Sunday, July 29, 2012

Drive Back to UB -- 7/29

Road closed for repairs, no temporary road provided -- DIY
Today reminded us that our travel company's middle name is 'Adventure', tho this was not quite the adventure we signed up for. We had a long drive planned to get back to the capitol and prep for our next camp. On the way, we were scheduled to visit a national park and look for horses. We set out early and encountered two roadblocks right away....a pile of dirt spread across the road and the opportunity to create your own path around it....remember, we are on full-sized bus. The first one was no problem, but the drop off on the second was kind of steep, so we all got off the bus and walked around the blockade while the bus leaned precariously down the embankment and made it back to the road safely.

So here are the guys pushing, like it could help move a 9 ton bus...
Several hours later (about 30-45 min late due to bad roads), we turned off the main road to go to Khustai National Park, home to most of the re-introduced Prezwalski's horses in the world. They went extinct in the wild around 1969, and zoo programs brought them back. The 13km dirt road soon became sand and the bus got stuck. Seriously stuck. We all got off again and helped scavenge wood to throw under the stuck left rear wheel. Two buses came by..the first blew by, but the second smaller one stopped and called his bigger partner back. Soon there were 3 bus loads of people watching, and taking goofy pictures of someone pulling on the tow rope that appeared.

Three times the big bus tried to pull us out with all the men in back pushing and only succeeded in breaking the rope and digging in deeper. We were invited onto the other buses with Korean youth who had been planting trees in Mongolia for the last week. Jim and I ended up on different buses, so I had quite a long discussion with the young men next to me, who wanted to practice their English. One of them gave me a Korean name (sounded sort of like groom) that means cloud and said we should be facebook friends.
Prezwalski's horses on a distant ridge -- 18X lens helped a lot.
At the park, we had lunch and went on our tour. We apparently saw two horses on top of a hill 5 miles away and Jim said he saw a red deer a couple miles in the other direction. (The horses DID show up in my photo, but I couldn't see them.) We did see 3 marmots, but they were all too fast to photo.

At 4 we were done, and Billy commandeered a minivan to take him back to the bus. By 6, we were getting worried...we were still 2-3 hours from the hotel, and if the bus didn't get unstuck, we would need a replacement to come from UB....on a Sunday evening. Just as the worry factor was getting bad, Billy reappeared to say the bus was unstuck and we were finally on our way again.

He and the minivan driver had had quite an adventure looking for farm tractors willing to help and truly driving cross country. The farmer who pulled out the bus wanted about $95 to help, but the minivan driver didn't ask for anything. We are glad to be back in a bed of more American softness, and repacked everything for our flight to Khovsgol Lake tomorrow to meet their more severe weight limitations.

At Monkh Tenger --7/28

The hills we hiked up with our camp in the foreground.
Ovoo at the top and a clue to what we walked down
Today, there was an optional museum trip that Jim and I skipped in favor of hiking up the nearby hills. Our first idea was to try to get to the wooded area on our left, but unfortunately, a river blocked our path and the only visible bridge was to the right. So instead, we crossed the bridge and hiked to a ridge line with 3 high points and 2 informal monuments. It was pretty steep in spots, but grassy, easy terrain.  The way down was more challenging.... rockier, steeper, and less clear which way would work. A couple times we headed off in directions that I thought were dead ends, but Jim always found a way to continue. Round trip, it was about 2 hours and I got in  the 10,000 steps I try to walk each day very early.
I spent  the rest of the day relaxing for me, and Jim caught up with email on the camp's computer. 

At 6  pm we had an archery contest, men vs women. Everyone got two shots in each of 2 rounds. There were people on both teams who had  never picked up a bow before. The women had a slight advantage with a closer target, but a weaker bow. Women won 4 to nothing.....I hit the target once, but the woman who did best was a total newbie. If close had counted for the men, Jim would have scored. Too bad I didn't bring the camera to the contest!

To keep the bugs out of our ger at night, they covered up the central hole. Since gers have no windows, this makes it REALLY dark inside. It was a good thing we brought our headlamps. The overhead light in our ger was broken and the table lamp plug wanted to fall out a lot. We DID enjoy the double bed, tho it would have been better if there were more of a mattress on the solid wood platform.

Travel to Monkh Tenger Camp -7/27

At breakfast, we discovered that some of our compatriots had had a trying night-- at least 3 gers got so full of small beetles that the occupants abandoned them. Two folks slept in the bus and the guide ended up locking himself in and honked the horn to get someone's attention. Amazingly, since our ger was closest to the bus, Jim (Mr. wonderful hearing guy) heard nothing. We saw a couple bugs, but nothing scary.

Ovoo where we suggested to the gods that we had seen enough bugs.
The road west was a challenge to drive... heavily rutted, so the driver was swerving to avoid the worst ones and sometimes stopping suddenly. I was glad to be back far enough in the bus not to see the details. We stopped along the road at one place with a big pile of stones and a lot of prayer flags. We each added 3 stones to the pile and walked around it 3 times to be granted 3 wishes... a primary wish was for no more bugs.

Turtle Rock
Our first official stop was Erdene-Zuu Monastery, the first monastery in Mongolia, founded in 1586, which is now  a world heritage site. Altho much of it was destroyed by the Russians during the 1937 purge, many of the artifacts were hidden and someone convinced the military to save 3 of the 100 temples to preserve the heritage. We visited those three temples, dedicated to 3 stages of Buddha's life. I am starting to find temples relatively dull, so I was happy enough to be done. Then we walked to Turtle Rock, which marked one edge of the old capitol (from the 1200's ). I found a couple pair of silver earrings at one of the vendors set up there. Like I need more!! (I am now up to 150 pair...)

At our new ger camp, we scored a tent with a double bed (twins are standard) AND a sofa. Our next stop was the local market, kind of depressing. Most of the shops are semi trailers or shipping containers. We were challenged to find and buy 2 items for 500 T (37 cents) which Billy named for us but didn't spell, so our interpretations were all over. Everyone was teamed up and got matches and something else...we had cigarettes, others had toothpicks, and a onion. We all missed cream. Our pronunciation was so wretched that the locals were mystified. In honor of losing, Jim and I got an ice cream bar.

A double bed ger!
Our last official stop for the day was a monument to the various Mongolian empires. Since this was at the top of a hill with our camp in sight, we decided to walk back. Had there not been a 10-foot wide canal we had to detour to a bridge to cross, we would have beaten the bus.
After dinner, a local musical group gave us a performance.  There were 4 musicians, a singer, and a contortionist. They played a number of Mongolian tunes. The first song that featured the vocalist was a little too much of the Chinese style for my taste (loud, high, screechy), but the second showed that she had a very lovely voice. Two of the men were throat singers, who played horse fiddles, one of which was a bass version. There was also a Chinese - style harp. The best part of the show was the contortionist, a 15 yr old who always wore a lovely smile as she twisted herself like a pretzel.

Hoyer Zagal Camp- 7/26

Jim on the hill we hiked up
Breakfast was late today (8am ) and we had until 10 before our first official adventure, so we hiked toward the hill behind the camp. I wish we had started earlier and gotten to the top, but we did get to the rock outcroppings and had a great view of the valley below. The bus took us off to a nomad camp about 4 miles away. The parents, two sons, and several grandchildren share 5 gers. We met some of the family, tried the local brew (fermented horse milk-- very thin and slightly beer-y), some dried yogurt slabs, and fried bread snacks. The bread was pretty good. Then the grandma brought in a large slab of dried yogurt and showed us how to cut it with a string to make smaller portions like the ones we were served...then it was our turn and after everyone had tried the technique with a string, we still had to finish the job.

The brown goat in the middle is faking -- she is not tied in the line.
Next was goat milking. Their methodology was a bit different from what we saw yesterday and several of the goats tried to dodge the lineup by slipping between their tied-up buddies, but the nomads were wise and went looking for them. A couple baby goats also dove into the mob in search of lunch and they were rooted out too. Towards the end of the tying process( maybe 30+ minutes for 140 goats), Jim and I spied a couple dodgers and dragged them by the horns into position. They were not happy!  They planted all four feet and resisted the whole way. Goat milking took over an hour and I was starting to melt as it got hotter. We watched mare milking... the mare's foal is brought over and starts to suckle,then is replaced by the milker. Horses give a LOT of milk and are milked 6  times a day.

Restored monastery building
When the milking was done, we got an ox cart ride and then helped make lunch...mutton dumplings. We were about as competent at that as yogurt cutting. Lunch was a wonderful vegetable broth followed by vegetable and mutton dumplings. Back at the camp we got a short break before going to a Buddhist temple destroyed by the Russians in 1934 (when they also killed 18,000+ monks) that has since been rebuilt. Imagine driving cross country in a full-sized bus. That's what we did. Most of the road are dirt tracks, and after yesterday's rain, were heavily rutted. At one point two rutted tracks vee-ed together and the bus backed up the hill off the tracks till he could cross and make his own trail. Definitely an E- ticket ride! The temple was small and we could see the ruins of the old one.
The trip back was faster because now the driver knew how to avoid the worst ruts. After dinner, we were treated to a performance by the camp manager who plays the two-stringed horse fiddle and does throat singing, a try unique experience. We ended the day by taking done and then re-constructing a   ger...definitely a 2-3 person job, but amazingly quick. Tomorrow we head to another camp further west.

Horse fiddle performance -- 30 second video too long for here.
After dinner, the camp manager gave us each a small glass of wine and on odd kind of dessert...sort of a vegetable samosa or pop-tart. He also wore a beautiful costume and performed with his horse fiddle doing a vocalization called throat singing. This is very hard to describe, but quite haunting. Since the horse fiddle is two-stringed like the Chinese erhu, I had expected a similar sound, but the box is bigger and the tones much lower. He had a CD! So we bought it and got it autographed. I also shot a short movie, which maybe we can post from home.

Explore UB, Drive to Ger Camp - 7/24 & 25

Tuesday, we visited a history museum and an art museum.  I think my favorite parts were seeing the arc of Chinggis (Genghis ) Khaan' s life and his sons after reading a couple novels about his early days along with the petroglyphs and the applique art. We also visited a large square dedicated to Sukhbaatar, the hero of the independence from Russia and China in 1921. Unfortunately for the Mongolians, the Russians had other ideas and they became a satellite state until 1990.
Jim in front of Parliament, with statues of Genghis Khan and two lieutenants.
We were dropped off at a large state department store (our primary toiletries went missing in a room mixup with the hotel-- just try to find a good spf 15+ moisturizer when everything is printed in Cyrillic and Chinese and no one speaks reasonable English and we are at the 'thank you' level of Mongolian!). We found critical things, then wandered. They had good prices on some cashmere and leather, but sizes ran small. They also had a large souvenir shop but nothing we wanted for sure.
The view from Zaisan Hill -- high rent condos mix with low rent gers.
Wednesday, we hopped on the bus to visit Zaisan hill, a war memorial with a great view, then set off due west for our first camp. The road started pretty smooth and four lanes because it was the way to a  big national festival we had just missed. After the festival turn-off, it dropped to 2 lanes and lots of ruts, so we swerved a bit to dodge the big ones.

Our first ger experience
Along the way, we got out to stretch our legs at a river where hundreds of horses were roaming. Later, we had a pit stop where there were 5-6 foot high dirt berms on each side of the road...ladies utilized one side, boys the other. I wasn't desperate enough to try.
At the camp, we were assigned a ger in the front row (=good view--- selected because of the number of trips we have made with this company  ). We no sooner got in and got our bags than it started to rain. Lightly at first, but pretty quickly it got serious. Most of the gers turned out to leak, and ours was no exception. Our guide stopped by as it started to let up to see if we were ok and the mop brigade followed along. Luckily, the beds were against the walls, which were the driest spots. It stopped in time for dinner, so we stayed pretty dry.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Into Mongolia

Today was mostly travel. We met the additional 7 people in our group who did not go to China and our Mongolian guide....a 19 yr old university student who spent 5 years in England as a teen with his family, so he speaks English very well, if very Englishly.
Billy -- short for Bilguun-Ochir -- our teenage tour leader
Flying in, I was struck by the beauty of the green, rolling hills and the sparsity of the population. There are about 3 million people here and about a third live in the capitol of Ulaanbaatar (revised, preferred spelling) which is commonly called UB. There are gers here, mostly on the outskirts of the city, and many had what looked like (from the air) stone walls surrounding them, so they have apparently given up nomadic ways. Our guide Billy (vs Billguun-Ochir) says the nomadic ways are dying. The primary wealth here is minerals and mining is big industry, but it remains to be seen if that will find its way to the masses. Probably not. With the example of China and the Soviets before them, political corruption is rampant.
We walked around the hotel and visited a grocery store....since almost all the text is in cyrillic, its as bad as being in China from the standpoint of being able to understand what we read.
We've had two meals so far...and as predicted, both were heavy on meat, potatoes, and ice cream and light on fruits and veggies. Tasty, tho. We also are finally able to access picasa and blogspot,so before we leave tomorrow am, I hope to upload some photos. We will only have internet connections here in UB, but electricity is provided at the ger camps, so at least I can keep the electronics running.

Travel Day -7/22

It is really easy to lose track of what day of the week it is. We can hardly believe it is already Sunday...having our tablet and smartphone still on San Francisco time doesn't help!
Today we got up to leave the hotel by 5:45 am to fly to Kunming and on to Beijing. Tomorrow, we leave the Beijing hotel at 5:30 am to catch the plane to Mongolia for the main part of the adventure. Sometimes travel is not all glamour! The best part (sort of ) is that we got lots of exercise despite sitting on planes for 4-5 hrs... the Kunming Airport (brand new...opened in late June ) and Beijing Airport are both so huge and our gates so far from the center that we literally walked at least 4 miles today, hauling our carry-on bags too.
I am hoping that when we leave China, I will be able to sign on to picasa and upload photos and maybe even insert some into the blog. Once we get to Mongolia, we will only have internet access in the capitol and will be totally offline for 3-4 days at a time while we explore the countryside.

Lijiang - Naxi and Old Town, 7/21

Here's a photo instead. Apparently the video is too long...
We finally got a nice day with no rain...a good thing since Jim left his rain jacket in Dali and it didn't arrive here until 6 pm. The first event on the agenda was a presentation by a local Naxi shaman. The Naxi are one of the few Chinese minorities with their own writing system, using pictographs like the Egyptians did. Their written language is the last living pictographic system. He also demonstrated a dance done at the start of each ritual to ask the gods' attention. I videoed about 30 seconds and will try to post when I can get thru. China is apparently blocking online access to picasa and blogspot.

Next, we  walked thru the Old Town Market...another interesting place, tho a lot like other local markets.  New were fresh potato chips and mangosteen, a wonderful fruit we last saw in Thailand. From there we went to a museum of Naxi culture with a very good guide. Amazingly, they allowed photos. A lot of artifacts were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, but many were saved because they had been shipped out of the country before then.

Next door to the museum was the Black Dragon Pool, named for the many springs that feed it, the result of dragon activity below. Unfortunately, there has been a drought for 3 years and the pool was maybe 3-4 feet lower than normal, but still pretty. There are a number of pagodas on the grounds and good spots for photos of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.  The clouds cleared away at the end so we could get a glimpse of it.
Pagoda at Black Dragon Pool

Then it was back to Old Town for jade and tea shopping. I has hoped to find a slender jade bangle, but soon realized that my bone structure prevented any bracelet from sliding over my hand.  The clerks were more than happy to slick up my hand with lotion to force one on  and didn't really get why I might want to take it off. I got a dog (my zodiac ) pendant instead. Then we went tea tasting. I do this a lot for my Chinatown tours and was interested in seeing what they had to say. This province is home to pu-er teas, which are aged and usually compressed and can be drinkable for years...kind of like fine wines vs grape juice. They had a green form I had not seen before that was quite good. On our way to the tea shop, we walked past a temple that had been rebuilt, but only at 1/3 its original size to make more room for tourist facilities, I suppose. Still impressive in the smaller version.
Rebuilt Temple
 We finished our day preparing to depart for Mongolia by way of China, feeling that this short sidetrip in China was a good addition to our knowledge of Chinese culture and the natural beauty of the countryside. Our first China trip was more museum focused and this one got us closer to nature and some of the minority cultures that help make the country so interesting.

Lijiang - Baisha and Dr. Rock, 7/20

We spent about 4 hours driving mountain roads to get to Lijiang, a famous (mostly internal ) vacation spot, considered very romantic and justifiably so. The drive was a bit more exciting than anticipated with dense fog for over half an hour. We were in the front seats to help minimize my carsickness and got a much more detailed view of Chinese driving than we would have liked. I would think with all the passing we did on hills and blind curves and into oncoming traffic that there would be LOTS more accidents than there apparently are.

Before we got to our hotel, we drove to Baisha to see some several hundred -year- old frescoes that are famous despite being in iffy condition due to age and the Cultural Revolution.Then we drove up the mountain to the former home of Joseph Rock, an Austrian-American botanist who came here in the mid-1920's to find plants and got intrigued by the Naxi minority culture and writing system and became key to translating and documenting it. The botanical specimens, research, and artifacts that he shipped abroad before fleeing the communists in 1949 were all key to these things not being totally lost in the wars and Cultural Revolution. His rented home was in the style typical of the region, except this village is built of rock instead of adobe brick. It gives it a much more substantial look.
Courtyard of Joseph Rock's home

Back in Lijiang, we had to walk to our hotel in the old city because it is vehicle-free except for a limited number of service vehicles. Although it was badly damaged during an big earthquake in 1996, it was rebuilt in the old style,  on (mostly) the original street plan, apparently using many of the original materials since several wooden doors and decorative elements looked naturally aged. The place is totally a maze and the available street map was more decorative than useful. We learned one route into the main square and ventured out carefully from there. Fiona insisted we carry a business card from the hotel and her phone number so that people could help us find our way or call her if we were REALLY lost. The streets are all paved in rough stone and the look is truly charming. At the same time, it is treacherous!  There are canals in lots of places and open rock-lined pits alongside walkways and sometimes in the middle of them. We learned quickly to watch where we were walking instead of the cute shops. Luckily, when Jim stepped into one, he only shredded the zipoff portion of a pair of pants and scraped his leg, and did not break any bones, as I feared when I saw him fall.
The dark slits on either side of the middle pedestrians are the kind of hole Jim stepped into.
We were left to our own devices for a couple meals and found a local yak meat and noodle shop that served dishes that were seriously spicy. Actually, all of our meals here have had spicy dishes where there was really a bite, unlike our trip in 2005 when every spicy thing was toned down.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Kunming - 7/16

Today we drove to the Stone Forest, a large karst formation of rock pillars. Our guide (Fiona-- Bing Fen in Chinese) led us to an area far  from the crowds as found in other locations. We wandered up and down among the rocks and along a natural pool and it was all pretty spectacular. One of the Chinese minority groups, the Yi, are from this area and were found throughout the park, leading tours, selling handicrafts and performing in traditional dress. As we neared the end of our walk, we came upon a group of grandmothers (you can tell by the headdress) having lunch.  Fiona struck up a conversation and the next thing we knew, they were sharing their repast with us.
Lynn at the Stone Forest
The forecast had been for rain all week, and we were pleased that it was wrong...we got back to the bus just in time to stay dry for the ride back. Traffic in the city was awful because of aggressive subway construction, so it was dry again by the time we got to the markets.

Many of the old style buildings are being replaced (a blessing of sorts in the case of Mao-era apartments), but some were pretty nifty, tho in need of work. One dilapidated but interesting looking building housed an herbal pharmacy. It looked older than the ones in Chinatown, but otherwise was very much the same. 

The building on the right houses a pharmacy.
The market area looked like others we have seen, except it had a pet area...  puppies, bunnies, mice, hamsters, many birds.... all seemed familiar til we got to the dark brown squirrels,  chipmunks, eensy crabs, and snakes. We verified these were pets, not lunch, but were mystified by the big beetles. Fiona said they were put into bottles of alcohol to make a snake bite antidote.

Then we were off to walk around Green Lake, a beautiful park with lots of lotus, some of which were blooming.  We also encountered local music groups. After a leisurely amble, we went to dinner and a cultural performance featuring 8 of the 25 minorities in this province. The music was more tonal than most Chinese music, but repetitious.  The dances and drumming were very well done, but the highlight was a dancer of  exceptional grace who ended the show with a peacock dance. There was also a young girl, maybe 4-5 years old who totally stole the show when she was on.
The peacock dancer

Learning Curve

Sorry for the lack of posts. Figuring out how to blog with photos from the tablet has been a bit challenging, as has learning to use the onscreen keyboard. I try to catch my typos, but you may have to do some translation at times. I am going to upload the texts and add photos to picasa when I can figure it out.

The trip has been fun so far, the guide is really good, and I am enjoying getting re-immersed in the chinese language. Today we are off to Lijiang. More later!

Dali- Weishan Area,7/19

One courtyard of the large compound
We drove south a couple hours to a Muslim (Hui) minority area near Weishan. The mosque there had a distinctly Chinese look, like the Catholic Church we saw yesterday. We visited a compound with three generations of one family who happened to have twin sons, a fairly unusual situation, we were told. The owner had initially built one residence in the 1980's, along with courtyard wall, then added two more as needed. We also went to a pair of compounds formerly owned by two members of the same Muslim family who fled China during the Cultural Revolution. One compound was now shared by 2 families, the other was much larger (6 courtyards) and was a museum, at least partly. We were allowed to walk up to the upper levels, which in most Chinese homes are for storage, but here were used for visitors.

This shop was is in the village where we had lunch.
We went to lunch in a neighboring village with a quaint main street, which we explored afterwards. Some of the buildings looked like they were on their last legs.

Our next venture was to Weibo Mountain and a group of Daoist temples. These were a bit different than the ones I take tourists to in Chinatown. This largely because of the Yi minority influence.  Where we might see lions, one temple had tigers, worshipped by the Yi. The first temple was dedicated to 13 generations of Yi rulers, who had repelled Chinese rule, but were eventually conquered by Kublai Khan. There were frescoes here that had been stolen by the Japanese and China only got them back by paying for them. The interesting thing to me was learning that the reason Kwan Yin is male in India and female in China was because a female Tang dynasty emperor demanded the switch.

Kids mugging for the camera
Further on, the last temple we saw was overflowing with people... an entire village had come for 3 days to get help from the spirits for the next year. There were kids all over the place, women throwing big stacks of paper money into a fireplace, chanting and music in front of the altar, and a general air of celebration. We quickly became the newest attraction, especially among the kids who loved having their photos taken and seeing how they looked. Kids who held back jumped in eagerly for the second and third round. Even the elderly ladies got in on the game, once we coaxed them to pose. We were invited to join them for a meal later, but had to get back to the hotel.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Dali Bai Culture, 7/18

Today we focused on the Bai minority near Erhai Lake. Bai means white, so their costumes and houses are primarily white and most women wear the headdress daily. It represents the 'four views': wind, flower, snow, and moon. Like the Yi headdress, it also gives clues to a woman's marital status. Long tassels mean available and a boy can indicate interest by touching the tassel. If the girl likes him, all is well. If not, he must labor for the family for 3 years for free to atone. You would think this might inhibit the marriage rate! Like the Chinese, age is a good thing and an older woman indicates how old she is by wearing a darker headdress.
Making Chinese "pizza"
Our walk thru the Xizhou market was similar to others. We did see live roosters carried thru the streets, feet tied, upside down. It's not clear if they were dinner or alarm clocks. I bought a couple kinds of sugar, one similar to the palm sugar we got in Cambodia. Our local guide, 'Lisa', led us to an out of the way compound now housing 4 families, that was built in the 1300s. Some parts had bee  redone, but some of the original decorative carvings remained. We had an opportunity to make local pizza, both sweet and salty. Fortunately, I didn't get volunteered: it was a floury job. It looked pretty good except for all the lard involved, tho the lard flavor was only overwhelming on one small piece.

Maybe I should consider a job like this to control my weight...
Then we took a horse cart ride to the lake and from there, we had a boat ride to watch fishing with trained cormorants. The birds have rings on their necks to prevent swallowing large things and were fed treats when they caught a fish. They did not surrender the fish easily and had to be scooped out of the lake with a net. Most fishermen use nets, but the government encourages this to keep the culture alive. We got a chance to meet the birds up close before heading back. Our rower was an older woman who totally held her own. Looked like a great job to promote weight control.

Did I mention it rained today? Sometimes we were lucky and were inside or the rain stopped, sometimes not. I was not happy when it started up again while we were in the open rowboat, but it didn't last.

Our luncheon hostess
Catholic Church in Dali
After fishing, we went to lunch with a Bai family in Shacun village.  The food was wonderful, and we had a three course tea ceremony after. The three courses were bitter,then sweet, then sweet with spicy peppers, representing different stages of life.  Back in Dali, we walked thru the rain to visit a Catholic church. The outside was beautiful with under-eaves paintings that reminded me of Buddhist temples we have seen.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Drive to Dali, 7/17

We spent about 5 hours on a bus today, going to a traditional Bai minority city, Dali. We drove up through mountains and lots of tobacco farms, a major cash crop in the area. The Chinese government encourages the farmers to grow it at the same time they try to dissuade kids from using it. Kind of a challenge.
About an hour from Dali, we stopped at a village called Yunnanyi, which had a major role in WWII, as the home of one of the two Flying Tiger airports and the  only one to elude detection. Just off the freeway, we stopped near some farmers' homes who Fiona knew, and were invited into the courtyards of their homes. Two of the ladies had never seen foreigners and were excited to have their photos taken with us. We were charged with sending a copy to Fiona to take to them later.
Jim and Lynn with 2 Chinese ladies
We had lunch, then set out to explore.  Not only was this a WWII location,  it was also a hub of the Tea-Horse Road, another alternative to the Silk Road. The buildings in the main section of town are being rebuilt to recreate their traditional look.  We visited two museums, one on each topic, then went to the home of a man who had worked to support the American  troops during the war, starting at age 15 in a restaurant.  He must have been well-liked, because the soldiers offered to bring him to the US after the war, but he stayed to help his parents.
The WWII worker
One interesting aspect of our visit was the presence of a well-dressed youngish man who took a ton of photos of us! I guess turn-about is fair play.
Bathroom for VERY short people
Our hotel in Dali is obviously not designed for people our height -- Jim bangs his knees on the bathroom vanity. Other than that, the hotel and the old town area are quite charming.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

In China!

We had an uneventful flight to Beijing, then Kunming (the best kind...) aside from starting@  1:40AM and discovering our connection time in China had been cut by 45 minutes.  We were fine, but 2 of the other 7 on this part of the trip missed it and didn't get here til after midnight.
After 24 hrs of travel, all we wanted to do was sleep, but instead we had lunch,  unpacked, walked around the area and went to dinner....too many food opportunities. Clearly this area is less used to English speaking travelers and less familiar with a 'continental' breakfast, so we will have lots of adventures, even in the small things. Dim sum for breakfast anyone?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The 2012 Adventure

We're off on the first leg of our 2012 adventure, highlighted by a week in Yunnan Province, China and 2+ weeks in Mongolia, including 10 nights in tented camps (we would call them yurts, but Mongolians prefer their word, ger, to the Russian version) -- mostly without attached bathrooms. Should be interesting! We are leaving from LAX, so came down early for a few days with my Mom before and after the Big Trip. The day we fly home, my daughter Kristen and granddaughter Coryn are meeting us at the airport and joining us in Oceanside. The next day, my neice Carla flies in too -- poor Jim! the only man in a house of 5 women for several days! Wish him luck.

Spike Patterson, aka Dylan James. Age 30 minutes at the time of the photo.
By the way, we also have a new family member. On June 28, Erika and Jesse had a beautiful baby boy, Dylan James. (I think they should have called him 'Spike'after the great hair!) The only bad thing about the trip is missing most of his 1st 6 weeks.