Published: March 16th 2012March 16th 2012
On the cable car.
Folks love to have their pictures taken with the westerners.
We’re in Shangri La! No, really – this is the town that might have been the venue for James Hilton’s book, Lost Horizons.
Though the town was originally named Zhongdian, canny investors and local officials changed the name to Shangri La to attract tourists – and they’ve been successful. We’re here during the off season, as the low temps at night are about 32 degrees F, but the town has about 500 hotels. It also has an ancient section, which we hope to see tomorrow. More about Shangri La in the next post!
Geography lesson: the province of Yunnan is in the southwestern corner of China and has borders with Laos, Vietnam and Burma/Myanmar. It’s at a fairly high elevation, 5000 feet and above, so the weather is spring-like – just like we SHOULD be having in Tellico Plains. We flew to Kunming, the Spring City, from Hanoi on March 8, 2012 – no security or border issues. Tom had scheduled us to stay at the Hump Hostel, but at the last minute we listened to a new friend, Bill, and booked into Kunming’s first (not only) four-star hotel – what a smart move. It’s a very nice Chinese businessman’s
Jade Dragon Snow Mountain
Tom was lucky to take these photos early -- we had a snowstorm later.
hotel, not a tourist hotel, so we avoided crowds. Coming back to China after four years is educational, and it started with the breakfast buffet: “pig’s trotters” and “chicken claws” were offered, though we stuck to noodles and veggies. If you aren’t familiar with Chinese food, one thing to know is that bread is different. Most of it is steamed buns, sometimes like a dumpling with a filling of meat. The buns are plain white and taste plain white – to me, there’s not much point in eating them. They did have western bread and a toaster, but it looked really sad. The restaurant also had a big machine with a hopper for soy beans that ground them and made fresh soybean milk, which is VERY popular.
Kunming is a large city, so we took our first day and just walked, looking for a cell phone store to buy a Chinese sim card and for an ATM so we could get some cash. We had to turn our Vietnamese dong into US dollars before leaving Hanoi, because dong are not accepted in China, while yuan are not accepted in Vietnam. It was a good reminder that relations between
At night, from our hotel room
the two countries have never been very warm. We had our first real Chinese meal at the Hui Hui Xiang Restaurant (means “Kill the Pig”), a wonderful pot of local wild mushrooms, with a side of green vegetable (you never know which one) with GARLIC!! By the way, the leaves of almost anything with leaves are steamed, sometimes with meat, sometimes not. We had potato leaves, Vivian – they’re great when young!
We are adjusting to Chinese traffic: not as many motorbikes as Vietnam, but these are sneaky, as they’re almost all electric and surprise you, especially when you’re walking on the sidewalk where they’re driving. At least they don’t actually park them all on the sidewalk. The black cars we noticed last time (2008) are still here – get out of their way; most (we’re told) are owned by government or party officials.
To keep us out of disaster, we’ve booked several private tours with Yunnan Overseas International Travel. If you’re checking blogs for recommendations, here’s one: ask for Judy Zhang. So far, they’re doing a great job. We picked up our first guide, Tessie, and driver, Mr. Long, and went off to see the
Unfortunately, you can still buy shark fin soup in China
Bamboo Temple (beautiful) up on top of the local mountain. She also took us to dinner at a restaurant, Brothers Jiang, which was supposed to teach us about “Cross Bridge Noodles”, a local specialty of noodles, broth, meat, and veggies. We also saw the Flower Market, which is like a combination of farmer’s market and flea market, plus pets (birds, dogs, bunnies, iguanas, turtles, hamsters …). The markets are again interesting because they sell produce and meat much closer to their natural state. There’s no plastic container to keep you from remembering that those pork ribs came from a PIG. Want a chicken? Sure: pick it out and carry it home by the neck. You mean you want someone to kill, pluck and clean it? Why? Do it yourself! You know how, don’t you?
The next day, we went to the Golden Temple: gorgeous, made entirely of bronze. If it were polished, it would be blinding in the sunshine. It’s a Taoist temple, built 400 years ago, but still with many worshipers, along with many families just out for Sunday afternoon. We then headed out on the expressway to the Stone Forest. Check the pictures on the Stone
The Bamboo Temple
Beautiful in the Spring
Forest, because it’s hard to explain. It’s a huge park of monoliths, formed (according to Kevin Costner’s narration on an orientation film) of limestone on the ocean floor, pushed up by tectonic action, then protected from erosion by volcanic lava, which wore away over the next millions of years. We enjoyed it, along with receiving a reminder about Chinese culture – push. Judging by US standards, the Vietnamese people are VERY polite. Judging by those same standards, domestic Chinese tourists are rude. It’s a definite culture shock coming out of Vietnam.
After another evening of walking, we took a flight (on Lucky Airlines!) to Dali, which is way up in the northern tip of Yunnan province. We had a little excitement, because Tessie didn’t calculate the airport chaos factor when she gave us a pickup time. She redeemed herself by arguing well with a man who tried to push in front of her, with Tom and me creating an effective American football block around her. The flight was early in the morning, and we learned why when we paralleled the mountains west of Dali. The powerful rotor (that’s for you sailplane pilots) was fierce, and Tom figured it
The Golden Temple
Words promising good luck are rubbed to a bright shine -- if the whole bronze temple were polished, it would be blinding.
only gets worse as the winds increase throughout the day. The highest peak called Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (12000 ft.) has lenticular clouds flowing off to the east almost daily
Dali is beautiful – scenery, weather, architecture, and people. We are becoming accustomed to the approximate one bazillion Chinese tourists here. As Tessie told us, the Chinese people enjoy being surrounded by many other Chinese, and we’re a little handicapped by the fact that we live on a mountain outside a village in rural east Tennessee. Our new local guide was James (they always give western customers an English name, probably to keep us from mangling their real names), and our driver was Mr. Xue. Both good people. Dali is divided into a new town and an “ancient town”, and is an example of really good Chinese urban planning. After an earthquake in the 90s, the central government realized that the traditional buildings fared better than the modern ones, so built the new town like the old one. It’s close enough to the Burma border that people go back and forth to shop, and James told us that a Burmese bride may be bought for 2000 Chinese yuan.
The Stone Forest
Geology at its finest.
After a walk through a local market (fun again), we went to see cormorant fishing, an embroidery school (with shop), a tie-dye family business (with shop) and a tea “ceremony” with about 500 other people. We were tired, and almost didn’t go to the Three Pagodas , but James talked us into it and we were glad. We took a bus to the top of a 4 km long complex of monastery, temples and exhibition building and walked down to the pagodas.
Some history: Dali is one of the last stops of the 1930-40s Burma Road, built during WWII to help the Chinese resist the Japanese invaders. The Hump Hostel I mentioned earlier is a remembrance of the men who “flew the Hump” over the mountains into this part of China. The American contribution is remembered and Americans are welcomed warmly.
Next day – on to Lijiang, now our favorite city, with our new favorite Chinese guide: Joseph. Joseph is a graduate of China’s military academy (equivalent to our West Point) and quickly found a brother in Tom. James had fun teaching Tom how to march Chinese style. He’s now a traditional Chinese medical doctor, while
The Stone Forest
The site has been well-preserved, despite large crowds.
his wife is a western medical doctor. He said that they usually use the Chinese method first. After our four-hour drive from Dali, we were glad he walked us around the ancient town (yes, another ancient town wedded to a new town), where I had my photo taken with an eagle. We took a local bus to another fun market, where we’ve found that you can really learn about the people. That evening, we ate yak meat at a Tibetan restaurant and listened to about one-third of a 90 minute Naxi music concert. Interesting, but we could not take 90 minutes. Sorry if that makes me culturally insensitive.
The next day, we went to the nearby Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, which is over 3900 meters. It was an exercise in crowd control: first we drove through the gate and left our car for a bus. The bus took us to the cable car station, which took us partway up the mountain. It was too windy to go any farther up – they’d closed that line. It was worth the 60-minute wait and the snow flurries, as the mountain has only been successfully climbed once, in 1987, according to
You can almost see the pig.
Wikipedia, or never, according to everyone else. Joseph, an accomplished trekker, said that the rock will not hold pitons. On the way back, we stopped for another five-star lunch, including fresh trout sashimi. Wonderful!
We found another favorite temple today: a lamasery of White Tibetan Buddhists, followers of the Panchen Lama. The garden contained a 500-year-old camellia tree – which was in bloom! Joseph told us the story of a 93-year-old man who has climbed the hill every day since the 1940s to care for the tree. During one of the Chinese government’s efforts to obliterate the old (1955), he told a group of students that they would have to kill him before they could cut down the tree. He was there today; we were honored to meet him. We also met a group of old ladies who got me to dance a little with them.
So – conclusions:
· China is changing very rapidly, but is managing to accommodate the ancient and the modern.
· Very few western tourists, but thousands of Chinese tourists in Lijang and Dali. This area gets 12 million Chinese tourists a year.
They caught two large carp while we watched.
pollution is bad, even in this less populated area.
· We really like Yunnan, as it has fewer people than eastern China, giving us a welcome opportunity to get ourselves ready for the other areas.
· We’re both dealing with chest congestion, possibly from pollution, possibly from altitude. Lijiang is at 6000 feet, and Joseph has recommended drinking ginger tea and a lot of water.
There are more photos below