Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Chapter the Fourth: In Which Our Hero Gets Lost Repeatedly And Eats Yak

View From A Tea House
Originally uploaded by billmcgonigle.
The bus left from DaLi early in the morning, but that was fine by Yours Truly as I was itching to get to LiJiang. The ride took a handful of hours, and we made two requisite shopping stops (to my chagrin), but I'll admit the second at least had an interesting story behind it. We stopped at a complex at the foot of a mountain where our guide related the history of a fruitful silver mine that the French, British, and Germans had long battled over during the time of Foreign Aggression in China. In memory of the senseless and seemingly unending bloodshed, the precious material harvested from this mine is now known as "Blood Silver" in China.

Quite a tale, especially as I was working my way through Conrad's "Nostromo" at the time and imagining the troubles of the fictional San Tome mine while actually visiting a Chinese, factual equivalent.

Anyways, we got to LiJiang and checked into a nice courtyard style hotel. LiJiang in pretty far north and west into YunNan, but more north than west, and you can view the Tibetan border from certain spots in town. The local minority are called the "NaXi." and compared to DaLi, they had fully grasped their tourism capability but kept their local culture from becoming too Disney-fied, as some could say DaLi has.

Our tour guide for LiJiang didn't do too much other than lead us to the Old Town, give a very quick tour, and then simply let us free. Probably for the best, as the Old Town in LiJiang is a warren of markets, tea shops, bars, eateries, and craftsmen.

I hadn't purchased much up to this point on the trip, as I expected LiJiang would provide my treasure trove. Sure enough, it did. I spent 4 hours or so wandering around, often getting lost, then lost again, and then when I reoriented myself, I got lost again. None of the roads here are straight, all are small with numerous alleys shooting off in different directions, and sometimes, yes, all things in China might look the same to a foreigner. Regardless, I got some shopping in and got gifts for a lucky few and a shirt for myself.

The atmosphere of the day was what made it so fascinating. LiJiang was one of the best steps back into Ye Merry Olde China that I've been pricy to in my travels. QuFu had some good bits, DaLi we didnt get enough time to really experience, Beijing, Shanghai, QingDao, and Harbin are all far too modernized to capture this ambiance. But LiJiang jumped from the pages of history and kungfu movies and I loved it.

After bringing my newly purchased wares back to the hotel, I proceeded to get lost again while looking for dinner. (I took a picture of a map if you want to see what I was dealing with, all the pics are available here: so get over and see for yourself.) I had to make a show at 8, so I eventually threw in the towel and sat down by one of the numerous streams running through town and grabbed an overpriced dinner.

As one who enjoys experimenting with all sorts of food, I found it hard to resist the yak plate. Yak is a bit tough, but you cant say it lacks flavor, thats for sure. I also had some fried goat cheese and a baba, which is sort of a local pancake/pie thing with some sweety filling. Already having shelled out more than I wanted to for this grub, I initially steered clear of their expensive beer prices, but after a cheap cup of wonderful coffee I realized I needed something cool to wash down the yak. All in all, a decent meal, and certain different.

The rushed dinner was necessary as I had purchased primo seats to a concert that evening put on by the Naxi Orchestra, a band of 24 who are able to create the most faithful renderings of true Chinese traditional music. Their instruments had been marked for destruction by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution, but they had buried their centuries-old pipas, erhus, gongs and etc to reform in the late 80's under a man named Xuan Ke.

The music was enthralling, and Xuan Ke gave an introduction and explanation to each in both Chinese and English. He made some jokes about foreigners to the Chinese, which led to another one of those "a foreigner who speaks Chinese!" conversations with my neighbors, plus I got to call Xuan Ke out on his transgression after the show when I chased him down to chat. Amazing man. All I gotta say.

After the show, yet another long day drew to a close. I was unclear towards what we were doing the following day, but I knew it had to end on a sleeper train departing from DaLi for KunMing. So, I slept.


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