Twenty-five of China’s fifty-six ethnic groups live in Yunnan Province. Close to 40% of the province’s population are members of minorities, including: Yi, Bai, Hani, Tai, Dai, Miao, Naxi, Yao, Tibetan, Mongolian, and many more. I learned that there are some minority groups who do not live in separate settlements or do not even reach the required threshold of five thousand, in order to be given the official minority status in the province.
Yunnan’s landscape is beautiful. And the truth is it is almost completely landscaped. When you are not in a city or town but on the road you see some small towns or large factories but mostly completely landscaped land for farming – much of the land is terraced in Yunnan (at least until Lijian which is the furthest north I travelled). Even forests seem to have been burned so that trees can be planted.
I met mostly very sweet people. A few came up to speak with me in mixed English and Chinese so I had some very good conversations – or at least as best as we could manage. A few Chinese speak excellent English (there are 11 universities in Kunming, alone) although the majority of people in Yunnan and Kunming, so far, do not understand English at all – even in banks and hotels..
In this part of the country, I saw very few Western visitors. Most tourists are from China.
Part of this, of course, has to do with the fact that there are so many people in China and everyone who can, travels. So, no matter how many Westerners may be travelling at any given time they are completely outnumbered. When I went to the Stone Forest — 1.5 hours south of Kunming – there were *throngs* of Chinese and I bumped into a very small handful of Westerners.
One thing I noticed is that many people speak VＥＲＹＬＯＵＤＬＹ！！！
I have to admit it took some getting used to. However, it is simply a cultural difference and I learned to accept it.
The worst driver I have ever experienced was on my trip from Mohan to Jinghong. The driver of the bus looked everywhere but at the road, kept on grabbing this or that from under his seat, stuck his head out of the window to look behind him, smacked his hand o his head multiple times and kept on jerking his head as if he was dozing off and was trying to stay awake. Luckily that kind of driving was not the norm.
I stayed in Jinghong for two nights, enjoyed my 1.5 days ambling the city, and ate some excellent spicy Dai food.
Dai people eat mostly plain rice often along with ground meat made into thin patties, grilled on sheets of metal, and then cut. They eat a lot of green seaweed which is found on rocks at the edge of rivers near their houses on stilts. The seaweed is roasted and wrapped in banana leaves. Many of their dishes are very spicy hot and/or sour and are filled with coriander, onion, sour pickled olives, VERY hot peppers, and pickled bamboo. Beef and fish are usually roasted. In Jinghong, on the streets, are a wide array of fruit and vegetable stalls selling among other produce: breadfruit, papaya, pomelo, dragon fruit, etc. As you can see I found Jinghong very food-centric (as is the whole country, actually) and happily ate a lot, there. Lastly, I discovered a stall (part of a food chain) where you could buy an amazingly fresh, hot, soybean drink. SOOOOOO delicious.
Leaving Jinghong, I took an 18-hour overnight, local bus, to Jianshui and then another three-hour bus ride to the Yuang Yang Rice Terraces. On the night bus to Jianshui I was seated next to a man who received telephone calls hourly, almost, and repeatedly lit up cigarettes. I was the only westerner on the bus and no one else seemed to mind/complain (despite the bus being a no-smoking bus) so I just said nothing and suffered, quietly.
I spent one full day in Yuan Yang Rice Terraces; I walked 18km and took photos of the land (the rice paddies were flooded so there were reflecting pools – spectacular to my eyes) and people (with whom I tried to talk – not easy since the majority of people there are of the Hani tribe).
At the guesthouse, I met an Italian couple and their two children (ages 7.5 and 6). We ended up travelling together for a few days and I spent my stay with them in Shanghai (Luca was teaching at the Jaio Tong University for 6 months).
The five of us travelled next to Jianshui together and met up each night for supper. Jianshui is considered a state historic and cultural city. It is one of the earliest developed cities in south Yunnan. It was the political, cultural and communication center in south Yunnan for centuries. Because of the Jianshui Confucius Temple, the city has been called “the Cultural City” since the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The food in Jianshui was excellent – lots of grilled tofu and bamboo and marinated vegetables and meat. I also saw a stall selling, along with garlic, grilled beetles, larvae, grasshoppers, etc. As well, I spent time walking beyond the historic part of the city in alleyways and areas where the older buildings were in the process of being torn down.
Kunming is known as the “Spring City” because of its climate; temperatures, throughout the year, do not get much colder or warmer than a typical spring in places that have four seasons. It once was a laid-back place, so I was told by a retired Canadian now living in Australia – who I met at the youth hostel we were both staying at. He was last in Kunming five years ago and claimed the city hired a governor to turn it into a prime Chinese city. Kunming is clearly that, now.
I found an excellent and cheap resto that I returned to a few times where I tried Kunming’s famous “across the bridge noodles.” This consists of a bowl of very hot soup (stewed with chicken, duck, and ribs) on which a layer of oil floats. Alongside the broth: side dishes of raw pork, vegetables, an egg, and noodles are given to you and you put all these sides into the bowl of soup right away so that the ingredients cook quickly.
One day the project manager/coordinator of the hostel in Kunming invited me to join him for supper. He’s from Hong Kong, originally, and lived in Great Britian for many years while he worked at the International Youth Hostel headquarters in London. He was asked, ten years ago, to coordinate different youth hostels in China and is now based in Shenzhen and Kunming while travelling around the country. Here is what I learned from our conversation, in no particular order of importance:
- Some Chinese speak loudly because they are from the north. Apparently it is considered macho/manly for men there to talk loudly. Others speak loudly because they are from small agricultural villages and are used to yelling at each other across the fields
- Almost all motor bikes in China are electric
- Chinese call the Chinese language Chinese (zhongwen)orPutonghua (the common language)whichis based on the Beijing dialect
- Westerners called/call the Chinese language Mandarin because the upper classes and ministers during the Mandarin Dynasty in the 19th century were based in Beijing and this was the standard for the language in the country
- China now has its goods manufactured in countries like Cambodia and Sri Lanka because labour is cheaper. Hmmm… sounds familiar!
- Many cars and trucks madeinChinaare exported to Eastern European countries as well as some Latin and South American countries (and I ignorantly thought they were only sold in China since I have never seen a Chinese car elsewhere in my limited world travels!!)
- What you also see: a number of VWs, Mercedes Benzes, Suzukis, and some Fords and Buicks which are all manufactured in China
After a nine hour ride by bus to Lijiang I moved to the youth hostel in Shuhe which is about 4km away from Old Lijiang as well as the new city of Lijaing. The common areas as well as rooms allowed smoking which was the first time I experienced this at a Chinese youth hostel; this was disappointing but I simply had to adjust. Most tourists who go to the Lijiang area are from China so few people speak English which sometimes made it difficult for me. However I met a lovely young woman from Beijing who spoke English and was travelling on her own for the first time (I met up with her again in Beijing). We spent one afternoon cycling the countryside together. Another woman I met is part of the Naxi ethnic group. I ate a number of meals at her little resto and this helped me to feel at home. Strolling through both Shuhe and old Lijiang was very pleasant. They are quaint places with fantastic architecture, often made of mud bricks. However, because of tourism, both are also full of tacky shops with jewellery, clothing, trinkets, etc.
If you have looked at the links above, you will have have noticed that there are a couple of rivers running through Shuhe. In the “olden days” there were three wells — one was used for cleaning oneself, the 2nd for washing vegetables and dishes, and the 3rd for drinking water. I don’t know where the drinking water comes from today but the rivers are used by all the locals for washing oneself, washing food, and washing dishes. I also saw little boys pee in the rivers and, unfortunately, garbage is thrown into it too….
I met a Canadian man in Shuhe who had worked as a chemical engineer. Having worked and travelled in China he decided he wanted to start a new career. He and his Chinese girlfriend had taken a trip to Shuhe 2.5 years ago and fell in love with the place. He went back to Ontario to save up enough money to build a small hotel. When he returned, a year later, the place had almost tripled in size and had lost its quaint small village feel. Despite this they built the hotel: Lijiang Lazy Tiger Inn. The nearby town of Baisha which is 8km away is slowly growing, too; he (and I) believe the two towns will become one at some point soon. Both are officially part of the Unesco World Heritage Site — they used to be just off the radar but the Chinese government wants to increase tourism to these places.
When I returned to the youth hostel in Kunming it felt like returning home. I guess when you go from bed to bed you (or at least I) began to crave staying in one place.