Category Archives: Yunnan Province

A Trip to Tuan Jie Township

Tuan Jie Zhen

Alleyway in Tuan Jie Zhen

A friend and I recently took at weekend trip to Tuan Jie Zhen – a township that is about 30 kilometres outside Kunming. Bogi, a classmate from Hungary, and I stayed at the Heart 2 Heart Youth Hostel which is run by Heart to Heart Community Care.

Heart 2 Heart Youth Hostel (Courtyard)

Heart 2 Heart Youth Hostel – Courtyard (Photograph Courtesy of Fenyvesi Boglarka)

Heart 2 Heart Youth Hostel

Heart 2 Heart Youth Hostel (Photograph Courtesy of Fenyvesi Boglarka)

Because there are very few social welfare benefits or resources for migrants, this organization works with these men, women, and families, in Kunming and the surrounding area. It helps them find housing and acquire skills for jobs, provides education to the children, and arranges health care for them. In addition to working with migrants, Heart to Heart Community Care sponsors cultural and educational activities and classes for the local community, with all profits from the hostel going to this organization. The hostel is located in Da He Village, on the outskirts Tuan Jie Zhen – a village-come-town that is sometimes referred to as an “urban village” and is mostly surrounded by farmland and forested hills.

My main purpose for the trip, besides getting away from Kunming for a couple of days, was to visit Rawdon Lau (who I met last year when I stayed at the Camellia Youth Hostel in Kunming). Rawdon heads the “Best of the Best” project which promotes cultural exchange, helps with environmental conservation on a grassroots level, and is socially active in local communities. Some time after my stay in March 2012, the Camellia Youth Hostel, and the hotel next door, were razed to the ground, falling victim to the rapid expansion and growth of urban China (the youth hostel was a stone’s throw from the Keats School, where I am currently studying Chinese, and I can see from my bedroom window the rubble that was left behind; nothing has been rebuilt since they tore the buildings down). Rawdon helped oversee the development of the Heart 2 Heart Youth Hostel and is now based there — when he is not shepherding other projects in China, returning to his home in Guandong Province, or travelling the world for work.

Tuan Jie Zhen

Tuan Jie Zhen

Bogi and I arrived in Tuan Jie Zhen close to suppertime that first afternoon so we took it easy and simply unwound from hectic Kunming. We ate bbq meat, fish, and vegetables and drank beer with the staff and one other hosteller. I enjoyed the stars for the first time in a while – something I hadn’t done since I was on my slow boat to China because the sky in Kunming is too polluted for them to be seen!

The next day, we headed out for a walk in the farmland near the forest of Woyunshan, and surrounded by other mountainous forests in the distance. We did not get very far since so much of our time was spent stopping to take photos. We happened upon a dozen or so black, tent-like structures which really piqued my interest.

Mushroom Farm - Tuan Jie Zhen

Mushroom Farm – Tuan Jie Zhen

There was a woman walking among the tents so I prodded Bogi (who speaks far better Chinese than I do) to ask her if we could take a look. It turned out that inside these tents is a mushroom growing business.  The next thing we knew we were being given a tour of this mycological enterprise.

In her article, “Season of Plenty: Yunnan’s Mushroom Harvest,” (Saveur, August 11, 2011), Beth Kracklauer writes:

“More than 800 varieties of edible mushroom grow in Yunnan,” said Zhou Yuankuang, secretary general of the Yunnan Mushroom Association, as he walked me through the workings of the local trade. “It is one of the most biodiverse places in the world.”

He explained that every day, between two and three in the morning, mushrooms arrive from all over the province. Large-scale dealers and exporters operate independently of the mushroom market, buying in quantity in county seats around Yunnan and taking the mushrooms back to Kunming or transporting them by airplane directly to other parts of China and to Japan, Italy, France, and the United States. Annually, mushroom exports earn dealers in Yunnan more than 650 million yuan ($100 million); sales to the rest of China bring in another 3 billion yuan ($450 million).

Mushroom Farm - Tuan Jie Zhen

Mushroom Farm – Tuan Jie Zhen

The man who gave us the tour oversees the business of growing what appeared to us to be porcini-like mushrooms. The following description of the mushroom farm is based on our understanding of his Chinese. Any inaccuracies are ours alone.

He told us that this part of Yunnan has the perfect climate for growing mushrooms because it is foggy, has dewy/moist mornings, and cool to warm temperatures. The area is a wide, fertile valley between forested mountains. Inside the tents, the temperature is kept at 27°C for growing and 17°C during harvesting/cropping. Each tent is made from black plastic tarp which helps keep the space warm, humid, and shady and each is used for a different phase of the mushroom growing cycle.

Our guide started the tour by showing us how the soil is prepared; it is a compost made from sawdust, wood shavings, nitrogen, gypsum, and older soil. It is all turned by hand, using pitchforks to aerate the soil, and is watered from time to time and covered with a plastic tarp to further promote decomposition. The compost develops as the raw ingredients are changed by the activity of microorganisms, heat, and chemical reactions.

The compost is then scooped and stuffed into, clear, oblong plastic (we are not actually certain of the composition of these bags) grow bags for mushroom cultivation; when filled they look like small logs.The filled bags are punctured and injected with mushroom spawn, laid one on top of the other on a bed of ash (to deter disease-like fungi and insects) and turned regularly to allow the air to circulate. It takes approximately 120 days for this spawn to take hold and grow in the bags. The bars are watered regularly and the relative humidity is kept high to minimize drying of the compost or the spawn. When they are ready, the mycelium (the vegetative part of the fungus) grows in multiple directions and the colour of the logs changes from brown to a yellowish-grey, pockmarked with white spots – fungus – throughout. These changes indicate that fusion has occurred. By paying close attention to the colours the mushroom farm employees can tell which log take has taken to the fungus injection; those that do not are re-injected.

Tuan Jie Zhen-7

After 120 days the grow bags are moved to another tent. The logs are removed from the bags and are leaned vertically against wires that are they strung horizontally between posts. They are then covered with plastic sheeting for a few more days, after which the farmers begin harvesting the mushrooms and can continue to do so multiple times over a six-month period. When this final process is complete the whole operation is repeated.

Mushroom Farm - Tuan Jie Zhen

Mushroom Farm – Tuan Jie Zhen (Rejected Logs)

Mushroom Farm - Tuan Jie Zhen (Ash on Ground)

Mushroom Farm – Tuan Jie Zhen (Ash on Ground)

Mushroom Farm - Tuan Jie Zhen (Fungus-filled Growbags)

Mushroom Farm – Tuan Jie Zhen (Fungus-filled Growbags)

Mushroom Farm - Tuan Jie Zhen (Opening Growbags)

Mushroom Farm – Tuan Jie Zhen (Opening Growbags)

Mushroom Farm - Tuan Jie Zhen (Mushroom Growing on "Log")

Mushroom Farm – Tuan Jie Zhen (Mushroom Growing on “Log”)

We were told that there are three qualities/sizes of mushrooms: small (just opened – the freshest and the most expensive), medium (more open and less expensive), and large  (the cheapest because they must be sold within a few days, before becoming too old and dehydrated). They sell these mushrooms in Yunnan and across China. However, the fungus-impregnated bars are also sold to mushroom growers in Japan, Korea, the U.S., and Europe.

Mushroom Farm - Tuan Jie Zhen

Mushroom Farm – Tuan Jie Zhen (Photograph Courtesy of Fenyvesi Boglarka)

Mushroom Farm - Tuan Jie Zhen

Mushroom Farm – Tuan Jie Zhen (Photograph Courtesy of Fenyvesi Boglarka)

That afternoon Bogi and I met Rawdon for a large and delicious lunch;we ate soup, spring rolls, bitter melons with pork, a spicy tofu dish, and a very typical dish found throughout China: tomato and scrambled eggs. Among the options we were offered as ingredients for our dishes were eel, and honey combs with fresh grubs. We decided against them.

Lunch with Rawdon and Bogi

Lunch with Rawdon and Bogi

After our lunch together, the three of us walked to a mostly abandoned Le Ju Village just a few kilometres outside of Tuan Jie Zhen. The village is located on a hillside and its most recent architecture is 100-200 years old. However, the village actually dates back much further; it has been occupied for about 600 years. The people of this village were Yizu (Yi minority).

 

Many of the houses there are two stories high and all are constructed from bricks made from the iron-filled local soil. A number of the outer walls are, additionally,covered with a paste of red clay. Some bricks contained hay, bran, and corn which helps keep the walls strong.

Tuan Jie Zhen - Le Ju Village

Tuan Jie Zhen – Le Ju Village

The layout of each house is a square and surrounds a central outdoor courtyard. The kitchens and communal areas are on the bottom floor and the bedrooms and other communal areas on the top, and each home has an outhouse. A multi-generational family would live together and additions were built as needed, next door to the homes. Family members could freely come and go from one house to the other via a gate between the two side-by-side homes.

Today, when walking through the alleyways, one can see that the houses are covered in vegetation and the inside wooden stairs and floors are in the process of decaying. A few everyday items from the most recent generation remain in these homes as vestiges of the past. We noted a number of such items, including, pots, shoes, furniture, textiles, and even an unused coffin. It seems that only a few homes remain occupied. As Rawdon described the village to us Bogi and I could imagine what it might have been like there, not too long ago, despite its ghost-like emptiness today.

Tuan Jie Zhen - Le Ju Village

Tuan Jie Zhen – Le Ju Village

Tuan Jie Zhen - Le Ju Village

Tuan Jie Zhen – Le Ju Village (Writing on a Wall)

Tuan Jie Zhen - Le Ju Village

Tuan Jie Zhen – Le Ju Village

Tuan Jie Zhen - Le Ju Village

Tuan Jie Zhen – Le Ju Village

Tuan Jie Zhen - Le Ju Village

Tuan Jie Zhen – Le Ju Village

Tuan Jie Zhen - Le Ju Village - (Kitchen)

Tuan Jie Zhen – Le Ju Village – (Kitchen)

Tuan Jie Zhen - Le Ju Village

Tuan Jie Zhen – Le Ju Village

Tuan Jie Zhen - Le Ju Village

Tuan Jie Zhen – Le Ju Village

Tuan Jie Zhen - Le Ju Village

Tuan Jie Zhen – Le Ju Village

Tuan Jie Zhen - Le Ju Village

Tuan Jie Zhen – Le Ju Village

Tuan Jie Zhen - Le Ju Village (Gateway from One Home to the Addition)

Tuan Jie Zhen – Le Ju Village (Gateway from One Home to the Addition)

Tuan Jie Zhen - Le Ju Village

Tuan Jie Zhen – Le Ju Village

Tuan Jie Zhen - Le Ju Village (Unused Coffin)

Tuan Jie Zhen – Le Ju Village (Unused Coffin)

Tuan Jie Zhen - Le Ju Village (Kitchen)

Tuan Jie Zhen – Le Ju Village (Kitchen)

Finally, at the top of the village and hill, we reached a surprisingly large temple (for such a small community of homes) that still has a permanent caretaker. He unlocked the doors so that we could go in and give a little prayer and some offerings (candy, apples, money, etc. – to bring us luck), as well take photographs. At the bottom as well as the top of the stairs leading to the temple is a protected votive offering and incense area. At the entrance of the temple itself, people leave pine needles on the ground. We asked the caretaker about some of the traditions but his dialect was so localized it was impossible for us to understand his answers – even Rawdon had difficulty following him. What Rawdon did tell us is that there are women who still come to pray monthly at this temple. The temple is graced by a variety of religions. Both Buddha and the local “Earth” Gods are worshipped. Two alters are housed just outside the temple: one contains a statue of Guan Yin (the Goddess of Mercy/Compassion that changes his/her form and gives protection and help to those in need. Families without children often pray to him/her). The second alter houses a statue of the God of Fortune.

Tuan Jie Zhen - Le Ju Village (Temple, Guan Yin)

Tuan Jie Zhen – Le Ju Village (Temple, Guan Yin)

Tuan Jie Zhen - Le Ju Village (Temple)

Tuan Jie Zhen – Le Ju Village (Temple)

Tuan Jie Zhen - Le Ju Village (Temple)

Tuan Jie Zhen – Le Ju Village (Temple)

Tuan Jie Zhen - Le Ju Village (Temple)

Tuan Jie Zhen – Le Ju Village (Temple)

Tuan Jie Zhen - Le Ju Village (Temple)

Tuan Jie Zhen – Le Ju Village (Temple)

Tuan Jie Zhen - Le Ju Village (Temple Caretaker)

Tuan Jie Zhen – Le Ju Village (Temple Caretaker)

Tuan Jie Zhen - Le Ju Village (Fresh Spring Water)

Tuan Jie Zhen – Le Ju Village (Fresh Spring Water)

In Tuan Jie Zhen many homes have spells written right on the walls/entrances as well as others written on paper and pasted up. Animal hooves and bones that are meant to offer protection can be seen hanging on the doors; cacti on the roofs serve a similar purpose. Additionally, the doors are decorated with mirrors, which are also meant to ward off the devil. As a common tradition in China, a lucky character “Fu” (which means good fortune, happiness, luck, and richness) is hung upside down on the doors of people’s homes. The character is upside down to mean “fu dao” which translates to “this fu is upside down” (literally). This is actually a play on words since the pronunciation for “fu dao le” is the same as another word with a different meaning and written in different characters – a word which means “arrived.” As a result “fu dao” suggests that fortune and good luck have arrived.

That night was quiet; Bogi and I went out for supper and then returned to our room. We were invited to Rawdon’s for breakfast for the following morning, met a colleague of his from Beijing, wandered the local market, had lunch, and returned to Kunming.

Tuan Jie Zhen - Woman Selling Goods at Market

Tuan Jie Zhen – Woman Selling Goods at Market

Tuan Jie Zhen - Chicken Processing Stall

Tuan Jie Zhen – Chicken Processing Stall

Acknowledgement: I wish to thank Bogi and Rawdon for helping me remember details for this blog entry.

Update from Kunming

Ni Hao (hello) from China!!

I have been in Kunming, Yunnan Province, China for two weeks now – after three weeks travelling across the ocean to Asia. I’ve been silent all this time because my laptop is still in limbo-land, at customs in Guanzhou, now waiting for FedEx to pick it up and deliver it to me sometime in the next week or two. Then I have to get a VPN plug-in so that I can actually access the back-end of WordPress. So! You will not hear from me again until then.

In the meantime, I can tell you that I had a wonderful few weeks on the cargo ship (I NEVER got bored). I will write all about it in my next post. A good friend in Canada is posting this one for me; (thank you Debra for all of your hard work editing and helping me with this blog!!)I will then write about my experiences studying Chinese (Mandarin) and adjusting to a very different kind of travel. We’ll see where we go from there.

Please be patient and hopefully sometime soon I’ll be posting updates about learning Chinese, the city of Kunming, its food and culture, etc.

China: Yunnan Province

Lijian and environs

Lijian and environs

Yunnan 2012

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.

Chinese Tourists in Xingping

Chinese Tourists in Xingping (Guanxi Province)

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 Food Cooking, Jinhong

Dai Food Cooking, Jinhong

Dai Food Cooking, Jinhong

Dai Food Cooking, Jinhong

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).

Yuan Yang Rice Terraces

Yuan Yang Rice Terraces

Yuan Yang Rice Terraces

Yuan Yang Rice Terraces

Yuan Yang Rice Terraces

Yuan Yang Rice Terraces

Yuan Yang Rice Terraces

Yuan Yang Rice Terraces

Yuan Yang Rice Terraces

Yuan Yang Rice Terraces

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.

Jianshui

Jianshui

Jianshui

Jianshui

Jianshui

Jianshui

Jianshui

Jianshui

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.

Kunming

Kunming

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

Lijiang (Shuhe) and Beyond

Lijiang

Lijiang

Lijiang

Lijiang

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.