English Trip to China 2011
The Millennium Park is a Chinese style amusement park, with trees, small lakes, canals, islands, kiosks, pagoda-like towers, and as it is the time of the Kaifeng chrysanthemum festival, there are lots of these flowers, too. There are girls and boys dancing in costumes, pirates fighting and plundering merchant ships on the lakes, kung fu performances, acrobats on stilts, feeding of white pigeons, disguising in historical costumes, picture taking, souvenir shops, etc. Nothing really exciting. At least nothing that can give me a deeper insight into the Chinese way of life and nothing that can give me a better understanding of Kaifeng city. Although Lisa and I have a very good time in this park, I am not too fascinated and want to go to a more interesting place. We leave and take a tricycle taxi to Tie Ta, the park with the really very old stone pagoda. Here I feel happy. I can watch elderly people as well as nursery children. I can see that old ten (?) story pagoda with the interesting designs on its bricks. Time is getting short. We can only walk quickly through this area, then we must hurry to get to the bus station. No time for lunch. We buy the tickets for the bus to Luoyang, some bottled water and tasty biscuits. For most of the four- hour busride Lisa´s head is leaning on my shoulder. Hopefully she does not get infected with my cold as I am still breathing with difficulty in spite of the vitamin tablets Lisa has offered me and which seem to keep her healthy. I am so happy Lisa has been my companion and guide to Kaifeng.
In Luoyang Wendy and Mr Zhu are waiting for us. They take us to a restaurant, where we can sit comfortably and chat about our adventures in Kaifeng. We have tea, popcorn, sunflower seeds and another kind of small nuts, which I cannot open with my teeth. At seven we have dinner. Wendy orders four different plates of dumplings, a big portion of pork with vegetables, and yoghurt from the Wahaha company. As usual we have tea with the food. Then it is time for me to get to the train station. Wendy takes us there in her car, and they all come to the waiting hall and buy platform tickets to see me off. I am so overwhelmed about this wonderful stay in Luoyang and with the friendliness of Wendy, Lisa and Mr Zhu. The train is late, but they all insist they will wait until I am safely on the train. In the waiting hall Mr Zhu sees two foreigners and thinks thus I will not be lonely on the train. They come over to us asking whether we know when the train is expected to come. But there is no information. We just have to wait. The foreigners are two young people with huge backpacks. They are from a small place south of Brussels in Belgium. I can speak French with them. Mr Zhu is surprised that they are so young and travelling together. He asks whether they are married. They only smile about such a question. Of course, they are not. They are on their way to climb Hua Shan in Shaanxi province. And they certainly want to visit the famous terracotta army at Xi´An. I am surprised this train is going in that direction. I want to go south to Chongqing, and they want to go west. Well, there are lots of mountains blocking the direct way south, so the train must make a detour. Eventually we can go to the platform. My friends help me to find the sleeper. They wave good-bye. I am very happy to have such good friends.
Northern Yunnan 1
Lijiang, Zhongdian, Shangri La
A wonderful day in Lijiang
The airport hall of Chongqing is very clean, including the toilets. As I have arrived early enough, I have time to think about the next five days, when I am not meeting any chatfriends. I want to go to Northern Yunnan, an area near the Tibetan and Myanmar borders, called Shangri La. Today I am flying to Lijiang, with a short stop at Kunming, Yunnan´s capital. My friend Lanny told me, there were flights from Kunming to Zhongdian,which is the main city in Shangri La. I could not book this flight online. I don´t know why.
As I must wait for boarding my plane, I have some spare time. I decide to ask at the information desks of several airlines. Finally, when asking China Eastern, they tell me they have flights from Zhongdian to Kunming. How convenient. I can book immediately. They do not accept payment by visa card, they want cash, 830 RMB for a discount ticket. I give them the money, and a few minutes later, I get the ticket for November 18th, however leaving Zhongdian at 8:20 am. Anyway there are only three flights each day, and they all are between eight and nine in the morning.
The flight to Kunming and to Lijiang is very pleasurable. I have a window seat on the left side. The landscape deep below is full of fog shining golden in the morning sun. Only some higher mountain ranges
in Guizhou province can be seen. Later I can see a big bend of the Yangzi. The landscape looks lovely, at least when looking out of the plane window. On its descent towards Lijiang airport, the plane is slowly losing height. The air is clear. I can have a fantastic view of all the houses, especially of the old city of Lijiang. Then the plane makes a lengthy detour for losing more height. I can see famous Yuelongxue Shan, the jade mountain, for which Lijiang is so famous. The mountain top is over 5500 meters above sea level, it has always snow on top. Today there are no clouds. I can see the mountain clearly. The pilot obviously flies near enough to give the passengers a special treat, to enjoy the sight. Then he dives down into the valley where I can see lots of terrassed fields, small houses, gardens, then there is an almost unnoticeable touchdown. We have arrived at Lijiang airport. A shuttle bus is taking most of the passengers and me to town.
This time I am travelling with my backpack. This is a rather new feeling for me. 10 kilos or a little more on my back. I am looking for a budget hotel. There are lots of hotels, but all of them are either business style, or have too many stars, which means too luxurious and therefore expensive, or they are fully booked. So I ask some taxi drivers. They cannot understand me. Finally a female taxi driver asks me using sign language what price I can afford to pay for the hotel room. As I say not more than 100 Yuan, she tells me to get in her car. For ten yuan she takes me to a most wonderful place, a Naxi-style inn almost on top of a hill with a panoramic view of Old Lijiang. The inn is a two-storey building, with a u-shaped open space inside, leading to a kind of platform where people can sit, have a meal while enjoying the wonderful view of the hundreds of smalls roofs. The interior of the inn is an all wooden structure, kept in a welcoming warm colour. There are eight small rooms on either floor. The rooms have two beds, a tiny table, a TV set, hot and cold water, and a small bathroom. The door can be securely closed by a crossbar and a lock. The double wing window opens to the inner yard.
Soon after I have settled down in my room, I go for a walk into the many small streets of Old Lijiang. I have been here before, three and a half years ago, when my Kunming friends Lanny and Hongfei took me here in their small pink car. It is a most wonderful sunny day, soooo different from foggy Chongqing which I left in the early morning. Lijiang is the town of the Naxi minority people. All the houses in the many streets are Naxi style, mostly wooden structures, and most of the houses are either shops or restaurants or inns. The streets are paved with big flagstones. And a stream is running there with very clear water. I can see trouts. In some of the streets there are lovely willow trees, and above them, in the distance, about 30 km away, there are the thirteen snow peaks of famous Yuelongxue Shan. I am really very happy. I feel so free. At a small eating stand, I get a spit with five bits of fried hot potato for one yuan. This is my lunch today. Then I want to get to the most wonderful place of Lijiang, the park, where Yuelongxue Shan, the jade dragon mountain, can be seen reflected almost perfectly in the still water of a pond. In my guidebook I found the picture and the name of this place. It is Heilongtan. So I ask and am told that it is only about fifteen minutes´ walking, up the road. The afternoon is still so sunny. It is not difficult to find the park. As a senior I pay only 30 yuan entrance fee instead of 60. I am so happy, when I can see what I have been looking for for such a long time. There is the pond, a white Chinese-style bridge in the background, lots of green bushes and trees, a small pagoda, all these reflected in the water.. Everything is really most beautiful. I can walk up the steps to a very nice temple in Naxi style. There is also a path leading up the hill to a kind of Naxi culture school. Wooden poles show paintings and drawings of the famous Naxi Dongba culture, which succeeded to survive the Cultural Revolution, although with difficulty. Lots of their books have been recovered because they were hidden at a secure place by the local people. I can go to the small Naxi school, where their culture is taught to some students. There is also an old teacher, who cannot speak Chinese or English. He is busy writing the typical Naxi letters. Higher up on the hill is a Dongba temple, a mixture of lamaist Buddhism and Naxi spiritualism. I do not know the details, but I can see the air is full of prayer flags flying, outlined against the lovely blue sky. There is a path which leads up to the top of the hill. However I cannot go hiking. There is a guard and a notice in English, telling visitors that only groups of at least four people can get on this mountain, and they must register. I think there is nothing special there, except perhaps some ghosts. So I decide to enjoy myself in the proper park.
I spend a lot of time in the park. It is so relaxing. Nice tall trees, rare ones, lots of birds everywhere. All of the big park is full of birdsong, although it is November. Many people in the park say hello to me, and a group of young Naxi students, just back from school, is excited when I take their picture. There are several small lakes with willows and reeds. I can see a kingfisher bird, with its lovely colours and long pointed beak. At a teahouse there are lots of other, noisy birds. I sit down and order a cup of tea, this makes me feel very comfortable. An elderly woman is sitting under a tree near the white bridge and the pond. She sells packs of picture postcards and lovely tiny shoes which have been decorated with beautiful designs. All different. Six yuan each. As I think they make good souvenirs, I buy half a dozen of them. Later, when evening is getting near, the snow on Yuelongxue Shan is changing colour. With the low positioned evening sun, it is turning from white to a whitish yellow colour with a touch of orange. When I get to the pond with the best reflection, there are some visitors of a tourist group from France. One of them has a very good camera, and he is waiting for the best moment. He wants to take a picture when the reflection is perfect, which is when the water in the pond is absolutely without any movement and ripples. For a while we talk together in French. He tells me that we are very lucky. Not very often can the reflection of the jade mountain be seen so well as it is now. Not more than 60 days in a year the Yueshanxue Shan can be seen at all, because of the clouds.
Finally it is time for me to leave and go back to the inn. Back in the streets of Old Lijiang I can see thousands of people who enjoy the atmosphere of the city. I am near a tourist group of elderly people, all of them women. They look Chinese. One of the women surprises me, when she asks me: Do you speak Spanish. My answer: Of course. Then we have a little conversation. The tourist group is from Argentina, visiting the country of their parents. All the people seem to be happy. There are many young women and men in Naxi clothes, outside their shops and restaurants. Some are dancing. Others invite the visitors to come inside, look and buy. Clothes, tea, vases, souvenirs, restaurants, paintings, statues, goldsmiths, etc. Lijiang really is not a poor place, because of all the tourists from China and abroad. Everywhere are red lanterns, often reflected in the water of the river. There is also one group of houses, where deafening disco music is played. This is mainly for younger people, and for those who feel young. Through the open windows and doors I see them dancing. Elderly women sit on steps offering fruits, especially pomegranates. In the square a group of Naxi people, mainly elderly men, are giving a free concert playing their typical music on strange instruments. Music, which had been forbidden in the years of the Mao dictatorship.
I am getting tired and hungry now. When I see people in Naxi costumes dancing at the small river outside a restaurant I stop for watching them. They dance, not only to attract the people to come in, but also, beause they really love it. They invite other people to join the dancing. I try, too, without knowing the steps. They do not mind. I sit down inside and have a dish of hot spicy eggplant with lots of garlic and beans. A not so young woman in a red dress is singing on stage. After her performance there are others, dancing. I would like to stay much longer, but it´s time for bed. Reluctantly I leave the restaurant. Early tomorrow morning I must get on my bus to Zhongdian.
November 14th, 2007
The bus is a Mudan, a rather old Chinese model. The bus is short, so it has less problems driving on the mountain roads with their countless bends. Before the driver leaves the bus station he checks the steering. Something seems to worry him. The wheel must be fixed. He takes the bus with all the passengers onboard to the repair pit. Soon the mechanic is satisfied. Then the driver starts on the four-hour trip to Zhongdian, which is about 150 km north of Lijiang. The first 50 km are very slow. The road is finding a passage around the Jadedragon snow mountain. This really is a big one, with lots of snowy peaks. By the roadside are small countryside houses, hills, bends, fields, Naxi minority villages, in the distance a bigger lake. Lots of autumn colour trees are lining both sides of the road, poplars, ginkgos, and others. There is much oncoming traffic, and slow traffic on our side. At one place many cars are parked. There are lots of food and fruit stands. This place is overlooking a wide deep valley with the first great bend of the Yangzi. Later the road is wider, straight and a lot faster. On the left, beyond the Yangzi I can see the snow-covered peaks of Haba Shan, which is also one of Yunnan´s highest mountains, over 5500 m tall. Don´t forget these are the easternmost ranges of the Himalaya. On the right, at the foot of Haba Shan there is the famous Tiger Leaping Gorge, where the Yangzi is forcing its way through a very narrow passageway. Going to the Tiger Leaping Gorge by guided tourist group would have taken two days. Horse trecking is also offered, especially on the old tea paths in the rugged mountains. The tea the Tibetans in Tibet drink mostly comes from southern Yunnan. Halfway, the bus driver makes a short toilet and snack stop. I buy a corncob and a hot boiled potato, but cannot get any salt with it. Never mind. After this, the bus must drive uphill all the time. Lijiang is at an altitude of 2400 m and Zhongdian is on the Tibetan plateau at 3200 meters. The bus ride is slow, but very very beautiful. Unfortunately I cannot take any pictures, as we do not stop
Is the picture below of Haba Shan? What a great mountain that is. What alovely area. I will have to read your latest input when I have more time. In a mo I will have to go to bed as we start early in the morning. Thank you for letting me take part of your life in China.
Naxi minority women
When I get off the bus, a middle-aged woman asks me in Chinese and sign language if I want a hotel. With her right hand she shoes a fist with thumb and fifth finger up. This is the price, meaning sixty yuan. I am a little sceptic, but must have accommodation for the night, anyway. I only want to stay one night. Tomorrow I want to go to the real Shangri La area, to Deqin city and to Meili Shan, a mountain which is over 6000 m and already in Tibet, however right on the border with Yunnan. I follow the woman. It is only two minutes´ walking. She leads me into a small room, where several people are sitting on a sofa and on very low stools, watching TV. Most of the room is full of junk. In one corner is a kind of alcove with curtains all around. In the rear part of the room is a desk, where the woman asks me to fill in a form with my name, passport number, etc. Before I sign in, I want to see the room. OK. The woman takes me across a courtyard, past a cage where a big dog is leading a miserable life in loneliness, into a back entrance, up to the third floor, giving me room number 302. It is a big room, with two double beds, wide windows with big curtains facing the street. There are two chairs, a table, TV, and a big bathroom, with wash basin, toilet and shower. I agree. I want this room. When we are in the hallway again, the woman points to a window and tells me to look: in the far distance I can see the big Tibetan monastery which I want to visit. Its name is Songsanlin Si. I sign the form, and pay 60 for the room. 40 yuan as deposit for the key. This is OK.
Then I go to the bus station again to find out about buses for Deqin tomorrow. I can get a ticket. As I am buying it now, I will get a seat in the front row of seats. So good. I am happy. Outside the building I can see lots of Tibetan people and some of the Yi minority with their colourful clothes. A taxi driver offers his services. I do not know where he can take me. Then I remember, I want to see the black-necked cranes at Napahai (lake). I do not know how to tell him and whether he knows the place. I get out a paper and at the nearby kiosk we borrow a pen. Then I make a drawing, starting at the long beak, the typical form of the head, the big eye, then the long neck, the body, and the very long legs. The taxi driver immediately recognizes the bird. He says at Napahai I can see them. I want to go. On the paper he writes down that he wants 50 RMB for the trip. This is much money, but I agree and we go. A little outside the city of Zhongdian, after crossing a small mountain, we get to a flat area with swamp. He stops and points to a field, where I can see the first five black-necked cranes. How lucky and happy I am. Then he turns into a farmer´s lane, which is muddy and bumpy. In the little village we turn left. Then he stops at a kiosk and tells me to pay 30 yuan. I wonder about this, then I understand, this is the entrance to a nature reserve. I get a ticket with a beautiful picture of a blue lake and lovely mountains in the background. After a short walk, I can see them, the black-necked cranes, in the distance. They are very rare, almost extinct. An estimated 1000 birds are left only. Some of them come here to spend the winter months. They can also be found at Caohai lake in western Guizhou Province. I am so lucky. The birds are eating grass in the swampy wetlands near Napahai. Nobody feeds corn to them corn here in Northern Yunnan. In summer these cranes live and breed in remote wetland places in the vast Qinghai province. In the background I can see several mountains which are higher than 4000 m. Some horses are feeding near the cranes. With my camera ready for taking pictures, I walk slowly towards the area where the cranes are. I can hear their typical shouts. They do not seem too shy. I can get relatively near and take a few very good pictures. I can even get some pictures of a group that is starting to fly. Altogether I can see about thirty or forty of these magnificent birds. Near here people can also do horse trekking. When I have taken enough pictures, the taxi driver takes me half way around Napahai, the lake, which is a real lake during the rainy season only, and a swamp in the other months. I can see several other birds, mostly ducks and geese. In a very short time the sky is getting rather cloudy all over. It is cold and some snowflakes are falling.