Saturday, January 26, 2013

Lijiang Day Trip I: Lashihai

Pardon the hiatus.  I've had intermittent internet access recently -- usually enough to check email, but not to upload photos.  After two months of traveling and some time in the US with our families, we've moved to Shanghai!

The planning for our first day trip from Lijiang went something like this:

Matt: Do you want to go to Lashihai tomorrow?
B.: Sure!
(end conversation)

We knew that we were going (but not quite where), that it was pretty (but not quite what), and that we should be ready to leave at 9am the following morning.  That's about it.  Hooray for advance planning and knowledge.

Lashihai, as I found out, is also known as Lashi Lake.  It's the largest highland lake in Lijiang county and is an important site for migratory birds.  Several Chinese minority groups, most notably the Naxi people, inhabit the area.

The trip began with a donkey ride up and down the surrounding environs, providing a fantastic view of the lake from above as well as glimpses of the lives of the locals.  The local people live a life of subsistence farming that has changed little over the years.  We felt a bit self-conscious about being the wealthy tourists traipsing through the village.

After lunch, we headed to the lake for a boat ride.  The tour guide punted us along, Cambridge-style, and relayed what I can only imagine was interesting information in Mandarin.  I stared peacefully at the water and the sky and the birds, lost in my own thoughts.

While waiting for the van, we took out a frisbee and taught some of the local guys how to throw.  They learned pretty quickly; B. and I both found this to be the highlight of the day trip.  (It seemed like the highlight of their day too.  B. got invited to do shots of baijiu with them.)  I wish we'd had an extra frisbee to leave there.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Foods of China: Part II

What are all these foods?  I'm not quite sure.  That didn't stop us from trying many of them.  Here's a glimpse at the food of Lijiang.

Spicy tofu

Glutinous rice balls.  They came in white, green, and purple; each color had a different sweet filling.  

Quail eggs

Pig's trotters

The snack food section of a store.  Nuts, tofu, fish, duck, poultry, pork, etc.

Birthday noodles!

The Night Train to Lijiang

After a week in Shanghai, we ventured out to explore and continue my China orientation.  Following the highlights of B.'s first trip to China in 2008, we jetted off to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province in southwest China.

Mapping China crudely onto the US, Yunnan is approximately Texas.  It feels rather more like Colorado, with beautiful mountains, a very chill atmosphere, and a cooler, drier climate due to the elevation.

The Kunming airport is where I encountered (experienced?) my first squat toilet.  I'll delicately say that there's a bit of a learning curve, and I'm glad I read some of the how-to's on the internet beforehand (it's an awkward conversation to have with friends...).  Western toilets have joined the list of things I didn't know I was taking for granted.

Queueing at the Kunming train station

From the airport, we found our way to a local bus to the train station.  That's where we met Matt*.  Matt was traveling to Lijiang -- our destination in Yunnan -- with his girlfriend and her sister.  He spoke no English; I spoke virtually no Mandarin.  With B. as an intermediary, we all communicated... with a certain amount of confusion.  Matt helped us buy the appropriate train tickets and we joined him and the girls for dinner.  With soft sleeper berths (small bunk beds stacked two or three high), we slept for most of the 9 hour trip, waking up to sunrise over the mountains and invigorating Chinese "good morning" music.

Lijiang Old Town

On the other end, we followed Matt to his recommended guest house in Lijiang Old Town (his father's place, we later learned).  The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site with winding cobblestoned streets, historic architecture, glimpses of Naxi culture (one of the Chinese minority groups), and hundreds of shops which all sell the same five things.  It is, to put it succinctly, a tourist mart.  But it is a tourist mart well worth visiting.

Making traditional Chinese tea

We spent our time in Lijiang enjoying the slower pace of life.  We drank lots of good tea, wandered the streets, sampled the plentiful unknown foods, and shared dinner with Matt and co.**  We shivered through the chilly nights and mornings and enjoyed the midday sunshine.  (Pro tip: when staying in an unheated guesthouse, look for a heating pad on the bed.  The nights were significantly more comfortable thereafter.)  We also went on two day trips, which I'll post about soon.  

* His real name was Miao Lu.  He wanted us to give him an English name; we decided that his name sounded like "Matthew".
** Birthday noodles (symbolizing longevity) on the first night to celebrate my birthday!  Hot pot on the following nights, to B.'s delight and my dismay.