Eating marijuana seeds is common throughout Yunnan, both in the cities and countryside, in the same way that sunflower seeds are eaten in the rest of China: As people chat there is the continual movement of their hand from the pile of seeds to their mouth and back again. The husks are spat onto the floor, which is why you often see plants in populated areas – the occasional spat-out seed takes root. Marijuana is native to Yunnan, and can be found growing wild throughout the province.
Known as mazi in colloquial Chinese, the seeds have no narcotic effect. They are a snack used to kill time, which is how restaurants use them – plates of marijuana seeds are left on the table so that customers don’t feel like they’re waiting around for their food.
With increased awareness of drugs of all varieties, the police have tried to curb the mazi habit. It’s a bit of a half-hearted curb though, as Chinese people don’t smoke marijuana and I suspect many of Yunnan’s police force grew up with bowls of mazi in the house, and grandma always had a huge bowl on the tea table. There is a story about the central government’s Narcotics Control Bureau coming to Kunming to check up on the work of the Yunnan branch – they were greeted by a huge marijuana plant growing outside the local offices.
Paraphrased from the story “Air Cargo Took Off Above The Himalayas” in Air Cargo News:
In early 1942, Burma fell to the Japanese. The overland truck route known as the Burma Road was closed, and so the only way to move oil, av-gas, troops and supplies from India to China was over the Himalaya Mountains. The American Volunteer Group pilots in China (better known as The Flying Tigers) created an aerial lifeline between the Assam Valley and Kunming. The journey over the Himalaya “Hump” was a relatively short but truly hellish 500 mile flight: The run quickly gained the ominous moniker “aluminum alley”…
Images from Air Cargo News.
You’re probably familiar with the Flying Tigers, but the story adds some detail (especially about cargo planes, if that’s your thing). I wasn’t aware, for example, that it was the first large-scale air cargo movement in history (I guess aircraft hadn’t been around that long). Also from the article:
The actual Flying Tigers (run by Claire Chennault) were volunteers flying Tomahawk fighter planes in support of Chiang Kaishek – their job was to protect the Burma Road while it was still in use. They were disbanded in 1942, but the name is often broadly applied to the American air force in China during World War 2 (that’s why the cargo planes in the above article are also referred to as Flying Tigers).
There is a 1942 Hollywood war film about the (Chennault) Flying Tigers that stars John Wayne. It seems a little bizarre to me that John Wayne and Yunnan should have any connection, and it is as far as I know the last time that Hollywood looked this way.
Nominated for three Oscars, the film looks dated now and the dialogue is painful. Outdoor shots were filmed in Santa Fe, New Mexico (because of the clouds and exotic landscape). Tagline: STRONG Brave Men Flying In The Face Of Death That We May LIVE
In Cangyuan county , Lincang prefecture, the local Wa people have a festival in early May called “moh nin hei”, which is neatly transliterated into Chinese as “rub you black” : pretty much the main activity of the festival. However, according to the county’s local official, the actual meaning of the Wa expression reflects the festival fundamental spiritual importance: “this is what we pursue, what we wish for, what we persist in, will strive for forever.”
Wa people revere the color black, for them dark skin signifies diligence and health. If a Wa man marries a white skinned girl (which is the aesthetic ideal for Han Chinese), she would be teased as a “lazy wife”. The traditional Wa clothes are all based around black, and in the past they had the custom of dying their teeth, because “black and shiny teeth matches black healthy skin, this is the way of the Wa people.” A proverb says “To dance together we must be in step, to laugh together we must all have black teeth.” Thus, during the moh nin hei festival, the blackest person is the most beautiful (“long la lei”, which means the blacker you are, the more beautiful you are).
The origin story of the moh nin hei festival says that in ancient times, when it was still the custom to wear animal skins, the heavy pelts proved an obstacle when avoiding fearsome wild animals so people had to run naked. However, being naked the people found the sunlight and insects unbearable. To solve this, they learned from observing the water buffalo rolling in the mud. The people saw the protection this bestowed, and rolled in the mud themselves. After a time, they discovered that the region’s local fragrant mud had other special properties, acting as an analgesic, reducing swellings, and purifying the body of toxins. The fragrant mud became an indispensable medicine.
Traditionally the ingredients added to the black “fragrant” mud were black carbon stuck to the bottom of cooking pots (they cook with wood), ox blood, and the “magic” local mud.
Today the ingredients are:
A magical herb Niang-bu-luo (a wild growing plant that is traditionally believed to be able to bring the dead back to life, though today commonly used for its cooling and cosmetic properties), as well as rice powder, the local mud and cocoa powder.
It is believed that when the mud is applied to a girls face it will make her more beautiful, it grants the elderly health and long life, and on a child peace and luck. A face that is completely black signifies eternal happiness. The blacker it is, the happier one will be.
Source: Yunnan Info [in Chinese, but more fun photos]
Photos by firstname.lastname@example.org, a moderator of the yninfo.com forums, published with permission.