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avant-garde_chauvintist wandering through the garden of ideals

Yunnan Province

CHINA | Saturday, 16 February 2008 | Views [629]

After I visited Yunnan Province, I realized it is most foreigners favorite place to visit in China.  

This information came from an informal poll that I inadvertantly conducted.

Basically, when asked where I went on the Spring Festival vacation, my mentioning Yunnan almost always elicited the response, "That's my favorite place in China."  Thus, I concluded that it's pretty rad. 

And it is. 

We started our Yunnan adventure in Kunming.  Kunming is the capital of Yunnan.  And while Yunnan is a favorite place to visit, there are very few foreigners who actually call it home.  Meaning: we had to pay to sleep while visiting this fabulous place.  We arrived in the middle of the night, checked into a hostel, and proceeded to wake up everyone in our dorm by "moving in." 

The next day we checked out a few of the sites, marveling in the wonders of blooming flowers and warmer climates.  Yunnan province is on the border of Burma (Myanmar) and Laos.  As a result, there are many ethnic minorities there.  Many different ways of living.  It's much much different from any other place in China.  It's also closer to the idea of "real China" that tourists expect to see.  This may be what results in the "favorite place" phenomenon. 

Regardless, the flowers were blooming, the sky was blue, and the languages weren't Mandarin. We saw many things, but a few of the highlights: karst mountains in the Stone Forest (Shilin), Dian Chi, and the ethnic minority museum. 

Shilin is a forest of mountains.  Basically it was one big mountain that was limestone (this may be normal for mountains, I have no idea).  The limestone has a tendency to erode with the help of water, creating tall and thin tree-like mountains instead of one big one.  The theory of the ethnic minority who lives among these tree-mountains (who, by the way, are the Naxi, Yi, and some other minorities) is that the gods created the mountains as a place for lovers to hide.  It's cute.  It's easier to understand than the natural forces that actually created the mountains.

We got lost in the mountains, too.

Dian Chi is the famous lake in the middle of Yunnan province.  We sort of got lost on the way and ended up at the ethnic minorities museum.  China is very, very proud of the ethnic minorities of the lands that they've procured (through means we won't discuss) through the years.  I guess it's kind of like the United States being proud of the many nationalities that make the big melting pot of America.  Needless to say, the art, music, customs, and clothing were interesting and intense to consume in one afternoon.

We spent two days in the capital city before voyaging beyond the city life to Lijiang.  Lijiang is the first city in China to impose a fee to enter.  It is almost strictly composed of people of the Naxi minority, and because their culture and lifestyle is so unique they get away with charging tourists to see it.  We avoided this charge at all costs. 

This city was so pleasant (and it was my first experience with the Himalayas).  It had narrow streets and interesting food.  We biked around the plain area taking in the sites.  We ate goat cheese and banana pancakes.  We stayed with Mama Naxi at her guest house. 

Mama doesn't speak much English.  She knows the basics ("More tea?"  "The bus is too early!"  "Where you go?"  "Y50 for the room!"), but her way of speaking is so charming that it's easy to ignore her mistakes.  I got in more than one giggle fit watching her try to explain that the bus left too early to another guest. 

Here, in Lijiang, I also came to terms with how much Chinese I have indeed learned in my time in China -- I had to translate for another guest.  It wasn't anything interesting or complicated, but I knew the Chinese and the other guest didn't.  Both Baba (that's Dad in Chinese; his English is even worse than Mama's) and the other guest (a tourist from Israel) looked at me when they couldn't make sense of each other.  And, yes, I came to the rescue. 

Lijiang was indeed fabulous.

After Lijiang, we went straight to Dali.  Dali is one of those places that everyone should visit.  Another home to various ethnic minorities, the Bai people make this place interesting.  We, again, rented biked to trek about the Himalayas here.  We were trying to find a temple.  Somewhere.  But after biked 18 kilometers and not finding it, we got sidetracked by mountain scenery, lake scenery, and two Bai girls.

Here is where we met Double Flower and Double Leaf. 

We drove down a little alley looking for something interesting.  We had no intense plans and we were find with just exploring.  This little village looked interesting and beautiful.  We wound up driving almost directly into the lake in Dali.  Here we stopped and sat down to take pictures and enjoy the absolutely unreal scenery.  Fields of gardens (what was growing there we never learned), the Himalayan Mountains jutting up in the background, and a huge lake with fisherman working and sea gulls flying.  We decided to take it all in.

While we were just sitting there, not really talking, two girls walked up with a basket full of clothes to wash in the lake. 

"Where are you from?"

"Mei Guo."

"Oh!  America!"

"You speak English?"

And this brief conversation led the two girls (high school students) to get out their English textbooks and pens and paper and ask us all kinds of questions.  Such as, "What is this called in English?"  Double Flower was holding a crawfish.  I had a brief swell of pride as I exclaimed, "Crawfish!  We eat those where I'm from too!" 

They had me read their lesson aloud, amazed at the fluency in English.  We talked to these girls for quite awhile.  The topics ranged significantly, and Mario employed his Chinese skills to make some of the meaning clear. 

We left after about an hour, never finding the temple, but satisfied with the day.  On the way back, we stumbled upon a cemetary in the middle of the fields of food.  Cemetaries in China are rare (there are so many people without cremation, the whole country would be graveyards; Mao realized this and started the practice of cremation in China).  Mario ended up falling asleep in the cemetary under the sun.  Ilan got a call from home and filled the silence with chattering in Spanish.  Pretty soon we had to return the bikes, so we went back to the city.

I left after two days in Dali to get back to Beijing to teach.  I returned to Kunming briefly before heading to Guilin.  I wanted to break up a two day long train ride from Kunming back to the Jing.  So I contacted a couch surfer in Guiling and made an overnight stop in the city.

Guilin is also a beautiful place.  It's part of Guangxi province (Guangxi translates to "the great wide west").  My host could not have been nicer and sleeping in a bed for a night before the rest of the 26 hour voyage was much appreciated.  I didn't see much of the city, but the small excursion was definitely worth it.

Tags: On the Road

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