Shanghai – The Garden of Contentment

Email to Rory on July 14, 2009:

I am currently sitting next to a very large koi pond in the historic gardens and residence of a general. It is now a park. The gardens are very beautiful and at least a little different than the other gardens we have seen.

Yuyuan Garden, or "The Garden of Contentment."

The pond winds itself through the complex and is pretty cool. However, the Shanghai afternoon is anything but cool. I think it is somewhere in the mid to upper 90s with what feels like just as much humidity. More humid than AL, if that is possible. I caught a cold in the last city and my sinuses suck. Someone gave me some allergy/cold medicine and it has helped a bit. I got dehydrated while traveling yesterday and I just sort of feel icky and slow. But at least I haven’t had to go back to the hotel sick like two other people. Everyone else is mad dashing through the market area. I swear they are shopaholics. Some people have spent over $1,000 and a few spent $500 just at the first stop in Beijing. Me? I would much rather be sitting by this pond, writing to you.

The cicadas seem to be out in force here. Their sound starts up far away and just washes in like a wave. It is pretty cool, but very loud.

There are lots of different buildings in this garden, and a lot of the wall is a dragon sweeping his way around. Normally, someone would have been killed for including such a dragon in their garden. It was the imperial symbol and only the emperor could use it. But apparently this guy got away with it because his dragons only have 3 & 4 toes, instead of 5. That, and I think the emperor liked the guy.

I am starting to feel a little bit better sitting here, instead of running around. It is nice to just sit. We don’t do that often with the exception of meals and meetings. So I am really happy I decided to stay here by myself. It is very nice and worth it.

I have to go now and meet everyone near the second Starbucks we have seen in China. It is next to the Dairy Queen. Off I go!

Tourists feeding the koi.

Lijiang to Shanghai

Email to Rory on July 13, 2009:

I am writing from Shanghai now. I am pretty exhausted and I am getting a cold. Wireless isn’t going to work for me in the hotel and it costs about .45 cents a minute to use their business center.

Sign in the coffee shop across the way from our hotel in Lijiang.

This is supposed to be the most “cosmopolitan” city in China. So far it seems to be filled with high-end 5th Avenue type shops. I am hoping we focus more on the interesting history of the city and not go on shopping sprees.

I admit that I am tired and cranky tonight. Mostly it is the travel day, my cold, the prissy city, the 88 degree weather at night,etc. I am sure I will have a lot of fun, but I am just tired right now. Today our bus broke down in the mountains on the way to the airport. The driver couldn’t get out of first gear and then it died. We waited around for another bus to pick us up. We made it in time.

I am really exhausted so I am going to sleep now.

Did I mention there is a LOT of construction everywhere in China? :)

Lijiang – Exploring Old Town

Email to Rory on July 12, 2009:

We just had our last lecture from the scholar who has been with us on this leg of the trip. I think his area of focus is rather interesting. He is the one who looks at the intersection of changing a society to increase tourism and trying to preserve culture at the same time. Being here, I have really been able to see the connections with tourism in the Western US. Beyond the cowboy hats (which they do sell here), leather goods, yak instead of buffalo, etc., they seem to have a lot of the same underlying themes that sell in the American west. The Tibetans seem to fill the dual role of the cowboy and the nobel savage. There is that idea of a wild and romantic frontier. They play to the tourists who want to believe that everyone here still lives that old way of life. They make frontier life seem more “clean” and more ideal than it actually was. Those are just some rambling thoughts on the subject for now.

One of the many canals in the Old Town. Tourists buy the goldfish and release them into the canals.

It was foggy today, so no clear view of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (you should search Google images and take a look at it). I feel like I got a decent view yesterday, even with the clouds, and it is taller than the clouds so I don’t feel as disappointed as some people. The mountains here are just awesome.

When I went back into the hotel last night, I found most of my colleagues in the courtyard. They were having quite the time, so I sat down and had a drink with them. However, I avoided the Chinese liquor some of them were drinking. That was the most foul smelling stuff I had ever seen. Imagine everclear type stuff that costs (and was probably not even worth) a dollar and you’ll have the idea. One bottle was called AK-47 with Che Guevara’s picture on it. Add that with the 7800 ft and there were some slow people this morning.

Last night before I talked to you I had sat on a porch with some people and drank Tibetan wine. I thought it was ok, but they were really excited to have wine from Tibet. My favorite part was the view over the rooftops and the softly lighted old part of the city with the mountains in the background. It was a beautiful view. I did take some pictures, but those never seem to turn out quite right. But is was a very good time.

Some friends walking down the streets of Old Town.

Well, I should probably go pack for Shanghai. I have loved this trip, but I am happy to be going to our last stop. I hope you had fun with George while I was sleeping. Have a good night!!

Lijiang – In the News

Group Email, sent July 7, 2009:

News while you are traveling is always sparse and fragmented, especially in my current situation.  I can’t read the Mandarin newspapers or listen to the Chinese news channels, and while prevalent in Beijing, English sources are now scarce.  I have gotten some inquiries from some of you concerning recent events in China.  I just wanted to send a quick note to let you know I’m doing well and everything has been going well for us.  While I am in Yunnan province, we are far enough away that we did not know there was an earthquake right away.  And while the organizers of the trip had originally planned for us to be in the city where the riots are occurring, we are not and will not be in that area (if we were, I’ve been told, we probably would have been quarantined and sent home).  So I just wanted to let you know that I am doing well.

I am currently in the highly popular local tourist destination of Lijiang.  It is sort of a Chinese “western frontier” town that was rebuilt after an earthquake in 1996.  It has since been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is a beautiful city in the eastern Himalayas.  I can see the beginning of the Tibetan Plateau on a clear day, with the Jade Dragon Mountain, which is over 18,000 ft.  The town is at about 7,800 ft.  Our tour guide described this small Chinese city of 200,000 as a “one horse town.”  The population density in China is just on a completely different level than the U.S.  Today we went out to a local farm and learned about the Naxie culture (pronounced Na-shee).  We also went to a nature conservancy in the wetlands and to a Naxie Opera.  It’s been a very good day.  It is pouring rain outside and I’m off to have my hot chocolate with my compatriots.  We are just across the way from our amazing hotel (old Chinese style with courtyards).  Feel free to let me know about any news (Tiananmen?), since my sources here are limited.  I hope you have a great day.

Locals performing resurrected Naxie music.
A Dongba Priest in training

Lijiang – Old Town & More Chinese Opera

Email to Rory on July 11, 2009:

I love having wi-fi across the street. I am sitting in the little coffee shop/restaurant across the street where we have breakfast (very good oatmeal). I am next to an open window on the second floor, watching people go by with their umbrellas. The rain is falling steadily on the cobblestones and making abundant ripples in the small canal below the window. Live music is drifting in from down the street, mixing with the reggae playing softly in the room. Now a local panpipe player is in the mix. Behind my left shoulder, you can barely get a glimpse of the lighted mountain temple. Red lanterns and other soft lights line the street. There is a willow tree nearby. This is a great place and I am very happy sitting here. The only thing that could make this better is you.

I really like being in areas where no cars are allowed (minus the having to walk to my hotel when sick). There are forests here and with the mountains and cooler weather, this is great. I also like being able to send you emails. My hotel room is off of a traditional Chinese courtyard. It is like a little cabin on the inside. The door is a bit odd. It is padlocked and basically a part of the paneled wall. It feels like a barn door when you open and close it. But the accommodations are very nice. I appreciate the perforated toilet paper and the lack of mold.

The courtyard outside my hotel room.

I am feeling more stable, but hoping not to get sick again. I am sitting here with two ladies as they work on the group journal. I actually rather enjoyed the opera tonight but I think I am in the definite minority. But then I wasn’t sitting near the very stinky latrines. Of course, I really like seeing and hearing different types of music. Basically, it was like an orchestra performance where the musicians occasionally sang. They were very different and unique instruments. Most of the players were elderly, with at least 5 of them in their eighties. While that is impressive, it can be scary for carrying on such a rare form of music. We talked a bit today about the destruction of culture and the impact on non-Mandarin languages during the Cultural Revolution. They had to bury their instruments and lots of knowledge was lost. A Naxie language teacher said many of the Naxie manuscripts were burned, but the oral aspect of the language saw much less damage. We also learned about their religion, Dongba, and how it was only really preserved in the very remote outposts in the Himalayas. I found that interesting

The Naxie Opera

I am going to check and see if you are on Skype again. If you don’t mind, would you check the news for protests in Tiananmen and let me know what is going on there? I got an email from Teddi mentioning it but we haven’t seem any news on it yet. Did that actually happen? Thank you.

Lijiang – Being sick sucks

Email to Rory on July 11, 2009:

This place is very touristy, but I like it. It feels a lot like Old San Juan, only it’s Chinese. Right now I am trying not to be sick so I can go to the Naxie Opera tonight. I had something at lunch today that made me decidedly sick. Unfortunately, my stomachs turned over not long after when we were walking through a nature preserve. Not the ideal facilities. So I had to make it back to the drop off point with the bus and then walk through the no car zone without my stomach exploding. I made it back and then took a 3 hour nap. I’m still not totally better, but I managed to eat half a sandwhiches and took some meds. I am not eating any kind of Chinese Pork ever again because that appears to be what does it, no matter what kind or how it is cooked.

The wetland preserve we visited. The animals in the background are horses.

Anyway, other than that, this leg of the trip is pretty cool. I really love the Himalayas and we should see them together sometime. The largest mountain nearby is the edge of the Tibetan plateau and is called Jade Dragon Mountain. It is over 18,000 ft high. If I feel well enough I will try to get up early and climb the nearby hill to get clear pictures. It definately has clouds around it that high and morning is the best shot for clear pics.

Well, I better go. I am going to give the Opera a shot. I will try to Skype before I go to sleep.

Guiyang to Lijiang – Bus Rides & Chinese Opera

Group Email update from July 10, 2009:

I am currently on a layover while flying from Guiyang to Leijing and I’ve found internet access, so I thought I would send a quick note.  I belive since I wrote last, I’ve been to Xi’an and Anshun (I’d look at the last email, but they have dial up internet here that hates my Gmail account).

During the past few days in Anshun, we have driven about the countryside, visiting local villages.  Our bus driver’s name was Master Lyu (sounds kind of like Leo).  He gets the term master because he is such an excellent driver (we didn’t name him that, but he deserves it).  Traffic in China is very interesting.  While there are rules, they are more sort of a set of loose guidelines.  Remember that China has not had a large number of cars for very long.  The primary mode of transportation was bicycles for a long time.  The roads vary dramatically from the famous super highways to muddy back roads (worse than anything on the way to hunting camp in Michigan).  This bus driver took our tour bus down every extreme.  It was like a roller coaster ride, bouncing up and down and trying not to hit your head or fall out of your seat.  But we always got where we were going fairly quickly and always safely.  I was floored the day we took the tour bus, filled with us and all of our luggage, down a small dirt track through the rice paddies to a rural village.  The trees scraped the sides of the bus on the way, and he maneuvered the big air-conditioned behemoth like he WAS the bus.  We had to stop at one point for the local villagers to move a pile of gravel out of the road so we could pass. (By the way, there is construction EVERYWHERE in China…but that’s a topic for another day).  When we made it to our destination, he deftly turned the bus around where there really was no room so it was really to go when we were done.

Cow looking out from a cemetery over the switchback roads we took in the bus.

Just before going down the dirt track, we visited a mask factory.  Factory makes you think of something large.  A more appropriate word would probably be “workshop.”  Several men were carving masks and sculptures out of wood, primarily for the tourism trade.  However, the specialty of the factory is Chinese Dixie (pronounced dee-shee) masks, a form of martial arts type opera.  They are finishing a commission that will go to be on display in Beijing’s National Theater and then travel around the world.  Then we traveled to the nearby village to watch a Dixie performance put on for us by the villagers.  First we wandered around the village and I had the chance to see the home of an 82-year-old woman.  We also had the chance to get at least somewhat close to a stream full of water buffalo.  They were a big hit with our group.  Then we settled onto benches on the village’s dirt basketball court for the performance.  I really have no way to describe Dixie to you.  I’ll try to find a YouTube video of it when I get home and send it out (YouTube is blocked in China).  The drama of the performance is amazing with the elaborate costumes and masks.  The music consists of drums and a gong, and the distinct singing of the male actors.  It was quite an experience.

Dixie Opera masks

Well, I have to go get ready to catch my next flight.  I’ll write again when I can get internet.