Saturday, January 2, 2010

Today's Alarming Statistic:
1200 -
Number of graves that need to be moved in rural Shanghai to make way for the proposed Disneyland amusement park.
China Daily

Okay, first let me apologize profusely for being so lame and not writing for a long, long time. I could make really legitimate excuses (like having my internet shut down for lack of paying for my phone line even though I thought I had paid for it for a year...or being deathly sick for about a week, or... you know.)

Second, I need to show Carrie a picture of the necklace I won in a charity lunch raffle way back in November - it was the GRAND PRIZE and I never win anything!!!!!!!

I LOVE the beginning of a new year, but add to that the beginning of a new decade and it's fantastic. 2010. It sounds so futuristic! Here is this year's Picture with Santa - not quite up to our usual standard of Nordstrom Santa, but it will do and it was free! We skipped the fancy dresses this year due to minus temperatures and lots of outdoor walking.

We recently returned from two weeks in southwest China - seven days in the Dali area (in the village of Xizhou) and seven days in Lijiang, about a three hour drive north of Xizhou. I can't remember a vacation this long since Eric and I traveled through Europe for 8 weeks in a car in 1990. It was great to not cook any meals for two solid weeks! There is so much to tell you I'll start with the first part in Xizhou and Dali for this entry.

This area of southwest China is in Yunnan Province. Just to the west of us were the foothills of the Himalayas with Tibet just northwest of that.

On December 19th (Happy Birthday to my sister, Nancy!) we flew 1500 miles from Beijing nonstop to Lijiang. From there we were met by a driver with an old rickety van who spoke not a word of English, but had a sign with my name on it. We paid 400 yuan ($58) to drive 3 hours south to Xizhou. The drive was beautiful through winding mountainous roads. The mountain sides were terraced for growing. Every inch of land in this region is used for agriculture and they always have something growing throughout the year. Everything was lush and green and gorgeous. It reminded me of Sun Valley but greener. We noticed right away that it was so quiet compared with Beijing! Of course the drivers still honk incessantly, but there are just fewer of them. We stayed at an amazing place called The Linden Centre.

It's a restored courtyard home with three courtyards and 14 rooms which all look out over the various courtyards.

The owners, Brian and Jeannee Linden, are an American couple from Chicago/Wisconsin. In Door County, Wisconsin they have an antiques gallery where they specialize in Asian antiquities. Needless to say, the Linden Centre in Xizhou is like an art gallery itself - full of Ming and Qing Dynasty sculptures, paintings, etc. This is what our room looked like:

The room was
comfortable and beautifully furnished. None of the buildings in this area have heating because it's a fairly temperate climate, but it still gets pretty cold at night in December! There was a space heater which helped, but the best was their thick cozy blankets. The bathroom was elegant and every day there was a

pink flower petal in the toilet after they cleaned the room!

This is what the landscape looks like.

It was a little cloudy with a few raindrops the day we arrived, but the rest of the days were clear and warm (compared to Beijing!) at around 60 degrees. This area stays between 60 and 80 all the time.

Xizhou is a very unspoiled village with little to no tourist attractions, which made it unbelievably great for us. The people who live there are called the Bai People. They wear a certain shade of blue and colorful hats that look a little like a turban.

Most of the Bai People did not want to be photographed. At first I was asking everyone if it was okay and when they all said no, I decided I'd just be sly about it. I know that is really tacky, but we had to have some memories, didn't we?

Jeanee and Brian have connections all over the area so every day they would ask us what we would like to do that day and offer a few suggestions. They arranged for all our transportation and either accompanied us themselves or sent their employee, Ling Ling with us. She was adorable and did everything from taking our meal orders every day to serving our table to registering us at the Centre and checking us out to arranging for our minivan to and from Lijiang. She also hung out with us as we attended a Bai wedding, went to the market, etc. Ling Ling runs with little steps everywhere she goes. In this picture she is the one on the far right.

She might be 25 and has a 3 year old named Ji Ji. They live almost directly across the street from the Linden Centre so Ji Ji can run over to see his mom anytime he wants to. He is sort of the mascot of the Centre and cute as a button.

The other couple in the photo were from Holland. They were so much fun that we hung out with them as much as possible. The guy, (Erik) was just exactly like my Eric. He loved to do magic tricks and he chased the girls all around and was just a great guy in general - Ok Eric, don't let that go to your head!

The day we arrived we just walked down the road toward Erhai Lake a little more than a mile to the east. The lake is 30 miles l0ng and a source of livelihood for the Bai People in this area. These are some of the sights we saw along the way.

The road was paved with cobblestones for about 1/4 mile then became dirt. Bai people would go past on bicycles, motorcycles, horse and cart, cars, vans and trucks toward the lake.

This was either a really sweet woman holding a bird or she was mentally disturbed. Either way she had an amazing smile.

One day we went out on the lake to watch cormorants fishing. It was really amazing - we thought they would have restrictive cuffs around their throats and be tied to the boat with strings, but these birds were totally free to fly away and they were actually trained to stay with the boat. We were out on the lake for about half an hour and they caught two fish - quite large! Check it out...

After we got back on dry land they let us hold the cormorants on our arms. They were really heavy! Then we were served a huge and amazing lunch for 10 kuai each (about $1.25). There were about 15 dishes and most were pretty tasty except for the fish which was absolutely disgusting according to Eric. It tasted like the mud at the bottom of the lake.

On our walk back to the Linden Centre we stopped in at this beautiful compound. There was no one around, just the guards at the front, and Ling Ling got them to let us in to wander around. It was some sort of military place I think, but no one was there that day.

Eric in a pensive moment - this is a natural pose we find him in often these days...

We came upon this group fishing on the lake. They were catching these little tiny white translucent fish with tiny black eyes like black sesame seeds. Ling Ling bought a kilo because Ji Ji likes them for breakfast. Eeew.

The crops grown in this area are garlic, broad beans, canola, and rice. They do everything by hand. They are out in these fields cutting little handfuls of greens off - no equipment but a blade whatsoever.

Badminton in the courtyards at the Linden Centre was a favorite activity of the kids when we weren't out and about. There were a bunch of kids staying there at the same time we were - three adorable Dutch girls and three French boys whose family lives in Shanghai. Right near the end of our week a family came from Belgium with four kids between one and five I swear. They were noisy so I'm glad we didn't overlap too much with them!

Here's Greta enjoying another favorite activity during relaxation time at the Linden Centre.

One day we went to Xiaoping to a market that only occurs on Mondays. Here are the pictures. The people here wear such colorful clothing and headpieces and they are more thick and stocky people.

Once the people see you buy one thing they really become annoying crowding around you trying to get you to buy buy buy. I bought the only thing I regret from the whole trip at this market. It was a book with silk fabric pages that open up like an accordion so it's one long page. On the fabric are sketches of the area showing Erhai Lake and the mountains, etc. I thought it was pretty cool and I got it for 120 yuan (about $18). I knew I was paying too much, but I just wanted to get out at that point. Later I saw these books all over the place for a lot cheaper. Well, live and learn.

Can you guess what this is? Yum yum!

There is an old town of Dali - about 30 minutes drive south of Xizhou. It's more touristy, but has lots of unique shops. We spent half a day there and Ivy met this guy who really liked her.

Near the old town is Cangshan Mountain. We took a cable car up to a point and then climbed about ten million stairs and hiked on the side of the mountain.

There were some very educational signs on this mountain. This one in particular stood out - read it carefully and you will know what my daily life is like. Actually this is much much clearer than my daily life!

It was spectacularly beautiful.

This is us with the Dutch couple, Erik and Aileen that we adopted.

Village square in Xizhou:

I didn't hear that fires are common in these little villages, but I find it hard to believe with this wiring.

The morning market in Xizhou. It runs every day until about 11:30 -

98 percent of the dogs in Xizhou look just exactly like this.

We saw an awfully lot of dog pelts around too. I prefer not to think about it, but here's the proof:

This man is smoking a cigarette through a water pipe. We saw quite a few people doing this but I've never seen it in

One of our favorite things about staying at the Linden Centre was the inside experiences we got. The owners know the people in the community so we were invited in to peoples' attics and inside their courtyards to visit and see what they had, and how they lived. Of course they were eager to sell stuff and we could have furnished three houses with the things we saw!
In the end we bought a few art pieces. This horse and rider stands about two feet high. See the panel in the rider's back? Apparently the

artist placed a
bug inside the
rider to bring
him to life. We
are trying to
resist the urge to
crack it open to
find out, but I
guess it would
just be a dried up nothing by

We also bought this wood panel about 2.5 feet high by 14 inches wide. Behind it are ancient burial pots. We bought two sets of lions, one

made of black pottery and the other carved of wood. Also a stone buddha (fat version) and another carved wooden figure about 10 inches tall. We hope to buy a table from Mr. Du's (man from the village) attic but we are awaiting pricing on the shipping costs.

Eric and me with Mr. Du and a box full of treasures:

The houses we visited were very primitive. Here is a typical bedroom:

Again, there is
no heat in these places so it is fairly grim. I guess they don't read in bed! There is a paradox here - their art and clothing is so colorful, but they really don't value the beautification of their property.

One day we visited another nearby village and climbed up a steep hill to a temple. The temples here are often a mixture of Dao/Taoist, Buddhist, and local (human) hero worship. Here we are climbing up the hill.

At the top we were greeted by these welcoming guys:

But inside we saw these amazing locals. They just hang out in the temple all day playing mahjong, smoking, and talking.

Eric got these shots - he asked permission first and the men all liked the fact that he then showed them the pictures right away on the digital camera.

The man below was blind. It is perfectly normal for kids to spend all day every day with their grandparents while the parents work.

A friendly game of

This picture was taken in an upstairs room of a fancier house we visited.

This is all of us in front of the temple with Jeanee (owner of the Linden Center) and Frank, a staff member.

Ivy is sitting at a mahjong table. We all learned how to play mahjong on this trip and now we are the proud owner of a mahjong set (purchased in Beijing since it weighs 80 pounds!) and we are all addicted and have instituted Friday night Mahjong tournaments.

This lady is one of the oldest women in the village and she is still weaving daily. We were lucky that she was not napping when we visited and I bought the black and white fabric on the left.

This village is also known for it's tie-dying. Here is a huge vat of indigo coloring. It's the traditional color, but they now do lots of other colors too. The girls chose a purple one for their room and a tan one and green one for ME!

This is what the raw cloth looks like when it's all tied up. They tie them in different ways to create the various patterns.

Xizhou village has their fair share of power outages. Every Saturday at 7:00pm the Lindens host the neighborhood kids and their parents for "English Corner". We got to attend one session by candlelight!

The blonde woman is the teacher, Martha. She is staying with the Lindens and home schooling their boys.

Another day with a power outage the kids played Twister in the "meditation" room. It wasn't as zen as it probably should have been, but the owner was involved, so I guess it was okay.

Christmas Eve day started out being invited to attend a wedding! Frank (staff at the Linden Centre)'s cousin was getting married! We went along and saw the spectacle that is a Bai wedding. On the walk to the wedding street, Frank taught them a little Kung Fu...

Here's maybe 1/10th of the rice served!

View from the upstairs deck of the bride's house. Each of the spaces between the buildings was packed with tables where people sat and ate the wedding feast. People were not all together in one place, just ate wherever they could find a place for a table. We never saw the bride or groom. Here is what a typical table looked like:

Two little boys playing with orange juice bottles (and painting fingernails?) while waiting for the wedding...

Myself and other wedding guests making our own fun while awaiting the wedding.

As I mentioned, the wedding never actually materialized while we were there for 3 hours. We finally snuck out and made our way back to the Linden Centre.

The rest of Christmas eve day was spent making cookies and snowflakes at the Linden Center and just relaxing.

But Christmas Eve night was SOMETHING ELSE! In the old town of Dali there is a tradition for Christmas Eve. For eight years, they have held a "snow fight"! People come from miles around to pack the old cobbled streets and they buy canned "snow" in various colors and then attack each other for hours.

Here is the gang looking fierce and ready to go. Eric, Martha, and I stayed relatively safe in The Tower Cafe having a drink and chatting with the owner.

Ivy won the award for "most aggressive". Here was her reward:

Christmas Day the girls opened some of their presents in the hotel room. Does Greta look happy with her Ipod Touch?

Ivy got a remote control helicopter!

We shared Christmas dinner with the Lindens and all the other guests. We had Swedish meatballs, ham, sweet potatoes, soup, salad, mashed potatoes, ... apple crisp for dessert. It was delicious and a really special Christmas even though we couldn't get back to Seattle.

The next day was Ivy's 11th birthday! We were leaving Xizhou that day so everyone gathered at breakfast and sang happy birthday and gave Ivy a plaid rabbit...


Well, that's the first half of our two week vacation. The second half wasn't quite so amazing, so that blog entry shouldn't take quite as long. We miss you all and wish everyone a happy new year!