Monday, November 27, 2006

An Un-Chinese China

Visiting the tribal peoples of Yunnan province is as different from visiting the Han Chinese who are the majority as visiting a cotton field in Alabama is from visiting a New England village is in America. Don't try to take the analogy any further, it doesn't work. The people of Yunnan often look more like Burmese or Laotians than they do typical Chinese. But Yunnan is a big province and there is a great mixture of people. Interestingly, it seems the Chinese tourist department has decided that Yunnan is a great vacation destination for northern Chinese. They have turned natural sites into easy to enjoy destinations. A truly wonderful waterfall that has passages behind it where one can walk and look out through the water, has excellent walkways, attractively designed stairs and even a tall escalator to take visitors back to the top level after they've walked to the bottom. Like many tourist destinations I've visited in many countries signs in the local language have a laugh inducing English translation. Here a long sentence was translated as "Having Fun Prohibited."
At the labyrinth of wind and rain carved karst standing stones called The Stone Forest, very attractive landscaping includes a big gold fish pond and beautifully manicured lawns. The very clean and new women's toilet had a fresh bouquet of stargazer lilies on the wash basin. In the stall I used was the Asian type squatting trench, that not only automatically flushed when I stood, but while squatting, at eye level, was a small video screen showing scenes inside the Stone Forest.
One of the most charming natural sites was a grotto out of which quantities of water poured into a pond and then spilled down a narrow chasm headed to the Mekong River eventually. We were taken into a series of grottos in a row boat which was rowed very quietly. Inside several large caverns had niches lighted in various fluorescent colors. Our Chinese guide, Ada -- all the young women seem to have adopted European names -- told us the names of a great many formations. On the way out, floating silently through the largest cavern Ada said, "May I sing a folk song for you?" Of course! In a lovely, light soprano she sang a quiet folk song which reverberated in the nooks and crannies of the room.

I like best these quiet moments, and discoveries in places where few tourists are around. In a small monastery complex we saw this 400 year old magnolia tree. It's a venerable presence in it's own special square just outside the entrance to a shrine room with wonderful old frescos. How incredible it must be when flowering in the spring...
The senior citizen couple in the top picture were in the city of Lijiang, a city preserved as it was before cars -- the old part of the city is about a square mile with no cars ... just tourists ... Lots of them. Shops cater exclusively to tourists -- this I find dismaying. However an early morning walk when the old wooden doors were closed was beautiful and a lunch at a canal side outdoor restaurant was a delight -- although dinner at a restaurant in the most active tourist section was anything but peaceful as competing groups of singers on the sidewalk outside sounded like competing fans at a serious football game.
I have to mention that my hotel room in Lijiang. The hotel once, the mansion of a grand family, did not have a conventional lock. From the outside the door looked like two panels of a multi-panel wall design. A padlock closed the two. Inside, was a wooden bar held against being opened by that same padlock being affixed to it. I have little fear of intruders when I am traveling so this primitive lock system did not disturb my sleep at all .
Perhaps I will come back to some more moments in China tomorrow before I begin to write about getting back to my quilting now that I'm home from the hospital and regaining energy after ten days of forced inertia during which I think many of my muscles turned to jello.

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