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Archive for March, 2007

Migration II part 2

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

Sorry this one took me a while.  We are still in the Yunnan and we will set the way-back machine to last month mode.  It is now the 22nd of March and I started writting this 12 days ago.  Big lazy.


Han Xiao Yin and I make a break for it

Just now I sat for some time starring at the computer.  I paced around my 2 room flat.  I read an email from Caroline which I will answer later.   It is 11:17 pm on the tenth of March and I just shut off the lights, took off my shoes and ripped the pulltab off a cheap but cold beer.  The beer cans in China still have pulltabs like back in the early 80s by the way.  I am listening to the Ramones, a little while ago I danced like an idiot to Iggy Pops ‘the passenger’ a singin “la la la la lalalalala”

Killing time.  Avoiding writting this blog.

I don’t know if I can really do the 17th of last month any justice.  It was….

I promise to do my best but you have to understand that if you didn’t stand on that mountain you just don’t know how it felt.  That is something that I keep with me, and hopefully always will.

I have put every picture I took that day up on the site, there are I think around 89.  They still won’t do a bit of justice to the place I was that day, a mountain range outside Dali city in the Yunnan.

This was Chinese new years eve.  Dali is a small city surrounded on all sides by snow capped mountains that go up forever and ripple like a toned muscle.  The road we took that morning had a mountain range on the left and an endless lake on the right.  I noticed that the lake shimmered with reflected sunlight all day, no matter what time it was.  First we went to an old town.  It was surrounded by large walls and filled with touristy nick nacks.  Most of the buildings (in the town and the area) were white.  This is because the area is populated by the bi tribe, which means white.  We walked around for a time then back to the busses. 

I had read in lonely planet about the Zhonghe temple which sits on top of a mountain.  The book said that the mountain had several little paths all over the place, all going up to the temple on top of the mountain.  Today was unique in that we would sleep in Dali city that night, so we knew our hotel already, and most importantly, we didn’t need to catch a bus train or boat to the next place that night.  To me entire situation screamed leaving the tour.  Prime opurtunity.

After the old city we went to a nearby tourist trap store which I didn’t go into.  Han Xiao Yin told the tour that we were leaving (he wanted to come with me, partially because he wanted to see the temple on the mountain, partially because he wanted to look after me). 

After the store we went to a place called the Three Pagodas, which I thought looked stupid from the road, I was wrong as it happens.

As we passed through the turn styles to the three pagodas.  Xiao Yin (who had been on the phone with the tour co.) told me that we would have to eat the cost of the ferry which we would miss in the planned activity later that afternoon.  I was horrified that the tour group would stoop so low as to try to use our own money to force us into their agenda, refusing to reimburce us if we left.  This would kill any hope I had of escaping the endless shops on the rest of our trip.  I told Xiao Yin that I straight up refused to pay for a ferry we didn’t ride.  I threatened to deduct the 100 RMB from the money that I still owed the tour co.  This seemed to work, after about an hour long phone conversation Xiao Yin told me we would get our money back.  He also told me that it was more a matter of the tickets being nonrefundable than the company trying to impose their will, which made me feel like a jerk.  Somewhere the whole thing was lost in translation and I became a seething hot American trying to play hard ball with people who really were not out to hurt me.  It is hard as hell to write this, I hope you can see my face turning red within the words.  I almost left this whole thing out but I want to make this an honest and not sugar coated thing.  So I admit that I am ashamed that I instantly and instinctivly resorted to defensive and ruthless tacktics, this is yet another difference between Americans and Chinese.  Americans want everything fast and convenient, easy peezy, and if somebody dares mess with their money then somebody is fixing to have a major shit storm of a problem.  The Chinese seem patient and understanding when things don’t go their way, which I suppose may at least partially come from living in a beurocracy where any one step process usually takes 5 to 10 steps.  Maybe they are just a more chill people.  Maybe I am just an asshole.  Today I went to pay the tour co. the money I owed them.  I walked in alone and I gave them every last yi jiao.  I showed them pictures on my camera from the trip to try and make nice nice, the guy looked like I had personally hurt his feelings.  As strange as this sounds in American, I promise the whole thing makes sense in Chinese, at least the only Chinese I understand so far.

Good news, the bus driver told us that the tour would spend 30 minutes at the 3 pagodas and according to him it really takes more like 3 hours.  We could take all the time in the world since we were on our own, but it baffled me that we could be here that long.  From this point all I could see were the 3 pagodas themselves.  What I didn’t know was that behind the 3 pagodas lay 6 kilometers (3.73 miles American) of ancient Buddist temples which climb up to the foot of the mountain.  We spent 4 hours there.

This was the most amazing beautiful place.  The air made the soul feel light.  It felt so huge and I felt so small, tiny, and so ok and joyfull about my tinieness.  Look at the pictures!  It is so amazing to stand there. 

And each of these temples have Buddas from floor to ceiling.  Some of them must have been around 20 or 30 feet tall.  I dropped, knee to pillow and I prayed and bowed to Buddas that peered down casually, knowing, and unsurprisable.  The delightful soft sound of little bells tinkling in the wind was ubiquitous and made me think of a babling stream of water.  My heart was jam packed with joy and peace, I felt light and blissful, all sadness forgotten for the moment.

At the highest temple I bought a braclett of prayer beads which I am wearing now.  They were made by monks and are therfore kaigua, which means made by monks I think. You don’t know what it means either so just stop.

I kept thinking not only does this place really exhist but I am really here.  It was like a dream, I found myself gigling softly alot.  If you are ever in Dali city in the Yunnan you really should check it out, its really nice.

So next we took a cab to the mountain entrance.  We took a ski lift to get up which I didn’t want to do.  Xiao Yin thinks it is very funny that I am scared of heights and made no secret of laughing at me about it.  We made it up and I white nuckeled it for 20 long minutes.  Xiao Yin told me that he had heard the ski lift was made in America, which didn’t make the distance below us any closer.  The top was so cool.  It wasn’t actually the tippy top of the mountain, that was still another 2 hour climb, but we were up there.  A few small houses sat in around the mountain compound, the innermost was the temple, an open front pravilian affair.  Snow was at times underfoot in piles here and there amid needles from the pines which seemed to dominate most of the woods around.  The people sitting around all greeted us with huge smiles as they would any guest.  The view from the edge went for miles.  We could see where the mighty mountain became foot hills which sank to the valley bellow.  We could see the lake which was still shimmered all over with sunlight stretch as far as could be seen to the north and south, like looking at a enormous river.  I was glad to be looking at the lake from this mountain instead of taking a 20 minute ferry across to the other side as our tour had.  The 3 pagodas which had towered above us earlier now were tonka toys in the distance.

  Xiao Yin really totally wanted to eat noddles on the mountain.  He was oddly suddenly obsessed with the idea so we ordered noddles and ate looking over the edge.  I don’t know if the noddle thing was a Chinese thing or a Xiao Yin thing.  Here is another funny thing about my Chinese travell friend, he loves getting his picture taken with signs.  Everywhere we went he wanted a picture with the sign.  I guess it was to prove he had been there, but I will post the Xiao Yin sign page soon.

Look at the pictures!  I took like 89!

So we sat and ate noddles and like a sudden wind, in blew a guy from Belgum who sat himself down and told us his phillosophies on life.  “Yesterday is history, tommarow is the future.  History has already happened and the future will never come, there is only today” he said.  He was 70 and had just had his 3rd knee surgery and had come through Thailand to get to Yunnan.  He was travelling alone and his smile was contageuos.  He asked if Xiao Yin was my sherpa and I said “this is my good friend Xiao Yin” smiling but maybe still a little protective of my friend since the Canadian who had been so rude.  He took it back with a smile and wink and we laughed and chatted very enjoyably.  Here is hoping I will find myself still alive and on top of a mountain at 70. 

Next we hiked higher up the trail.  Xiao Yin wanted to go ‘upstairs’.  A little higher we found a hotel, the Highland Inn, not to be confused with the place across from Video Drome.  This is a cool looking place.  There was a courtyard with a cave in the hill, small cave but still, and little cotteges.  I walked into the main little lobby cottage and found a bunch of kids from france, I talked with a girl amoung them for a while.  She was on her way to live in Beijing and I told her I heard they had a music scene there, which she had not heard.  She gave us a map they had up there.  Her accent sounded more Australian than french.

We went off along a paved trail which crept horrizontally along the side of the mountain.  We went for ages when we came to a snowy waterfall next to a pravilian.  I got some pictures of this place up too, I plan on putting up a few more.  About six feet below the pravilian was a still pond on a ledge with a narrow wall separtating the small pond from a tumble which potentially could lead to sheer death fall over the side of the world, the whole thing covered with snow.  Xiao Yin wanted to pose for a picture next to the water fall.  A voice in my head screamed that this was a bad idea, I didn’t say anything.  I watched him slowly climb down the snow hill to the narrow ledge, he balanced and crossed slowly.  He almost made it too.

No he didn’t fall to his death, it looked like he would though.  He slipped and his feet went in to the icy cold, snow surrounded, high altitude mountain spring water pond.  Then his calfs and up to his knees.  The whole thing went in slow motion in my mind but I think was probably done in a few seconds.  He then posed with soaking wet feet next to the pond, he now figured he had reason to be determined that he get the shot.  I took three to make damn sure, this had been an expensive photo op.

I urged him to turn around and we could go back and take the ski lift.  He insisted on hiking down the mountain, which had been my idea in the first place.  I really didn’t want to do the ski lift, it is very high, but wet freezing feet change the whole situation.  He kept insisting on hiking down so on we marched, his shoes going squish squish squish.  We met a man coming the other way who demanded to know where we were going.  We said down and he said it couldnt be done and didn’t we know about the ski lift?

We kept going.  We had been on a trail that went flat along a ridge on the mountain.  The view was amazing but we were begening to wonder where was the trail that would take us downward.  We finally realized that the map was backwards and  we had been going north instead of south for the past hour.  Oooops.

And so we spotted a concrete narrow sidewalk with stairs going straight down the hill into dark deep woods and decided to take it.

But first I stopped my friend and told him to take off his shoes.

For anyone that doesn’t know, I proudly hold the rank of Eagle in the boy scouts of America, a fact I so rarley get to take advantage of or boast about.  I was aware of a few important things, all of which can be ennumerated as follows:

I. It was getting to be around 4:30 or 5, early evening was upon us.  The hours of daylight were Quickly becoming a factor, plus the later it got the more we could count on the temperature dropping. 

II. I didn’t know if this trail goes straight down or meanders in meadows and fields and criss crosses or what.  It could take anywhere from 30 minutes to god knows how many hours.  If we believe the man who we met earlier it couldn’t be done, which meant there was a good chance that the trail stopped and left us lost in the woods, although the guy didn’t look like he knew what he was talking about.

III. We had one bottle of water left, 12 oz and one orange.

IV.  We were counting on finding a taxi when we got to the bottom to take us the 20 minute drive back to Dali city.  I didn’t know what the taxi situation at the bottom was, and this is Chinese New Years eve.  For all we knew the taxi’s all go home when it gets to be late afternoon.  I could only hope to find anyone who could save us the walk all the way back to town.

V.  I had to count on a guy with freezing wet feet to go the distance, what ever the distance would be.

For the record I strongly recomended we hike back to the Temple and take the ski lift back down.  But Xiao Yin was determined to go down, and truth be told deep down thats what I really wanted to do too.  ”Fuck it” I said. 

So I made him take off his shoes and I took off mine.  I told him to lose the wet socks.  We put them in a plastic bag we had full of trash.  I took off my black ski cap you see in the pictures.  I told him to dry his feet as best he could using my hat as a towel.  We then went through the inside of his shoes as best we could to soak up anything, nastifing the hat further.  I gave him my dry socks to wear and put the hat in the trash bag and laced up my boots barefoot.  I explained that it was now his duty to wash my hat and socks.  This seemed fair to me. 

So off we went down the hill.  I was leaping 2 and 3 steps a stride to make time.  He said his feet were now slightly damp but totally not as bad. 

The forrest on the side of that mountain was filled with ancient tombs spread out in all directions across the hills.  The ones right next to the trail were recent and still nice looking with fancy marble inscriptions.  These usually had small fortunes in yuan held under a rock at the foot of the tomb.  The further from the walkway we strayed the more the tombs started looking more decreped like old men.  Here slept the long forgotten I supposed, I didn’t see any money offered to them, the only family they had left were the trees and moss that had grown up around them.

Every other tree presided dutifully over a tomb, and it was so as far as I could see in any direction.  I asked Han Xiao Yin if he thought it would be disrespectful to take pictures of the tombs.  You notice that nowhere on this blog will you see a picture from inside a temple, this is because the monks ask you not to.  So even though these people have been dead for a long long time, (dynasties back in a few cases I think) I didn’t want to just start taking snap shots if it was thought uncool or rude.  I don’t pretend to know the culture here, and according to hong kong martial arts movies, pissed off Chinese ghosts is some bad ju ju.

So I asked Xiao Yin if he thought it was disrespectful and he really paused and pondered my question for a moment, his brow wrinkled in consideration.  Finally and slowly, he told me that no, he thought they would be honered and happy that I care for them enough to take a picture.  After further discussion we both came to the conclusion that the nicest way to do this would be to say “sha de Bayu” (god bless you)  to the tomb stone each time we took a picture.  This way the dead would for sure be ok with posing for us.  Yes, yes, I realize how this sounds.  But it made such sense when standing on that mountain after having spent the day in all those beautiful temples.  It was such a holy and majic place, the spirits of the dead around us were as real and important to me as the breeze that came from the lake below. 

So go to the picture page and look at the tombs.  Before each was taken either I or Xiao Yin said Sha da bayu.  I hope they were pleased.  They didn’t seem to mind anyway.

  We found 3 tombs all next to each other with no inscriptions.  They seemed very old and falling to pot and moss covered.  Xiao Yin said that these made him feel sad as no inscription had to mean they must have been poor travelers who died in the region away from their families.  The monks must have done the best they could by fixing them up with these unmarked graves.  I put the last orange at the foot of one of the stones and we both bowed reverantly three times with hands in pray mode like at the temple.

He asked me about the english names for different kinds of trees or birds on our desent.  Every once and a while Xiao Yin would proclaim proud and loud to the heavens “I am not just a pretty face!” which would usually make me laugh pretty hard. 

When we got to the foothills we came to a large ridge where the trees cleared.  Here, along the ridge, with a picture perfect view of the valley sat a row of tombs.  This was without question the hottest spot for a grave we had seen anywhere in the past hour of walking.  I said to Xiao Yin that these must be very rich and important men in the community to have such a perfect spot with such a great view.  He read the inscription.  No, he said, these were very important people, true, but not men.  They were all the graves of woman who had lived to be at least 85 or in many cases older, a few over 100.  Every single one of them.  Take that, patriarchal society!

We got to the bottom only to find more temples we hadn’t even know about.  They were all closed by now, which really was fine as we had walked the past 11 hours.  My dogs were barking and although Xiao Yin is too tough to complain, I can’t imagine what even damp feet must have been like down that mountain.  It was steps straight down.

We hiked through a small town and after another half hour we came to the main road.  We found a taxi who told directed us to a bus, which was nice because he would have charged 50 RMB for what only costed 2 on the bus. 

We got to the hotel on new years eve and crashed. 

Outside that night sounded like WWII shelling. 


The window was lighting up from explosions.  The fireworks were so loud within minutes every car alarm in Dali city was shrieking in unison.  It was a screaming cacophany of explosions.  And I am not exagerating.  American fireworks fissle and pop, maybe shoot in the air a little.  Oh, fourth of July is sissy compared to what I saw out my window.  I know what I just said, if you know me you know I wouldn’t say that unless I believed it in my heart, but sorry folks.  At one point I was worried about the buildings catching fire. 

Imagine the fire works you see at lenox mall or stone mountain on the fourth.  The really huge impressive ones that you can see from across town.  Now imagine if those same fire works were available to john Q public but only went up a couple of stories so everyone on the street was in real peril of a jet stream of fire landing on their heads.  Raging comets ending in clusters of sulpheric firey chaos rained down from the heavens onto the streets as jubulant Chinese people below danced the hell out of the way the best they could.  They ducked, they covered, they screamed, they light off more and more.  Todlers running willy nilly amok with roman candles the size of broom handles stumbled around unsupervised.  I have seen it.  It was amazing.  It made their driving look safe.  I guess when you have a population this size, you may as well risk blowing people to smithereens for a good party.  What the hell?  I watched for a little while and went to bed.  In the morning I regreted not going outside and running around amid the explosions, but I was so tired from that day that I just couldn’t make it happen.  I still kick myself about it, but all things considered a good day.



 Spring Festival


This morning we were back with our tour detail.  After breakfast the bus left Dali, we were Lijiang city bound.  Francis my info man in the Yunnan wanted to tell me all about Chinese history.  I insisted instead on rambling on and on about every miner thing we did yesterday, totally bragging like a kid on a sugar high who had been to the movies or the zoo and you hadn’t.  He tried to counter by showing us the pictures he had taken from the ferry that went around the lake, and I nodded appreiciativly at the photos and I ohhed and awwwed, but in my heart I was thinking “in your face Francis info man, your tour sucks and we rule!  Nanny nanny fucking boo boo”

And guess where they took us on the way to Lijiang city.  Yeah, shops, three I think.  I hung back in the bus, I wandered around the parking lot a few times.  I looked out into the mountains which surrounded us.  I fought the urge to just start running and not stop until I was on top of one and completly hopelessly lost forever in China.  What would ever become of me then?

Liajiang is a base camp for hikers and was teaming with westerners.  I really wanted to try and get to Tiger leaping gorge, a famous hiking spot which will be flooded by the Chinese dam project in a few years, unfortunatly the logistics for leaving the tour and going on my own didn’t pan so I have to get to the gorge on a later trip.  The tour took us to an ancient villiage inside Liajiang.  On the corner across the street from the villiage a little girl was earning tips by spinning in circles upside down on a rotating mouthpiece which she held in her teeth as her back and butt were stretched over her head, both arms extended in airplane.  I was impressed, I couldn’t do that.  I dropped a few yuan in the mostly empty cardboard box which sat on the concrete next to her. 

Inside the villiage the tour guide took us through the narrow winding stone covered streets.  Some of the stones were hungreds of years old, Xiao Yin told me.  The tour guide took us into an alley and in the alley he went into a door and gestured for us to follow.  It was a sales lecture and Xiao Yin and I split off on our own.  It was a nice day and the villiage was a maze in which we kept getting lost.

We wandered around in the villiage for around 5 or 6 hours, it was so huge.  On three occasions during that time we saw our spinning little girl on the corner still spining her little heart out. 

After diner we went to a place in the villiage where bars sat on both sides along the side of a small river within throwing distance.  The girls who worked in the bars would gather along the side of the river and sing songs taunting the people in the bar across the river and asking the patrons to come to them.  After a few minutes the ladies in our bar would form a group and sing a retalatory song.  This went back and forth and was very entertaining.  We sat by the window and paid an obsurd amount of money for budwieser.  A couple of Chinese people ran up to us gleefully shaking our hands.  Xiao Yin told me after they left that they had been on one of the tour busses with us and obviously they remembered the shit out of me.  Niether of us remembered them, much less which bus they were on or how many days we had spent with them.  The road and the days were begening to blur to a haze. 

The plan was to get drunk and then blow some shit up with fire works.  That was my plan anyway, the high price of beer in the villiage chased us back into Liajiang city, a pity, the river bar was a near perfect spot.  On the way out my heart sank.  There she was, our poor little girl still spinning.  It had to be 8 or 9 hours now.  She sat next to her little rotating mouth piece and ran her fingers across her gums.  i am serious I saw this, she didn’t know I was watching.  The cardboard box was now almost overflowing with money.  A man was aproaching.  He looked the money over and she looked at him with hope.  The man I took to be spinning girls father inspected the box and said some thing which made her slump to the ground with sad disapointment.  He left with the box and she started spinning again.  Maybe for just a few short hours this time.  She couldn’t have been 10, if she keeps it up there is no way she’ll have a spine or teeth at 20.  I stood there for a sad moment, then we marched on.

On we marched into the city.  Along the way we picked up beer that was cheap and rotgut, no complants from me there.  We found a guy on a street corner selling fire works and I said I wanted the baddest loudest craziest mutha’s this dude had.  I’m pretty sure that what he gave us was dynamite.  It was about the same shape as a soda can but a little smaller and with a wick coming out one end.  

The street was not near as crazy as last night by a damn sight, but still filled with people running around shooting fireworks.  This called for ever constant careful vigilence, a bottle rocket was liable to come whizzing from any which way

.  Every few steps the head jerked suddenly in the direction of a deafening pop.  Many Chinese fire works sound exactly, not similar, not kind of like, not it reminds me of, but exactly like small caliber gunfire.  I used to live in Kirkwood, I know what guns sound like, they sound exactly like some Chinese fire works.  Everybody you saw on the street were either lighting fire works or looking around to stay clear of the next blast.

So I lit one of the big muthahs.  What I now believe to have been dynamite.  Had to be.

This thing didn’t send multi colored plumes flying, it didn’t fissle or crackel, it just went BANG really really loud.  My ears were ringing and I was standing a good 8 feet away by the time it went.  It made the earth shake and sent a sismic concussion I could feel in the pit of my stomach and deep into my balls.  It left a blast pattern in the concrete that didn’t take a balistics team to tell that something had really totally exploded.  It sent pieces of debris for a radius of 15 feet. 

It was so cool. 

And so we wandered the streets drinking cheap beer.  We could see the stars (which just doesn’t seem to happen at all ever in the polution haze up north in the Henan) and I showed Xiao Yin where orion was in the sky starting with the belt.  Then I showed him every other constellation I could think of, it made me wish I had listened harder to my grandfather (Gaffer for them what knew him) when he was trying to teach me about the stars back when I was a kid and he was alive.  We stumbled back to the hotel late.



We got up early even for a Chinese tour, still hung the hell over in the pitch black of still night.  We went to Jade snow dragon mountain, which was very beautiful but a little depressing at the same time.  Jade snow is famous being the southernmost mountain in China to enjoy year round snow cover.  The sad part was that in pictures we saw from ten years ago the mountain looked like the planet hoth from empire strikes back, covered in nothing but snow, white white white, pristeen and spotless.  What we saw was a rockey mountain with large smatterings of snow.  Very inconvienient truth moment.  Actually in that movie Al Gore talks about places around the world with signifiacantly less snow or ice and shows comparison pictures, he may talk about jade snow mountain.  I do seem to remember him mentioning china quite a bit.  I knew about the earth warming but I found it quite hard to look apoclypse in the eye in such absolute indeniable terms.  If you haven’t seen the Al Gore movie I think you really should by the way.  Anyone living on our planet has a vested interest.

That afternoon we took the long winding mountain highway back to Dali.  Much of the trip was along roads that rode right on the side of cliffs over vallies far far below.  The scenary was amazing, what was also amazing was that the guy driving felt the need to wheel that puppy (talking a fullsize tour bus here) at full speed around hairpin turns while passing people on the wrong side of a 2 lane nascar style, horn blasting the whole time.  I was 97% positive that at any moment we would leave the road sailing off over the side and barrel ass over tea kettle in a firey ball to the ground below.   Along the way Xiao Yin turned to me and said we had a very smart driver, to avoid the cars and go so fast. 

Just before arriving in Dali city we stoped at a rode side shop of some kind.  The bus driver was trying to wet his beak with a percentage of total sales from the shop in return for his stopping there.  We left and found ourselves not even ten minutes later pulling up to a shopping complex in Dali.  The tour guide came running out of the building and into the bus to tell us about the great pearl outlet which lay before us.  This was at 6 in the evening after a 4 hour bus ride and we wanted diner, on top of which we had just been to a shop.  I was proud of the rest of the tour, they all started whinning and complaining.  Ok, fine, the tour guide relented.  We will go to eat at a resturant inside the shopping complex.  With relief we all filed off the bus.  When we were all in the parking lot the tour guide announced that first we had to go to a shop.  If he had been able to speak american highschool kid he could have hollered ‘Psyche!’  I admit to being the recipiant of sudden hot rage visited upon my person due to the ruse perpetrated by the tour guide.  This tour guide was a totall dick I decided, and I tried to return to the bus just in time for the driver to lock the door insuring my shop visit.  I sat my ass on the curb and waited outside.  Fifteen minutes later we were all sitting in a resturant, eagerly awaiting the same suckey meal we had had almost everyday before.

Then we got on the train.

More soon, hang in there with me.

The really real phone number of one William H Sanders

Monday, March 19th, 2007

willsanderschinaadventure fantasy grab bag charity sweepstakes

Saturday, March 17th, 2007

More fun with the Hainan family

Saturday, March 17th, 2007