There we are walking down the ancient cobbled streets of Baisha (China) when a firm grip clasps around Ali’s left wrist. An old Naxi ladies face wrinkles into a smile and she beckons us down an alley. ‘We’ve just eaten’, we try to explain to the old lady who doesn’t speak any English, assuming that she wants to take us to her restaurant. But she insists, she really insists and the grip on Ali’s wrist only seems to get tighter. The British instinct in us assumes that she’s after something, money most probably... maybe she’s trying to sell us mushrooms?! No no, that’s too far, but trying to be more open-minded and not a dick about it means that we should hear her out, see what she has to show us. She leads us to a place called ‘Grandma’s Guesthouse’ and we walk into a beautiful outdoor courtyard surrounded by old wooden carved buildings.
She sits us down on a rickety bench next to a table and points to a load of books. At first we think she’s selling them, there not going to be much use to us if they are in Chinese, but then we pick one up and realise that these are scrapbooks with hundred of messages inside from travellers alike. The books date back 20 years and people have added in photos, left lovely messages, drawn pictures and even stuck in old train tickets! Grandma Lui is smiling at us as we look through the old scrap books, there must be 20 or so of them all packed with messages, and as we read them she plasters us with sugary biscuits, fresh apple, seeds and numerous cups of tea. Now we feel pretty bad having judged this old lady, these books show that she is liked by many and a bit of a celebrity in this small village. We sit there for some time reading through the messages, showing Grandma Lui some of the bad pictures people have drawn and watch her laugh at them.
We take our time writing a nice message about how inspiring she is, and how lovely the people of Baisha are, and draw her a little doodle of a local Naxi lady (her minority tribe in China). She seems happy with our note and we read it out to her, she can’t understand English but it seems like the right thing to do. She wants us to take a photo of her, a bit strange that someone tells you to take a photo of them... but ok! We haven’t got many photos of the locals yet so we happily oblige. The camera gets set up on the table and we take an awkward snap of all 3 of us sat on a bench with little Grandma Lui in the middle, Ali looking like a giant at the front. We thank Grandma Lui tremendously for sharing the stories with us, for the 3 cups of Chinese tea and for the sweet snacks. Ali goes in for a hug.
We are just about to make tracks and Grandma Lui rubs her wrinkly fingers together, it seems our old Chinese friend is after some dollar all along! Hmmm.... we look at each other with a roll of the eyes. Scheming toad, we both think. After being literally dragged into Grandma's Guesthouse and being sweetened up by her biscuits, we’ve been caught in her spiders web. Grandma Lui is a successful debt collector and we are indebted to her, her clever tourist trap has succeeded again. The crazy thing about it is that thousands of poor souls across these 20 books must have done the same thing! Which is being conned by an old lady; enjoyed her snacks, thought how lovely the scrap booking was, how lovely Grandma Lui was, but end up having to pay for it!
Grandma Lui wants 20 yuan, 10 yuan each for the privilege of having us. That works out to be £2, not very much in the grand scheme of things but the point is we haven’t been given the choice. We try to give her 4 yuan, 40p, but she’s having none of it. We give her the full 20 just to get the hell out of there and she gives us a goody bag of sunflower seeds and a couple of stray monkey nuts which we didn’t want. Thanks Grandma Lui, you have 20 books full of messages that I’m sure people would take back if they had the chance. Your nice books are built on lies! She doesn’t care though because she has our money, and everyone else's money for that matter. Scheming Grandma Lui rubs her hands together just like Mr Burns.... ‘excellent 优秀’.
If you liked our story about thrifty Grandma Lui then why not Pin It so you can find it again next time?