Noilly Prattle: March 2016

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

China - Winter 2016 (Yunnan Province)

     Yunnan Province lies in the southwestern part of China. Its name, Yunnan, literally mean "Southern Cloud" in English. Yunnan's western flanks meet the Eastern Himalaya Mountain foothills. We chose Yunnan for its winter climate. At a relatively low latitude and high elevation (Dali is 2000 meters above sea level--higher than Denver at 1610 meters) the winter has generally mild daytime temperatures averaging 16°C (62°F) in February and cold nights averaging 4°C (39°F) with dry sunny days and occasional rain. We were also interested in seeing a more rural China than we had previously experienced only briefly in Shanghai; and some of Yunnan's “ancient towns” have become popular tourist destinations especially among Chinese travelers: towns such as Dali, Shaxi, Li Jiang, Shuhe, Shangri-la. Furthermore, we learned that towns such as Dali were “Autonomous Prefectures” that contain more than 30% ethnic minorities, the Bai people being the largest minority in Dali. In the two other towns we stayed in, Shaxi and Shuhe (Li Jiang) the largest minority are the Naxi people many of whom have close ties with the people of neighboring Tibet.  

Map: Locations of Dali City (pink) and Dali Prefecture (yellow) within Yunnan and China

Sunday, March 27, 2016

China - Winter 2016 (A pit stop in Shanghai)

the Maglev topping at a mere 300 kph
     We got up at the crack of dawn in order to catch an 8:50am flight to Shanghai and arrived still half asleep at Pudong International Airport around 10:30am. Took the Maglev and subway to downtown Shanghai. I was a little disappointed with the Maglev because it only went 300 kph instead of the breathtaking 450 kph experience I remember when we took it eight years ago. Oddly, for such a high speed train, the Maglev only runs a short distance to the Longyang Road subway stop where you have to change trains. The subway entrance isn't clearly marked so it took a little game of hide and seek before we finally found it with the help of some equally confused locals. You can also take the subway all the way from Pudong Airport to downtown Shanghai, but it takes about 40 minutes longer than the Maglev, and you still have to change trains at Guanglan Road since Line 2 (green line) doesn't go all the way to Pudong Airport, but you can change trains on the same platform making it less confusing.

Radisson Blu tower in the background
Shanghai seems to be perpetually shrouded in smog
        The Radisson Blu Hotel, where we were staying for a one-night stopover in Shanghai had a pleasant surprise for us. We chose the hotel for its convenient location on Peoples Square. The two subway lines that we intended to use crossed conveniently at Peoples Square easily accessible from the hotel. When we checked in the desk clerk informed us that we were getting a room upgrade to a Junior Suite on the 29th floor with a lovely view of smog enshrouded Shanghai. It was still early afternoon so we went down to the pool and jacuzzi for a pleasantly relaxing hour.

beautiful piece of sculpture of dragons carved in Jade in hotel lobby

Zapatas restaurant in the French Concession
       Since we had to stay in Shanghai overnight, we planned to go to Zapatas, one of our favorite Shanghai haunts, for dinner and drinks. Zapatas is a Mexican food restaurant in the old French Concession. We found it through TripAdvisor the last time we were in Shanghai and fell in love with the place. The main attraction, for me, was their Margarita Supreme. It was the most wonderful of alcoholic concoctions based, of course, in Tequila and served in a “glass” the size of a small goldfish bowl. 

Margarita classics at Zapatas
       We took subway Line 1 (red line) to the Henhshan Rd. stop and walked about 500m along Hengshan Road to Zapatas. The building hadn't changed a bit and, the place being empty on a weekday night, we were able to sit at our favorite table. The Margarita Supreme, alas, was no longer on the menu so we ordered classic Margaritas instead. The Fajita I ordered came with a shot of tequila on the side which I added to my dying classic and revived it. The air was warm when we left Zapatas and the buzz from the revivified Margarita made for a pleasant stroll back up Hengshan Road and the subway back to the hotel and a good night's sleep before our flight to Dali.

Line 1 (red line) subway

Shanghai seems smog enshrouded day and night

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

China – Winter 2016


     People have asked me why I wanted to go to China. The short answer is simple enough, because, like a mountain, it's there. The long answer is another matter. I had been to China only once before and only to Shanghai in 2008, the year of the Beijing Olympics. But that was like peeling only the outer skin of an onion. Shanghai is a bustling, cosmopolitan, smog enshrouded city caught up in China's emergence as a major world power once again.

New Year decoration in hotel lobby -
red is the predominant color in China
        What accounts for the longevity and durability of Chinese civilization, a civilization that has endured for some 4000 years? Gone are the Sumerians and the Babylonians, the Egyptians and the Romans, deflated the Spanish and British Empires and seemingly losing influence the American Empire; yet China as a definable culture with a written history that can still be read in the same characters endures, and like the Phoenix rises again and again with that substratum of culture intact, seemingly indestructible. Maybe China is like a willow that can bend but is strong and doesn't break easily.

New Year building decoration near
People's Square in downtown Shanghai
        I wondered what the “real” China, the hinterlands, would be like. Living in Japan, China is easily accessible by air. It is only a couple hours from Okayama to Shanghai and about four hours from Shanghai to Dali in Yunnan Province in the eastern foothills of the Himalaya Mountains not far from the Tibetan border where we decided to spend the winter months from mid-February (at the end of the Chinese New Year of the Monkey) to early April. From Dali we planned to travel north to Shaxi, Li Jiang (Shuhe) and Shangri La. Whether or not I can learn something about what makes this country “tick”, perhaps my impressions and experiences and thoughts may show.

To be continued...