Again… much to catch up on.
Kun Ming –
I find a new thing to love about each place. At first Kun Ming was a little bit of a let down from Xi’ An. But then we went to Green Lake. My favorite things so far on this trip have mostly been getting to interact with people. People were walking around this lake, enjoying the day despite the rain. Some people gathered with instruments while others would sing & perform an impromptu concert in the park. The music was so strange & yet after a while I began to sort of “understand” the style of music, & the sense of community was wonderful.
One thing I noticed in Kun Ming was that the older people – really older people – were especially kind to us. I had one ancient man move & make me a place to sit on the bench so I could listen to the music. At the same place, another teeeeeeeeeny old woman held Liz’s hand while we listened. I was very puzzled, until I learned that Kun Ming was part of the Burma Road during World War II, and these people in Kun Ming are of the Yi minority group – the group that was involved with the Flying Tigers. These people could remember being rescued from the Japanese during WWII. And then, the thrill of a lifetime. I actually met an 80 year old man who had been in the service working with the Flying Tigers. What a piece of history. What an amazing man. He spoke just enough English (unlike other people in the city) that we were able to have a short conversation with him. I was hating that Wallace didn’t get to meet him, and the gentleman didn’t want his picture made! I hated missing the chance to document the meeting.
Dali (6,000 ft +) –
Holy cow. I can hardly describe the place. This is at the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. We started with going to a tie-dye “factory.” This was really just a few women, most of them old, sitting in huts. They stitch designs into the fabric & then use real indigo plants to die the fabric. Wow. The work is incredible. I was in heaven there.
After that we went to the home of what I think is a middle-class family in the region. The conditions are well below what any of us would consider palatable. The house was (I believe) 400+ years old with 3 generations of the family living there. Some of the family members were selling things, & a couple of people in our group were trying to buy some things. They were having difficulty understanding each other, so I went over & in my little bit of bad Chinese I worked it out for them. That old woman, who had so little, turned to me & gave me a gift. At first I was unsure what she meant, so I put it back down. Then Catherine came over, & I discreetly let her know what was going on. She told me to put it down. Then the woman put the pendant on my neck, patted it & firmly said “souvenir!” I hardly knew what to say, but Catherine told me that I had followed the cultural protocol & not to make any more fuss about it. The Chinese business people aren’t in the habit of giving away anything, so I was really touched.
Next we went to the shopping district of the Bai people. They are a minority group. I thought the Xi’ An market was high pressure. WOW. At one point I had 6 women hanging off my arm yelling prices at me. I finally had to be a little rude. It was raining hard, & the market was seriously mucky. Still I found a lot of handmade things there that I loved.
Finally we went back to our hotel room. I couldn’t believe the place. It looked like something out of a movie from the 40’s or 50’s. I seriously kept expecting to see Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy walking around in the courtyard outside our window. The hotel was so beautiful, & I was so tired, I decided to stick around the room for a while & just enjoy it. I had a glass of wine & then took advantage of the hotel massage service that was offered. I got the whole body Chinese medicine massage, & it was seriously painful at times. But I had had shin splints since about the second day of the trip & a pain in my back from carrying my bags, & when he was done I was cured! I had the tendency to keep thinking I was wasting time by not going out & experiencing the town, but then I thought, “Virginia, you’re in Dali in a gorgeous villa style hotel, having a massage – you are experiencing it.”
We went to dinner that night with Catherine. She always orders the most authentic Chinese. We had clay pot fish soup – which I hate because of all the bones. But everything else was really good. The vegetables are the freshest I’ve ever tasted.
The next day we went to Erhai lake. We rode across the lake in a boat to an island with a local fishing village. The weather was still kind of crappy, & the water was choppy, but I was not bothered at all. All around us were the Himalayans, & I was on the water. It was gorgeous. We got to the village & walked all through these alleys and courtyards until we came to a Daoist temple. I took pictures while people lit incense in the temple. The temples are really cool, but their choice of colors here always makes me think of a cartoon. The art is really incredible though.
Around the corner & down an alley was a Buddist temple that, for some reason, a lot of people missed. I’m so glad I didn’t. It had an archway that looked out over the water. Just beautiful. I think I got some good pictures of that.
We shopped a little (because in China someone is always selling something wherever you go). There were chickens & chicks wandering around the landing. Then we got back on the boat & went back across the lake. The sun popped out, the clouds cleared off the mountain. I was on a lake. I put on my MP3 player & listened to Jimmy Buffet all the way back across. I was glad to be on the water in the sunshine for a while.
After lunch, they took us to Cangshan Mountain. Unfortunately, it has started to rain again… and then pour. But, you have a chance to go up a Himalayan mountain – what are you gonna do? We took lifts up the mountain. When I say “up the mountain” – we’re talking UP. The ride alone took a solid 30 minutes, if not more. We got soaked to the bone, despite our umbrellas & ponchos. The ride up was actually the coolest part because we could see everywhere, & there are tombs all along the way. China doesn’t allow burial anymore; cremation is required. Once we got up to the top, the view was not so great because of the clouds (& it was pretty miserable being so wet). More temples at the top.
That night my favorite group of people and I wandered the streets of Dali, stopped & had a few beers & just talked about the amazing things & people we’d seen so far. Then we wandered around (& shopped) some more. One of the coolest things in Dali is that there is this busy street life – people everywhere. There are people selling handmade goods, people grilling skewers on the street, people standing outside their restaurants next to all the vegetables & animals that they have available on their menu. The vegetables are so fresh. I imagine that the eels in the bucket are pretty fresh too, but I decided to pass. Anyway, all of these people & the high activity is set against the backdrop of these amazing mountains.
I was pretty burned out on Chinese food, & so Ely & I decided to try out the Indian food place we’d seen down the street. It was seriously the best Indian food I’ve ever had. I also tried Saigon beer (Vietnamese in Dali?? No idea.) because the food was so spicy it was making us sweat! YUM! While we were there a group of about 10 Indian teachers from the medical university in India came in, & we struck up a conversation with them. They were a lot of fun – very funny. One of them is a master yoga instructor (!) & gave me his number so he can give me private yoga lessons when I visit India. Cool.
Afterwards we met up with the rest of our friends at a bar they’d told us about. A Chinese girl named Kikki runs the place – very hippie & cool – this is why everyone told me I had to meet her. While we were there we met a Korean couple & several Aussies. Kikki was really cool, very knowledgeable, worldly. It’s a shame she’s running a bar in Dali. She would do well in the states. I’ve had that thought about several people I’ve met here.
It was late by then, so we headed back to the hotel. Along the way little old ladies kept offering to sell us “hashishi.” We politely declined.
That catches me up until Lijiang. Hopefully I’ll have more time tonight to write.