China Diary:
Spring Festival

[Returning to Shanghai] [Spring Festival] [Chinese New Year] [Fulbright Mid-Year Conference] [Back to School] [Back Online] [Into the Heartland] [Ancient Capitals] [Judeo-Christian Holidays] [From Albany to Zurich] [Yellow Mountain] [Loose Ends] [Hello, Debbie ... Goodbye, Debbie] [Southern Capital] [Tropical Tour] [Unwinding] [Farewell Banquets] [Winding Down] [Good Bye, Shanghai]

Jan. 27: Kunming – On Wednesday, we fly to the capital of Yun (cloud) Nan (south), home of Horticultural Expo99 this coming spring, diverse ethnic groups (kinship to various peoples of Southeast Asia), and abundant plant life (folk medicine is big here). This province borders on Tibet, with mountains and clear blue skies. We visit the flower and bird market, pick up some souvenirs, and wend over to Cuihu Park for dinner at the Laozhiqing ethnic restaurant.

Jan. 28: Stone (Shi) Forest (Lin) – The tour bus stops at jewelry and jade gift stores (apparently there’s a bounty on each head wandering into the stores), and Debbie gets her jade horse pendant. We stop for lunch on the way, wander through the grounds, and end up at the tea house where we get a demonstration on the variety of blends. On the way back we stop at a sanatorium for a lecture on folk medicine and get a free check-up, but I pass on the prescribed remedy. Back in Kunming, Debbie fills up on a burger and fries while I tie myself over with fried goat cheese and fried bananas. We have time to check out the West Pagoda before getting a real local dinner at the Yunnan Across-the-Bridge Noodle Restaurant.

Jan. 29: Lake Dian – We take the morning mini-bus to Haigeng Park on the lake, Yunnan’s nationalities village. After lunch and seeing the different mock villages, we take the cable car across the lake and climb the Western Hills up to Dragon Gate. A mini-bus returns us to Kunming, and we take a taxi to Daguan Park and the local Buddhist temple. Debbie loads up on pizza for dinner, and we make it in time for our next flight. We arrive in Xishuangbanna late, take a mini-bus to the Banna Hotel, and negotiate a three-night rate.

Jan. 30: Sancha He Wildlife Reserve – Another mini-bus, this time crossing the Mekong River out of town and heading north for two hours on hair-pin turns through forested hills and ethnic villages. We enter the home of China’s wild elephants, and we vainly search in the hot and steamy jungle. On the way out I purchase Russian binoculars made in Vietnam.

Jan. 31: Jinghong – We do some laundry, then rent bikes in this capital of Banna. We get a western breakfast then ride south to Wat Manting, the biggest Buddhist monastery in Banna. Next door is Chunhuan Park with a zoo, peacocks, ethnic dancers, and water splashing as well as BBQ munchies and beer for $1.25. We ride through the Monloh Hon Village and onto a dusty dirt road in the countryside. It is hot! so we stop for fruit and cold beer to bring back to our hotel room. After cooling down, we bike north and get some souvenirs at the Burmese jade market, then cross the bridge over the Mekong River.

Feb. 1-2: Sleeper Bus – We leave Monday after lunch for what turns out to be a 34-hour ride. We take the top rear beds, and a couple of kids later join us. We buy them dinner at our stop, where I inspect the badly balding tires and the ancient outhouse. But the scenery is great, with mountains, rivers, farms, and villages. The day is hot and dusty but it is cool at night. We finally arrive Tuesday just before midnight and check into a hotel (after negotiating price, of course) and do our laundry, shave, and shower.

Feb. 3: Hello, Dali! – We rent bikes in this lakeside town, then get a western breakfast. We walk the north gate, then head out to the three pagodas and some souvenir shopping. We bike to the shore of Er (ear) Hai (sea) Lake, and to an ethnic village where we go into some stranger’s home for tea and mug shots. Being tired, we hitch a ride part way back to Dali on the back of a three-wheel tiny truck and bike to the south gate which we walk. We do more laundry then check messages at the Internet cafes.

Feb. 4-5: Lijiang – We pick up fried rice and noodles for breakfast to bring on the mini-bus with us. The drive is in a valley between mountain ranges which remind me of the Colorado Rockies: tall, long, and brown. Instead of wild grass there are crops. Climbing, there are stands of scrub pine. Four hours later we arrive in the capital of the old Naxi kingdom. We check into the First Bend Inn, named because the upper Yangzi makes an abrupt about face a few miles from here. We try cashing a check only to find a major American Express screw-up. More laundry, then shop in the old town. The next day we sleep late and manage to get some money. We walk to Mao Square and see his statue, then cab it back for some photos in the old town and another cab ride to the Black Dragon Pool Park, also known as Jade Spring. Debbie goes off to purchase some supplies for our upcoming trek tomorrow.

Feb. 6: Tiger Leaping Gorge – The upper reaches of the Yangzi cuts sixteen kilometers through these mountains to form one of the highest gorges in the world at 4,000 meters above sea level and the world’s deepest canyon at 2,500 meters. So, we rise at 6 a.m. to walk to the bus station and take a three-hour ride to Qiaotou. We intend to hike in and stay the night. We make it up the mountains for a great view, but four hours later, thoroughly lost, we scramble down the sleep vertical slope to the road below and head a few more kilometers before deciding to hitch a ride back to town. So, instead of enjoying a cold one in the middle of nowhere, I am back on a bumpy mini-bus only this time it is already crowded so I stand the entire way. We return late to the same hotel; luckily, there is room at the inn.

Feb. 7-8: Chengdu – Sunday, without any reservations, we chance an early rise and head for the airport to get the 8:50 flight to Kunming where we began. There we learn the next available flight to Chengdu is not until late afternoon. We cab to Kunming University and hang around to read. For lunch we go to Dico’s, a chicken chain by Cuihu Park. After lunch we enter the park and read some more. We go back to the airport for a very bumpy flight. Chengdu is the capital of Si (four) Chuan (rivers), the most populous but perhaps most fertile province with its abundant flora. We take the bus to downtown Chengdu, where we roam around fending off various pushy hustlers who mob us, eventually treating ourselves to a decent hotel. The flush toilet and tub make the price worthwhile. It is evening but it’s been a long day so I nap. Late, we head out and get a pedi-cab to take us to the famous Chengdu Restaurant but she takes us to the famous Chengdu Hotel instead; by the time we find it, it’s closed anyway. We wander the street markets until we stumble onto an outside hotpot restaurant. At Beer City, we negotiate a two-fer entry price. Half a dozen guys at the next table have been taking advantage of the unlimited free beer and keep coming over. After a couple of entertainers, the dance floor opens up. Monday morning, James – a senior at the local tourism high school – meets us to show us around. The poet Du Fu is considered China’s Shakespeare so we visit the thatched cottage where he lived and worked. From there we walk through the street market to a trolley car which takes us along the river until it scrapes a cab. We get out and walk a bit then take a cab to the Chengdu Restaurant (again!) to sample the local hot cuisine. We take a cab to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base and stroll around a bit watching the playing pandas. A pedi-cab takes us to the zoo where we get a cab to Renmin Park. After some strolling, we stop at the teahouse by the lake which is the oldest in Chengdu. We walk back to the hotel and Debbie gets a takeout at Dico’s while I nap. A couple of hours later we reverse roles, so I wander to a local pub for a cheeseburger and brew and briefly check my e-mail.

Feb. 9: Grand Buddha of Leshan – The tour bus gets us before the appointed 8 a.m. and then picks up some other passengers. A half hour later we are on the road for the four-hour drive (including a stop at a gift shop) along the Min River. We stop for an extremely mediocre lunch. Legend has it a Buddhist monk wanted to build the world’s biggest Buddha (which Dafu is at 71 meters) to protect the local fishermen at the confluence of three rivers. He began in 713 a.d. and it took three generations (70 years) to complete. It worked because all the stone that fell in the river below filled the tidal pool. We stop at a traditional pharmacy on the way to our hotel in Emei. After dinner, Debbie and I get a brew.

Feb. 10: Mt. Emei – These mountains are named "Eyebrows of Beauty" after two of its three peaks. We rise at 4 a.m. (ouch!) to see the sun rise at the top of the 4,000 meter-high peak which is one of China’s four sacred Buddhist mountains and called "the most beautiful mountain under heaven." The entire trail is over sixty kilometers so we cheat by taking the mini-bus before sunrise. We walk twenty minutes in the dark, slipping and sliding on the icy stone walkway to the cable car which takes us to the "Golden Summit" where Debbie meets some golden monkeys. After heading back down, we visit Baoguo Temple and are back to the hotel for lunch. The tourbus takes us three hours and drops us on the highway in front of a pedi-cab who brings us to the airport a couple of hours early for the flight back to Shanghai. We have time for burgers and brew. Unfortunately, the flight is delayed a couple of hours (this is China!) so we get home after the front gate locks. Seems like old times – Welcome home!

[Returning to Shanghai] [Spring Festival] [Chinese New Year] [Fulbright Mid-Year Conference] [Back to School] [Back Online] [Into the Heartland] [Ancient Capitals] [Judeo-Christian Holidays] [From Albany to Zurich] [Yellow Mountain] [Loose Ends] [Hello, Debbie ... Goodbye, Debbie] [Southern Capital] [Tropical Tour] [Unwinding] [Farewell Banquets] [Winding Down] [Good Bye, Shanghai]


Copyright 1999 Paul Miesing. All rights reserved. Please do not use without permission unless in the People’s Republic of China which does not enforce intellectual property rights. Revised on January 17, 2001.