A blog of our 3-week stay in Shanghai, China

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Sonja's TravelBlog

Sonja's TravelBlog

Friday morning we got up at a reasonable hour, and had breakfast in the Club Lounge again, as we had for quite a few days in the past weeks. The food was the same as before but after being out in Yunnan Province, it seemed much more appetizing! One thing that was new was the addition of sticky rice to the buffet. This was rather what it sounds like from the name - cooked rice that was sticky and stuck together in a ball shape. What the name does not tell you, however, is it is wrapped up in a large piece of banana leaf, cooked inside it and served that way. So it looks rather like a square burrito, only wrapped in leaf instead of tortilla. It proved to be a pretty popular item, as they disappeared quite rapidly when they were brought out. I didn't get any the first round or the second. I was watching, though, and when the third round came out, I snagged one. It was good, but not like any rice I'd ever eaten before. It was kind of sweet, and had a kind of veggie-flavor from being cooked in the leaf.

After breakfast, we headed down to the concierge desk and asked him to again write down directions to WalMart for us, as we had decided we needed a larger suitcase if we were going to get all our purchases home! But we first took a trip to the Xiang Yiang Fashion Mart, as Greg had not seen it yet. We had a few things to look for, such as jade necklaces for Samuel and Sean and a "Rolex" for Greg's brother-in-law. We walked around for awhile without buying anything, and once again were followed around by people trying to sell us belts, cd's, dvd's, video games, and watches. We were mostly trying to find the booths recommended on the list given to us by Greg's co-workers, as being more honest and reasonably priced. I stopped at a booth selling jade necklaces and got both boys Guanyin necklaces. The first price the lady asked was 300RMB each. I really did laugh at that, because these were very cheap jade, almost white with just a few pale green streaks, and she was asking as much for them as we paid for the much better quality jade of our own necklaces. In the end I bought two of them for 100RMB total. She really didn't seem happy to go that low, but I know she was still charging me more than she would a local. Our next purchase was one we hadn't planned on, but seemed useful. A tiny tabletop camera tripod. The vendor first wanted 200RMB, we haggled him down to 75RMB and bought it. We were starting to get better at this haggling thing, finally. But the most fun haggling story was for Chris's "Rolex." I'd seen one Greg's co-worker from Texas had bought for 150RMB or so, so I had an idea of what a Chinese person speaking Mandarin could get them for (the co-worker was Chinese but born in the US). We found the booth recommended and started looking at watches. The guy running the booth at first wanted some really outrageous amount, like 1000RMB or something. I told him no way, shaking my head. We proceeded to haggle for a few minutes, I was trying for 100RMB. After I wouldn't go any higher than 250RMB, he stopped talking to me and looked over at Greg and said "You know this is worth more, how much you give?" I laughed and said to Greg, "He doesn't like talking to me, huh?" The vendor laughed too and said, "No, you mean bargainer!" We all laughed at that, and he tried to talk us up some more, but we ended up getting the watch for 250RMB. I was rather proud of that. :)

By this time it was past lunch, and again we were leery of the food vendors in the market. So we decided to find some lunch somewhere then take a taxi to WalMart. We ended up getting a taxi without finding any food, because all the food places in the area were not very appealing. We thought we'd get food in what I thought I'd seen as a McDonald's in WalMart my first trip. However when we got there we couldn't find it! I know I'd seen signs for one again, as it had been by Carrefours, but we never found it. We decided to do our shopping and go back to the hotel for food as soon as possible. We walked around a bit and Greg got to see the live fish for sale, as well as all the meats out in the open. We looked at the produce and then went upstairs to look for luggage. We ended up back in the New Years decoration section, where we picked out a few more things to bring home. We then picked out four red silk-like pillow/cushion-type things. I'd seen them on my first trip and liked them. We took a while deciding which luggage to get, but finally picked out a large rolling bag that was the same size as the largest bag we'd brought with us. We looked around a bit more, and came to the jackets section. The jacket I'd tried to buy on my first trip was back on the shelf! And not only did it have a price tag this time, it had been marked down from 150RMB to 95RMB! That was a no-brainer, I put it in our cart. We looked at clothes a bit more, and I got a couple more tshirts for the boys that were kind of cute. We found a cape and hat set for Greg's niece, like I'd noticed my first trip, and got it. We knew we couldn't give her an extra gift without getting one for her big brother as well, so we found him a pants and jacket set in red silk. We were trying to spend most of our Chinese money we had left, as we would only be able to exchange half of it for American money on the way home. We got in line to pay for our purchases, with a cart loaded to the top then stacked on top of that some more. When all our purchases were checked out, we had a total of 1100RMB. We had about 1400RMB left on us so that made a nice dent in the cash. There were a little girl and probably her grandma behind us in line, who were watching the checkout process in amazement. When the cashier told us the total, the little girl said "Ooooh." The grandma just watched with her eyes wide. When I pulled out the cash to pay their eyes got even wider. I realized that they were watching me spend the equivalent of a month's salary at a good-paying job in Shanghai in one fell swoop. It felt quite odd.

We took our bags and the suitcase outside, then put as much of what we had bought inside the suitcase. We flagged down a taxi and headed back to the hotel to start the process of packing up for the trip home.

Wow, it's been awhile...




Wow, I've been really bad about coming back here to finish the stories. There're two more days in Shanghai plus the trip home to Durham to still write about. Most of the interesting stuff on the trip had already happened by then, the rest is mostly anti-climactic (sp?) but I do need to finish it... I shouldn't have waited so long, because now I'm sure there's a lot I've forgotten. I was just now trying to remember what we did on Thursday, the day after returning to Shanghai from Lijiang, and right now I can't remember. I *think* we did pretty much nothing but sleep very late, talk to family online, and maybe play a bit of WoW. We might have started to get our remaining unpacked things somewhat organized as well. I do think we walked over to the Indian restaurant for supper again, Thursday night. And I'm sure I tried to get some pictures out the hotel room window of some of the fireworks set off in the streets that night. If I remember anything else from that day I'll edit this post later and add it in. For now, I'll start another new post and tell about Friday, which was a bit of an adventure.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Last day in Lijiang

I realize I forgot to tell about our purchases in Old Town Tuesday night. I bought a black cotton jacket with dragons embroidered down the front in gold thread at one shop, for 25rmb. I also got t-shirts for Samuel and Sean, at another shop. The t-shirts for sale there weren't screenprinted, they were hand-painted so each one was slightly different. The ones I chose for the boys were freeform designs loosely based on the Naxi pictograph writing, which the guide had told us was the only remaining pictograph written language still in use in the world today. We bought a few gifts for friends and family back home, and some paintings similar to the one Greg had liked in the restaurant/shop in Dali.

Wednesday morning it was up again early to pack and have one last trip to Old Town. We got packed up and again, the bellboy showed up earlier than scheduled for our bags. We were almost finished when he came though so we finished up and let him take them down to the van. We went again to the first floor restaurant for breakfast, which was much the same as the morning before. I was looking forward to coffee to get woke up and going, but this time it wasn't to be. Once again we ran into the cheap attitude of the hotel, because all the lights were off in the restaurant. And when I went to pour my coffee, a Chinese lady ahead of me started to pour some in her cup and said something and put it down, not sounding happy. I realized the coffee pots were cold, and so was the coffee. She said something to one of the staff nearby, and I put my hand over the burner and it too was cold. I checked that it was plugged in, and it was. I turned the knob up but it didn't warm up. One of the staff turned the lights on then, and the burner started warming up. I took my food to our table, and told Greg what I'd seen. He wasn't surprized. He then happened to see one of the staff go to the coffee pots, pour the contents of one into the other, and take the empty pot away. Silly me thought this meant we'd get some fresh, hot coffee soon. Nope. Not only did no hot coffee arrive, but as soon as she got back from taking the empty pot away, she turned the lights back off so even the coffee that was there had no chance to get warm. Such a cheap, stingy place to be more concerned about the electric bill than the comfort of our guests. Should we ever go back to Lijiang there's no way we'll stay there again, nor recommend it. More like, warn people away from it. No, I'm not going to publish the name of it here, but should anyone be going there, just ask. ;)

By this time we had seen all of Old Time, multiple times, but back we went again. We did make a few more purchases, such as some carved wooden fan-shaped decorations for family and one for us, and some painted Chinese zodiac signs, a rooster for me and a tiger for Greg. Then it was time to head back to the van and go to the airport to return to Shanghai. As we got back in the van, the guide asked if we would mind if another guide rode along with us. She said she needed to meet her guests but the van had already left for the airport. We said sure, we didn't mind. So a young Chinese lady met us at the van and rode along. We got to Lijiang airport in plenty of time to catch our flight. The guide asked us to fill out a questionaire on how well the tour was for us. (Will in Dali had had us do the same). We rated the hotel as low as we could and complained about the lack of heat. The guide got medium rating, the driver got an excellent rating as he was very good, polite, and a safe driver. We also gave the guide and driver 200rmb each as tips. I told the driver in my poor Mandarin "Thank you, you did a good job."

Then we checked our baggage and headed through security. There was no line, and we were through and seated waiting for our plane in ten minutes or less. I walked around looking at some of the things for sale, since I had a better idea than when we came in of what I was looking at. I didn't buy anything though. Our plane ended up being delayed by almost 2 hours so we got a later start than planned. The flights back to Shanghai, with a stop again in Chunming to get off the plane and back in, was pretty much uneventful. The only thing worth mentioning was, once we were in the Chunming airport, I realized I had left my sweatshirt from the circus on the plane. I went to one of the desks to try to ask what to do about it, but neither of the girls there spoke any English. I didn't want the airplane staff to leave my sweater at the Chunming airport lost and found, for me to never see again though. So I went over to one of the security guards who was at the door we'd come in upon arrival. He didn't speak any English either, and I was about ready to go try someone else when a Chinese girl standing at the door waiting said to me in English "What are you looking for?" I don't think I'd been that happy to hear my native tongue our entire trip! I told her I'd left my sweater on the plane and wanted to see if I could get it. She translated to the guard and he waved me to follow him. I was so glad to have the chance to get my sweatshirt back I almost forgot to thank the girl, but as we walked back down the tunnel I glanced back and remembered and waved to her and said "Thank you!" Sure enough, the flight attendants had my sweatshirt at the front of the plane and handed it back to me. The guard walked me back to the door and back inside, and I thanked him as well.

Addendum: I remembered after I posted this, something that may amuse some of the people reading this. On the plane from Chunming to Shanghai, we were given newspapers to read. I was rather amazed at this, because on all the other flights they only had Chinese language newspapers available but this time they had one in English.

Seeing as how this was the week before Chinese New Year and the beginning of Spring Festival, there was a big article in this paper about it. One of the sidebars of this talked about how many couples were planning to get married after Chinese New Year, because the upcoming year, the Year of the Dog, was considered a very lucky one for getting married. There was even the joke that many couples postponed getting married until then because the present year, the Year of the Rooster, was considered bad luck for getting married and said "I guess you could say they chickened out." I commented on the bad joke to Greg, and he read some of the sidebar too. Then he said something about, "It's going to be a lucky year to get married, huh? Maybe you should find some guy to shack up with and get married." :D To which I replied, "Well it *would* be a lucky year for it!" :D

Not long after that we got back on the plane and headed for Shanghai. We actually arrived on time in spite of the delay boarding at Lijiang Airport so they must expect that kind of thing to happen! Once back to Hongqiao, we again had to take a bus from the steps off the airplane to the terminal. Then get our luggage. Then the longest wait of all - to get a taxi from the airport back to the hotel. There was a long winding queue outside for taxi's, with a couple hundred people already waiting. It was very organized though, with airport guards directing people to what taxi to get and taxi's driving in four abreast. We got to the front of the line, asked the driver of the taxi we were directed to if he could take us to the hotel (we had a hotel taxi card with us still for just this reason.) He didn't seem too positive but waved us to get in. Once out of the airport traffic, he pulled off to the side (which was amazing enough, all other taxi drivers had read the directions while still driving full speed through traffic!) He figured it out somewhat and off we went. It took a few times of him doing this along the way but we got there. We checked back in, and this time got a room with one king size bed instead of two double beds. We should have changed it to that the first time around, it was much nicer to have the bigger bed!

Once we had our luggage up to our room, we hooked up the router and got online to let family back home know we'd made it back to Shanghai just fine. Then we had room service for supper, hamburgers and french fries, the closest to real Western food we'd had in five days. Then we were very soon soundly asleep!

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Tuesday Jan 24

Tuesday morning we were up and about at 7:30. We were heading to the mountain around 9:00. We went down for breakfast in the first floor restaurant to find a completely different scene from our Sunday morning breakfast there. This time they had a buffet set up down the middle of the room. There was a cook at the back of the room frying up eggs to order. The breakfast food included several different kinds of noodles, some sausages, fried rice, and some very spicy potatoes similar to hashbrowns. Unlike the Sunday morning breakfast, there was coffee as well as tea. There was also Tang and hot soy milk. We ate and headed out to the van for the ride to the mountain. Once we got there, our guide went to buy our lift tickets. The mountain has a ski lift to get the first part of the way up because it is very steep. A few minutes later the guide came back with a guy and told us to follow him. She told us this was her friend, who was in charge of the lift. We then went around the side of the building, through a gate in the chain link fence, and to the front of the lift line. We were pretty sure her friend had gotten a bit of extra money for sneaking us to the front of the line. Otherwise we would have been waiting in line for the better part of an hour, so we didn't complain. There was a plaque at the base saying the lift was manufactured in the US and installed by a US company. Riding the lift up quickly took us away from the noise and crowd of the entrance and parking area. It was very quiet and peaceful, with the sound of the cable going through the pulleys at each pole the only real sound. We took a few pictures but most of the view was blocked by pine trees. One car coming down past us had a little boy and probably his dad, when they saw us the little boy yelled "Hello!" to us. I said "Hi! " back and he said "Hi" in return. Then his father asked "Are you American?" and I answered "Yes we are."

Once we got to the top, the hiking began. The walk up had wooden walkways with rails. As we started up we saw ponies with saddles tied to trees, and their handlers asked if we wanted a horse ride up. I was tempted but didn't. We were already pretty high in altitude before we left Lijiang. Then we took the lift. Even in the foothills, the Himalayas are quite tall! Our guide told us we should go slowly to avoid altitude sickness. So we didn't get in any hurry. Every time we came to any open space in the trees, there were vendors set up with computers, printers and digital cameras (yes, there was electricity there for them!) They wanted to put native costumes on you and take your picture, and sell you a laminated print. I didn't take any of them up on it this time. We did take pictures of each other standing on some of the platforms off the walkway with the mountains in the background, though. Even seeing us do that, some of the vendors tried to talk us into buying pictures from them.

When we got to the spruce meadow, there were girls and women in local native costumes dancing around a circle. Some of the women tourists had joined in. Some of the locals waved at me to get to join in but I wasn't interested. Walking in the very thin air was hard enough!

The guide then asked us if we wanted to continue on or head back. She said the climbing got more difficult from there. This ended up in a misunderstanding that put a damper on the rest of the day, because Greg didn't understand that turning back there meant we saw no more of the mountain. I knew it and just assumed he did as well. We elected to go back, to save energy for the rest of the day.

On the way back to town we stopped at one spot to take more pictures of the mountain. We also stopped at a parking area by the river to take pictures. There were yaks wearing saddles you could ride for a fee, but I wasn't interested in smelling like a yak the rest of the day. I took pictures of them out the van window instead.

Once back in Lijiang the guide asked if we wanted to go straight to Old Town or back to our hotel to rest awhile. We decided to go to the hotel. We both took a nap, then headed back downstairs to meet the guide to go back to the Old Town. We did a bit of shopping, took a few more pictures, then it was time to attend the Naxi Ancient Music Festival. This was held in a small music hall in Old Town. The musicians all played traditional Chinese instruments, some percussion, some strings, some wind. There were some seated musicians in front playing what looked like dulcimers, two hammered and two not. 75% of the musicians were ancient themselves, 80+ years old. A few of them even fell asleep between songs a few times. The director was a middle-age man who also played an instrument. He spoke about the history of the music in both Chinese and very good English. We learned more about the history of the Yunnan Province in that 90 minutes than we had the entire time we'd already spent there. At one point while he was talking in English someone's cellphone went off with a musical ring. He paused and said "that wasn't our music, that was from Motorola." He got a big laugh from the people in the audience that understood it, so he repeated it in Chinese and got a much bigger laugh. The music was, of course, very different from anything Western, but interesting and enjoyable nonetheless.

After the concert was over I bought a cd of the music at the souvenir stand in the music hall and we headed back to the hotel for the night. And again, thankfully, the heat was on when we got there and we slept warm and more comfortably than our first night at that hotel.

Back to Lijiang Monday Jan 23

We arrived back in Lijiang on Monday afternoon, hoping we were going to be able to change to a better hotel. We weren't looking forward to two more nights without heat. But when we got back into Lijiang we were taken back to the same hotel. We had asked our guide in Dali about changing to a better hotel once back in Lijiang, and he had made a call and left a message with his boss about it. This obviously hadn't been relayed to the Lijiang guide, though, as she was surprized when we brought it up. We told her that we wanted to have a room where the heat worked or we wanted to change hotels. She was visibly upset by this and went inside to talk to the hotel staff. A few minutes later she came out and said the heat would be turned on in our room at 10:00 at night and turned back off at 7:00 each morning. This did not make us any happier about the hotel. In fact it only made us furious, because it was apparent they had lied to us about the heat being broken. They just didn't want to turn it on, probably to keep their electricity costs down. We were skeptical it would be turned on and said so to the guide. She then said we would have a heater brought to our room so we would not be without heat. We told her that had been done last time but it hadn't been enough to heat the room. She made a couple more calls as we drove to Lijiang Old Town for dinner, and later told us the heat would be turned on and we would also get a heater to supplement it. We hoped this was the case. We ate dinner in a restaurant in Lijiang Old Town the guide "highly recommended." It was soon apparent that this was a restaurant the guide had a relationship with, as the staff greeted her like they knew her. Probably she got a kickback for bringing us in, but that was not a problem for us. Our only real complaint was that the prices were higher than any other restaurant we ate in in the province. The food was somewhat "westernized" chinese cuisine that was not bad but not as good as the "real" local food. They did, however, have Dali Beer in stock, which somewhat made up for it. After we ate we walked around the Old Town a bit, the lights were being lit and the streets looked quite festive. There were a lot of New Year decorations to be seen, as well as red paper lanterns. We took a few pictures but didn't buy anything at any stores that time around. We went back to the hotel and had the space heater delivered again, and again had to sign for. We decided to see if we could get some more Dali Beer from room service and yes, it was on the room service menu. So I dialed the number, only to be greeted in Chinese. It was apparent the person didn't speak English, but to be sure I asked, "Ni hui shuo Yingyu ma?" (Do you speak English? although it sounds very little like the pinyin spelling. It sounds more like "Nee whey schwah Yingwen ma?") She replied "Bu hui" that she didn't so I said "Xiexie ni, zijian." (Thank you, goodbye.) I decided to go to one of the restaurants to try again. The "western" restaurant on the second floor was deserted, and the doors were shut on the one on the first floor. I went to the front desk and they called someone at the bar across the room, who brought me 2 bottles of it. I paid the front desk for it, but was told someone would come to our room to open them for us as they didn't have any bottle openers. So, back to the room I went, and a few minutes later the doorman rang the room's doorbell. He opened the two bottles and left. Luckily for us (and the guide, and the hotel, and the travel company) the heat did come on and we were much warmer than our first night there.

The next day we were headed to see Jade Dragon Snow Mountain up close.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Setback in picture posting progess

It's nothing major but very frustrating. My laptop burned out its fan again (this is the second time) so off it goes to the repair depot again. I sent it off yesterday, Feb 17, should have it back Tuesday, Feb 20. I had already moved the pictures off the laptop drive to one of our network drives, and I didn't send the hard drive with the laptop anyway (I don't trust them to not reformat it even when told not to). Just that I had all my preferences set in Photoshop on my laptop, and none on the desktop. But I'm working on it still, and will have more up soon. I am trying to find out if there is a way to rearrange posts in the blog once they are posted, so I can put entries near the photos they pertain too. But for now I am still going to write up posts and work toward getting pictures up.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Second day in Dali

Monday Jan 23 was our second and last day in Dali. Will had told us the night before we would leave the hotel around 08:00 for a boat tour of Erhai Lake, that it would be cold on the water and to dress warmly. We packed our luggage up to load in the van to take back to Lijiang later in the day. We had asked for a bellboy to come for our luggage at 07:45, after we had eaten breakfast but he showed up at 07:15 instead. We weren't finished packing up and asked him to come back in ten minutes. At 07:30 he wasn't back, and we only had the two rolly-bags and two backpacks so rather than risk missing breakfast, we took our own luggage down. Will had also told us to be sure to eat breakfast because the boat tour was four hours and didn't have food. The deserted restaurant of the night before was transformed into a busy, crowded room! A breakfast buffet was available down the middle of the room, with both Chinese and semi-Western breakfast food. There was a chef cooking eggs to order over a gas burner at the end of the room. We found an empty table and dumped our luggage around it. Will came over and saw we had luggage and asked if the bellboy had not come. We said he was early, before we were ready, and didn't come back. He said he would find someone to take it to the van, and we should get some food. We walked around the buffet and got a few things. Boiled eggs, some noodles, and stuff. Will came back and said he couldn't find a bellboy, we told him not to worry about it. He went to the chef and ordered and brought us back some fried eggs. We ate, Will sat a few tables away and ate, then we took our luggage out to the van. The driver had also eaten in the hotel restaurant, I suppose he got some perks for the job too.

We drove about 20 minutes to get to the boat dock. I tried to download pictures from our camera to have plenty of free space but wasn't quite finished when we got there. Will said he would go buy the tickets and come back for us. By then I had the pictures done, so we were good to go. We walked through a turnstyle and over to one of several large tour boats parked at the dock. As we walked on the ship, a lady handed us small heart-shaped necklaces in red strings with Chinese words embroidered on them. Will explained that these were our identifying badges for this boat, each boat has it's own unique necklace. The heart was made from red felt, stuffed a bit to puff it out. It was a very nice alternative to sticky blue nametags.

We climbed 3 flights of very steep stairs to take seats on the top deck at the back of the boat and were soon underway. Will took a napkin out of his pocket and wiped off two seats for us, which was very nice of him I thought. He told us that we would make two stops off the boat today, one on a tiny island with a small temple and one larger island with a hotel and some other things to see. He said that while on the boat we would take part in the Bai tea ceremony "Three Courses of Tea." He explained this was an ancient custom that was one reserved only for the king of the people, but now was allowed to commoners. The first course was bitter tea with no sweetener. Its symbolism was the harsh lessons early in life, before one gains maturity and wisdom. The second course was very sweet tea, with honey and herbs. Its symbolism was middle age, where you have established yourself and can begin to enjoy the fruits of your labors. The third course was tea with ginger and peppers, to clear the palate and symbolize attaining old age and clearing ones mind to prepare for the next level of existence after death. During this we would watch dancers perform the traditional Bai courtship and wedding ceremonies.

We were soon glad Will had warned us in advance to dress warmly. I had worn the nice long underwear that I got for Christmas, under jeans and a tshirt, with my circus sweatshirt over the tshirt. We had also brought knit hats, scarves and gloves. We ended up bundling up in all of our clothes and it was still chilly. Greg took a picture of me close up bundled in my jacket with the hood tied close under my chin. He seemed to think that was funny! He took a few other pictures out of the boat as well, but for the first hour or so there wasn't much to see except water.

We arrived at our first stop after an hour or so, a very tiny island with barely room for a small temple. What little space there was aside from the temple was crammed full of vendors. Most of them had charcoal grills going and were selling grilled seafood. Some had small fish, anchovy sized, on toothpicks. Some had larger fish on larger sticks, whole fish with heads and tails and all. Many of them had grilled shrimp, and to try to convince you of the freshness, had baskets of live shrimp beside the grill. The shrimp were not in water, and would jump around in the baskets. They cooked them while pouring red pepper sauce over them, so I decided not to try them, suspecting they would be very spicy. Once you got past the gauntlet of food vendors, there were tables set up on the rocks around the temple selling local crafts and jewelry. We glanced at them as we walked past, but didn't see anything we wanted to buy. We didn't get to go inside the temple, just walk on the rocks around it and back to the food vendor side to get back to the boat.

Then it was time for the Three Courses of Tea ceremony. We were ushered inside a room on the bottom deck, with rows of benches with low tables in front of them. The benches were supposed to be for four people, and not long-legged people at that. Luckily there wasn't anyone in the bench with us, because there was barely enough room for us on it even minus those two people. The table was very close to our legs too, making it pretty cramped. We watched the dancers, and I took a few pictures. We were on the end on one side, though, with music stands and microphone stands near us, so I didn't get any very good pictures. The wedding ceremony was amusing, in that the guests took turns pinching the "newlyweds'" cheeks, and shoving them playfully around. The poor groom got shoved pretty hard and nearly fell a few times. Not sure what the significance of that was, as the narration was only in Chinese. We were the only Caucasians on the boat that we saw, and definitely the only ones in the Three Courses of Tea. The first tea was indeed kind of bitter, but not terribly so. The second tea was cloyingly sweet after the bitter first one. It not only had honey in it but bits of walnut as well. The third one was good, not sweet, not bitter, just very clean and brisk-tasting. We were also given packages of some kind of candy or candied fruit, that we didn't eat at the time. The end of the ceremony was the "bride and groom" (it wasn't a real wedding, just a re-enactment for the tourists' sakes) throwing small wrapped candies out into the audience. We didn't catch any but on the way out I saw one on a table and grabbed it. It was ginger-flavored hard candy, not terrible but not this American's usual idea of candy.

Another hour or so and we arrived at the large island. This was more what you think of as an island, with a small stretch of sand beach and some hills. There was a hotel there, behind which was an open space with statues of local gods. There were even a half dozen or so private residences on the water there. The main feature of the island, though, was a 17 meter tall pure white marble statue of Guanyin, that you could see from a long way away across the water. Will told us it was the tallest marble statue in the world. It was quite impressive. When we got to the top of the island, close to the statue, it was very apparent how big it was. Her toenail was the size of my open hand, fingers and all. We took pictures of the various statues, and some of the scenery on the island, then had to head back to the boat. We took a quick detour to take a picture of a bronze statue we'd seen in passing on the way in, then made it to the boat before they pulled the gangway up. It was only another 30-minute boat ride to the shore. We didn't return to the same dock we started from. During that time we acquired an escort of sea gulls, begging for food. The people were only happy to oblige. Some even went below decks to buy bread snacks to feed to them. Needless to say, we were soon mobbed by them. They weren't the same as the seagulls I've seen in the 'States though, they had smaller longer bodies and heads. They also didn't have a cry as harsh as the ones in the 'States. One little boy ran out of bread to feed them and started pullin g pieces of orange rind apart and throwing to them. The birds soon grew wise to that though, and didn't try to eat them. One of them caught a piece of orange rind while hovering right over the boat deck, then decided he didn't want to eat it. He came right over the boat where the boy was standing and very deliberately dropped the piece of rind on the fake grass carpet at the boy's feet! I thought that was hilariously funny, as did everyone else that saw it happen. No other seagulls came right over the boat like that, the rest stayed just off the railings. I told Greg what it had done, he didn't see it happen. He took a picture of the rind there on the deck. So that's the story of the picture of an orange speck on fake grass on the boat. :) Greg took a lot of pictures of the seagulls too as they swooped around trying to get food. It had warmed up enough by then, almost noon, to take jackets off but it still wasn't what you would call warm.

Once back on land, and back in the van, Will asked if we were ready for lunch. We definitely were. He asked if we would like to return to the same restaurant as yesterday's lunch and we agreed. So back we went. We had mushrooms again, and a beef, a pork, and a chicken dish. This time, in spite of the "no seafood" request, they brought out a pot of what looked like fish soup. We didn't try it, and when Will noticed it was there said we wouldn't have to pay for it since we didn't order it. We decided to indulge in more Dali beer with lunch, it was just as good as we remembered.

While we were eating a German family came in the restaurant and were seated at a table behind us. Mother, father and teenage boy. I asked Greg if he thought they would try the Dali beer, and if so what they would think of it. They might think it was water, it was very light, no bitterness and not at all like German beer. I was a little disappointed to hear them order coca-cola to drink, but a little later they did get some Dali beer. No idea if they liked it or not, I didn't presume to ask.

Once we finished eating we wandered over to the souvenir tables to look them over. We hadn't done so before, so we wanted to this time. We had noticed and liked some paintings hanging up, and I wanted a cd of the music we had heard at Butterfly's Dream and at the ceremony on the boat. I got another lesson in haggling, because I liked a display of butterflies preserved in postcard-like displays. She said they were 50rmb, I think, but when I was ready to pay that she said something to Will. He said "you have to tell her you'll pay less." So she made me haggle for them! :) I ended up paying I think 20rmb for it which was probably still too much but in my mind, worth it. Then I picked out a 2 cd set of music, and again it was time to haggle. I got those down to 35 rmb from I think 75 or so. Greg asked about the price of the painting but they wanted 160rmb for it, he didn't want to haggle and decided not to get it. (Which was good because we later found the same ones in Lijiang, larger and cheaper).

So it was back to the van, for another 3 1/2 hour ride back to Lijiang. We thanked Will for his wonderful guide service and gave him a tip of 200rmb. Even though it isn't required, for tours it is not frowned upon and we felt he had more than earned it. A couple of hours into meeting him I started to think of him as a friend, not just a guide. His business card has his email address, and he told us to email him to let us know when we get our marble picture.

I dozed the first hour or so of the ride, until we got back to the same shop we had stopped at on the way 2 days before. This time I got out, since I needed a restroom stop. Too much Dali beer at lunch! When I got inside I discovered it was another jade shop, but didn't look around any this time. I did look at the snacks by the door for myself this time too, but was glad I didn't take Greg up on his bet. I would have lost. I had no idea what ANY of those foods were. We again were given bottles of water by the driver, and back we went on the road to Lijiang.

And this is as good a stopping place as any, I think. More soon! And more pictures!

Jade and marble factory visits

Between visiting Butterfly Spring and the Three Pagodas, we visited two factories. These are the kind of shopping stops that are typical on tours in China. You visit a store on your route and mostly likely the tour company and/or tour guide get kickbacks. It wasn't so bad though. There was only supposed to be one shopping stop in Dali but we ended up choosing to go on a second one. The first was a jade factory. We walked all around and looked at things as small as pendants and as large as 3 foot tall jade sculptures. There were necklaces and bracelets and earrings and all sorts of things carved from Jade. We were told that the jade is imported from Burma and made into things there in the factory. We ended up each buying a small pendant necklace, Budda for me, Guanyin for Greg. Will explained to us that that was the proper kind to get, guys all get Guanyin, gals all get Buddha. Not sure why that is, suppose I should Google it. We ended up spending 250rmb on mine and about 350rmb on Greg's, which sounds like a lot of money until you convert it to USD. About 79USD total for both, for some nice jade. We looked at some marble things there as well that we liked more than the jade, but Will said that if we wanted marble we should go to a marble factory for better selection. So off we went to the second shopping trip. We saw so many beautiful things at the marble factory it was hard to decide what to get. We finally settled on a framed piece of marble that looked like white snow on a black mountain peak. It was too large to take home in a suitcase so the shop packed it up and arranged for it to be mailed to us. It would take a month or so to get here, we were told, so we don't have it yet. I also bought a small turned marble box for 20rmb, out of red marble with a matching lid. Afterward I wish I'd bought a dozen or so, for 2.50USD each they would have been great gift souvenirs back home.

I have a picture of the piece we bought that Greg took before they packed it up, I'll post it soon. Shipping and all he paid about 3400rmb for it, or about 415.00USD. But it's a large piece, about 2' x 3' and since it is black and white will look absolutely gorgeous over our white with black veins marble fireplace in the living room. We can't wait for it to get here in another week or so!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Butterfly's Dream

From dinner at the restaurant hotel we drove from Dali to the nearby "new city" (I'll have to look up what city it was, I don't remember the name). We had taken our guide up on his suggestion of seeing the theater production "Butterfly's Dream" there. We had seen posters all over Dali advertising it. The theater was small, probably less than 200 seats if I had to guess. We had "VIP" seats with a program brochure and bottled water included. We were on the second or third row from the stage. The production was about various parts of life in Dali, past and present. There were quite elaborate costumes and props, and at a few points water was dropped over the stage to simulate rain. Pictures were not supposed to be taken, and we respected that. We seemed to be the only ones respecting it, however. Camera flashes went off all through the show. Without pictures, it's hard to describe the show, but it was very interesting and enjoyable. The first "act" was "Overture: Refreshment of the Famous Song." Act Two was "Erhai Lake, the Shining Pearl" about Lake Erhai, with mermaids, fish, seaweed and lobster costumes. There were two guys in lobster costumes that were hilarious, they walked like they were swimming, and even pretended to fight each other with their claws. The third act was "The Three Pagodas in Colorful Clouds" about the Bai culture and their traditions, with male and female dancers in traditional Bai costumes, and Bai songs and dances. I'll leave it to the readers to look up Bai on Google to see what these look like. The third act also had dancing and singing of other cultures such as Tibetan, East Indian, Persian and even Egyptian influenced with bellydancing and Arabian Nights-style costumes. The fourth act was "The Emerald Cangshan Mountain" with more ethnic dances and costumes of other local cultures, the Wa and Yi peoples. And finally was "Beside the Butterfly Fountain" depicting the annual festival at the Butterfly Spring.

When it was over our guide met us at the door to leave, we'd noticed him sitting on the back row also watching the show. He got in free I suppose, to all the events he took us to. He asked us if we had enjoyed the show, and we assured him we very much had. He admitted to being worried that we might be a bit bored with it, but nothing could be farther to the truth.

Back to the van, and we dropped Will off in the new city, as he lived there and not in Dali proper. The driver took us back to our hotel, and we were more than ready to call it a night. It was a long tiring day with a lot of see crammed into a short time frame, and we had several more equally busy days of sightseeing ahead.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Barn with China Mobile ad painted on the side

The beginnings of whitewater on the trek to the gorge.

Mountainside above the walkway to Tiger Leaping Gorge

And again.

Rickshaw-view of the walkway and hills of Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Boulders beside the Yangtze River. The scale is impossible to show, but the larger ones were the size of a mid-size car.

Entrance to Tiger Leaping Gorge park. Rickshaws waiting for customers.

More houses on hillsides

Houses on a hillside. The bright white building in the middle was an unusual building, I'll try to zoom and crop later to try to show more detail.

View from the road (yes, we took a lot of pictures out of the van windows!)

Closeup of Fan Peak, the main (and virgin) peak of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. After fourteeen unsuccessful climbing expeditions, the local government forbade any more attempts, citing the peak as holy ground.

Peaks of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Another sandbar

Terraced fields in foreground

More river and mountain views from the road

View from road

Yangtze River view from the road

Sandbar in the Yangtze

Yangtze

Mountains behind the Yangtze

buildings on a mountainside on the way to Dali from Lijiang

Clouds over the mountains

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain view from the road

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Working behind the scenes

No, I haven't abandoned this blog. I've been sorting through the thousands of pictures we took, resizing, cropping, retouching, etc., in preparation for putting them online. My poor laptop's hard drive is crammed full of pictures, I'm finally putting them onto our network drive to free up the space. 60 gigs sounded like a lot of hard drive space until I started cramming all those pictures on it!