Saturday, March 25, 2017

Hijack to Asia - Part II - YUNNAN, CHINA

Yi People of Kunming performing an
ethnic dance at the Stone Forest
The Stone Forest
As mentioned in my previous post, Yunnan Province, in far southwestern China (bordered by Tibet, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam) is home to an ethnically diverse population.   It has more ethnic minorities than any other province, including the Yi, Bai, Tai, Dai, Hui, Nakji, Mongolian, Tibetan and Pumi - just to name a few.  These groups are distributed throughout Yunnan, and most are clustered in compact communities of a few thousand.  Chiang Mai is located in the northwest corner of Thailand, so it was just a short two hour flight to Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province.    It was a pleasant enough trip except for the incessant chatter (all in Chinese, of course) of one of the flight attendants, informing us of all the sites we "must see" while in Yunnan. 

Oh the stairs we climbed!
We were in Kunming just one full day, and we spent it at the Stone Forest, a natural display of limestone formations that have the appearance of trees; located about an hour from Kunming.  The Yi people were there in their full, colorful costumes, performing an ethnic dance for the tourists.    Then we spent several hours 'leisurely' walking through the stone forest.   I say 'leisurely' somewhat tongue in cheek, because there were quite a few very long, steep stairs that one had to literally squeeze through in places.   I knew my knees would be complaining the next day but the scenery was worth it, and at the end, we emerged into a gorgeous meadow, just as the sun broke through.   It was a lovely day. 

From Kunming, we flew northwest to Dali City.  The minority group inhabiting Dali are the Bai people.   When people ask me what my favorite place was from my whole trip, I'd have to say it was Dali.   We stayed in the walled 'old city', where we had a lovely hotel room and walked through the village shops, fruit markets and ate at sidewalk cafes.   Dali is located along Erhai Lake, which - I'd have to say - is prettier from a distance, than it is up close.   We took a gondola ride up up to Mt. Cangshan to enjoy the scenery and overview of Dali.   There wasn't much to do once you got up there, but for $10 (US) you could have your picture taken with a monkey and a peacock and I fell for that little tourist trap! 
We had a very nice room in Old Town Dali

The fruit markets were so much bigger, cleaner
and more appealing than what I remember from
my last trip to China.   

I was intrigued by the elderly, and would
have loved to have heard their life stories. 
Ancient Chinese cities were protected by a wall.  In modern times, as the cities have expanded in size and population, the 'old town' inside the wall has been preserved and become a tourist shopping area.   Dan was in this same area about 20 years ago and commented on how much of the 'old' has been lost as tourism has raised the standard of living for most people. 
The north gate of Old Dali was particularly beautiful

Dan on the Dali City Wall.

The Christian church (state run) in Dali is very active,
with two hundred people attending worship on
Sunday and three Bible Studies (two in Chinese
and one in English) during the week.  Although
state run, these churches are allowed to preach the
gospel and restrictions are few. 

Gondola ride up into the mountains
over Dali City.   

Such a cute little friend.  I could
have taken him home with me.

I wasn't impressed with the pedicure and Thai massage I had in Chiang Mai (my own fault for not asking more questions).   But in Dali, we had a truly unique type of massage, known as a Fish Pedicure.   You put your feet in a tank of warm water, filled with about a hundred hungry minnows and they nibble away at the dead skin on your feet.   This is not something you want to do if you're ticklish.   Dan made sure we found the place with the hungriest looking minnows!

Our final three days in Yunnan were spent in the quaint city of Lijiang, which we traveled to by bus from Dali.   In some ways, Lijiang is similar to Dali, with the Old City surrounded by a city wall and the same type of shopping district throughout.    But the architecture of Old Town was especially beautiful and the night life was especially fun, with lit up shops and live music in the square market. 

These men haul loads for a living and are
waiting for jobs to come their way as they
sit on a busy street corner.

We stayed at the south gate to Old Town Lijiang and were there for three days.   The first day we spent exploring the south gate area and the shopping district.   The second day we took a bus up to Black Dragon Park, on the north end of Old Town.    We spent several hours there, enjoying the scenery and getting photos.    At times, we had the place almost to ourselves and then suddenly a huge group of Chinese tourists would arrive.   The first time this happened, I groaned - complaining to Dan that our nice peaceful outing was about to be spoiled.   "No worries", he said.   "They will swoop in, take a couple pictures and be out of here in less than five minutes!"   And he was right!   I couldn't believe it!   For us, taking photos was just a way to document and remember the experience, but for the Chinese, taking photos IS the experience.

Black Dragon Park, LiJiang, Yunnan, China

A short bus ride away from the city of Lijiang, at the bottom of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, is the village of Shuhe Ancient Town.   It is along the ancient tea route and was settled by the Naxi people.  We spent about a half day there, leisurely strolling along the walkways and stream that runs through it.   There is a beautiful pond, and an ancient water wheel and as you make your way through the town you will see peasant farmers working in the rice fields. It was a lovely place to spend our last day in Yunnan. 

Doing laundry
Street performers

 Our final night in Yunnan we enjoyed the night life inside Old City Lijiang, with the stores lit up, some of the lantern festival (the final event in the Chinese New Year celebration) still around and live music drifting from the eateries.    We really enjoyed our time there.

My last night in Yunnan - and look what
I found!!   A beautiful tri-colored corgi!
As the wealth of the average Chinese family
has increased, dogs are becoming much
more common - especially in the wealthier
cities of eastern China - but we saw many dogs
in Yunnan too.   They are rarely on a leash,
roam freely in and out of stores, restaurants
and Dan tells me most of the have not
had rabies vaccines.  In fact, because of
this, Dan's agency requires that their members
get rabies vaccines.

This corgi's owner spoke no English and
Dan was somewhere down the street, so
I had to pull out my smartphone and show
her the photos of my dogs so she could
see why I was so excited.

Leaving Yunnan was kind of sad.   We REALLY enjoyed our time there.   We flew to Shenzhen rather than Hong Kong for several reasons - one being, that it was cheaper.   These are the foothills to the Himalayas that we are flying over. 
 We had a delightful dinner with a former student of Dan's and his wife.   They have a young daughter and are expecting their second child, now that the one child policy has been lifted.  Her parents live with them to provide childcare.   They have good jobs and live well, but housing is so expensive that they have just a 700 square foot apartment for their soon-to-be family of four, plus her parents.
 Meals are served family style in China, so as a group, you choose a number of entrees from the menu and share them.   After a long discussion, we ended up with this spread!   I particularly enjoyed the pork ribs and the snap peas, as well as the corn chowder.   It was a delicious meal.

Another reason we flew to Shenzhen, rather than Hong Kong, is that it is much easier going through immigration at the train station than at the airport.   His friends gave us a ride to the station, we went through immigration in about a half hour and then took a taxi up to Tao Fong Shan Christian Centre - a monestary founded by Norwegian missionaries in 1930 that is now used as a retreat center for Christians.   Its' a quiet place to get away from the chaos of Hong Kong.    It was a special place to end our vacation.

A short walk down a trail and you come to a huge white cross, lit up, overlooking the city below.

All was well in Pilgrim Hall until I saw this sign on our door.
Thankfully, we didn't see any!

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