixty impatient trucks banked up in both directions was always going to be tricky. At least, that’s what we were counting on.

That 68km section of road took eight long exhausting hours to traverse, and as you can well imagine there was nowhere to camp that wasn’t already occupied by a construction crew or a broken-down bus.

Amongst all of this, the town of Ebian rose up like an oasis. More accurately, Ebian peered through a dense fog of pollution from the nearby nickel smelters and factories, sitting at a sharp bend in the Dadu River and clinging to the steep slopes of the riverside hills. It twinkled at us in the growing dark, beckoning us to come and find a guest house or hotel, a more attractive option than camping at the petrol station amongst people who confused Italy and Australia.

我原以为我们已经在内蒙古,新疆和青海经历了中国最糟糕的道路。但结果是我误解了这些,四川留给我们最艰难的行程在一条60公里的道路上上下颠簸,上面尽是石头和泥土,这是一条新修在河边的公路,时不时可以看到山体滑坡的警示。
我深信这条路只有一条小巷那么宽,因此我们只能在大卡车之间有些许宽度的时候行驶,然后如果对面有卡车或是汽车可以直接过去的时候我们就先停下来,这样的话我们的行进速度非常缓慢。
路边也有个标示注明:
‘LESHAN COUNTY: ALIENS NOT PERMITTED TO ENTER’
乐山县:外国人不准进入。” 由于担心事后受到指控,我们没有在路上拍照。
你是外国人吗?我问我丈夫。
当然不是!他答道。你呢?
不是!我说。我们都没敢看在停在警示牌下的巡警。
我确信他们能告诉我们是否是外地人,我们决定搞清楚这一点,否则在接下来的任何一分钟都可能被灰溜溜地赶回来。来回拥堵了60多辆不耐烦的卡车,在泥泞的单行线上掉头是一个技术活,至少,我们希望能做到。
这条68公里的路耗费了我们8个小时的时间行驶。你可以想象到根本没有地方让我们安营扎寨,因为经过的区域已经完全被建筑施工队或是坏掉的巴士占据了。
此间,峨边彝族自治县的出现就像是一片绿洲。更准确的说,从附近镍熔炉工厂产生的污染浓雾望去,峨边彝族自治县坐落于大渡河的转弯处,紧邻河畔丘陵的陡坡处,在渐浓的夜色中闪着光亮,吸引我们前往去找到一个宾馆或是旅店,相比于露宿在有那些搞混意大利和澳大利亚人群的加油站中,这是一个更为诱人的选项。
在陡峻和蜿蜒的道路上我们慢速行进,进入镇中心,我们完全被这地方搞懵了,到处是三轮出租车,震耳的音乐,汽车鸣笛声,还有晃眼的闪光灯标,这个地方的发展的速度超越其本身应有的,而且还没有解决好过剩的人口问题。
这么多的人,一时间震惊了我们。
五十张陌生的脸庞好奇的看着我们停车,然后看我们走出房车,询问我们要不要去马路对面的小旅馆住宿。
穿过新一批的峨边彝族自治县房屋建设区,在一个大厅里三个年轻女人身着套装,玩着手机,她们一起看过来,下巴都快掉了,也许我就是个外国人。
这让我们感觉到有点不舒服,但不会像之前那么不舒服,那时候被20个感兴趣的本地人围着,拥挤在旅馆的小角落,问着一连串的问题:
你们从哪里来啊?
你是做啥的啊?
你一个月挣多少钱啊?
你怎么会说汉语啊?
外边的小孩是你家的吗?
她说的是啥啊?
她来自澳大利亚。月收入人民币一万元。两个女儿。
人群传阅着我们的护照。
我们这里没来过外国人!桌边的少女告诉我。这让我不那么安心,但是好在本地的警察没对我们产生太多兴趣,我们也想远离他们。























We wound down the steep and twisting road into the centre of town, utterly chaotic with a mayhem of tricycle taxis, blaring music, horns, and bright flashing lights, a place that was rapidly outgrowing itself and hadn’t worked out yet what to do with all the surplus people. 

The surplus people, meanwhile, had suddenly spotted us.

Fifty incredulous faces watched us park, then watched me get out of the campervan to ask about rooms at the tiny hotel across the road.

In the lobby three young women wearing suits were playing on their mobile phones over a scale model of a new Ebian housing development. They looked up in unison and their jaws literally dropped. Perhaps I was an alien after all.

This made me feel a little uncomfortable, but not nearly as uncomfortable as the process of registration which involved twenty very interested locals crowding the hotel’s small counter and shooting me with a battery of questions:

‘Where are you from?’
‘What’s your job?’
‘How much do you earn each month?’
‘How come you can speak Chinese?’
‘Are those your children outisde?’
‘What did she say?’
‘She’s from Australia. Monthly income 10,000 renminbi. Two daughters.’

Our passports did the rounds of the crowd.

‘We don’t have any foreigners here!’ the teenage girl manning the desk told me. This reassured me not at all, but as yet the local police had shown no interest in us and we wanted to keep it that way.

For people unaccustomed to aliens, Ebian’s locals were mighty keen to get to know us. A tight crowd followed us around the small night market until we found a restaurant that looked clean and welcoming, but as we sat down the rosy-cheeked waitress took one panicked look at us and ran off, returning five baffling minutes later with the owner, an older man.

‘Hel-lo!’ he said, slow and loud. ‘Speak Chi-nese?’
‘Yes, we can’ I answered, in Chinese, at which the owner turned to the waitress and scolded her for pulling him away from his TV show to come and speak a language to these foreigners she could clearly already speak.
She blushed and giggled and then sat herself down at our table, and in the most incredibly rapid-fire Sichuan dialect said:
‘Ha! I’m-so-relieved-you-speak-Chinese-for-a-minute-there-I-thought-I-wouldn’t-be-able-to-communicate-with-you!! You-can-understand-everything-I’m-saying-right??’
‘So!’ she continued, with scant pause for breath, ‘Where-are-you-from-where-do-you-live-do-you-eat-spicy-food-how-much-do-you-earn?’
‘Can we order some dinner first?’ I asked.
By now, all the other kitchen staff and the owner were also seated at our table, along with their kids, waiting to hear the answer to her questions.
So we ate dinner, and in between bites tried to answer everything they wanted to know – how many square metres our house in Shanghai was, whether we thought Sichuan was better than any other province in China, and why we were able to eat spicy food, despite everything they’d heard to the contrary. 
The next morning, by now familiar with everyone in downtown Ebian, we went for a walk. What I hadn’t noticed in the dark the night before was now obvious. Ebian’s population is about half Yi people, the women wearing intricate beaded headresses and looped plaits. They thought we were incredibly exotic, touching our daughters’ hair and skin, but we felt like very shabbily-dressed…well…aliens. Strangers in a strange land.

对于那些不熟悉外国人的人,峨边彝族自治县的本地人很热衷于了解我们。在夜市中一群人紧密地跟着我们直到我们找到一家看起来还比较干净好客的饭店,但是当我们入座的时候,一个面若桃花的服务生惊恐的看了我们一眼跑开了,经历了令人困惑的五分钟后,她把老板带来了,一个年纪稍长的男人。
你好!他大声拖长声音道,能说汉语?
是的,我们能我用汉语回答到,老板扭头指责服务员打扰他看电视,她能和外国人沟通的。
她红着脸傻笑着,然后坐在我们桌边,以快得难以置信的四川方言说道:
哈!知道你会汉语感觉舒服多了,之前我还以为我没法和你交流了呢!!你能听懂我说的话,是吧??
那!短暂的停顿后,她继续说道,你们从哪来啊?你们住哪儿啊?你们吃辣的食物吗?你们挣多少钱啊?
我们能先点菜吗?我问到。
此刻,所有厨房的其他员工和老板也坐在我们的桌子旁,和他们的孩子一起,等着听我们的回答。
所以我们吃过晚饭,在陷入新一轮的提问前我们试着回答他们想知道的每一件事我们在上海的房子有多大,我们觉得是不是四川比中国的其他省更好,还有为什么我们能吃辣的食物,尽管他们想听到完全不同的回答。
第二天早晨,我们已经熟悉了峨边彝族自治县这个镇的每一个人,所以我们出去散了个步,之前在深沉的夜色中我们没有注意到,但是此刻竟是如此明显,峨边彝族自治县的人口几乎一半是彝族,女人带着复杂的珠状头饰,而且辫子是围成圈的。他们认为我们非常的奇异,摸着我们女儿的头发和皮肤,让我们感觉自己确实穿的有些怪异,好吧,外国人。我们是在奇异土地上的奇怪的人。










For a touch of familiarity we ate breakfast at the same restaurant as the night before, where our rosy-cheeked waitress (above, left) whizzed between tables filling in the other customers on our particulars and answering questions on our behalf. I was ever so grateful.
I never did find out whether we were actually allowed to be in Ebian or not, or why that particular area might have been restricted to us. But should your craft ever land there, a friendly and curious welcome is guaranteed. 

由于些许的熟悉感,我们在前晚吃饭的同一家饭店吃的早餐,就是那个面若桃花的女孩(上图左侧)所在的饭店。之前她周旋于满是顾客的饭桌之间,并且从我们的角度出发回答了那些问题,我真的非常感激她。
我始终也没搞清楚我们是否被允许进如峨边彝族自治县,或者为什么这个特别的地方要限制我们的进入。如若是你旅行至此,你准会收到友好又带有好奇心的欢迎。


Where is Ebian?
Leshan County
Sichuan Province, China
Practically in the middle really.