Category Archives: Yunnan Province

Was I Truly There??? China? Vietnam? Cambodia?

Me in Front of Storefront, Dali, Yunnan, China

Here I am in Front of a Storefront in Dali, Yunnan, China

It is hard to believe that only a few weeks have gone by since my return from Asia; I am so completely into the swing of things at home in the Boston area. It is ALMOST as if I never left. I can just barely “touch” China (where I lived and travelled from September 2013 until the end of March 2014) and Vietnam and Cambodia (where I travelled afterwards). They are elusive memories. And yet, profoundly, as I was out and about yesterday a large group of Chinese walked past me. Suddenly, a familiar feeling marked me and tied me to my time in China – I had a pleasantly warm and physical sensation throughout my body. My brain reminded me that I did, in fact, have particular experiences at particular times.

I left China feeling indifferent to the place, or so I thought. Now, I find that I miss it. I never thought I would and yet I do… I cannot figure out what it is that I miss; it is completely intangible – especially since while I was there I had mixed feelings about the country itself. But I realise there is something intangible about life there that I wish I could put my finger on. No matter. China did get under my skin and into my heart. I may not recall all of it, and certainly not necessarily on demand, but my past makes me who I am, now. The reality is, I truly was there.

Below is a small sampling of the photographs I took during my final three weeks in China: Shaxi, Dali, Fujian Province.

Shaxi, Yunnan Province China:

Grandmother and Grandchild out for a Stroll, Shaxi, Yunnan, China

Grandmother and Grandchild out for a Stroll, Shaxi, Yunnan, China

Shaxi Cultural Revolution Maoist Headquarters ("If the country wants to prosper and become strong then follow the birth plan" -- jie hua shen yu : one child one couple)

Shaxi Cultural Revolution Maoist Headquarters (“If the country wants to prosper and become strong then follow the birth plan” — jie hua shen yu : one child one couple)

Doorway (detail), Shaxi, Yunnan, China

Doorway (detail), Shaxi, Yunnan, China

Building a House, Shaxi, Yunnan, China

Building a House, Shaxi, Yunnan, China

Dali, Yunnan Province, China:

Street Scene, Renmin Lu, Dali, Yunnan, China

Street Scene, Renmin Lu, Dali, Yunnan, China

Bai Woman, Dali, Yunnan, China

Bai Woman, Dali, Yunnan, China

Woman, Dali, Yunnan, China

Woman, Dali, Yunnan, China

Alley, Dali, Yunnan, China

Alley, Dali, Yunnan, China

Fujian Province, China:

Fisherman, Fujian, China

Fisherman, Fujian, China

Sansazhen, Fujian, China

Sansazhen, Fujian, China

Fishermen. Near Sanshazhen, Fujian, China

Fishermen. Near Sanshazhen, Fujian, China

Sansazhen, Fujian, China

Sansazhen, Fujian, China

Xiamen, Zhongshan Park, Fujian

Xiamen, Zhongshan Park, Fujian

Xiamen, Nan Putuo Temple, Fujian

Xiamen, Nan Putuo Temple, Fujian

Xiamen, Near Zhongshan Park, Fujian

Xiamen, Near Zhongshan Park, Fujian

Yongding County's Earth Building Cultural Village, Fujian Tulou, Fujian, China

Yongding County’s Earth Building Cultural Village, Fujian Tulou, Fujian, China

Woman, Nanxi, Fujian Tulou, Fujian, China

Woman, Nanxi, Fujian Tulou, Fujian, China

Yongding County's Earth Building Cultural Village, Fujian Tulou, Fujian, China

Yongding County’s Earth Building Cultural Village, Fujian Tulou, Fujian, China

Yongding County's Earth Building Cultural Village, Fujian Tulou, Fujian, China

Yongding County’s Earth Building Cultural Village, Fujian Tulou, Fujian, China

Shaxi, Yunnan

 

Shaxi Cultural Revolution Maoist Headquarters (

Shaxi, Cultural Revolution Maoist Headquarters (“If the country wants to prosper and become strong then follow the birth plan” — jie hua shen yu : one child one couple)

Shaxi, Yunnan Province:

Shaxi is a small, quiet, even sleepy village, situated in a fertile valley surrounded by mountains, a three-hour bus ride northwest from Dali. As you walk about, you see locals labouring in construction, working in small shops, or selling food or vegetables on the street.  The fields are tended mostly by women, while the men herd goats. The Bai are very industrious but also seem to take their time as they work. It appears that they embrace their traditional lives. It is a friendly village and Yulan (a friend from Kunming) and I were able to strike up a number of conversations with the minority villagers. Shaxi is beginning to see its share of tourists, and the stores, cafes, and hostels/hotels designed for people like us, yet it is still primarily a town of locals, and many of these sites are mostly empty. At the moment, its interest in outsiders is only secondary – although this will almost certainly change in the next few years.

Buildings in Shaxi (and Dali) are made of a foundation of locally quarried stone and the walls are constructed with rammed-earth, covered by slaked lime and decorated on the outside with grey or blue ink-and-wash paintings. I have been told that nails are not used and instead, a system of double brackets supports the roof atop thick wood pillars. Like elsewhere in Yunnan, and the rest of China, the rooves are covered in round roof edge tiles. These tiles are used for decoration or for very specific symbolism (represented in the colours of the eaves, the specific roofing materials, and, finally, the roof top decorations). Old Town Shaxi is a maze of criss-crossing narrow alleyways, with one main street leading in and out of the village and a second, narrower street (filled with tourist shops, cafes, etc.) that leads to the old village square. A Friday market is held each week, as it has been for many, many years!

Shaxi, Building a House

Shaxi, Building a House

Shaxi, the Writing is on the Wall (pay up time to landowners of yesteryear?)

Shaxi, the Writing’s on the Wall (c.1940s? perhaps record-keeping when landlords collected rent from peasants who used their land, or, harvest records? – we were not able to get an answer for these calculations. if anyone knows what these numbers actually refer to please let me know. thank you!)

Saxi, Lime Wall with Horse Hairs and Straw

Shaxi, Lime Wall with Animal Hairs and Straw

On our first day in Shaxi, Yulan and I saw a few men leading donkeys with rattan baskets filled to the brim strapped to their backs. Women, both young and old, carry their produce and goods on their backs, hunching over to steady themselves and balance the baskets, whose straps stretch across their foreheads and are held onto on either side of their heads.

Shaxi Alley, (soy bean curd sheets drying in the sun)

Shaxi Alley, (soybean curd sheets drying in the sun)

Our second day in Shaxi was spent wandering the alleyways, speaking with more locals, and having breakfast and supper at the Long Feng Muslim Restaurant. The women who work there are welcoming and talkative, and laugh a lot!. The food is excellent, and the place is impeccably clean. At the front of the restaurant is the kitchen – open to the street. Behind this area and the main eating area is a small courtyard where the vegetables are prepared. Aging beef hangs from beams throughout the restaurant and courtyard. Breakfast consisted of a bowl of noodles in a spicy beef broth, with pieces of beef and vegetables. As is common, one can add extra condiments such as garlic, Sichuan pepper, pickled vegetables, hot pepper, etc. I think this soup may have been the best I have eaten in China. At supper we ordered a bowl of vegetable stew, as delicious as was the morning’s soup.

Shaxi, Long Feng Muslim Restaurant

Shaxi, Long Feng Muslim Restaurant

Lunch took us to Ben Tu Ren Jia, where we had two local dishes: zha ru bing (fried goat cheese sprinkled with sugar) and fen pi chao jidan (broad rice sheets mixed with egg and spices). Excellent food, again.

The streets of Shaxi are a pleasure to meander through and the countryside is perfect for walking in the fields and exploring the many nearby villages via bicycle.

Shaxi, Grandmother and Grandchild out for a Stroll

Shaxi, Grandmother and Grandchild out for a Stroll

Shaxi Doorway

Shaxi Doorway

Shaxi Doorway (detail)

Shaxi Doorway (detail)

We stayed at the local International Youth Hostel, which was inexpensive but very nondescript and dingy and dark. However, if you are on a budget this is a good enough choice. It is just not a place where you will want to chill (in fact, it was freezing there since its outer walls are literally made of plywood). I have been told that if you want to treat yourself,  a nice place to stay is the Old Theatre Inn — about a 15-minute bicycle ride from Shaxi. Breakfast is included and apparently the rooms are extremely comfortable, with all the amenities and a great view of the expansive farmland just beyond its doors, nestled among the villages and surrounding mountains.

Accommodation:

Places to Eat:

  • Ben Tu Ren Jia on the cobblestoned main street leading to the Town centre.
  • Long Feng Muslim Restaurant on Shaxi’s main road

 

Dali, Yunnan

Woman Resting, Dali, Yunnan, China
Woman Resting, Dali, Yunnan, China

Dali, Yunnan Province:

Yulan (one of my four teachers at Keats School in Kunming – and now a friend) and I travelled by overnight train (on a hard sleeper) to Dali, at the beginning of its Spring season. The capital of the Bai Autonomous Region, Dali is rich and fertile, and full of villages and farmland in the valley that surrounds the banks of the 40 km long Erhai Lake (洱海) (“er” = see; “hai” = lake or sea); the lake is shaped like an ear which is called “er” although the character “er” is written differently: 耳. The Bai heavily populate this area, and their traditions flourish despite the many tourists. There are also many expats who run a number of places in the town, including the guesthouse where we stayed. Older women dress in their traditional blue scarves and jackets. While we were there, the Bai community was celebrating the March Fair, which is held from March 15th to 21st of the lunar calendar, and, we were told, celebrates peace with traditional music, burned incense, and foods offered in sacrifice.

Bai Holiday, Dali, Yunnan
Bai Holiday, Dali, Yunnan
Bai Holiday, Dali, Yunnan
Bai Holiday, Dali, Yunnan
Bai Holiday, Dali, Yunnan
Bai Holiday, Dali, Yunnan
Bai Woman, Dali
Bai Woman, Dali

On our first day, we cycled 65 km., exploring the countryside and small villages in the greater Dali area. The local farmers were busy in their fields and children were fishing, with nets in hand and wearing only underwear. In one of these villages we found a lovely couple who makes bing (bread pockets which can be filled with many things, (we tried them with onions).

Man in Village Near Dali
Man in Village Near Dali
Woman in Village Near Dali
Woman in Village Near Dali
Onion Bing, Dali, Yunnan, China
Onion Bing, (in village outside of Dali)

We stayed at a quiet guesthouse, Sleepy Fish, just inside the new east gate of the old town, and awoke to the sound of roosters crowing in the morning. At the start of each day, we went around the corner to eat shao er kuai (roasted rice flour cakes). This is a common Yunnanese dish; a roasted, thin, round, pancake-like er kuai, that is usually brushed with a peanut-sesame sauce and/or chile sauce (tian de / la de –> sweet and spicy), and wrapped around youtiao (deep-fried bread sticks), hotdogs, julliened potatoes, or other ingredients, depending on the vendor.

On day two we walked around the old town, where the main roads are overrun by tourists. Dali is known to have been “discovered” by backpackers and is still inundated with them, as well a new generation of young hippies. On these streets one sees small stores full of artisanal goods (including coffee shops), people doing bead-work on the streets, and others selling mass-produced embroidered fabrics, jewellery, etc. Dali is a town for tourists, but if you can get off the beaten path, you can still catch a glimpse of the daily lives of the people who live here, such as the farmers who sell their produce on the street. People still work their plots in the farmland that borders the old town. Some corners of Dali are real surprises – just by turning onto a side street you can happen upon a wide variety of glorious flowers and trees growing in small courtyards. This reminded Yulan of the poem written by the Song Dynasty Poet Ye Shao Weng’s poem Failure in Visiting the Garden:  “Spring air’s too overfull to be shut in the garden, Over the wall one red apricot-twig had to crane.”Spring in Dali really was in bloom; pear and apricot trees were flowering and outside town golden fields of rapeseed flowers, which bloom annually, were in striking abundance. 

 Dali, Apricot Tree in Bloom


Dali, Apricot Tree in Bloom (photograph courtesy of Hou Yulan)

Fields of Rapeseed (with old town Dali in the background)

Fields of Rapeseed (with old town Dali in the background)

Dali Street Scene

Dali Street Scene

Dali Street Scene, Renmin Lu

Dali Street Scene, Renmin Lu

Dali (Renmin Lu)

Dali Street Scene, Renmin Lu

Dali Alley

Dali Alley

Dali is full of excellent food (both on the street and in restaurants). For lunch on our second day we ate at Zai Hui Shou. Their specialty is lian ji mixian (cold rice noodle w/chicken, greens, peanuts, and a mix of a sweet and spicy sauce) and wan dou lian fen (cold yellow pea doufu – topped with peanuts, green onions, and a similar but slightly different sweet and spicy sauce). Suppertime took us to the four-generation-run restaurant,  Zhen Hua Fandian, where we ate: suan la yu – sour and spicy fish with an extremely flavourful and complicated broth; tang cou pai gu – sweet and sour pork ribs; and cha shou gu – mushroom with hot peppers). The third night in Dali we dined on braised pork, lotus root, and bamboo shoots  – at another highly recommended local restaurant, Xiao Duan Chu Fang. The atmosphere was pleasant in this spacious restaurant and the food was excellent (although more expensive than the two other somewhat simpler restaurants).

Wan Dou Lian Fen (cold yellow pea doufu)

Wan Dou Lian Fen (cold yellow pea doufu)

Accommodation:

Places to Eat:

  • Xiao Duan Chu Fang (Duan’s Kitchen) – 12 Renmin Lu
  • Zhen Hua Fandian – 181 Renmin Lu
  • Zai Hui Shou on Renmin Lu — 135 Renmin Lu

Kunming Train Station Attack

Much has been said these last few days of the train station assault in Kunming this past weekend; I have little to add. However, I want to make mention of Saturday night’s attack since I am currently in Kunming and actually heard shots/bangs (of some sort), from my bedroom, at the time that the event took place. Having experienced two weeks of Chinese Spring Festival fireworks and firecrackers, I knew that the sounds I heard were not of that ilk. I listened for sirens but did not hear any, so my moment of concern was short-lived. I was quite surprised and horrified to hear about what occurred Saturday night when I woke up on Sunday and received emails of concern from friends and family. These last few days, Kunming has seen an increase in police presence with guns. In this city it is common, here, to see police on almost every other corner (vans, or little cubicles are permanently posted at these sites). At night now, the lights have been flashing so that people may easily access them should there be a need/emergency. Today, Chinese state-run media has reported that all eight suspects have been arrested or killed. None-the-less, security is still stepped up and SWAT teams continue to patrol certain Kunming streets.

The Chinese government is blaming the Uighur (Muslim) community. I realise relations between the Han majority, who dominate this country, and the Uighur minority from the western province of Xinjiang is not easy. When I asked a local Muslim restaurant owner if his resto would remain open during the Chinese Spring Festival he said, “Of course! We never celebrate the Chinese holidays.” At that moment, I understood there might be animosity between the peoples. Regardless of who is to blame for this weekend’s attack, here is a link that may be of interest with background information about the Uighurs and the Chinese Han: http://chinachange.org/2014/03/03/excerpts-from-my-west-china-your-east-turkestan-my-view-on-the-kunming-incident/

Travels with Steve: Kunming, Xingping, and Beijing

Travels with Steve in China (Here we are in Xingping, Guangxi Province)

Steve and Tamar in Xingping, Guangxi Province (Photograph courtesy of Jeannette Bajon)

Joining me in China for almost three weeks, Steve and I spent two full days in Kunming, more than a week in Xingping, and almost a week in Beijing. Below are his comments with judicious censorship by me and a few photos to go along with each section.

Kunming. Yunnan Province

Capitalism is rife in Kunming, Steve has noticed. Young people trying to be hipper than hip by dressing as au courant as they can. Hand-helds are always at the ready. Hear that sound? It is Mao doing the circular shuffle in his grave. Steve is proud that Tamar has figured out all these little alleyways and niches for herself — she is a regular at the baozi storefront as well as the local soy milk and fried dough breakfast stall. She knows the bowling alley and the best massage parlours, as well as the most scenic parks in the city. Finally, she can find good food. What more does she need? Here are a few photos from our two days spent together in this Spring City, South of the Clouds:

Kunming, Wall in Daguan Park

Kunming, Wall in Daguan Park

Kunming, (Salt) Peanuts!

Kunming, (Salt) Peanuts!

Kunming, Man Drinking Tea at Confucius Temple

Kunming, Man Drinking Tea at Confucius Temple

Kunming, Man on the Street

Kunming, Man on the Street

Xingping. Guangxi Province

Who would have guessed that we would have spent ten days here? Not us. This place is home to the surreal landscape of Chinese scrolls and water colour paintings. Karst mountains all around the rivers that populate this area, including the Li River, which is minted on the 20RMB bill.  We’ve hiked and biked and visited the local market. Steve climbed a mountain while Tamar rested and studied. We took a “plastic” bamboo ride on the Li river, sauntered through groves of oranges, mandarins, kumquats, and pomelos. People working in the fields were generous and offered/gave us fruit during our various hikes. We have must have said, “Ni Hao!” to strangers a million times. Tamar had her brain re-wired speaking French to other tourists at the hostel while she was also trying to speak Chinese to the staff and friends of hers who work at the hostel.  We had plans on staying for five days and then go northwestward to the Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces but a bout of Mao’s Revenge (poor Tamar) kept us here and we were just as happy with that. Below are a few photos from our 11 days spent together in Xingping.

Xingping, Countryside, Li River in the Background

Xingping, Countryside, Li River in the Background

Xingping, Old School House

Xingping, Old School House

Xingping, Countryside

Xingping, Countryside

Xingping

Xingping

Xingping

Xingping

Xingping

Xingping

Beijing. China’s Capital City

Steve expected a landscape of massive modern skyscrapers, spewing an endless supply of young people dressed like lawyers, hustling and bustling to build the perfect State, as serious as the day is long. Nope. Like Kunming and even like Xingping –  but more so – Beijing rings with the sound of frantic, petty, business. Everyone is buying and selling in the streets, in the little tiny first floor shop fronts. Apart from the Givenchy and Chanel shops this place is okay!

Steve wanted to see the embalmed Chairman but poor timing on our part made us miss our appointment with him.  We walked a stretch of the Great Wall; God help us if the Chinese ever get so motivated again. Our trip to Beijing: walking and eating and walking and eating and walking and eating as well as visiting friends. Steve thinks Peking Duck is AOK. And based on a conversation with a friend in Beijing we discovered that in October 2013 the Canadian population was 35,295,770 compared to Beijing’s December 2013 approximate population of 21,229,000 (“unofficial estimates put the population at around 21-22 million”). Unfathomable. These are the top three biggest landmasses by country (remember — Beijing is JUST A SMALL DISTRICT in China).

Number
Country
Area (km2)
Area (miles2)
1.
Russia
17098242
6601668
2.
Canada
9984670
3855100
3.
China
9706961
3747879

And finally, here photographs from our five days spent together in Beijing:

Beijing, Outside the Forbidden City

Beijing, Outside the Forbidden City

Beijing

Beijing

Beijing, The Great Wall

Beijing, The Great Wall

Beijing

Beijing

Beijing, Outside the Forbidden City

Beijing, Outside the Forbidden City

Kunming’s Streets and Alleyways

Kunming

Kunming

Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, China, is known as the Spring City because of its year-round spring-like climate. Although it comprises mostly large avenues and high-rises it is still fairly laid-back because it retains pockets of overlooked but vibrant alleyways. These alleyways are worlds unto themselves; people live, play, and work in these narrow and somewhat hidden streets. Many of the alleys are near the Keats School (where I study Chinese) which is on Dongfeng Dong Lu and a stone’s throw from the heart of downtown. Below are photographs that I took in some of these alleyways as well as along a few of the major streets that take me there – mostly of people who I approached and who allowed me to work with them.

Kunming, Alley

Kunming, Alley

People and the Street-11

Kunming, Alley

Kunming, Alley

Kunming, Alley

Kunming, Alley

Kunming, Alley

Kunming, Alley

Kunming, Alley

Kunming, Alley

Kunming, Alley

Kunming, Alley

Kunming, Alley

Kunming, Alley

Kunming, Cityscape

Kunming, Cityscape

Kunming, Cityscape

Kunming, Cityscape