Sunday, November 15, 2009


In my last post about this trip (and presumably the first you'll read) I will leave you with two photos of The Great Wall. There are two places from Beijing to see the Wall, the first, Badaling, is only 45 minutes away from the city. The one we went to, Mutianyu, is an hour-and-a-half away. For us it was about twice that long as our driver took a wrong turn, somewhat unsure about how to get there. That turned out to be a blessing, as the "late light" was photographically better than midday. We spent about three hours walking the Wall, and could have spent more. It was an amazing place! This portion of the wall was built in 1368 and restored in 1983. Construction of the Great Wall, in its entirety, spanned the 5th BC to the16th Century, and millions were pressed into service as laborers by the Emperors of five different dynasties. This section of the wall isn't overun by tourists (as you can see), and the farther you walk the less you encounter. There is also a cable car up to where you start, which otherwise is quite an uphill hike. There is the inevitable gauntlett of hawkers, but less than at other sites.


Also speaking of tea, we were given special herbs to drink by Dr. Ho. He was a Naxi doctor in a small town outside of Lijiang. He spent more time telling how internationally famous he was than inquiring about our ailments. He brought us articles about himself from the New York Times, and was visited by the National Geographic and Michael Palin PBS travelogue, among many others. He is a great self-promoter who left us with a photocopies sheet of all his accomplishments, including curing an American woman of cancer.


Speaking of tea, Rock took us to his family's traditional tea house where we were served tea by his cousin. It was another highlight. I drank more tea in one sitting than I think I have in my entire life! We tried a number of teas, and walked out with the cheapest: at $60, although it is supposed to be a daily supply for a year, and gets better with each reheating. There were teas there worth thousands of dollars.


The Naxi people are the traditional ethnic group in Lijiang, and our guide, who called himself "Rock" was excellent! The Naxi no longer live in Lijiang as that have for centuries. The Old Town has become just a tourist destination, and the Naxi faced exhorbitant property taxes. So most of their homes have been sold or rented out, and become a Han-run shop, hotel, or restaurant; including Rock's family home. So Rock took us to two smaller, more rural Naxi villages: Yuhu and Baisha. Life there is much as it has been for centuries (above is a street scene in Yuhu).

According to Rock men traditionally don't work although they were the original horsemen who traded tea along the Silk Road. The men's lives center around four things, according to Rock: drinking, smoking, mahjong and reading. Rock added that his grandfather also takes daily walks with his hunting dogs, and his hawks. Indeed, we did see me walking with their falcons or hawks on a gloved arm, through the streets.

Naxi women traditionally wear a cape on their backs with several circles. The circles are moons, and basically it symbolizes how women work from sunup to sundown, 24/7. Despite such demands, Naxi people live long lives, women even more so than men. I also noticed few of the elderly had glasses or hearing aids. Rock denied this was lack of money to get these items, saying they didn't need them. He claims it was the special Naxi tea that kept everyone healthy.


One of my hopes on this trip was that I would be able reconnect with people I had taken photos of seven years ago. This proved possible in a number of cases. Pictured above is a Naxi shopkeeper in Lijiang. In the photo on the right she is holding a polaroid I had just given her in 2002. On the left she is holding a copy of the photo on the right. Less than a mile away I also found a Bai shopkeeper. I also found the relatives of two others, and was told that two of the people I had photographed had died. I had the same luck in the Moslem section of Xi'an, finding a man who predictably went to prayers at the same time every day (see below).

Saturday, November 14, 2009


This turned out to be an amazing place, despite the fact that China has made a theme park which basically exploits their minority people. I went twice. Judy was sick the first day with what I believe was H1N1. It was either that or the worst cold ever. So I went with a young doctor from the hospital and a clerk, who both spoke enough English for us to get by. They were on salary to be my guides and translators. The second day I requested a change of our itinerary with our professional guide, skipping the Stone Forest (which was an hour-and-a-half outside Kunming), opting for the Ethnic Village. This is a beautiful park where about two dozen Chinese ethnic minorities are represented. Each has its own "authentic" village; and young and attractive members of those ethnic groups have either been enticed or drafted to be there as representatives. Lots to beautiful people, great photographs with people expecting to be accosted by photographers; and great scenics. Ironically, as in Lijiang, most of the tourists were Chinese -- and wanted us to be in their photographs!



The Ethnic Village in Kunming offered another unexpectedly professional and engaging performance. This was a theatrical depiction of all the ethnic "nations" that make up Yunnan province. It is illustrated with traditional costumes worn by young, beautiful musicians and dancers. They are not of the professional caliber as the Tang Dynasty Dancers, but close. I saw the show twice, photographing it twice from the front row. There were signs saying that photography was prohibited, but that prohibition was ignored by everyone (even in China digital cameras are everywhere). I am sure that will become enforced in the near future.


Sometimes what you wish for comes true: in an earlier blog entry I not only hoped to photograph the dancers for the third time, but go backstage and give out my previous photos to the cast. Photographs by audience members is still permitted (it no longer is by the Shanghai Acrobats). And I was able to meet and give out my previous photos to dancers. Some had retired or moved on after seven years, but many had not. I was then allowed to sit right in front to again get some amazing shots, and the Manager talking about using my photographs in their advertising.


Every tour group in China is routed through Xi'an to view the Terracotta Army of the 1st Emperor of China. This is the second time I've seen them, and they really are amazing. 6,000 soldiers, officers, archers, horses and chariots all marching into the Emperor's afterlife; all with individually crafted faces and hairstyles that identify their rank. They only surfaced relatively recently, discovered by a farmer digging a well in 1974. The Emperor's Tomb has yet to be excavated, waiting for adequate preservation technology to be developed.


Presenting in Kunming at the Yunnan Department of Mental Health was definitely a highlight. We were treated like visiting royalty (note the banner at the entrance to the hospital). I did a presentation all morning and Judy presented all afternoon. In return, the staff put us up in the nicest hotel in the city, paid for all our meals and entertainment. Unfortunately, what I presented they could relate to but it was not particularly relevant to their concerns. Judy's presentation, although very relevant, they had difficulty understanding how they could implement patient-centered inpatient programs. Patients tend to mill around, spending their days playing majong and watching TV, while nursing staff make all the beds on a 50 bed ward, and other institutional duties. The level of training is quite different than in our country: for a doctor 3 years of college and one year of internship. The hospital also has two alcohol rehab wards, but face the difficulty of many ethnic minorities in Yunnan province that have regular alcohol abuse as a part of their culture. Mental illness itself is heavily stigmatized in China, and the use of a therapist as in this country is not at all normalized. In fact, many people can't relate to concepts like "depression" or "anxiety". Instead, they tend to report physical symptoms, unable to identify their own emotional states.  This experience was another level of tourism than we had previously experienced: a way to involve ourselves with the people in another culture beyond the usual experience. I would love to return if they felt we could be helpful.
Judy doing her presentation


As indicated by the previous post, I couldn't access my blog while in China. Nothing personal, all blogs are blocked. At one hotel I couldn't even get out of the country on the Internet. At another in Shangri-La, where the predominant ethnic minority is Tibetan, there was a notice in the hotel cautioning any kind of criticism of the Communist Regime. At still another, we had to use our passport number as a "password" to get on the Internet. Presumably, our emails were being read by Chinese officials.

Then upon our return a virulant bacterial infection kept me bedridden until yesterday (11/13/09). I won't call it a conspiracy to keep me silent. So only now have I had the energy to update this blog.

I won't repeat a description of the dismay I experienced with the changes in China since I was last there. For this go back to my main blog: