Friday, April 19, 2013

From the Jade Green Mountains

From the Jade Green Mountains

Ni hao

And so to China. The highlight of my trip. And deservedly so. It was so difficult to get there. Organising a visa from a third country. Very high cost. And the visit to the UK embassy for special letter of approval. (In New Delhi). 15 miles away from my south Delhi hotel. The letter I had to write to the Chinese embassy detailing every moment of my trip; am and pm.The 90 minute shakedown at Kunming airport at 5 in the morning before I gained entry. Shaven head, Caterpillar boots, army jacket. All their underemployed resources for the red-eye flight--devoted to Rob Roy.
Still worth it.
To see the place. How friendly the people can be when they are not being shy. Boy do I recognise shyness. To see the level of construction going on. The organisation. The speed of execution. In the first few days being staggered by the cleanliness. The beauty of some of the locations. The size and scale of the streets. The control of Beijing. High levels of happiness. Relatively low levels of poverty. Of course many don't have much money.  No shanty towns that I saw. Not the Garden of Eden either but not the country to be feared as portrayed by the West. Residue of Yellow Peril and all that. Just one look at the advertising, the proliferation of western multinational and Chinese western-style commerce tells it is so much direction China is going in.

Ding from Shanghai

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Dali, Western Yunnan
Dali lies at the foot of the Jade Green Mountains. They are indeed green and rise up to 4200 metres. On their other side lies eastern Burma. Dali is a heritage town.

The Three Pagodas
There are a few Europeans here. They pay ten times what the locals pay for their coffee, breakfast, and Chinese food. The centre of Dali, an old, reconstructed regional capital is close to ruination. The heavy tourism. Shops, tour guides, coach parties. But even on the edges the city is typically Chinese. There are 110000 people here.

Selling grapes. Or not.

Still Life by Magritte: Jade Green Mountains, 3 cans paint, ceramic roof frog

Long walks take you out of town. I met this guy from Shanghai and he bounded down from the road into a field at some personal risk and ran up to workers with straw hats and wicker baskets slung over their shoulders. They told him they were picking farmed mini-roses for use in special cakes. There were fields of the stuff. He picked some and we ate them. Pretty nice and the aroma … just lovely. I took some back. Put it in my green tea.
Picking edible roses
I have found a fantastic hotel. My room is really an apartment with views over the lake Erhai Hu and in the back to the Jade Green Mountains, Mt. Cangshan, towards Lotus Peak.

Cangshan is renowned for its four images of nature. Wind, flowers, snow and moon. I felt the cold wind this morning. Azalea flowers grow here in abundance. The snows melt, irrigate the land, flow down into the 40km long Erhai Hu. As for the moon. It reflects off the snow on a moonlight night giving the impression of being in a crystal world but it is too warm now for snow.

Young Azaleas (I think).

All of the handsome plants now garnering well-to-do gardens in South-west London. Camellias, azaleas, rhdodendrons emanated from Yunnan in south West China. Three quarters of the worlds azalea species come from this region. And along with bougainvilea are everywhere.
Four trees, Erhai Hu.

Sunrise over Erhai Hu. 

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**By the way all landscape photographs are taken by me. Send any complaints

Cangshan stone, a white marble with black ripples through it, is quarried here and brought down in huge chunks. There are many stone workshops in the north of the city. Stone is sculpted, cut, inscribed (with handsome ideograms) and polished. On Wenshan Lu where I am staying are a hundred carpenters. Making tables with their wives and children, tables, cabinets, chairs. All from local hardwood. The sound of chisels, electric planers and saws. I buy noodles from a sweet lady. Watch it all happen around me.

Village doorway, Sanwenbicun.


Back to the fields after lunch.

Old friends. Ruddy Shell Ducks. Know these from Regents Park but nice to see them at home.
They make a lovely honking sound.

Spring onions.
There are so many crops here, so beautifully planted. Meticulously planted. I watched a woman pulling the tiniest weeds one at a time, with her fingertips. I saw mustard, broad beans, potatoes, roses, cabbages, bok choi, lettuce being grown.

Just had a supper of sesame fried pork and river snails with rice. The snails were extremely salty which was a shame. I had to have a translator when I ordered this however. A friendly fellow called Le Ming did the honours. He was assisted by a young woman, Quan Jie, who was clearly not from these parts. Urban sophistication clung to her. It turns out she was from Chengdu, a city of over 7 million people. She had a very pale face and was power-dressed in a dark corporate style dress with a red breast panel, which is not to say she didn’t look good. She did. With black shark’s eyes and this porcelain skin. The eyes may have been accentuated with contact lenses. They were piercing. She definitely made an impression.

At the restaurant there was no shortage of curiosity. And all the staff ended up sitting at the table opposite watching me eat. A roadside table with local people and Chinese tourists passing. Really fun if not a little tiring.

Yesterday involved a 45 km bike ride around part of the lake. That’s quite tough on a mountain bike. The lake is really quite beautiful. The hills on the other side look quite arid. Quan Jie said that it hasn’t rained here in Dali for over four months.

As a consequence of yesterdays ride today was low key, booking a sleeper, reading, taking a really boring walk towards the mountains but not reaching them, withdrawing Yuan to pay for the hotel for one more week.

The market here is more interesting than anything that I’ve ever seen. When I stared at something hoping it was cheese the guy sliced a piece off for me. Like a slice of custard. Didn’t know what to make of it. And the pork scratchings here are bigger than anything I’ve seen. And they serve them with something akin to maple syrup. Like an ice cream cone. Luckily for my stomach I rarely eat them anymore.

River snails.
The Chinese have been eating these for thousands of years. They like to cook them in a stew with chicken or stuff them with pork. They are rich and somewhat chewy but I’m sure they are full of protein.

You cannot use social media here. Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Google’s blog facilities are all disabled. BBC stories on China don’t seem to work either. You will only be reading this because I have left the country. There is no Western programming on any of the 200 digital channels. It is all Chinese broadcasting.

Burning Incense at Dali Garden Temple.

Prayer Flags at Dali Garden Temple

Working on creamy vanilla and chocolate Cangshan Stone from the Jade Green mountains

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