February 2014 to March 2014
We traveled to southern Yunnan province. The YuanYang Rice Terraces there are world famous for their scenic beauty. We went to the rainforests in the tropical region and stayed with several minorities. Like before I’ll put the photos first and the China Collage after. Enjoy.
I want to start with the spectacular yuanyang rice terraces. We stayed with a wonderful indigenous Hani family.
The indigenous Hani people are wonderful people. The family we stayed with were delightful. Their little kids were very curious about the foreigner, and we had a few laughs together.
The Xishaungbana area was once home to a vast rainforest. The area is a main producer of rubber, and the rainforest is now fragmented, but there are large national parks set aside.
Hong is a wonderful traveling companion. And I am the navigator. Even though the gps speaks Chinese and displays all the information in Chinese, I am pretty good at guiding us to our destination.
The Dai minority in the south are the same people as the mountain tribes of Thailand. We visited one of the hardest to find temples called the White Temple, while it was still decorated in the old style.
We bought traditional pottery from the local women’s art alliance. These are the traditional art of the indigenous people.
They grow a lot of bananas in the province. This is a huge shipment being loaded.
We stopped and bought bananas several times from women selling fresh from the fields.
This restaurant – Tom Prince Chicken – was incredibly delicious, and I was surprised to find it in the small city we visited. The spokesman was one of the stars of the most famous TV program from Yunnan – Happy Camp.
on the road again
I watched the Superbowl on my iPad using a Chinese ap – called PPTV. This company made a deal with the NFL to officially live stream the game. This company also allows access to hundreds of movies, TV shows, cartoons (not sure about copyright on new movie still in theaters being streamed, but…) The young guys announcing did an okay play-by-play while explaining some of American culture. I learned a few new words in Chinese. My Chinese is still terrible. The words for Bronco and one yard are similar. When Hong returned from hometown visit, she brought some fragrant leaves it is a local tradition to boil these leaves and rinse off with the water. It is good luck and brings respect and prosperity. So I said heck yeah. As she was boiling them, the place started to smell like cinnamon, and as it turns out these trees are cinnamon trees. Local folks plant them near their homes when they move in to use for celebrations. I went to bed smelling like a cinnamon bun – that’s gotta be good luck.
Local customs, called ephemeral culture, are disappearing beneath the iron sledge of development. Local songs, music, foods everything is going by the wayside. There is a great sweeping away of the tradition in favor of a homogenized version. Watching the ghosts of so much culture fading away, I attempt to grasp some elements of what will soon be dust, in hopes of maybe preserving a bit in order to better explain future China to folks back home.
We went to southern Yunnan province to a place with the difficult to pronounce name Xishuangbana (she – schwong-bahnah). It borders, Vietnam, Burma and Laos. It has the highest biodiversity of anywhere in China and an actual rainforest nature reserve. I read what reviews I could find in English – usually off the beaten track places in China have few reviewers in English. It is the end of Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) and the workers are returning. Car ownership has really taken off, so a huge number of new drivers. The GPS works up to a point, but they create new highways so fast they don’t appear on maps. So we bought new paper map to supplement.
We saw the amazing rice terrace fields in Yuanyang – southern Yunnan Province. The fields were created over hundreds of years by the Hani Minority people. China has 54 official minorities – Han Chinese being over 90% of population. People travel from all over China to see these fields. Amateur photographers especially love this place – as you can see. Hong’s older brother is a big time shutter-bug, and he will use any excuse to run off and take photos. I love to see these places when there are the fewest people, as the Chinese people often try to jam into the same space because they want the “perfect view”. This place is spectacular. We stayed with a local Hani family. Many minorities, and rural folks near tourist sites, open family hotels. It is pretty basic room, but clean and close to where you want to visit. Our room was about $18, and as luck would have it, we were just 10 minutes from the morning sunrise photo hotspot.
Let me tell you a bit about how to prepare for Chinese road trip. First you must buy snacks and whatever food will keep in car (although length of time before “spoiling” may vary according to nationality). Food on the road is an iffy proposition and not easily available when traveling so-called express roads – no McDs, but there are rest stop cafés, but so overcrowded it is little more than a pee and gas sort of place.
Next navigation aids are essential; China is building highways so quickly maps that are more than 6 months old are out of date, as are the GPS maps. So internet-enabled 3G smart-phone, GPS, paper map, and you still need to stop and ask directions, and still make educated guesses (my department, as Hong is terrible at geography, and map reading – seriously I can read map in Chinese better than she can ((except for Chinese words (((but I can graphically interpret and plot courses))).
Pack water boiler – Chinese water is no good, and boiler can double as cooker. Coffee – have to bring my own instant Maxwell house, as coffee is a luxury not often available. Clothes line – you have to wash your clothes on the road – it is a Chinese rule – and hang them in your room.
Towel – never use the towels in any hotel – they are never washed (or so I am told, perhaps it is an urban legend, but who wants the wife’s wrath; also towels are the size of tea-towels in US, no big towels, so toweling off is an art. Bring your own shower slippers – floors, carpets, showers, etc. not washed. Bottled water or thermos of hot water is indispensable. Things to buy on trip: any local food specialty – you “have to” try any local dish, whatever it is – this is a great highlight of the trip; local hat or shirt, if they have your size; local produce, especially if it is considered famous, then you buy a boxful for friends and family.
From the dusty back roads of China
While visiting the rainforest, last vestiges of its kind in mainland China – hell there are even elephants there – maybe not free ranging like they once were, but on a small preserve. I stood atop the highest peak overlooking a river. I could see rubber trees to the horizon, with a thin green line of remnant forest trapped against the riverbank. Then it hit me. These places are the last bastions, the citadels, and the bank for the future, if they can be preserved, against the day when the future generations have determined nature is worth saving and nourishing; but that day may never come. I have little hope for the natural world here. We stood in the middle of a rainforest, and there was no sign of animals except for a few birds and butterflies.
In the furthest southern region we visited the Dai minority. They are very similar to the northern Thai people, or so I have been told. The pagoda was on a windy hilltop. We were probably the only tourists for days. One of the caretakers was carving chopsticks with a machete, and since he had all his fingers I think he must be pretty good at it. We were stopped at an Army roadblock and two police roadblocks? The army was looking for smugglers – there is a notoriously horrendous den of iniquity near there – across the border in Burma.
From the smog-choked shores of the next big thing,
from near the tipping point
This weekend I taught the kids about one of the great pacifists – Einstein. His birthday is Pi Day 3.14 and so in my usual fashion, I used Goofy to explain conversion of mass to energy – (cartoon of him exercising) and a video of stars from space to explain the distance light travels from galaxies and stars. I have been showing a movie called About Time in class. It has an element of time travel in it. On Einstein’s birthday I talked about the distance life travels in a nanosecond ( foot), and how the reflected light off you, which I see, left you body X nanoseconds ago. Some kids understood and explained to others. Then after class, one of my less talkative students made the connection between “time travel” and multiverse and Hawking’s books. It was a rewarding moment to see them making the connections, and trying to discuss such deep concepts in English.
The horrid still unfolding events of the missing airplane are big news. Many of the passengers were Chinese and the plane’s disappearance is subject of great discussion. There are still too many unknowns but it doesn’t look like they will fid survivors.
The news here has been caught up with the missing passenger jet. I check the news every day, and sometimes my students and I talk about it. To me it feels like an episode of the Twilight Zone. How is it possible for countries to not have their radar turned on, or to ignore an unidentified signal? It seems Asia is more backwards than I thought.
My oldest daughter just turned 29, son turns 31, and baby 27. Man – how can it be? I love talking to my daughter online. The Chinese use a software called QQ and we can chat for an hour or more, sometimes two – uninterrupted. Sometimes the connection cuts off, but it is free, and we can reconnect almost immediately. I feel blessed each day that I have such great self-sustaining kids.
The president’s wife and daughters are here and making a very positive impact on the Chinese people. China’s president’s wife is a famous singer and noted for her fashion style, so for once people can talk about something as inane as clothes when it comes to the relationship between the two countries.
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