Noilly Prattle: June 2016

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

China – Winter 2016 (an unexpected pleasure)

     A day that was evolving into a disaster turned out to be a greater pleasure than the original plan might have been.

        We had originally planned to bike about 9km to a site called White Dragon Pool. The directions offered by the Cat-o lady seemed straightforward enough but turned out to be rather convoluted with false starts and road confusion. There were several people hanging around a store so we decided to stop and try to get directions. With the usual language problems and body and sign language, etc. we finally seemed to have found the correct road. Unfortunately, our butts were already sore from our bicycle outing a couple days earlier. A strong wind was rising that irritated and exacerbated Road Buddy's eye problem and required more strength and energy to pedal than we had bargained for. So we gave it up after a couple of kilometers and doubled back to Shaxi.

Tea and Horse Road sculpture
roof tile construction site
        Then, just as we were about to turn off the main road back into town (there is a sculpture of a scene from the Tea and Horse Road days), I noticed an unusual looking structure across the highway and decided it looked like a good photo op. It turned out to be a construction site for making roof tiles with a huge circular kiln, but it had an abandoned look that made it even more interesting for a few shots.

our bicycles parked off site on the road
steps along the inside wall of the kil

tea pot

the large circular kiln for firing roof tiles

neighbors cooperating to raise a new house
man debarking and hewing
wooden beams by hand
        After my photo shoot around the kiln we decided to brave the bicycle seats and continue west on the side road that sloped up to some small rural villages. We never got as far as any villages, but ran across different rural life activities to shoot: a kind of Chinese style barn raising where neighbors were cooperating to raise a new house; people working in the fields.

partially finished house on the left
        Further up the road I glimpsed another new house with its ribs still exposed showing the construction technique. I had been wanting to take some photos of house construction techniques and this provided a golden opportunity to do so. 

the house gets it stability from the thick adobe (mud and straw) walls 

fields and irrigation reservoir
old house ruin
        A little higher up the road (butts complaining) we came across a picturesque ruined building by an irrigation reservoir (as well as couple of curious cows) which afforded a few more photo ops.

R U lookin' at me 

        Fortunately for our sore butts, the return to Shaxi was all downhill which took the pressure off our seats since we could stand on the pedals a little. The unexpected side trip turned out to be more interesting than if we had managed to get to the White Dragon Pool, which is probably just another touristy site anyhow.

        We returned to the Cato Inn pretty sore and stiff and tired, but had to do some laundry since we were leaving Shaxi the next day heading for what turned out, unexpectedly, to be the last leg of our China trip—a 2-week stay in Shuhe/Li Jiang and a different ethnic minority, the Naxi people, another three hours by car to the north.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

China – Winter 2016 (Shaxi, Shibaoshan)

complimentary condoms
     This little item fell out of the TV cabinet in our room at Cato Inn this morning. Apparently supplied complimentary by the government--to facilitate the now-defunct one-child policy I imagine.

entrance gate to Shibaoshan
        We hired a car and driver to drive us up the winding road, honking and passing regularly, to the entrance to Shibaoshan (Stone Treasure Mountain), about an hour's exhilarating and seat grabbing drive from Shaxi, where we were to take a tour bus within the national park. According to Road Buddy's guide book (I call it the “bible”) the tour bus was supposed to drive from one point of interest to another in the national park. Wrong.

oddly Hindu-ish looking bas-relief carvings - (photo taken on the way down) 
        The first anomaly we noticed was that the tour bus bypassed what looked like the first obvious point of interest (some bas relief carvings on a cliff face that looked, in glancing as we sped past, like Hindu figures). Then the bus just climbed and climbed up the winding road full of switchbacks (with nary a point of interest in sight) in what looked, to our overheated imaginations, like another wild-goose chase. We had began to wonder and were holding a fevered discussion about “what the hell is going on here?” when the bus finally stopped and dropped us off. We looked around and at the driver, perplexed, but, looking bored, he merely pointed off in the direction of a gate that, we assumed, we were supposed to follow.

gateway to the mountain trails
the hiking trail
        So, we followed, went through a gateway, that turned out to be the entrance to a steep hiking trail, well-enough paved with many steps, that kept going down until we came to a fork in the path and a sign in Chinese. We chose the left path that led to Shizhong Temple, a temple perched on, and partially carved out of, the cliffside. There were now indications that many of the places in “the bible” were actually located in the area and had to be accessed on foot, not at comfortable bus stops for quick off, photo shoot, and on again to the next stop. We thus, spent the next two to three hours hiking up and down (not to say trudging at times) these mountain trails.

take your pick
"seems to grow out of the red rock"
eroded sandstone
       Shizhong Temple seems to grow out of the red rock in which it is embedded in its green forested landscape. Unfortunately the temple seemed to be guarded by some kind of stern looking police guards instead to the usual monks hanging around Buddhist temples. We were informed that no photos were allowed. One of them shadowed us as we climbed up to the part of the temple that has a group of Buddhist figures carved in the rock. The temple facade is merely a gallery about 2 meters wide fronting the cliff face in which the Buddhas are directly carved. I was able to evade our shadow and grab one quick photo before he suddenly reappeared, unsmiling, from another direction. Whether he caught me or not, I don't know, but I did get one shot of the carved figures. He did seem to be watching (always unsmiling) more closely though!

main courtyard of Shizhong Temple
the forbidden photo -
figures  carved directly into the cliff face

frescoes on cliff outside the temple
        The carvings in the Shizhong Temple were carved in the Nanzhao Kingdon period (8th - 9th Centuries CE) when Buddhism was introduced into Yunnan and the Dali/Shaxi region. There are some nice frescoes also done in the cliffside around the side and back of the main temple complex where photos were not forbidden. Another interesting thing was the rock formation in much of the area. The eroded red sandstone (see above), part of the so-called Danxia landscape, is reminiscent of the scaly skin of some amphibians such as alligators and crocodiles.
Shizhong Temple

hexagonal pavilion overlooking the valley of Shibaoshan

Shizhong Temple in its Shibaoshan mountain landscape

        We were pretty exhausted as we climbed back up to the bus area and gratefully sank into a seat to await departure, which took about 15 to 20 minutes, for the trip back to the entrance gate where we met our driver for the trip back to Shaxi.  

Sunday, June 19, 2016

China - Winter 2016 (looking for Godot?)

hot spring at Eryuan
     I mentioned in a previous post that we had seen some beautiful photographs of pear orchards (in a town called Eryuan a couple hours from Dali) at a temple exhibition. We took a bus to Eryuan in hopes of finding a pear orchard in bloom and met an interesting man on the bus, but it turned out to be a wild goose chase because it was too early for the pear blossoms and we all went to a hot spring instead.

       We heard that there was a “Pear Orchard Temple” a few kilometers outside Shaxi. Cato Inn loaned us a couple of bicycles and we went off in search of this "fabled" “Pear Orchard Temple”. Neither of us had ridden bicycles for years, but it was another opportunity for an adventure off the beaten path into the Shaxi countryside.

the end of a wild-goose chase
       The photographs we had seen indicated that it is very beautiful when the pear trees are in blossom, something like an apple orchard in spring, except that we are a bit too early for the blooms and there was no obvious orchard anywhere in sight. After asking several local people—by pointing to a rather rudimentary map and getting, of necessity, fuzzy pointing directions only (couldn't understand the rapid fire Chinese)—we finally found ourselves on a sloping dirt road that did indeed seem to lead to some kind of orchard of bare trees. After climbing the dirt road we finally had to admit that we were on another wild-goose chase and we simply turned backed and coasted down the slope.

giving the butts and legs a rest 
the Wicked Witch of the West

the little theater
       Then we decided to take a back road (off the main highway) that wound its way back to Shaxi through small farming villages. There as an old theater along the way. We stopped to rest and look around the theater and the surrounding countryside. It really felt like were in rural China at last, about as far as away from the congestion and pollution of Shanghai as imaginable. By then my butt was getting uncomfortably sore and my thighs were feeling the unaccustomed stress of sitting on a narrow saddle and peddling so we headed straight (as much as possible on winding backroads) back to Shaxi.

the countryside viewed from the side of the theater

people still do a lot of walking  . . .

. . . and carrying loads in the old way

the Orange Restaurant
Orange Restaurant interior
       After returning to the Cato Inn we needed to go out and find a liquor store since we had run out of the good plum wine we brought from Dali. We bought something with 35% alcohol for 12¥ (US$1.84); about what it was worth, it tasted worse than some medicines so we threw it out. In a somewhat disappointed mood we went out to dinner at the Orange Restaurant again and tried an item on the menu called “Shaxi Soil Pot” (a clay pot) that was very good. It was a kind of hot pot melange of noddles, various exotic and ordinary veggies and some pork strips. Garnishes on the side included: green onion, garlic, ginger and chile pepper. The small pot and a side of rice was plenty for two and cost 58¥ (about US$9.00)-- a pretty good mood elevator and a pretty inexpensive meal.

Shaxi Soil Pot

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

China – Winter 2016 (a thumbnail history of Shaxi)

women in traditional Bai dress -
outdoor theater on Shaxi square
     In the course of our second day in Shaxi, after roaming around the Friday markets, we wandered leisurely around the little town, visited the local temple on the town square and (on the same ticket) found ourselves in a little mueum backstage of the outdoor theater on the square.

Xingjiao Temple seen from the stage
 of the outdoor theater
       Xingjiao Temple is relatively recent, built during the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368 CE), is a symbol of the Buddhist culture of the area, while the theater across the square is related to Confusianism in, I suppose, the performances staged there.

      Xingjiao Temple is a rather small structure composed of three buildings separated by two courtyards. I thought it mostly interesting for its age, not being especially unique in other respects. The main hall, has five statues of Buddha showing various hand gestures--fairly common in Buddhist temples I've seen. I found the gardens quiet and relaxing. The ticket included access to the theater across the square which I was more interested in seeing since it was something I hadn't seen up close before.

courtyard garden Xingjiao Temple

five statues of Buddha

      Backstage, one simple little artifact caught my attention because of its color and remarkable state of preservation. It was a bronze sword dated 560 BCE. A wooden panel tells a little of the history of the area. Shaxi was one of the centers for the production of bronze in Yunnan during the Shang Dynasty (1300-1000 BCE) through the Warring States Period (475-221 BCE). Thanks to its location the Shaxi area became important for salt mining and the land route for the salt trade along the Tea and Salt Road during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE).

560 BCE era bronze sword

ancestral shrine
       We also visited an old house, still privately owned and occupied, in various stages of decomposition, but all the more interesting for that fact. The old gentleman of the house made us feel welcome and acted as our guide and accepted the modest entrance fee. He was especially proud of an old altar on the second floor apparently dedicated to the memory of some ancestor. What impressed me the most, however, were the ancient kitchen with its few modern accouterments and the harmonious relationship among what appeared to be four generations of the family.

       Since the house was so old and in need of repair, I thought it would be interesting the give my pictures a "vintage" look so I decided to make some B&W and noir effects with my photographs when we got back to the Cato Inn and I could work on my computer.

old house gate

old house courtyard

old house entrance walk

old house kitchen

old house - bird cages?

old house - view from the second floor altar room