China, Studia: Lijiang – Monks and Trinkets
Lijiang 丽江, a small town in Yunnan 云南 province is known as a land of clear sky, clean air, and beautiful landscape. Lijiang truly meets this. And it has even something more to it. It is a tourist paradise. When you pay 80 yuan admission to enter the city center only annoying vendors prevent you from exploring the area.
Lijiang is located at the altitude of 2400 meters above sea level. Its historical downtown covers the area of 4 square kilometers. The history of the city dates back to the times of China which was ruled by the Sung dynasty宋 (960–1127). The grandson of Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan was in China known as emperor Shizu 世祖. He belonged to the Yuan dynasty 元. He dispatched here military units which were intended to attack the state of Nanzhao 南诏. Lijiang during the rule of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) was known as the “city of houses placed nicely one next to another with tiled roofs”. Structures of municipal administration were described as “places of such beauty which may be placed next to any royal palace”. More than thousand families lived there at the end of the rule of the Ming dynasty.
Members of Naxi minority 纳西 who live here place great important to education. Many excel in music, poetry, calligraphy, or painting. An archaic picture writing has survived to this day. It is possible to see some of it on walls of houses in Lijiang. The writing adheres to a shamanic religion. In some villages matriarchal societies where property is inherited in female part of the family still exist.
When we were observing the picture writing on one wall a strange monk came to us. He seemed as a good soul at first trying to save our souls. Soon it became clear that the main bargaining argument for him is money we were willing to pay for sutras. Disappointed we refused to talk to him. Luckily, a small shrine was nearby so we found shelter against him there. Nobody was inside. Just smoke coming from aromatic sticks implied we were not alone. When a monk appeared behind the corner we began to refusing any efforts to give him money however he took a sutra at the table he was sitting at. When I spoke to him in Chinese he gave me it without saying a word. Then he returned to his table. Probably he didn’t realize I would take it just like that without giving any money to the temple. As he didn’t try to take the last penny from me I willingly gave him some money.
We enjoyed the silence at this place for a while more. Then we set off bravely to the noisy streets of old Lijiang.
GPS: 26°52'01.5"N 100°13'52.6"E
Text and photo: Hana Bašová
When I asked some people if the liked Hong Kong nobody could tell me anything particular. They said it was amazing, strong experience, intensive, or wierd. After a wekek spent in one of world's most important harbors. My experience is similar. I can only say that there are many contrasts, paradoxes in Hong Kong and is truly worth visiting.
I have already shown you Hong Kong and its hundreds of skyscrapers, and riches. However, there is much more than modern architecture. If you are watchful enough you notice many details inspired by Asian more than our Western culture.
We stepped out of the silent temple in one of Lijiang’s streets and found ourselves immediately among tourist crowds mostly consisting of Chinese. They threw themselves on all delicacies around – from sugar hawthorn to huge baked bones.
After several weeks on the road we were about to return to Beijing. What a strange feeling it was. B and I felt like we were coming back home even though we lived there only half a year. We took a train from Lijiang 丽江 Kunming 昆明, the capital of Yunnan province 云南. We stayed there for couple of days. Eventually we were even glad we managed to buy flight tickets because it was a last minute buy as we had been waiting for them to become cheaper.
We survived the trip on the Great Wall of China. We liked it but ahead would be waiting pre-departure preparations. We were busy packing, me and B. As it turned out, packing one year worth of life in China to one coffer is far from easy and takes much more than just one afternoon. Therefore, I took T and P to their guest house and left them to take care of themselves.
We managed climbing up the hill very well. We walked through a small village. Some watched us, some obviously had met tourists efore and waved at us. Once we reached a crossroad we suddenly saw its contours. And we also recognized contours of a small shop at the crossroads. It wasn’t overpriced. Surprisingly. We refilled our water and sugar supplies (popsicles). If there exists something like an addiction on popsicles, I was an addict in China.
It was easy to count hours before the departure of the girls (and our as well). Still, we intended to utilize them as much as possible regardless the unbearable heat in Beijing.
Kunming 昆明 woken us up to cloudy sky and light rain drumming into our window. It didn’t seem as if the weather was about to get better. We put our raincoats on and set off to adventure.
It was only couple of minutes before the departure. T and P were about to fly back to the Czech Republic. Me and B were ready to travel to Vietnam for another adventure. There was much to remember. T and P looked pretty tired. It is no easy thing to travel across China in one month. Many say they haven’t experienced cultural shock but still China is much different from Europe.
I was much more smarter on my second turn in China. And before my first stay in China I had heard many advice by my class mates. “Try not to use handkerchiefs often.” “Don’t stick your chopsticks into the food”.
When me and B were thinking at the airport about all prejudices our Czech friends have, we realized even our Chinese friends’ idea about our culture is not much accurate.
The day had finally come. The day of T’s and P’s departure. The girls were preparing for the departure. Me and B had still some time before we left China. The best moments of our one year stay in China were running in our minds and we also give a thought on T and P. They would surely face many questions regarding China.
Surprisingly we survived the journey from the Leaping Tiger Gorge to Lijiang 丽江. We were in the town for the second time and nobody was looking forward to it. We got enough of it when we were there couple of days ago. Thanks to my ingenuity we were accommodated next to Lashihai 拉市海. But it was far from spectacular. Partially, the reason was in the fact we hadn’t even seen the historical center of Lijiang. The reason, on the other hand, for tourists to come in the city.
In a small family hostel near the Leaping Tiger Gorge (Hutiao xia虎跳峡) we had some good night sleep. After our arrival we headed straight to see the wild Jinsha River 金沙. At its narrowest point, a tiger allegedly leapt over it. We were completely exhausted by a walk in fresh air. However, we woke up soon next day morning to enjoy raising sun at our terrace.
Last time I have already started talking about Lashihai lake 拉市海. We intended to see it. The lake is to be found at the foothill of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (Yulong xueshan 玉龙雪山) at the altitude of over 2400 meters. The lake’s area is around 5330 hectares. Long time ago, an old horse tea road lead through here. Pu'er tea普洱was very important export commodity. Today, over 60 bird species nest on the lake. More than thirty thousand birds fly here in winter. The best time for observation is December, they say.
I am of those people who cannot enjoy shopping. Mostly I have this feeling that the time spent finding something could we spent much more efficiently. When I decide to go somewhere shopping I need time.
Finally we were in the bus. We had to pay some yuans extra yet the likelihood of us eventually getting to Xichang 西昌 on time was growing. We had to catch a train going further down south.
Dali 大理 je belongs to the Pai 白 minority. At the first glimpse you realize the city feels differently than Han 汉 (i.e. ethnic Chinese) cities. Once we accommodated ourselves, we walked in the streets surrounding our hostel. Somehow we managed to find rooms in an area where were no foreign or Chinese tourists. A pleasant change.
We had last day to spend in Xian. We had tickets not to the opera but for the evening train which would get us to my beloved Chengdu 成都.
Our small trip to waterfall became a nightmare. Ponies that stood across narrow pathway and deep precipice under seemed harmless. Once I got across these obstacles my landlord appeared. With great enthusiasm he instructed us to other waterfalls. As there was only one road heading to our hostel I had to mentally prepare myself to another and another waterfall.
When we said farewell to Suzhou 苏州, the train took us to the famous Shanghai 上海. Shanghai is the name everybody things of when asked if they can think of a Chinese city. Once it used to be a small fishermen village.
Before I traveled to China, I had noticed weird mostly roundish buildings on various ad posters. I didn’t understand why would anyone build something like this.
When we boarded the bus in order to move on from the village of Yunnan minorities (Yunnan minzu cun云南民族村) to Dianchi lake滇池without paying ridiculous fees. We didn’t mean it in a wrong way. We were just tired of anyone trying to get any money from us.
Beijing, the city of our year-long study stay, did not greet the girls pleasantly. Yet despite all obstacles we faced, we didn’t let it to spoil our mood. We decided to see all the sights, we hadn’t manage to visit during the first couple of days, before our flight back. We counted with some problems in our grandiose travel plan anyway.
Christmas is the time of remembrance. One remembers passed year, how and with who she spent Christmas and how it was. I couldn’t help myself from such assessment when I saw grey snowless streets. It remined me of my first Christmas outside home, Christmas in Chengdu 成都.
We gladly left Lijiang 丽江, a small and among tourist popular town in south China. We worried a bit that we would need to return to our hostel on our way back. However, we forget our worries and looked forward to the new adventure.
It hasn’t been so long ago when I boarded the plane to Helsinki. I was thinking how I would spend a night before leaving for Beijing. Suddenly, I realized that my stay in China is coming to an end. It was one of these moments when I felt nostalgia and casted my mind back.
Standing at a box office in Xichang 西昌 at the train station, we heard why we cannot withdraw them. We could only return them and try to buy new ones that would be for a train that doesn’t travel on the route where the landslide happened. When the lady pointed at the endless line, we wanted to pack our stuff and leave on foot for our next destination, Kunming昆明,. It was very fortunate that we remained standing for a while there.
Dali 大理, a town in south Chinese Yunan 云南, woke us up to cold sunny morning everyday. Unlike hot and busy city this one was a nice change. We had enough space so we didn’t have to jump from bikers, bicyclers transporting all kinds of goods, furious car and bus drivers, and other perils in the streets.
End of June was about leaves. Since May, my friends had been leaving. Finals were coming and those who didn’t need any confirmation of their study stays and exams passed just packed their luggage and boarded the plane. Other didn’t visit schools because their relatives, and friends arrived. Dormitories emptied.
The day of our departure from the mountain paradise had come. Luckily, we had whole afternoon at our hands. Therefore, we set off for the last trip. We intended to explore only the nearby area.
Upon our difficult arrival at Hangzhou 杭州 we had crammed schedule ahead. Right in the morning, we went to explore how to get to our other goal the village of Longjing 龙井 that is famous for its tea plantations.
Our stay in Yunyongyao云永谣 commenced with a funeral, not particularly traditional way to begin one’s trip. Most of the locals took part in it. Some right in the procession, others just watched from afar. Soon, however, cracking and music ended. Only streets covered with red papers could tell the story.
We woke up full of enthusiasm on the following day for we would visit a mysterious temple reminding us a bit of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts. No single two people agreed upon instructions how to get there on online forums. However, everybody was convinced that no other option how to get into the temple except hers works.
It was getting closer to our departure from Xian 西安. With our backpacks we had to move by city bus to a train station. It was pretty easy till then...
The Temple of Eight Immortals (Ba xian an八仙庵) is the largest Tao temple in Xi'an 西安. When we were deciding on what sight to see as the first, the temple was pretty clear choice.
It wasn’t bad in Beijing. Yet sometimes a time comes that one just want to go somewhere else. Anywhere. The break of the first May was coming and we had already forgotten how crazy it is to travel in China, especially when even others have holidays. But this time we were bit smarter. We learned how to buy train tickets on the Internet.
Even though it seems that the fate wants a boulder to fall on us along the road, the driver managed to deliver us safe and sound. We even managed to take couple pictures as if it was the only chance. During couple of following days we realized that it is impossible to get enough of this place…
... is that joyful? Already in one of my past articles I quoted the first sentence from Analects by Confucius. To be honest I thought of it very often. Prior my departure to China almost every other person asked me: „When may I arrive? You know I wouldn’t need a guide when you are there...“
After all struggle we finaly reached Kunming 昆明, the capital of Yunnan 云南, a province in southeast China. My friends told me a lot about Kunming. No wonder that I looked forward to it.
Our time of departure from Dali 大理 had come. We still liked the place thanks to nice house-lady, her father and their gigantic pup even after several days. We took our backpacks and set off to a bus stop.
In Chengdu 成都 , we visited places mentioned in previous articles. I enjoyed nostalgia, other members of our journey enjoyed great weather – mostly it was raining gently. So it wasn’t hot as it usually is in Chengdu this time of the year.
We were returning quite disgruntled from the village of Longjing 龙井. The intrusive lady reminded us again that we are still tourists in China – and given my face, I still will be one.
After while, during our search for tulou 土楼 we went off the tourist-luring village with never ending music. Chinese tourists took pictures of each other wearing traditional and nontraditional clothes rented for horrible money. All of a sudden, everything went quiet around us. We were approaching local hills on a narrow road.
Next day morning, with thick rice cakes filled with delicious filling we attempted for the second time a trek to the Bamboo Temple (Qiongzhusi筇竹寺). To make matters more unpleasant, the sky was clouded and it started to rain. The bus didn’t arrived. So didn’t other buses.
When you are studying in China and you want to learn more than you would at classic lessons you can ask about optional classes. There are usually many as such at universities. You can choose everything from sports, literature, or trivia to calligraphy or local dialects.
Our visit in Lijiang 丽江 in southern China hadn’t started particularly well. My effort to get us to live among the locals was perhaps too much. We were half-an-hour of car ride from the historic center. We couldn’t get to our hostel even by taxi least regular bus. Our landlady was, in truth, not much hospitable. Moreover, it was raining like it was the end of the world.
„This is something you have to see!“
„It’s sure worth it!“
„It is world’s wonder.“
After all the information we gathered from our friends and teachers about Suzhou 苏州, everybody would look forward to see it! “Up is paradise, below are Suzhou, and Su Chang and Hangzhou" (in Chinese hang you tiantang,
xia you Su-Hang 上有天堂，下有苏杭) we heard when we were mounting green city bikes, and rode through narrow streets near our hotel. The streets were crowded with various stands that lured us to stop (many of them at least). But we didn’t want to miss delicacies of Suzhou.
Our trip to see the famous tulou 土楼 was great. A strange van appeared and it was not strange after all. Chinese tourists stepped in and we stepped in as well because they said that the last bus had just left and the van driver would give us better price.
This whole story which started in the last article had become one of our most favorite stories. In short, it is about how we went from Chengdu 成都 to Chengdu.
After couple of days in Kunming 昆明 , the time had come to move on from the city of “eternal spring”. Our next goal was Da-li 大理, a much smaller town in the Yunnan province 云南 (like Kunming, Da-li is also the capital of its province).
Terracotta army in Xian 西安 was truly interesting yet it wasn’t the only thing we saw there. We were, perhaps, bit disappointed from all those people we had met there. Whether they were tourists looking for something exciting, or vendors trying to make profits, and I don’t even mention high admission… We even hadn’t seen any good place to have lunch in. We ate only some snack, got on the bus to get back to the city.
We felt like waking up to mornings in mountains veiled in pleasant haze is hardly something we would get enough of. We had already spent couple of nights at our hostel. At breakfasts we wondered if the locals are still so impressed with the mountains.
When returned to the hostel we were decided to get up early, get on the roof and start the day with a look at Suzhou in the morning 苏州. Right with the alarm clock ringing we started cursing the idea. Because we did not want to be lame in front one of another we get from warm duvets, and headed to the roof.
When we peaked out to the street in the morning, it was truly alive. The digger was demolishing houses, and people were engaged in their work. I sought to protect my breakfast against omnipresent dust. It was clear now what we would do on that day. We had to get as far as possible.