Friday, January 31, 2014 0 comments

Nope.


I've traveled enough to have some consideration for other cultures and all, but I do draw the line at going barefoot into a public restroom. I didn't really need to go that bad.
Saturday, January 25, 2014 0 comments

Gelato!

After I finished my ride on the Singapore Flyer, I wandered around the shops and restaurants around the base.  I walked in a circle to read all of the signs telling the story of the race across the river that decided the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac-turns out mine,the rat, was the first, which I never knew. 
As I came back around to the side near the bay, I caught sight of a colorful stand called Gelatissimo.  The signs promised real Italian gelato, but I was sceptical.  I've heard that before, and utilities never is. The "gelato" at the mall in Wuhan is tasteless and grainy.  But I walked over anyhow, and the ice cream really was mounded up, with bits of fruit stuck on top, just like the real thing. It was a bit expensive, but I decided to take a chance and splurge. 
Heaven.  It really was...the best gelato I've tasted since leaving Italy.  I got my usual favorite combination of chocolate and strawberry, and it was perfect. I sat and ate it as slowly as I could on a warm evening; the perfect ending to a pleasant day of sightseeing. 
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Singapore Flyer


It seems that Singapore is a city that comes to life after dark. There are concerts in the amphitheaters on the promenade alongside the bay, a light show near the flower-like museum alongside Marina Bay, a light show at the Gardens by the Bay park, and of course the Singapore Flyer.  And that's all just around the bay; there is also a night safari out near the zoo, and I'm sure plenty of other things.  

For my first evening, I decided to view the lights of the city from above, on the Singapore Flyer.  The Singapore Flyer is a giant ferris wheel, currently the tallest one in the world at 541 feet, at least until the new High Roller wheel opens in Las Vegas next month.  It takes about half an hour to go all the way around in one of the 28 capsules.  While it runs all day, too, I wanted the night view, so I went up a little after nine in the evening.  It was very similar to the London Eye, which I went up in years ago, and did give a great view, although I do wish they would clean the windows a bit better, or at least that people would have the sense not to touch the glass, as some smudges in places made it hard to get clear pictures.  Anyhow, here are some pictures of the view from up there.  




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The Merlion of Singapore


After leaving Hard Rock, I figured I'd better hurry up and get back to sight-seeing.  Have to fit in as much as possible in my two days!  So, I navigated back through the underground shopping mall (there seems to be as much shopping under Orchard Road and on it) to the subway and headed downtown.  I got out at Raffles Place, and again found myself in an underground shopping mall.  Goodness, if you like to shop, there are layers of it in Singapore.  I came up to air in the midst of towering skyscrapers with signs for corporations and bank headquarters, and the occasional ritzy hotel.  I was a bit disoriented at first but soon found a street sign that I could match on my map, and struck out for Merlion Park.  

Merlion Park is right on the edge of Marina Bay.  It's a rather nonsensical statue, with the head of a lion and the tail of a fish, hence the rather obvious and unimaginative name of Merlion.  Odd as it is, it's become popular as a symbol of the city, and it seems half the postcards from Singapore feature it. Apparently there are five around Singapore; two here in the bayside park. It's become a mascot for Singapore as, according to wikipedia, the fish tail represents the city's humble beginnings as the island home of a tribe of fishermen, and the lion as the Malay word Singapura from which Singapore is derived means "Lion City."  It's such a tourist fixture that they've built a viewing platform out over the water so everyone can get the obligatory photo of themselves in front of it (here's mine--oh, and there's my new Boston Terrier bag; isn't it cute?  Although actually not the wisest choice ever--pleather is rather hot to carry when it's humid, and it's just a bit too small and unstuffable, but I'll manage).  

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Hard Rock Singapore


As I seem to write every time I go to another Hard Rock, it does seem to be a contradiction of the usual backpacker indie-traveler creed, going to such a commercialized and western restaurant.  I ought to be eating local street food for the cultural experience and all.  And I do that, too, but Hard Rock is my guilty pleasure. I justify it since I live in Asia, I deserve a western break now and then, and they really do have the best onion rings and often the only really southern bbq pulled pork available.  Actually, the picture doesn't look all that great, but it tasted good. 
Anyhow, by now it's a tradition, anyhow.  I found the Singapore Hard Rock off the end of Orchard Road, the famous shopping street.  It was a bit noisy at first as some corporate group was having a luncheon meeting complete with silly contests to see which group could dress up one of their male members in a wig, skirt, and high heels the best.  Thankfully they finished up not long after I got my food, and the music came on.  
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Orchard Road


After my wanderings through Little India, I hopped a subway to Orchard Road.  Orchard Road is the most famous shopping street in Singapore; the whole way is lined with malls and upscale markets and ritzy restaurants.  I stepped off of the subway platform into a vast underground shopping mall; as I followed the signs through the maze of shops trying to find daylight, I passed something beautiful: a Krispy Kreme.  Now, we have our Daylight Donuts in Wuhan, which is okay, but not as good as Dunkin' Donuts; Dunkin' Donuts can be found in major cities in Asia (but not Wuhan...), but Krispy Kreme...by far the best donuts in the world, far above Dunkin' Donuts and in another category completely from dear old Daylight.  The only other one I've seen in Asia was in the Bangkok airport.  Of course I had to get a couple; the opportunity was too good to pass up, even though I didn't want to ruin my dinner.  

Near the Krispy Kreme I finally found an escalator going up, and came out into this gilded courtyard, surrounded by Armani and Versacci and all the rest.  I sat on a little ledge and feasted on my donuts, looking around at the opulence.  Consulting my map, I took a detour off a side street from Orchard Road to find a shopping mall known to be cheap and frequented by locals that my hostel receptionist had marked out for me.  I was in desperate need of a new bag, as my beloved back that survived India and Yunnan and all was nearing its end...I had already had to sew the strap back on, the zipper had come off completely twice, and the fabric in the back was worn so thin that a hole was starting.  

I spent a pleasant couple of hours shopping and not buying much.  They have such adorable little sundresses here, in such fun fabrics...too bad that, like in all of Asia, they are all a size 2 (or smaller).  And they had such cheap shoes...but of course, women's only up to size 40, and I wear a 42.  Sigh.  Such is life for an American in Asia...this is why I've bought so much jewelry and hair accessories over the last couple of years; it's the only thing that fits.  I finally bought a bag; I'd seen a similar one in China some time before and thought it cute--the front of the black pleather bag is overlaid with white so that it makes the face of a Boston Terrier.  Just like Jack, the little dog my grandparents used to have. 

After completely exploring every corner of the five-story mall, I headed back down Orchard Road.  The other bonus to coming to this part of Singapore:  Hard Rock.  

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Little India


I only had two full days in Singapore, which turned out to be not nearly enough (although as it's quite expensive, probably plenty for this trip).  It seems everyone either loves or hates Singapore--some think it's too commercial, too westernized, too modern.  And too hot and humid, usually.  But I loved it.  I guess the usual complaint is that they didn't travel all the way to Asia to eat at a Krispy Kreme or shop at a Gucci store, but as I live in Asia all the time, it was a nice vacation for me to find some foods and stores that I don't see in China.  

I especially liked the cultural diversity--There's the ethnically Chinese majority, but also Little India, the Muslim neighborhood, and plenty of expats from elsewhere, too.  You can walk a few blocks and be in a different culture, and yet nearly everyone speaks English. 

As I was having breakfast at the hostel (toast, nutella or some off brand of it, and fruit) the receptionist (the non-annoying one) asked me about my plans.  As I only had a couple of days, she pointed out her opinion of the must-see sights on the map, and the route I might take.  I started out following her advice, although it wasn't long before I got off track and went my own way. 

The hostel was on the northern border of the Little India area, so I started out first to walk through that neighborhood.  The streets at first seemed like any others, but after a couple of blocks I started to see a profusion of Indian restaurants, beauty salons, and convenience stores selling brands of mango juice that I enjoyed in Rajasthan.  Many jewelry shops sold the ornate and flashy jewelry that would seem gaudy on me but goes so perfectly with a sari.  I wandered into one Hindu temple along the way, full of locals offering dishes of rice to various idols of the gods.  I enjoyed the neighborhood as it took me back a year to last winter's trip through India. Even the smells took me back--that mixture of incense and curry and dust, although minus the cow. I even bought a mango drink to taste a little bit of India, and was almost tempted to have Indian food for lunch, if I hadn't already set my heart on making it to Hard Rock.  
Friday, January 24, 2014 0 comments

Singapore Subway


I love subways, as I think I've mentioned before in my blog.  I wish more cities had them.  Somewhere or other long ago I had a list of all the subway systems I've ever been on; I haven't seen it in some time, but next time I find it I'll have a new one to add.  

The Singapore subway is especially useful as it actually goes to the airport.  This incredibly helpful feature really ought to be available everywhere, but alas.  Supposedly in Wuhan someday...someday...there will be a line to the airport, but they don't seem as much in a hurry to finish that section as I think they ought to be.  Probably all the taxi drivers who make a killing going out there lobby for its delay.  Anyhow, the Singapore subway is pretty normal as far as subways go, but as is befitting Singapore, quite clean, modern, and organized.  I did get a kick out of the signs I saw posted in the station by the airport.  There was the usual "no smoking" sign, the usual "no food or drink" sign, and,  unusually, a "no durian" sign.  Durian, if you aren't familiar with it, is a tropical fruit that grows well and is quite popular in this part of the world.  They are a bit bigger than a cantaloupe, and covered with a thick yellow rind of spikes.  Supposedly they are extremely nutritious.  The problem is their strong smell...unlike most fruit, the smell lingers and lingers; it's hard to get it out of the air.  And it's generally considered unpleasant--to me, it just smells like a large amount of very overripe and beginning to rot pile of melon and mango, but many say the smell is like strong onions and garlic.  However you smell it, it's the sort of fruit that should be eaten outdoors and not kept in small spaces, and I think the sign-makers were quite wise to stipulate that it should not be eaten on the subway.  

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Flight to Singapore


For a couple of days before the flight I was dreading getting up at a ridiculously early hour, but the night before I finally rechecked the schedule and was happy to see that the flight was not at eleven as I had been thinking, but at one (it was the flight leaving Singapore that was at eleven), meaning I could sleep to more normal hour.  Always a blessing for this night owl.  

Anyhow, I still got up rather early for me, and checked out of the hostel by eight.  As instructed by the receptionist, I took a taxi to the West Inn, and from there the airport shuttle bus.  As it turns out, I could have gotten away with sleeping just a bit longer, but you just never know when relying on public transportation, so, better safe than sorry and all that.  Everything went like clockwork, though, and I easily made it to the airport before ten.  I had plenty of time to make two laps around the departure area and a ramble through the upstairs food section, and then I wandered off down to the arrival area, and then found a Starbucks on a quiet in-between area overlooking arrivals, and passed some more time with a chocolate muffin.  

There's really not much to write about when nothing goes wrong; my first flight to Kuala Lumpur was ordinary; during my layover there, I had a mid-afternoon lunch/dinner at Burger King, which I guess was unusual in that it was really good--or else I've been in China too long and anything labeled cheese sticks or onion rings tastes good to me.  My second flight on to Singapore was similarly uneventful, and I arrived just as scheduled, took the subway, and followed the hostel's excellent walking directions from there--although I do beg to differ on the meaning of "really close to the subway", as it was a good twenty-minute walk at a good pace.  

Thursday, January 23, 2014 0 comments

Back to Kunming


The day before my flight to Singapore, I took the 11:30 bus back to Kunming.  Now, it's a pretty straight shot on the interstate; the trip was scheduled to take four hours, five hours tops.  Seven hours later...
I never did quite understand what the problem was, whether is was road work or accidents or just crazy traffic as the Spring Festival, January 31st this year, was just five days away.  Whatever the cause, traffic was inching along on several parts of the interstate, and at one point came to such a complete stop that many people turned off their engines and several drivers hopped out to commiserate with each other.  I don't suppose it was any kind of accident, since traffic got bad in several different spots, but I never saw any evidence of road work, either.  

The trip was enlivened a bit by making friends.  When we stopped at a rest area about halfway through, I was standing around minding my own business when a group of children, who later told me that they were in the third grade, accosted me in narrow space between parked buses where I was hiding from cigarette smokers.  The four were traveling to Kunming with their mothers, for what purpose I never learned.  Anyhow, they were all learning English as school, and introduced themselves to me with their English names, or at least the two least shy did the introducing for themselves and for their shyer friends.  They were Tony, Linda (the two major talkers), Rachel, and Hebe.  (Hebe, by the way, I did not get until much later when she wrote it down--that's what I thought she said from the beginning but the name is so unusual that I thought surely she meant Abby until I saw that, indeed, she meant Hebe.) On learning that I was an American, they launched into song--they had learned a whole collection of songs in English both in class and for a recent program they'd put on.  The songs from the program were long stories, or self-introductions, really, "My name is Sally.  I am eight years old, and I am in the third grade.  I want to be a teacher when I grow up.  My English teacher's name is Amy and I like her very much.  My hobbies are drawing, playing chess, and my favorite of all, learning English! I have a mother, a father, and one sister..." And on and on, all put to music.  Linda remembered every word and carried it, and the others sang along the parts they remembered.  

At first I nodded politely and tried to look enthusiastic although I had previously been enjoying the quiet, but I got into it as they launched into other songs.  They sang a couple I didn't know, and then one I did--Bingo.  The old one that goes, "I had a dog and Bingo was his name-o, B! I! N! G! O!, B! I! N! G! O!" and so on, every time through clapping for another letter of the name until it's all clapping the last time through.  To their happiness, I sang along with them on that one.  

After we loaded back up in the bus, I decided to pass some more of the tediously long trip by drawing little pictures for them.  I pulled a few pages loose from a little notebook, and dug out my sharpie.  I drew one with a dancing mouse, one with a penguin waving flags, one with a rabbit hopping towards a castle, and one of a smiling crab in a beach scene.  I wrote little messages wishing them a happy spring festival on the back, and passed them out with t he help of Rachel, who passed by on her way back from throwing something in the trash can.  Their immediate response was the beg some paper from me, and they took the loose slips back to their seats to write back.  They were so enthusiastic (and probably bored, on such a long bus ride) that I got two back for each one I had drawn; some of them their own recreation of the same scene I had drawn, and some of their own composition.  Rachel drew a pictures of a bus with two people in it, labeled Rachel and Katy.  Hebe drew a smiling hill (yes, a big face on the side of the hill), with an apple tree on the peak and a procession of people and animals parading up the slopes.  I kept all the little drawing stuck in my notebook; I'll have to take a picture of them and post them soon.  

Finally, about sunset, we made it into Kunming.  I had another long and exhausting search first for a bank (I was out of cash to pay for a taxi), then finding a taxi that would use the meter, then taxi-ing around until I finally made it to the neighborhood of my hostel, the same one where I'd started my trip in Kunming.  After a long chat with some friendly Canadians, I finally got some sleep on my last night of the Chinese part of my trip.  Tomorrow, off to Singapore, my 28th country. 
Monday, January 20, 2014 0 comments

Jade Roo


It seems that most people do Yunnan in a slightly different order than I did, going to Dali on the way to Lijiang instead of on the way back.  However, the upside to this was that everyone I chatted with in hostels before going to Dali had already been there, and almost universally recommended the Jade Roo as the place to stay.  With so many good words about it, and as it was also highly rated on hostelworld, I followed their advice.  

The only downside, really, is that it isn't in the old city itself, but it's a short walk to the city walls and probably the quiet for being outside, so it really wasn't a problem.  I stayed in the dorm as usual, and found that, as promised, this place had the best beds I'd seen yet.  The bunk beds were heavy and wooden; they just needed curtains to complete the feeling of being something out of Dickens in the 19th century.  The beds themselves were not the usual narrow twins--they were so large that they were almost full size.  Really, probably somewhere in between a twin and full, but still, it felt extravagant for a hostel.  They had the usual heating pad underneath the sheets, which I immediately cranked up as it was a cold, rainy day outside.  And not only did they provide the usual white duvet, but also a soft red fleece blanket.  As I settled in, the rain outside turned to snow, so I settled into my warm bunk and cuddled up with the fleece blanket and spent most of the evening reading.  

Next door to the hostel is an Italian restaurant with a coffee shop and book store on the second floor; I believe they and the hostel all belong to an Australian expat (hence the "roo" in the name).  That first night I finally crawled out of my warm hole and darted across the courtyard through the rain for supper.  Usually, the safe thing to do in China when a restaurant offers both Chinese and Western food is to stick to the Chinese food--generally better to have good Chinese food than mediocre Western food.  But here I was proven wrong...I ordered sweet and sour pork as I was craving meat after mostly having carbs the last few days, and it was probably the worst sweet and sour pork I've ever had in China.  The chicken tasted as if it was breaded with sawdust, and the rice was dry--altogether bland and tasteless.  Two nights later, however, I braved the place again and decided this time to go for Italian, as that was what was touted in the name of the place (I don't remember the name right off--something very typical such as Dolce Vita, I think).  I was pleasantly surprised that the spaghetti bolognese I ordered turned out to be some of the best I've had in a long time, certainly the best I've ever had in China.  Just goes to show you never can tell.  

Thursday, January 16, 2014 0 comments

Beautiful Morning for a Hike

Conveniently, my hostel collaborates with a few others to run a shuttle bus out to the starting point of the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike.  We left early, at 7:40.  So, not painfully early, but still earlier than I usually prefer to get moving. 

The drive took about two and a half hours, and as we got closer the scenery got better and better.  I took these pictures of the sunlight flowing over the hills and the morning mist rising out of the valleys from a rest area we stopped at a few miles before reaching the gorge. 
Wednesday, January 15, 2014 0 comments

The Famous Dr. Ho


I decided to take an "easy" day of wandering around Lijiang and the surrounding area in between my day up the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and heading out to make my attempt at the Tiger Leaping Gorge.  However, you know how things go...just when you think it will be "easy"...

I spent most of the day walking, it seemed.  I had already thoroughly perused Lijiang itself, and some other travellers the day before had highly recommended going out to little Baisha, a tiny village nearby with a big history.  In fact, it was the capital of the Naxi culture until Kublai Khan annexed the area to China in 1271.  

I had directions from the receptionist at my hostel, but for once, she was wrong...not really her fault; there is major road construction going on in Lijiang, on some of the major roads, so all of the bus lines are also skewed.  According to her directions, I should be able to get bus 6 out to Baisha from near the Black Dragon Pond Park, already a good half hour walk, but easily doable. I made it significantly longer by trying to take a "short cut" and getting completely turned around and wandering through several modern streets before meandering back into the old town and figuring out where I was. 

 But once I finally got to the park I saw no sign of a bus.  Maybe one of the other gates of the park?  So I walked alongside the (large) park, all the way around to the back side of it.  I saw a couple of stops for the 4 and 13 buses, although not the actual buses themselves, but still no 6.  Keep walking.  Well past the park, drifting off into the modern part of Lijiang where tourists are a rare sight.  Walk some more.  Ask one person about the bus, get sent in a vague direction although I think he didn't know and was just panicking.  Finally stopped some other people, a mother and son--she didn't know, but wanted to help, so she stopped yet more people, and finally I got directions to walk a block into town until I got to a big roundabout, then turn right, and there should be a number 6 bus stop.  Noooo where near the park at all.  But, I've come this far...

These people were correct.  I found the bus stop with no problem, but a number 6 bus was pulling away just before I got there.  I'll just get the next one...another half hour down the drain.  Good thing I always carry my kindle.  I finally did make it out to Baisha, though; by this time it was two in the afternoon and I was starving.  I bought an orange from a man with a cart and stuck it in my bag, thinking I would stop to eat it when I found a convenient place to sit.  I was going to go into a temple compound that boasts ancient frescoes on the walls, but I needed a city pass that I had inadvertently left at the hostel, and I didn't want to pay another fourteen dollars for another one.  

So...what else to do in this village, now that I've come all the way out here?  There were several shops selling batik table cloths and bedspreads and scarves and all, and others selling a variety of antique-shop junk that probably isn't as old as they said it was.  There were several cafes obviously aimed at foreigners; I kept thinking I would stop at one to eat but I never did.  

Just when I was feeling thoroughly bored and regretting a lot of wasted time getting out there--I mean, the old buildings were authentically old, but I've seen old Chinese buildings before--I saw a row of large framed newspapers leaning against a small wooden building.  As I stopped to read them--several were in English--out popped a little man in a lab coat with a goatee and glasses.  I had read in the guidebook about Dr. Ho, the famous herbal medicine practioner of Baisha, but didn't figure I'd actually see him--not how my day was going.  But here he was, and he was as chatty as usual.  He shuffled his framed articles and letters and all around, showing me various ones he thought would interest me--I felt like I should step in and say, "Let me get that!  You sit down!" as he is in his late 90s, but he didn't need the help.  He seemed to have more energy than me, popping in and out of his little pharmacy and the tiny courtyard in front.  I sat on the bench with him for a while and he explained his philosophy of well-being.  According to what I've read, he speaks four or five languages, which he has picked up over the years in his eagerness to chat with whoever may come by, and in fact his English was quite good.  

Here's an article about him in the Telegraph: 

After my chat with Dr. Ho, I decided that that had been my highlight for the day and as I didn't want to buy any batik or dubious antiques just now, and I didn't want to risk not getting a bus back into town, I might as well head back.  The bus ride back was not so pleasant, as going into town it was crowded and I was squished against the bar behind the driver alongside several workmen the whole way.  I didn't particularly want to walk the more than hour back that it had taken me to get the the stop where I'd gotten on in the first place, but in retrospect that would probably have been faster.  I went a couple stops past there; I remembered seeing a stop for a bus 4 and 16 closer to the park, so I got on a bus 16, but it immediately turned the wrong direction so I hopped off after one stop.  I then waited for a number 4 going the right direction, but apparently those don't come along too often.  Another half hour wait...and then when I did get on one, because of the road construction, it didn't go anywhere close to where I thought it would.  I road for a while until I came to an area that seemed vaguely familiar.  It turned out to be the bus station where I first arrived in Lijiang--a good fifteen minute taxi ride from my hostel.  But it was a nice day and I didn't want to go to the hostel, anyhow, just back into the old town...

I knew I was somewhere to the west of the old town, so if I just walked east, surely I'd hit it soon.  So I did.  Turns out I was a lot west...I probably walked the better part of another hour.  But at least I saw plenty of parts of Lijiang that most tourists don't see that day, including a very large statue of Chairman Mao...

Tuesday, January 14, 2014 0 comments

Whitewater River, Blue Moon Valley

Our next stop after returning our coats was the Blue Moon Valley.  The valley was formed by the melting snow that runs off of the mountains, and the Whitewater River runs through it.  Along the way the river pools into four lakes: the Tingtao, Lanue, Jingtian, and Yue Lakes. 

We had a couple of hours to walk around here; one nice thing about being on the tour is that I wouldn't have thought to come here, but the views of the mountain from the valley below were some of the best pictures I took of it.  And the lakes were incredible colors--the first I walked by was a brilliant turquoise, and the next a bright sea green.  Along the way there were two different sets of waterfalls and picture-taking points (they had, of course, tourist-trap-ified it as much as possible, as is the Chinese taste).  The waterfalls were pretty, but after a closer inspection we came to the conclusion that they were probably fake.  The rocks were just a little too perfectly placed, and didn't quite match the rocks around the sides of the lakes.  However, they were at least pretty, and the brilliant color of the lakes and the mountain rising above certainly weren't fake. 

Looking up at the mountain from here, we were even able to pick out exactly where we'd been, up by the highest peak, comparing its shape to pictures we had taken while up there. 

After we left the valley, we loaded back up and headed back into town.  The tour was scheduled to continue through the Black Dragon Pond Park on the edge of Lijiang, but as I'd already been there the day before, I made a short cut through the edge of the park and headed back into town.  I found a sunny bench to rest for a while and work on blog posts, and then finally headed off the dinner. 
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I Love Mountains

I know this is my third post about going up on the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain...but I really do love mountains.  I couldn't pick just three or four photos...so here's another post just to post some more. 

We spent a couple of hours up on the peak.  We hiked up to the top to look at the glacier first, and to enjoy the highest view we could, and then came back down to the big deck near the cable car station.  At any and every sight that is in any way picturesque or touristy in China, there is a stand that rents out traditional or "traditional" (varying degrees of authenticity) costumes for people to take pictures of themselves dressed up in front of the whatever-tourist-sight-happens-to-be-in-the-background.  I first saw them by the city wall back in Jingzhou, and everywhere else since.  Even up here at 15000 feet, there was the predictable stand.  Here at least the costumes weren't the usual ye olde silk robes; they were going for the costumes of the local minority people, the Naxi.  I'm no expert on traditional costumes, so I don't know how close they got it, but at least they were interesting, with especially fancy headgear of fur and silver.  None of us foreigners dressed up, but several Chinese girls in costume happily agreed to pose for photos for us. 

After we took the cable car down, we loaded back onto the bus, went back to the Visitors Center to return to coats, and then loaded up again for a trip down to the Blue Valley. 
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Glacier


The cable car that we took up Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is the highest passenger cable car in China, since it goes up to over 15000 feet.  One of the things to see up there, besides the view and the mountain itself, is the glaciers.  There are nineteen glaciers around the mountain, all at over 4000 meters (13000 feet); their claim to fame is being the southernmost glaciers in the northern hemisphere, as it's very unusual to find any so far south.  The hike up from the cable car station leads to a platform to look at one of the glaciers, so here are a few pictures. 

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Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Mountains have always been my weakness.  When I read in the Lonely Planet that there were cable cars up on to this one, it was immediately added to my mental itinerary, even if it was the most expensive day of the trip so far (and hopefully of the entire trip).

I joined an organized trip on the advice of the ever-helpful receptionist at the hostel;  although pricey, when added up it cost barely more than all the buses, fees, etc. would cost on their own, and saved a lot of hassle.  And, it would take me to the Blue Valley, which I didn't know about and therefore never would have found otherwise. 
Our first stop was a large, fancy visitor center; it wasn't terribly busy this time of year, but I'm sure it's bustling in the summer.  We trotted after our guide around an annoyingly long walkway and through the building and up to the back of the second floor to get our warm parkas and little personal oxygen canisters before heading up the mountain.  It seemed terribly inefficient to have this necessary counter since far from the parking lot, but I suppose their point was not the convenience of the guests but rather funneling them by as many souvenir shops as possible on the way.

Anyhow, we got what we needed and we were soon off.  Our next stop was the cable car station. I had walked from the hostel with an Austrian couple, Thomas and Anne-Marie, but now I ended up in line with the one other foreigner on the trip, a Swiss man, Eric.  For the rest of the day, we walked around together.  Traveling alone as usual it was nice to have a friend for the day. 

Once we arrived at the top of the cable car, we were already at nearly fifteen thousand feet.  The highest I remember ever being before was probably when my brother and I took the ski lifts up the Rothorn, the mountain across from the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps.  This had that beat by five thousand feet. 
And then climbed higher.  From the cable car station, a wooden boardwalk, mostly stairs, went up the mountain to a viewing platform over the glacier.  Up that high, the air is thinner, so you get out of breath much quicker than you usually would.  On the way up the cable car,Eric and I were wondering if the Chinese people across from us, who were already huffing their oxygen canisters, really felt the altitude yet or if they were just experimenting.  We certainly didn't feel anything yet.  But as we tackled stair after stair, the oxygen became useful.  I would stop and take a few deep breaths before each set of steps,and then scamper up before the effects wore off.  It was so easy to climb with oxygen, but without it seemed like I was dragging myself up.  

At the top deck, we reached our highest altitude-4680 meters, or 15354 feet.  It felt like the top of the world, and it boggled my mind to think that Everest is still another fourteen thousand feet up. Here's a picture of me with the marker at the top. I look like a fluffball, of course.  I was wearing three shirts, my fleece jacket, my windbreaker coat, and the parka they provided, and I was comfortable, not overly warm.  They weren't lying when they said it would be cold up there!  It wasn't too bad with all those layers until suddenly a strong wind would start up and blow snow swirling around, stinging our faces and making it too cold to breathe for a moment.  It felt at one point like it would have blown me over if I didn't have a firm grip on the rail; I don't know how some of these tiny Chinese girls don't go airborne. 

Edit: I don't know where the picture of me at the top went.  I'll try to add it later. 
Monday, January 13, 2014 0 comments

Mushrooms, Peppers, and Carrots


I wandered around a bit looking for a likely place to eat.  I love Chinese food, but it can be really frustrating when traveling alone-Chinese restaurants are so completely designed for groups.  Honestly, it seems a bit ridiculous to me that they can't make any sort of accommodation for solo diners, but that's just how it is.  At home I can order the usual meal for two or three, and then just take half if it home for leftovers for another meal, but while traveling... While I am complaining, when I travel I miss Hubei food; I understand now why most Chinese people prefer their own style of food, because I have come to feel the same way.  Food in other places often seems bland if you're used to spicy Wuhan cooking.  

But enough complaining about tourist food.  As I was saying, I was wandering in search of dinner.  I came across a couple of places like in the picture-rows of chefs lining the bar around the walls, each with a couple of specialties in front of them to be heated on the griddle. I took a stroll through and looked at all the offerings, as they all called out recommendations. 

After making a lap, I circled back to inquire about the things that looked most appetizing, giving the large fried insects on a stick a wide berth.  I stopped in front of a lady selling a mixture of mushrooms, peppers, and carrots-all three my favorites, so couldn't be too bad, right? She scooped a generous portion onto the griddle and heated it while adding spices.  While I was there, she also sold me chicken on a stick-although, in the typical Chinese group mentality, it came three sticks for ten yuan, when I really would just have bought one or two if it was up to me.  

I managed to balance it all on my arm while digging out some money, and then found a spot at one of the huge dark-stained wooden tables.  I cautiously speared a mushroom with the pronged toothpick-like utensil provided. I expected that it would be either bland and boring, or too spicy to eat. But I took a bite and my face lit up.  The spice was unusual; these vegetables didn't taste like anything in Wuhan, but they were wonderful. I wish I knew what spices she used; I would love to cook something like that.  And they were cooked just right...soft without being mushy.  They were so good that I came back the next night for more, and my one regret now that I have left Lijiang is that I didn't go back one more time. 
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Black Dragon Pool Park

Still following the siren song of the looming mountain, I wound my way through the cobblestone streets of Lijiang until I cam out into a large plaza with a water wheel, hordes of people, and the obligatory Pizza Hut, KFC, and McDonalds that must be present at any point in China where tourists, especially western tourists, might wander.  On the other side of the plaza, I followed the road alongside the creek.  As I went, the buildings thinned out a bit, although the hawkers selling all sorts of souvenirs got thicker. 

Finally I came out to a fancy archway, which led into the Black Dragon Pool Park.  Once inside, I continued to follow the creek along a broad shady path until I came to a small lake, or large pond, I suppose, as is the name of the park.  A little bridge at the edge of the lake is the vantage point of one of the classic Yunnan postcard scenes--the lake in the foreground, the mountain, snowy and majestic, in the background, and a picturesque classic temple building and arched stone bridge where the two come together, and over it all a brilliantly blue sky, far from the smog of the big industrial cities. 

I took pictures of this view from every conceivable angle, and then wandered slowly through the rest of the park.  The shady paths led to various small temples and buildings, one of which was quite pretty, and then to an area more frequented by locals, with a small playground and plenty of benches in the sun around a second smaller pond. 
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First View of the Mountain

I knew that Jade Dragon Snow Mountain was close to Lijiang, but it still took me by surprise when I was winding my way through bustling Sifang Square and happened to glance down one if the side streets.  And there it was, framed by the tiled roofline of the old-Naxi-shops-and-homes-turned-souvenir-stands.  I got that chest-tightening, breath-holding thrill if joy that seems to go along with the sound, "Eeeeee!" Although I never do the sound. Does anyone else feel that thrill of joy or excitement that way?

My course for the next three hours was determined by the mountain.  It was my beacon as I chose my route through the winding streets, going whichever way led me closer to a clear view of the mountain, until I finally came to the perfect view in the Black Dragon Pond Park.

I love mountains. 
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Lijiang

My first morning  in Lijiang I slept in a bit, got a shower, and did a load if laundry.  The hostel has some rickety metal stairs up to the roof, where there is sunny area filled with clotheslines, so my first view out into the Lijiang old town was from the top of the hostel.  Immediately below was the concrete playground of the local middle school.  As I hung out my laundry I listened to shouts if the kids as they had their gym class, playing some sort of pass-the-ball game.

And then I was off to explore. Lijiang, or at least the Old Town, which has now been surrounded by a modern city of over a million people, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The old town has a history of more than eight hundred years, and was once a major trading post along what was called the Tea Horse Road, which ran south through Burma and into northern India, and north curved around through Tibet and Sichuan Province, with tea from Yunnan and horses from Tibet being the most popular trading goods.  The trade route was important enough that it was often called the Southern Silk Road. 

The old town is different from many other ancient Chinese towns as it has always been inhabited by a minority, the Naxi (Nakhi) people, who have their own history and culture.  They have their own writing system, way of hunting with falcons, and were one of the few cultures to use a matriarchal system of inheritance, in which family holdings were passed down the female line instead of the male.  They even have their own religion, the Dongba religion, which is similar to an ancient religion, Bon, that was common in Tibet before Buddhism. 


The old town itself is quaint and pretty, with little bridges crossing over the little canals that wind through the town. It's a maze of cobblestone streets; I just wandered along picking streets at random most of the afternoon, only using my map if I wanted to try to find something specific.  The traditional architecture of the wooden buildings with their tiled roofs has been carefully preserved, at least on the outside, but of course now all the buildings hold souvenir shops--loom-woven scarves, products made from the local yaks, and recordings of local music made up at least half of the shops, with seemingly identical shops on every street.  Still, it was a pleasant place to wander. 

After I caught a glimpse of the mountain that make the backdrop to the city, I followed the streets north, trying to get a clearer view, which brought me finally to the Black Dragon Pond Park. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014 0 comments

Bus to Lijiang


After a bathroom break, walking up and down the road three times, consulting both the Lonely Planet and three websites, I finally figured out a bus route to get across the city from the south to the west bus station to get a bus for Lijiang. I took one bus from there to somewhere near the train station, walked a few blocks, and found another that went directly to the west bus station.  I was very fortunate to get a seat both times.  The second bus ride was a bit eventful as the much-harassed bus driver had to pull over twice to have yelling and screaming arguments with two different riders (Of course I couldn't follow the arguments, but I would guess they were probably misunderstandings based on this being an express bus to the public bus station; it wasn't stopping at many stops that that number bus usually would if not an express), and once to punch buttons and beat on a faulty piece of equipment on the dash. 

Anyhow, I made it to the bus station, which was a crowded mess with construction going on as always, and bought a ticket for the 11:20 to Lijiang. According to Lonely Planet, the trip should take ten hours.  We hurdled down the interstate uneventfully for nearly five hours, until suddenly we had a beautiful view of the huge lake near Dali; the clouds parted just enough to allow a few sunbeams to escape, moving over the water like spotlights. 

Soon after, a sign along the interstate said Lijiang, 120 kilometers (about 75 miles). It couldn't possibly take five more hours; if we continued at highway speed, it shouldn't take more than an hour. But surely the guidebook wasn't that far wrong...

It wasn't.  Almost as soon as I thought all this, the bus veered off the highway to the most forlorn looking rest area I'd seen yet, on a pot-holed side road.  Why did the driver choose this out if the way place? Didn't we just pass a rest area right along the interstate not too far back?

Once we loaded back onto the bus, I understood. Instead of heading back to the interstate, we continued down the narrow local road, almost immediately turning into switchbacks.  We weren't going to follow the valleys on the highway; we wrote going straight up and over those mountains. 
The first slopes were green and rounded, dotted liberally with tall white wind turbines, adding an otherworldly flavor to the view.  We soon left them behind as we followed the ridges.  On the right, I could see how high up we were by the distant view of the valley below.  On the left, my view was of the increasingly rockier summits, and occasionally pockets of snow.  I tried for several miles to get shot of a particularly high and imposing peak. 

Undoubtedly the view on this route was much better than the interstate, but it did make for a much longer trip as we passed through tiny villages and squeezed the bus past dump trucks on narrow lanes.  At one point we came to a slightly larger small town, and that's where things really slowed down.  They were working on enlarging the road, but for now they just have it ripped up completely.  We bounced and jolted over dirt and gravel for what felt like five miles. 

We finally did make it into Lijiang; we did make it quicker than I originally thought, in just a shade under nine hours, but still, four hours of that were that last seventy-five miles. 
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Overnight Bus

Well, technically it took four buses-two long-distance buses and two city buses-to get from Yuanyang to Lijiang. 

I took a sleeper bus out of Xinjie at 6:30; if you've never been on a sleeper bus, it's a bus with bunks inside instead of seats.  Although the bunks are necessarily quite narrow, they are usually quite comfortable.  Usually the bunks are not totally flat, but reclining.  The raised part under the pillow provides a cubby-hole for the person behind to stretch their feet into.  Low rails help keep everyone from rolling out into the aisle in the case if a sharp turn.  Each bunk is provided with a rather flat and abused-looking pillow and a thick warm comforter.  To keep the bunks clean, everyone takes off their shoes up ny the driver's seat and carries them in a plastic bag, which the conductor is handing out.  I took a picture, but on my camera and not my phone.  I may attach it to this post later on when I get around to loading my pictures onto the computer. 

The journey from Kunming to Yuanyang typically only takes six or seven hours, which would put us arriving in Kunming in the middle of the night.  I wasn't sure if this overnight was a good idea in that case, as I didn't want to be ejected into the south bus station hours before the city buses would start running, but Jacky explained that the bus would take its time, arriving in Kunming at three or four in the morning, but then it would park outside in the bus terminal parking lot, and we could stay on it and sleep until morning. 

While there was still light, I put up with the wind in my face and kept my little window open, taking pictures of the terraced hills as we wound through them. As I got on at 6:30, I figured I'd read and listen to music for several hours before I would feel sleepy, but nearly as soon as it got dark I couldn't concentrate on what I was reading.  It wasn't much after eight when I stowed anything valuable down under my feet and curled up with my comforter.  I fell asleep quite quickly. 

I woke up when the lights came on when we stopped at rest areas a couple of times during the night, but I was too warm and comfortable to bother getting out of my bunk.  It may seem strange, but I slept better object the bus than I had at the guest house the night before. 

I woke up around five and realized we were parking Kunming, but had no desire to get out in the cold just yet, as buses wouldn't be running yet.  I stayed comfortably dozing in my bunk until I made myself get moving about seven thirty. 
Saturday, January 11, 2014 0 comments

Xinjie

As I didn't want to risk being late for my bus,and because I didn't have anything better to do in Duoyishu anyway, I took a minibus to Xinjie about four hours before my bus was scheduled to depart. I picked up my ticket at the bus depot, and still had more than two hours to kill.

The two major streets meet at the bus depot in a vee;  the buses came and went by the right-hand one, so I strolled down the one I hadn't been down yet. Stopping along the way to buy some drinks from a young man at a little shop with his toddler daughter peeking over his shoulder from the carrier on his back, I soon came out onto a large public square, much larger than usually found in small Chinese towns.  Small towns here are usually huddled close, not wasting an inch of space. 

This large sunny square made a pleasant place for old people to gather around a game of mahjong or Chinese chess, or to just sit and smoke together meditatively.  The far end of the plaza ended in a railing; from this terrace the deep valley and rolling mountains beyond formed a vast panorama. 


I sat in a shady spot and read for a while, until I was interrupted ny a gregarious old man and used all of my limited Chinese I could think of to try to satisfy his curiosity about this strange foreigner sitting in his town square.  He recommended a new direction out of the square as a good direction to sight-see; I wondered off that way as our conversation was getting frustrating as I had already used up all the Chinese I knew, but he was still asking questions anyhow.  I didn't want to wander too far down steps I knew I'd have to climb back up, but I did soon come across a reasonably large and well-stocked grocery store.  I took the opportunity to stock up on snacks, as I would be on the overnight bus by supper time, and I intended to get directly on a ten-hour bus to Lijiang once I got to Kunming, so I would need some meals for then, too.  I bought a spoon for the peanut butter I already had, plus side crackers, juice, chips ahoy cookies, and banana chips. 

I spent my last few minutes sitting in the bus station waiting room, reading and glaring at young men who lit up cigarettes upwind of me. And then we were off, on to the next stage of the adventure.
 
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