Lijiang

Lijiang (Lee Jong) (7,000+ feet)

We were very sad to leave Dali, even though it rained the whole time we were there.  It was so beautiful, and the temperature was wonderful – especially after the heat & humidity of Xi’ An.  Our trip from Dali to Lijiang was by bus, as there are few flights into Lijiang.  It took almost four hours of driving through the mountains.  I had planned to sleep, but I couldn’t stop looking at the breathtaking views (except when I was squeezing my eyes closed as we passed cars in turns with the 9 million foot drop on the other side).  Every time I thought the landscape couldn’t get any more picturesque, we turned a corner & my breath was taken away again.  We drove through cloudbanks when we couldn’t see anything, & then it would clear & reveal some gorgeous valley or farmland or waterfall.  We passed water buffalo and yaks.  I didn’t regret the missed nap one bit.

Very quickly we entered Lijiang (heralded by a huge coffee plantation (HURRAY!  Good Coffee!).  After a very quick lunch (I’m getting a little tired of Chinese food by now), we went straight to the local school.  We met with the administrators & some teachers in the typical forced ceremonial way, & then I & 3 others in the group went with an English teacher to her 7th grade classroom.  We were very surprised to realize that we were sort of expected to take over the class.  First we introduced ourselves, then the teacher asked the students to ask us questions.  Of course, neither of those things stretched out very far, so I decided it was time to adlib.  I just couldn’t stand everyone standing around staring. So I had to think of something fast.  We got the kids on their feet.  I made sure they had learned all of the names of the basic body parts, & I taught them the song “Head, Shoulders, Knees, & Toes.”  We practiced and then did it faster & faster.  The kids had a blast, & the teachers did too I think. 

We headed out to the courtyard after that to watch the kids do their daily dancing exercises (with the Himalayan mountains as a backdrop) & then they had some free play time.  The kids in Lijiang are much more open & relaxed than the kids were in Xi’An.  Boys would rush to talk to me & then get caught up wrestling & making fun of each other.  Boys are boys no matter where they are.

I spent some time talking to the teacher of that class.  Those poor teachers are so overwhelmed.  They have classes of 50-60 students.  They typically teach 10 hour days.  The teacher in Lijiang was very honest about her job & the students.  They have all the same problems we do (behavior, not studying, etc.), plus they have more students.

When we got to our hotel it was a little bit of a letdown after the fabulous place in Dali.  At first it seemed that our view was a wall.  However, we soon found out that we had a backdoor next to the window, & that there was a small courtyard outside our room.  We slept with the window open every night, & it was silent (as opposed to the jackhammering that went on all night long outside our window in Kun Ming).

Our hotel was located in the “new” part of Old Town Lijiang.  The roads are cobblestone & hundreds of years old.  In fact, there was no road at all in Lijiang, except for a horse road, until 30 years ago.  Most of their modernization had happened after the earthquake there in 1991.  So old town is all pedestrian and bicycle traffic.  It’s huge, & though I felt like we were sort of kept in the “tourist quarantine,” there were many many more Chinese people there than tourists, so obviously it’s an integral part of daily life for the majority of Chinese in the area.

In Lijiang there are more Naxi people than Han (what we typically thing of as Chinese).  They have very fine features & don’t look “Chinese” at all.  Also there (and in Dali) are many Tibetan people.  And I’ll just say here that I have never seen a better looking race of men in my life than those Tibetan men.  Heavens.  High cheek bones, chiseled jaws, angular noses, long black hair.  Very Native American.  There is no doubt in my mind that those people are related. 

While I was there the first night I met a Naxi (“Nashie”) girl working in the hotel, who asked me to help her with her English.  Her English name is Star.  I ended up tutoring her for about 1 ½ hours.  I am a teacher, after all, & that’s what the trip is about.  We practiced English phrases she was supposed to learn for the hotel.  She had trouble with R’s and E’s, so I would take words I had learned from Chinese & say them like “shi'” (pronounced “shurr”), & then show her that the pronunciation of something with an R had the same type of mouth & tongue formation.  She also showed me her journal where she had written pages in English.  Her written English was impeccable, but what struck me more were the things she said… “I know my English is not good, but I know that if I work very hard every day to improve, I will be able to serve my guests better and to attend to their needs.”  Almost verbatim. She was so earnest, & her desire to improve her English was all because she was so driven to improve her skills as a hostess in this hotel & to better serve the guests.  She had no other more lofty goals.  It was hard for me to comprehend that level of desire to serve in that capacity.  It’s hard to explain what I mean.

The next day we went to Black Dragon Lagoon.  The place is a postcard from any angle. From most spots around the lagoon, we could see the snow capped mountain in the background.  I can’t say much more about that.  The pictures will have to speak for themselves, though they cannot do the place justice in any way.

While we were there, a funeral “procession” came through.  The men carried bright paper & foil decorations.  It looked like a celebration, & the men were all laughing.  Catherine said the women were probably all home preparing the feast.  A wedding & a funeral while I’ve been here.  Unbelievable fortune.

There was a store (of course there was a store) where we could buy these fantastic embroidered “paintings.”  It is amazing the detail that these embroiderers can recreate.  Martha said that many of them go blind from the work.  I suppose then that it’s only fair that the pictures were out of my price range.  I took some pictures of these women working though.

In the same complex we went through a Naxi museum.  The Naxi original religion was something called Dongbhe.  The Naxi/Dongbhe have the only living pictorial language left in the world (well that’s what they said).  There was a Dongbhe scribe there that would write banners for you (for sale, of course).  While we were in the museum we saw the pictures of several Dongbhe priests.  The priesthood is passed down by generation, & so there are few of them left.  Unbelievably, there was one there.  He is blind.  The story is that he was so good at predicting people’s futures, that the gods struck him blind. 

I asked if I could go speak to him, & one of the people working in the museum said that I could.  All of my friends gathered around while this man talked to me (while the museum worker interpreted).  He asked my birth year (the year of the dog) and Wallace’s birth year (the ox).  He took some shells and stones & put them in a bowl & held them.  Then he got a huge smile on his face.  He said that Wallace & I would have no big problems.  He said we had a great love that was very “tight” & that we should sometimes have some distance so our marriage would have longevity. 

Do I believe in fortune tellers?  No.  But I got to personally speak to a priest of a very specific dying religious sect.  Not many Westerners will ever have such an opportunity.  My friends all took lots of pictures of the event, & one friend wrote down everything he said, so I have the best recording possible for myself.  Sometimes I still have to pinch myself here.

At night – shopping!  Shopping, shopping, lots of shopping.  Lijiang is cheap, even by Chinese standards.  I can’t believe the prices they charge for handmade work.  Old Town is like a maze, & the shops carry the same types of items.  It’s easy to get lost.  I set out to find my land marks.  For the record – from old Old Town, you head south, take the street between “Octopus Pill” and “Dried Meat Yak” shops, pass by “Home of Dream,” take the right side of the fork at “Tourism Service Informations,” & hang a right at the outdoor all brass barbeque grill.  That will take you right to the Wung Fu Hotel – in case you need to know.

Many of my most memorable experiences have happened while wandering/shopping.  One evening I bartered with a man for a pair of handmade embroidered shoes.  The price he quoted me was ridiculous, of course.  We went back & forth a few times.  Finally, I settled on 100 yuan (about $14).  He took my money, laughed, & pointed to my new shoes & said “Cheaper!” & kissed the bill.  He’d gotten one over on me.  I had to laugh.  Then, his daughter walked up with her baby.  He grabbed up the baby & dropped him right in my lap.  In China the babies all wear pants with a split between the legs & no diaper.  Baby needs to go, just set him outside.  Their children potty train very quickly.  So here I am with a naked butt giggly Chinese baby in my lap.  He was so cute I could’ve eaten his toes.  I have played with babies all across China.

Another shopping trip took us down a back road where we found a couple that makes silk stuffed comforters.  Rather than down or cotton, the nicer hotels (like the ones we’ve been staying at) have these wonderful silk stuffed comforters with cotton duvets.  We watched how this couple made the comforters, and Jo bought one (flying with all our purchases is getting more complicated & creative).  It was neat to watch.  We walked the rest of the way down the street, & inadvertently stumbled onto someone’s “estate.”  This enormous sheep dog comes bounding out, & right behind it was this giant Chinese man.  He wore a Communist cap (but obviously for fashion, not military).  He had a very neat beard & mustache, & a long black ponytail halfway down his back.  He spoke very good English – like he just carried on a conversation.  He asked if we were lost & told us very specifically how to get back.  He asked where we were from.  “The land of corn,” he said.  We told him “the land of Bill Clinton” (because everyone here knows Clinton).  He snorted “Clinton” back at us.  I asked where he was from, & he very vaguely said, “I am from China.”  He was very polite & helpful, but he had a dangerous aura about him.  When we walked away, Jo said, “I think maybe he’s someone famous.  You can tell there’s something about him.”  I died laughing.  I said, “Yeah, there’s something about him, alright.  He’s a drug lord.”  We are in hashishi & opium land after all.

The next to last day in Lijiang we went to two Tibetan monasteries.  The first one was about halfway up a smaller mountain.  It was very quiet & very simple.  There were frescos on the wall that were 400 years old.  Real Tibetan monks.  They were much more approachable than I expected – not that I engaged in conversation with them – but when I motioned a question as to whether or not I could take their pictures, they very kindly nodded yes.  In the first temple we climbed many steps after the first building, & eventually we came to a temple that has a 500 year old Chrysanthemum tree in the center.  In a corner sat an old old man.  The man is 91 years old, & he watches the tree day & night.  During the Cultural Revolution he was a young man.  The Communist soldiers came to destroy the tree, & he threw himself in front of it & told them they would have to kill him too.  The soldiers were so moved that they left the tree in tact.  The man has guarded the tree ever since.

The second temple was way way WAY up a mountain (8,000-9,000).  Along the way we saw a goat & her babies climbing around on the rocks.  This place seemed even more sacred.  In the courtyard there were monks tutoring boys.  The boys are in training to become monks themselves.  As a mother I found it hard to understand.  At the time I really looked forward to writing about these temples, but now I find it hard to convey the atmosphere there. 

Also, at this temple I committed my worst faux pas of the trip.  I was careful to take off my shoes, to be very quiet in the temple, to get permission before crossing anything that looked like a threshold.  I had almost made it out.  When I stepped back out of the temple I sat down to put on my shoes.  I sat right down on the elevated temple threshold with all the holy words painted on it.  The monk hurried to find me a stool, & Catherine very discreetly said, “perhaps there is a better place for you to sit.”  I was so embarrassed.

One night in Lijiang we went to a Naxi folk dancing festival thing.  It was obviously put on for tourists, but some of it was cool.  Jennifer would really have liked it.  After a while, I have gotten used to the sound of Asian music, & it’s really quite beautiful.  There was an old Donghbe holy man singing, & lots of chanting, & strange instruments (I have tried to get pictures of all the instruments here for Jenn.)  Also, there were Tibetan men performing, so I enjoyed the show.

The last full day we were in Lijiang I finally succumbed to the nagging sickness that had been with me since Dali (that dreaded traveler’s accompaniment), & I started running a fever.  I begged off of the trip to the Mou mansion – the Mou family was the original family of Emperors of the Naxi people before they were taken over by China a bagillion years ago, & the family is still around.  In fact, there are only two family names in Lijiang.  Everyone is either a Mou or a Hao (the farmers’ name).  I started taking an antibiotic that morning, & I’ve been fine ever since.  Glad I made that list of drugs for the doctor before I left on the trip.

We had some great food in Lijiang.  One night Catherine found our small group a place with hot pot.   It’s a huge bowl of boiling water & broth that they put on this low table with a fire underneath.  Ours started out with just black chicken in it – the whole chicken of course.  If you look at the picture closely, you can see the little chicken foot sticking out.  Then we added thinly sliced pork & vegetables & put hot chilis in it in our bowls.  It was really reeeeally good.  At one point Catherine looked over at Susie’s bowl & said, “are you sure you want that piece of chicken.”  I looked over & all I could see from my angle was the bottom of this beak sticking up.  Susie looked offended & said “Yes! I love thighs.”  Much giggling ensued as we waited for Susie to take another look.  Finally she decided she would pass on the chicken head.  

I bought some fresh fruit from the vender outside.  I’d forgotten that apples actually have a smell.

Another night I just picked up some skewers from the street venders.  I got some yak, along with my lamb and vegetables.  I do not recommend yak.  It tastes pretty good, but this must’ve been a 150 year old former plowing yak, because I couldn’t chew the stuff.

Before we left Lijiang I found Star & gave her a glass blue bird that was made in Arkansas.  She was very touched.  I have her picture, & she got my email address.  What a dear girl.

We left Lijiang & went to Hangzhou & are now in Shanghai.  I am full of seafood & wine & am going to bed.

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