Friday, June 16, 2006

sino journal six

Wednesday June 14th. We left Dali at 9 a.m. for a three-hour bus ride north to Lijiang. The day was sunny and the mountains were gorgeous. We even saw Chinese military maneuvers along the way. One of fellow travelers even got a picture from the bus window of some tanks. As most roads through mountains the shoulders were quite narrow but what surprised us was that there were workers sweeping the sides of the roads out in the middle of nowhere.

Lijiang is a major tourist center, which, like Dali, has a new and an old section. Ten years ago an earthquake destroyed New Lijiang but the abutting Old Lijiang with its traditional architecture survived the quake intact. The old town is pedestrian with winding narrow streets and streams and small bridges everywhere. It is like Old Dali in that there are shops everywhere, but here the buildings are obviously much older. With the streams and trees, Lijiang seems even more peaceful.

We had to walk into the hotel from a main street and our bags were taken by a mini-minivan –about half the width and half the length of a minivan. Being in old town, the hotel was of traditional architecture and the rooms were smaller. However, I thought it was lovelier with the old courtyards.

In the afternoon, we went to the U.S. NGO (nongovernmental organization), The Nature Conservatory. It is in a traditional house with courtyard. They try to work with the Chinese governments to preserve the scenic and environmental important areas surrounding Lijiang.

Thursday June 15th was the highlight of the trip so far. Steve Robinson (SLU geology department), another economist, and I arranged to hire a car and driver and travel to Tiger Leaping Gorge. We drove through the mountains past some wonderfully lovely countryside. We crossed the upper Yangtze River a couple of times before we came to the gorge. We then walked about a mile on a level path carved out of the mountainside. The path is carved out of solid marble and the paving stones were rough marble. At the end of the path were some magnificent and huge rapids where the mountains force the Yangtze through a narrow channel. We were at 6,000-plus feet and the steeply rising mountain on our side went up to over 16,000 feet.

These mountains are more spectacular than the Rockies if only because these are much, much steeper. It is hard to get this across in either words or photographs.

That evening we went to a “cultural” show, Mountains-Rivers Show at a large modern theater at the International Ethnic Cultural Exchange Center. High production values, more like a big Broadway production with stylized costumes and choreographed dancing.

Friday morning June 16th we had a debriefing talking about what worked and what did not. The consensus was that we did as much as we could in twelve days. The director, Shi Ming, was educated in the USA, a bit Americanized but that meant that he understood and could read our needs, desires, and wishes very well.

I mentioned in an earlier post that there was a woman who had lived in SW China 18 years ago. I asked how she was doing emotionally. She said fine and that while everything had changed she was very happy for the Chinese people. Before people were so desperately poor whereas now she sees people have enough to eat. 18 years ago, she never heard people laughing and singing as we have heard.

The rest of the group has left for their flight back to Shanghai. I left a few minutes after the others on a Shanghai Airlines flight to Kunming. At the Kunming airport, I noticed an Iranian military cargo plane parked on the tarmac. (It looked like a C-130.) A friend of Joshua’s took me to a very nice three-star hotel. Much nicer than what I would have picked for my self. They have stuff planned for me the next five days, so I will be busy until I leave for Chengdu on Thursday.

Tonight, I will explore the neighborhood. This area was the terminus of WWII’s famous Burma Road. The international cafĂ© I went to last weekend is a 10-minute walk away and the Muslim section of town is also nearby.

The CIEE faculty development seminar is now over. I must say that although I have not made very many trips abroad, this one is the most wonderful trip I have ever had.

I may not be able to communicate as often until I return to Canton on June 29th.

Be blessed!
RB

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