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Highway to Heaven: Qinghai’s Route S101

The Road Trip. You’d think by now I might have worked road trips out of my system, after covering most of China last year on 30,000km of its good and not-so-good roads.
But I’ve always loved road trips – three months in 1982 when I was twelve, driving through Europe in a broken down Volvo station wagon with my parents and two sisters, playing Donkey Kong as we drove through the Swiss Alps; six months driving from Scotland to Turkey and back in a Scottish Mountain Rescue Ambulance in 1991 with my boyfriend (now husband), surviving on potatoes and tea; many shorter trips just days or weeks long exploring parts of the magnificent Australian countryside.
The road is full of promise, uncertainty and sometimes, serendipity. Go as slowly as you want, stop at anything that piques your interest, change direction, change plans, change destinations at whim. My favourite way of travelling.
We were back in China again last week, the whole family this time, and had nine days to fill – but which road in which part of this vast country should we choose? 
We decided on Qinghai province’s south-east corner, bordering the Tibetan Plateau. This part of the world is remote and sparsely populated, full of nomadic Tibetan yak and goat herders, Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, and wild natural scenery – high hills, grasslands, sparkling rivers and mountains. We had experienced just a taste of it last year (and I wrote almost nothing about it, to my shame) and were dying to see more.
Our friend Jonas, who has lived in the area for several years and explored all of it (Jonas blogs about living and trekking in Qinghai at Adventures of Jonas), met us in Xining, the capital of Qinghai, and helped us map a route taking us south on the S101, a good provincial road, passing by several lovely monasteries and beautiful scenery. 
We changed tack from our original plans of visiting Yushu, in the far south, because of uncertainties about the roads and conditions we would find there – it was all but levelled in an earthquake three years ago. Instead, Jonas inspired us to see the beautiful countryside northeast of Yushu.
Just to get your bearings, here’s a map of the area:
Our route started from Xining and headed south on the S101 to Golog, a distance of 500km or according to Googlemaps about 12 hours’ driving. We’re pretty well acquainted with Mr Google’s driving estimates in China, and in a perfect world he would be exactly correct. 
This isn’t a perfect world though – this is China – so if you add a further 50% to the estimated time – increasing 12 hours to 18 hours – it will be about right, taking into account the many variables Mr Google can’t see – yaks blocking the road, roadworks, queues at toll stations, detours, diversions and accidents.
We had heard that the area south of Golog may be restricted for foreigners, so depending on the situation and the road we intended to continue further south or make our way westwards to the famous Langmusi Monastery in neighbouring Sichuan.
A. Start Point: Xining 西宁
The road trip began in Xining, capital of Qinghai Province, right near the Qilian wholesale butter shop on the street that divides the Tibetan Market from the Muslim Quarter. It was an auspicious place to start, near those fat golden rounds of yak butter, where the Tibetan traders pass by in one direction to do business in tents, felts, furs, turquoise and coral, and the Muslims walk in the opposite direction to buy tea, mutton, apricots, peaches and rounds of thick white bread in the street markets behind the mosque.
Xining is a fascinating small city, ethnically diverse, and filled with temples, mosques and monasteries. Sitting at 2300m altitude it’s a great place to spend a couple of days acclimatizing before heading into the high country further south.
B. Guide 贵德
Guide (pronounced Gway-duh) is the first stop on the S101 as you pass from green pastures into more arid countryside with deep red canyons and spectacular eroded land forms. There are beautiful little garden restaurants lining both sides of the highway with fruit trees, butterflies and flowers enclosed in walled gardens where you can eat simple country food.
Just south of Guide township and directly off the highway is the Guide Zhakanbula Geological Park
C. Ningxiu village 宁秀
Our first stop for the night was in Ningxiu village, a predominantly Tibetan village where one long, wide road bisected the low buildings. There were a couple of small grocery stores selling dried goods and tin pots, and two dumpling restaurants, one Tibetan, the other Hui Muslim.

Walking along the main street we met, quite possibly, all the inhabitants of the village who came outdoors to meet us and take photographs. I found it extraordinary that they, handsome and black-haired, some in traditional dress of heavy wool coats lined with coloured silk, would find us interesting and exotic. Us in our rough traveling clothes and comfortable shoes.
We spent the night in a tiny five-roomed guest house with an outhouse and a coal-fired stove in each room to guard against the cold mid-summer night air. Our fellow guests, Tibetan families on their way to or from somewhere else, spent much of the evening sitting on our beds and watching us, smiling.
Smoking ‘baccy and sniffing snuff. With prayer beads.
Just outside the village is a beautiful set of prayer flags on a small hill. The prayer flags are printed all over with Buddhist prayers and powerful Buddhist symbols, and when blown in the wind they spread good will and compassion to all.
D. Shizang Monastery 石藏寺

Our next day’s drive took us to Shizang Monastery, a small Tibetan Buddhist Monastery we found on one of our Qinghai maps. It doesn’t seem to exist in any guide books but like most monasteries you can visit freely. It lies down a spectacular winding green valley about ten kilometres east of the S101 (there is a small sign on the road in Chinese).

Shizang means ‘hidden by stone’ but is also a homonym for the Buddhist Canon. It didn’t really have any significant meaning until we reached the end of the valley where an imposing red rock cliff rises up from a riverbed, revealing the monastery hiding behind it. A twenty metre Guanyin is carved and painted into the cliff face as you approach.


The monastery itself is rather plain from the outside, as Tibetan monasteries go, but inside is an unexpected riot of colour and pattern. We were shown around by a very kind monk who spoke a little Chinese. He told us all the other monks were away on vacation visiting their families – I hadn’t known monks had vacations but they are, many of them, students, and it is end of school year vacation in China. Even monks need a break sometimes.

I was entranced by the monastery shop – not a souvenir shop, but a grocery store where monks and those who worked at the monastery could buy goods – pot noodles, mosquito repellant, washing detergent, incense, prayer flags, yak fur boots. All your regular monkly goods.

E. Lajia Monastery 拉加寺
The mighty Yellow River is still very young and not so wide as it passes through the town of Lajia (Rogya in Tibetan). The town sits astride the river at the foot of immense red-purple sandstone mountains, and clinging to the mountain’s foot is a small and lovely monastery,  Lajia Monastery. It’s buildings line up in a row from river’s edge to mountain’s foot, each one higher than the last so the overall effect is of golden-roofed steps leading up the mountainside.
Lajia has several small hotels and guesthouses where you can spend the night, and plenty of Chinese, Hui Muslim and Tibetan restaurants.

F. Maqin 玛沁 (also known as Dawu 大武)

Maqin sits at a high altitude – 3300m – where the air is cool, clean and dry. It’s a fascinating place, stretched along a valley between rows of velvety green hills and far-off mountains. 

As the capital of the Guoluo (Golog) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture the town’s population is more than ninety per cent Tibetan, all of them wonderfully friendly and very curious.

The town’s main attraction is the Maqin Monastery, currently being expanded, and its incredible network of prayer flags covering the hillsides above the monastery like a phantasmagoric spider’s web, spreading as much good will and compassion as humanly possible.

For us though, Maqin was full of serendipity. Unable to get a bed in any of the town’s three main hotels (‘full’, ‘full’ and ‘full’ despite acres of empty rooms) we found a cosy guesthouse for next to nothing, and spent the day wandering the twisting streets leading up to the monastery – watching monks take on the local teens in a basketball game, and being invited inside many homes for bracing cups of yak butter tea, an acquired taste.

The high air brings everything into sharp intensity, including your heartbeat and your breath, making you slow down, right down, and just take it all slowly in.

Footnote: From Maqin we planned to continue south further along the S101, but we had the distinct feeling that this would get us into strife and so we headed east towards Tibetan Gansu Province instead. More on that story in an upcoming post on Langmusi Monastery.

Tips for Driving the S101
Flights
There are daily direct flights to Xining from Shanghai, Beijing, Xi’an, Chengdu and many other Chinese cities. (see Ctrip for details)
Shanghai-Xining 3.5 hours, from 1500rmb direct
Beijing-Xining 2.5 hours, from 1450rmb direct
Xian-Xining 1.5 hours, from 620rmb direct
Chengdu-Xining 1.5 hours, from 950rmb direct
Car Hire
We used a local Xining car rental company – email me at fiona.nanchanglu@gmail.com for details. They can drop the car at your hotel and pick it up afterwards. One way rental is also possible (eg Xining to Chengdu) for an extra fee.
A Chinese Driver’s License is required, and a cash deposit of 6,000rmb. The car company needs a rough itinerary in advance.
Daily rental varies – we paid 380rmb ($US65) per day including insurance for a VW Passat.
The ideal vehicle (and what we will hire next time) is a 4WD. Many roads and parts of the highway are very rugged and a 4WD would have been much more comfortable and given us more flexibility.
Maps
Good detailed maps of Qinghai Province are available from the Xinhua Bookstore in Xining, on the ground floor.
Language
In the areas we travelled through Tibetan was the primary language spoken. We were always able to find someone who spoke a little Chinese. English was rarely spoken.
In Xining Chinese is the primary language and most large hotels have some English speaking staff.
Restrictions
Parts of Qinghai Province are restricted to foreigners. Check with Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum before you go, and get local information in Xining at one of the hostels or from local police. The area south of Golog is currently restricted.

Snow and a Sea of Clouds: Huangshan

The clouds moved slowly away to reveal a massive monolith, craggy and rutted, dusted with snow and studded with pine trees growing straight from the rock, ruggedly resisting the altitude, cold and wind. For a second I couldn’t breathe, it was so utterly and completely beautiful.

In one single moment every one of the 28,000 kilometres we had driven around China to get to this point on the map, on this particular day at this hour was worth it. Every one. 
Huangshan, China’s legendarily beautiful Yellow Mountain in Anhui Province, is named for the Yellow Emperor who attained immortality here and ascended to heaven amongst the seventy stunning peaks and granite crags.
We had been to Huangshan once before in the early spring of 2010 and weren’t planning to visit again until good friends announced their intention to fly from Australia and join us on the road to experience a little of the last days of our China Roadtrip. Huangshan seemed the perfect place to meet, a spectacular piece of China only six hours southwest of Shanghai and perhaps, if we were very lucky, touched by snow.
The weather on Huangshan can be variable to say the least, and on many days of the year the entire mountain is enveloped in impenetrable fog and cloud, obscuring all views. If fortune is smiling on you though, you might witness yunhai 云海, a soft and lustrous sea of clouds from which the craggy peaks rise like islands. This phenomenon is best appreciated in the colder months, September to May, on a clear day after rain or snow, and occurs only rarely in summer. 

We arrived late in the afternoon from our last ever campsite and spent the first night at the base of the mountain in – joy of joys – an actual hotel with human-sized beds and real showers you could actually stand upright in. The campervan, as brilliant as it had been and as much as we had loved our little house on wheels, was happily abandoned in a carpark in favour of more spacious digs.

The hotel’s main attraction was a free ticket for each of us to visit the adjacent Huangshan Hot Springs Resort, where natural spring water comes out of the mountain at a restorative 42 degrees all year round.

So after dinner, and in temperatures of minus one, we donned swimming costumes and headed outside. It was a painfully freezing walk from the change rooms to the first pool, steam rising all around us as we strode into the warm water. The outdoor springs were a fairyland of lights and pavilions set amongst trees and flowers, and the dozens of small pools gradually warmed us from the outside in, until we could eventually stride between them in bare feet and without using the heavy robes provided.

Staff in thick down coats walked the narrow paths between each pool with trays of hot, sweet ginger tea which we drank while plunged up to our necks in hot water, looking up at the stars. It was an unforgettable experience and would have been even more appreciated two days later after coming down the mountain, but as usual we were doing things in reverse order.

We woke the next morning to the most exciting sight of all – fresh snow.

At the mountain’s base it had dusted all the firs, and lay in a fine white carpet on the ground. It was an auspicious start to our ascent of the mountain and we held high hopes for more snow and a sea of clouds. Originally the plan had been to walk all 6,500 steps up the mountain, but when faced with the reality of slippery ice and four children it suddenly seemed like a very poor idea, compared with travelling by cable car.

We took ourselves, all eight of us, uphill along a mountain stream from the hot springs to the base of the Jade Screen Cableway, and within an hour we were standing on the mountain top.

We stood transfixed as the sun came out and the clouds dispersed, revealing a world of crystal ice and snow, the tree branches and pine needles outlined in a rime of white ice sparkling and shining in the soft winter light.

Huangshan’s famous peaks revealed themselves one by one amongst the pine trees along our four hour mountain top walk to beihai, the North Sea of clouds. The mountain was covered in a network of stone paths and steps, icy and dangerous in the shade, and after several falls we bought and installed on our feet the most ingenious invention ever for ice-walking – small steel plates with sharp teeth, attached to the bottom of your shoes by rubber straps, one size fits all. 
We passed the meteorological observatory near Bright Peak, and then suddenly there it was. A sea of clouds all the way to the horizon, with the peaks rising above. It was nothing short of magical.
We stopped to make snowmen and eat chocolate bars and peanuts before continuing several more hours of gruelling stair climbs up and down the icy paths to the Fish Eating Three Snails Peak and finally, leg-achingly, to the North Sea. 

Late in the afternoon, having warmed up a little in our hotel (lobby temperature minus five) I braved the sub-zero chill to see the last of the setting sun leave the mountain. As I looked out over the North Sea the last rosy gold light touched the very tip of Beginning To Believe Peak and I was suddenly filled with emotion. I thought of our immense journey and its immense distances, and the enormous will it took all of us to arrive at this point after so long, so much planning, so much moving, so much change.
The name, from another one of Huangshan’s many legends about a non-believer in the mountain’s natural beauty, seemed so significant, and to speak directly and forcefully to me. 
This whole journey to China, begun some three and a half years before, of learning the language, of trying to understand the culture and people, of traversing the country north to south and west to east, was it to arrive at this point of beginning to believe?
And what exactly was I beginning to believe? In myself? Perhaps, just perhaps it was, and certainly these travels had given me a courage and confidence I never knew I possessed. Or was it beginning to believe in China? Can you believe in a country, in its sometimes glorious and often troubled past and uncertain but momentous future the way I believed in China? I knew the China I believed in was very different to the China most people believe in, the people who have never seen its mountains and skies and its complicated, rich, wonderful human landscape. 
Yet it wasn’t exactly either of these things.
It came to me suddenly, unbidden. It was a belief in possibility. Believing in the possibility of anything occurring, no matter how improbable or how difficult, no matter how strong the oposing forces. In the evolution of an idea from conception to completion. In change. In achievement. 
As I stood there and watched the last light die from Beginning to Believe Peak I understood, finally, that this was what China had given me. 
The beginning of a belief that anything is possible.

Huangshan Nature Reserve
Admission Prices:
Low Season (Dec 1 – Feb 29) adults 150rmb, children 75rmb
High Season (Mar 1 – Nov 30) adults 230rmb, children 115rmb


Cable Car
There are three cable cars ascending and descending Huangshan.

South: Jade Screen Cableway
Closest to the Huangshan Scenic Area South Entrance and the townships of Tangkou and Tunxi
Leaves from Mercy Light Temple and arrives at the Jade Screen Station

South-east: Cloud Valley Cableway
Departs from Cloud Valley Temple and arrives at White Goose Ridge Station (from here the walk to the small cluster of hotels at Beihai is the shortest)

North: Taiping Cableway
Closest to the Huangshan Scenic Area North Entrance
Departs from Pine Valley Nunnery and arrives at Rosy Cloud Station

Low Season: Dec 1 – Feb 28 65rmb one-way (adults) 35rmb one-way (children)
High Season: March 1 – Nov 30 80rmb one-way (adults) 40rmb one-way (children)
Children under 1.2m free
Operating hours vary by season: winter 6.30am-4.30pm

Staying on the Mountain
There is no road access on the mountain top so all hotels are walk-in, walk-out. Some are close to cablecar stations, some are several hours’ walk. For a place where every single piece of building material and every bedsheet has been brought from the mountain’s base by porters (no, they don’t use the cable car) there is a surprising choice of mountain top accommodation.

There are two hotel clusters: one at Beihai (Shilin Hotel, Beihai Hotel) and one near Rosy Cloud Station (Dispelling Cloud Hotel, West Sea Hotel). In addition there is the Jade Screen Hotel at the top of Jade Screen cableway, and the White Cloud (Baiyun) Hotel near Bright Peak.

Food choices on the mountain top are limited. There are frequent snack stalls along the stone walking paths selling bottled water and other cold drinks, chocolate bars, instant noodles, steamed corn on the cob and tea eggs. Expect to pay mountain prices for everything – at least double what you would normally pay (and when you see those porters carrying two twenty kilo boxes of bottled water by bamboo pole you’ll wonder why it isn’t eight times more expensive).

There are restaurants at all the hotels where good hot food can be had, again at mountain prices.

Shilin Hotel

Located on the mountain top at Beihai. Well-heated with wall heaters and silk quilts, with down jackets available to borrow. A surprisingly high level of comfort and cleanliness with an in-house restaurant.
Expect to pay about 450rmb/double in low season, higher in summer.
Huangshan Resort and Spa Hotel
Located at the mountain base (south side) about 1.5km from the Jade Screen Cableway.
Well-heated but a little faded, the main attraction is its location adjacent to Huangshan’s Hot Springs Resort, which is not actually part of the hotel.
Doubles from 400rmb, basic price, or 560rmb including two entry tickets to the hot springs (normal hot springs and spa entry price 238 rmb pp).

The Last Chinese Campsite

Happy New Year one and all! Almost exactly a year ago today, I nervously went public with my plans to get hold of a campervan and drive around China before the end of 2012. I figured by telling you of my intentions I would be embarrassed – in moments of weakness – into following through. Thank goodness I did, because those moments of weakness were many and my willpower and tenacity were sorely tested by trying firstly to find a campervan, then by the nightmare of getting a Chinese driving licence, followed by a weekend test drive that showed us just what we were in for, before finally setting out on July 1st for the Great China Roadtrip. 
It was an epic year and an epic adventure, and today’s post and the next few will continue to chronicle the last few weeks of our trip through some of the most spectacular scenery in China as we headed home to Shanghai. 
But before I tell you about our last Chinese campsite, I also remembered in that same post I made a bunch of predictions. So let’s see just how many I managed to get right:
Fiona’s 2012 Predictions
1. I will pass my Chinese exams next week, motivated by the desire to avoid being the first student over forty to fail and the need to speak enough Chinese to cover vehicle breakdowns and other minor emergencies.
CORRECT
I passed! My 6 months of university Chinese ended well after getting off to a hilariously bad start, thanks to my three brilliant teachers and a lifelong habit of extreme cramming. I did wish the textbook had a chapter on ‘Replacing a Campervan Battery’ rather then ‘Applying for a Credit Card’ because it would have been way more useful, but perhaps not for the rest of the class.
2. The ratio of Chinese:Western meals my family is willing to eat will decrease from 1:3 to 1:10 by year’s end, decreasing exponentially with time spent on the road away from supermarkets full of Western food in Shanghai. I will be forced to resort to making congee for breakfast when we run out of cereal. They will hate this.

INCORRECT
Bravo my family! After an initial unhappy month in which my two children complained non-stop about the amount of Chinese food they were having to eat, and I complained non-stop beside them about the opportunities to eat interesting new Chinese foods I was missing out on thanks to them, my very clever husband came up with a solution that suited everyone:
Lunchtime every day would be an exploration of local Chinese food. 
Dinner in the campervan would be western food, cooked by me (I got very resourceful at making western meals from Chinese village market ingredients) 
Breakfast was free choice, and would be cooked by him. Pancakes would be offered most days and occasionally french toast, pending bread availability. Congee would not be offered at any time or under any circumstances.
3. I will pass my Chinese driver’s license test without having to bribe any officials, or have a Chinese stand-in named ‘Fay-ah-na’ sit the test on my behalf, for a pre-arranged fee.
CORRECT
In my greatest examination triumph to date (even greater than passing my neuro-anatomy exam in 1989, a minor miracle of mnemonic memorization), I passed my Chinese Driving Test with an unbelievable 96%. I promise that no money changed hands. And I still got the first aid question wrong.
4. We will finaly get to visit Tibet, provided there are no more monk self-immolations in 2012.
INCORRECT
My heart sinks as I re-read this. A year ago I honestly thought the worst was over on this front. Not so – since January dozens of individuals have set themselves alight in Tibetan regions of Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan in protest against the Chinese government’s rule. These grim and violent deaths by apparently devout Buddhists including monks and nuns continue to occur. The Chinese government response has been at times laughable – installing fire fighting units inside monasteries, and tightly controlling sales of inflammables. Recently it was announced that those found to support or incite self-immolation faced prosecution.
Tibetan areas we visited in these provinces are now off-limits to foreign travellers for the time being.
5. My iphone app, the Shanghai Xiaolongbao Tour for Crimson Bamboo, despite being extremely niche, will go totally viral on release causing the entire Chinese internet to collapse and making me an overnight app millionaire.
INCORRECT
Still not a millionaire. But wait…the Chinese internet did kind of collapse in November…..was that me?
6. The hare-brained travelling campervan scheme will take more money, wits, patience and cunning than I currently possess, but because I’m not a quitter I will make everyone’s life hell as I try to source solar-powered portable water heating and a compostible travelling toilet in a country that hasn’t yet heard of camping.

CORRECT
100% true prediction. By the time we left Shanghai on the afternoon of July 1, having taken delivery of the campervan literally an hour before, I was plain out of money, wits, patience and cunning, luckily replaced by caffeine and bravado.
The solar-powered idea? It came and went, unfulfilled. And the compostible travelling toilet idea showed me just how out of step I was with the rest of the country. Why would I waste our waste by composting it into a bacteria-free product? Farms need fertilizer! And we certainly fertilized a lot of corners of China. A lot.
7. Eighteen will be the number of times my husband will tell me we can just hire a car and sleep in hotels with actual beds instead of campervanning our way around the country.
CORRECT
Eighteen? Eighteen?? More like two hundred and fifty eight times. Two inches too long for the bed in the campervan, my very-tall husband endured night after night of sleeping with his head jammed into a corner, and day after day of showering in a cubicle meant for a hobbit. 
8. Eighteen will be the number of times I reply something along the lines of ‘bugger off’ to his very sensible suggestion. Although sometimes I will really, really want to give in.
INCORRECT
Actually, I gave in a lot. Turns out camping seven days a week is fine for some families, but ours needed a place with bigger beds and more space, constant electricity and hot water about once a week for reasons of family harmony. Usually all four of us crammed into a twin single room and felt like kings – the single beds were way bigger than what we were sleeping in and you could stand up in the shower!
9. China will finally get high-speed internet just as I leave the country, and I’ll be really pissed off because I never got to experience the thrill of uploading a photo in under ten minutes.
INCORRECT
Ha! If only….in actual fact, the internet turned badder than bad at the time of the 18th Communist Party Congress in October, leaving everyone pulling their hair out and forcing our VPN provider to come up with extremely creative software solutions to get over, under and around the increasingly impenetrable Great Firewall. The situation is expected to worsen in 2013 with the commencement of new internet laws in China.
10. After six months of travelling rough crammed into a home-made campervan my children will probably hate me, but when they’re forty-five they’ll tell their kids it was the best holiday they ever had. I hope. 

HOPEFULLY CORRECT
My children amazed me with their resilience, patience and resourcefulness over six long months of things very frequently not going to plan. And they say they don’t hate me for putting through it. I never imagined they were so capable and so flexible, but they were. It was one of the best things to come out of our whole trip.
But as to whether it was the best holiday they ever had? I think it will take them a couple more decades to get to that point. As the youngest said: “Mum, a holiday is where you lie on the beach and totally relax. This isn’t a holiday. It’s travelling, and that’s not the same thing”.
SCORE CARD: 5/10 (no better than chance, really)
The Last Chinese Campsite
In the end, actually, all the girls really wanted from our trip was not to see one more temple or climb one more mountain or visit one more village market. It was simply to be able to camp in one place for two whole days, so they could explore and play. Not much to ask, and surprisingly difficult to deliver.
Which is how we ended up in a secluded dead end road in Fujian Province the week before Christmas, overlooking a bamboo forest and a small stream, with a promise to stay for two whole days, despite our driving schedule being well behind. It was our very last chance to camp because we wouldn’t be permitted to road camp at our final two stops – Wuyi Shan and Huang Shan.  
This, finally, was how I imagined our whole trip, many many months ago. Long lazy days spent reading, writing and cooking in quiet places full of natural beauty. Beside streams, in the shadow of mountains, near bamboo forests.

Those were the camping sites of my imagination, in a time before the less lovely reality of camping in China kicked in. Of stopping beside highways, in rubbish dumps, near towns, and occasionally in carparks. Of crowds of visitors. 

Our campsites sometimes came close, but always lacked one of the magic ingredients on the tick box checklist of perfect campsite attributes – solitude, quietness, natural beauty, trees for hammocks. Or had other ingredients cruelly added – unusual bad smells, livestock passing through, biting insects that descended in swarms at dusk, tourists that descended from nearby tour bus rest stops.

Camping nirvana had only happened twice in our recollection – early on, in Inner Mongolia (foolishly we had only stayed a single night – if only we knew that would be the bar by which all other campsites were measured!) and again outside Beijing. Not often for a country the size of China.

But here we were, tucked away off the road in a place that was quiet, was unseen from the road, and looked out over a rushing rocky stream. The late autumn sunshine shone warm through the tops of the bamboo and maple trees. We were staying put for two whole days and nights.

They were wonderful slow, sunny, lazy days. I sat still for long enough to notice the feathered trail in the sky left by an unseen aircraft. We threw rocks in the stream with the girls. And I wrote, undistracted for several hours, a rare gift in our six months of non-stop movement and frequent exhaustion.

The girls waded up the creek in the warm sun. It was hard to believe snow was falling in other parts of China when here the days were still warm and pleasant. My older daughter soaked two pairs of trousers after twice falling in the creek, but they loved rock-hopping up and down the stream and were having a ball doing what kids do best – playing. 

We ate a a picnic lunch sitting on the rocks with the last of our precious supplies of cheese (from Bakery 88 in Dali) and Scottish oatcakes (tucked away in a box until now) with dried fruit from Kashgar.  

Matt and the girls walked to a nearby village after lunch to buy drinking water, and I stayed behind to make yogurt and explore. There had been a flood through here at some point in the near past – shreds of cloth hung high in the bushes, and an old zipper curled around a branch like a black snake. I found a cache of old liquor bottles buried under dirt and moss, and an old umbrella.

But mostly I enjoyed the quietness, so hard to come by in such a populous place. I soaked the quietness in and fixed it in my memory.
When the rest of the family returned we cooked dinner together, laughing, our spirits buoyed by a whole day of rest and by the feeling we would soon be home. Home. Six months is a long time to be away from your home and we missed it enormously. 
The girls decorated the van with tinsel we had bought in Yongding, near the tulou, and a tiny tree frosted with white polystyrene beads that shed white bits that stuck to our hair and our clothes and eventually had to be put outside. We pooled the last of our sweets and chocolates into a dish and declared we were having a Movie Night complete with cinema snacks, and watched a movie together sitting huddled up, all four of us, on our tiny cramped bed in the back of the van. 

It was the perfect memory for our very last day of camping in China. 

The Tulou of Fujian Province: Life in the Round

Sitting incongruously amongst nearby apartment blocks in Yongding County, Fujian Province, these ancient houses sit squatly on the landscape like a cluster of recently landed earthen UFOs. There are more than 30,000 tulou土楼 or rammed earth houses in Fujian and neighbouring southern Jiangxi Province, completely unique to this corner of China, and to the Hakka and Minnan people who built them hundreds of years ago when they settled in the region.
It’s an extraordinary feat that so many still survive (the oldest dates to 1371), thanks in no small part to recent UNESCO World Heritage status and the tulou‘s increasing popularity as an architectural tourist destination.
Tulou are extraordinarily impressive inside and out, designed for communal living for up to 400 families at a time, and for defence against armed bandits who were rife in the area for several hundred years.
From the outside tulou have all the features of a fortress – walls thick enough to withstand attack from guns and even cannons, sloped slightly inwards to protect against earthquakes, the only exterior windows too high to climb and too small to enter but perfect for lookouts and for gun stockades. An imposing gateway cut from a single block of granite marks each entrance, sealed by two massive wooden doors plated with iron and barricaded from within by horizontal crossbeams once closed.
But enter the tulou and you step into the heart of an entirely different world – a busy community of several hundred people, living in circular rows of individual apartments over four or five floors facing inwards onto a central courtyard with a small shrine. Each individual family owns a column of rooms, from the ground floor storage and cooking area to the sleeping apartments above, one on top of the other, like a slice of cake. Wealthy families might own several ‘slices’ side by side.
Nowadays the tulou have far fewer residents as young people leave to seek work in bigger cities. But one old resident told me the tulou come alive for the many festivals of the year when extended families return home to celebrate together in the communal way.
Built in 1912 by the family of a wealthy tobacco merchant, Zhencheng Lou in Hongkeng village is one of the most recently constructed tulou wth two concentric rings around a central shrine for ceremonies.
One of the smallest tulou in Fujian is Rusheng Lou with only 16 rooms, still inhabited by several families.

Communal well inside one tulou
“Tourists come in to the tulou, they look up and say ‘Wow it’s big, wow it looks great’ but they don’t understand the depth of tulou culture and history” said one elderly resident who has lived in the tulou all of his 72 years. He looks forward to Chinese New Year when all of his family return to the tulou to celebrate together.
Individual kitchens side by side on the ground floor

Family shrine
Square tulou and round tulou side by side. The Dragon waits for New Year celebrations.
Fujian Tulou 福建土楼
Yongding township, the largest town in Yongding County, makes a great base for visiting the nearby tulou, and has several hotels.
From Yongding you will need to hire a driver or join a tulou tour as the  tulou clustered in multiple small groups spread over a broad area.   We visited Chenqi Lou (in the village of Gaobei 高北) and Zhencheng Lou。  There are other clusters of tulou nearby at Hekeng, Tianluokeng and many more. The tourist trails are well signed but in Chinese only – look for the brown signs.    In addition to the tourist sites it is also possible to stop and visit any tulou you see along the way. Check with the local residents first before entering and always ask before going upstairs.

The Miao Guzang Festival – A Marathon of Feasting, Firecrackers and Pigs 苗寨鼓藏节:一场八个阶段的马拉松

Our visit to Guizhou Province, an extraordinarily beautiful part of China with steep green hills, silvery mists and winding rivers, just so happened to coincide with a really big deal –  the Guzang Festival, an ancestor commemoration that occurs once every thirteen years for the local Miao people.


Not that we knew it was a big deal at first. We had good information from the always-helpful Billy Zhang at Gateway to Guizhou that there was a Miao New Year Festival taking place in Leishan over several days, or a week (these things always being rather fluid and flexible), but we figured if we arrived in the middle of those dates we were bound to see something good.

Trying to pin down just when and where the festival began, and in which of Leishan’s surrounding villages events would be taking place, and what the nature of those events might be was much more difficult. Even the official Chinese programme Billy emailed me was too obscure to be helpful.

2012年11月26日至29日在丹江镇、西江镇、郎德镇、大塘乡、望丰乡等乡镇的相关苗寨举行斗牛、斗鸟、斗猪比赛等民间民俗活动。

The bullfight, fighting birds, bucket pig race held on November 26 to 29 at the Dan Town, West Town, Grande town, large Tangxiang, and Wang Feng, townships Miao Village folk folk activities.

But it did sound intriguing – a bucket pig race! Whatever could that be? 


Our plan was to just turn up and see what was happening. Well, not so much a plan as a loitering presence.

But then one of those lucky travelling things happened. On the way to Leishan we detoured to the pristine wilderness around Libo in southern Guizhou on the invitation of a young American blogger (Kaci and the World) living there, and spent our first night in Libo as guests of the generous hospitality and outstanding home cooking of her good friend and Chinese National Geographic photographer, Big Mountain. His real name.

Big Mountain is passionate about the many ethnic minorities in Guizhou, of which he is one, and has photographed all of them over many years. When we told him of our plans to visit the upcoming Miao New Year Festival he made enquiries and discovered it was, in fact, the very infrequent and incredibly important once-every-THIRTEEN-years Guzang Festival. Before we knew it our party of four without much idea of where we should go and what we should see had become a party of six with contacts and a plan

Big Mountain set about explaining the intricacies of the festival to us. Preparations begin three years ahead of time, involving a drum (gu) which needs to be buried (zang) and another drum needing to be woken up, the selection of an ox for sacrifice, and the use of ducks as vehicles to swim across the heavenly sea, returning with the woken spirits of the ancestors. 

It sounded terribly complicated and very, very interesting, but in the end came down to the essence of every good festival – a gathering of people, drinking, feasting, music and dancing, with a few uniquely Miao components thrown in, like the celestial ducks, some bullfighting, firecrackers and pig slaughter. It was going to be one hell of a party.

Here’s how the festival unfolded, from our perspective.


我们去了贵州省,那是中国一个风景特别秀丽的地方,有很多陡峭的青山,萦绕着银雾还有很多蜿蜒的河流。很巧的是我们还遇到了当地一件大事——鼓藏节,这是苗族当地一个祭祖的活动,每十三年进行一次。
我们一开始并不知道这是一个大型活动,我们从乐于助人的比利张在Gateway to Guizhou所发文章中得知好消息,在近几天或者一周(这些事情总是不固定,比较灵活)在乐山将会有一个苗族新年节日举行,但我们要计算出是否我们可以在这些日子期间到达,我们必须看看这些有意思的事情。试着确定节日在什么时候、在哪里开始,在乐山周围的哪些村落举行,获得这些信息本身就可能更加困难。甚至是比利发给我们的正式中文节目单也太模糊以至于没帮上什么忙。
十一月二十六到二十九日期间,在丹江镇、西江镇、郎德镇、大塘乡、望丰乡等苗族镇区将举行斗牛、斗鸟、斗猪比赛等民间民俗活动。

但这听起来确实很有趣——斗猪比赛!究竟会是什么样子?
我们打算去看看究竟会发生什么。
之后幸运的事情出现了,在去乐山的路上我们绕道走进贵州南部荔波附近的原始荒地,并受邀于一位住在那里的年轻美国博主。我们作为客人在荔波度过第一晚,受到她慷慨热情的款待,还品尝到她好友绝妙的居家烹饪厨艺,她的好友是一位中国国家地理摄影师,名叫大山。
大山对贵州的少数民族充满了热情,他已经为他们拍照很多年了。当我们告诉他我们将要参观即将到来的苗族新年时,他打听后发现原来这个节日是非产罕见和盛大的,十三年才举行一次的鼓藏节。在知道这件事以前,我们四人团队没有太多考虑过要去哪里,现在我们应该去看看这个节日,这成为六人团队的共识和计划。
大山着手向我们解释有关这个节日错综复杂的情况。人们提前三年就开始做准备,期间需要埋藏一个鼓,与此同时,另一个鼓会被唤醒,还要献祭一头公牛,鸭群被当作游过天海的交通工具,归来之时带着唤醒的祖先之灵。
这听起来非常复杂,而且特别有意思,但归根结底到最后都会回归到每个优良节日的实质——聚集的人群,饮酒享乐,音乐舞蹈,还有一些独特的苗族成分在其中,像神圣的鸭子,斗牛,爆竹还有斗猪。这将会是一个盛大的派对。
接下来我将从我自己的视角展开节日的叙述。

1. Pre-Festival Preparation: Ducks and Firecrackers 节日前的准备:鸭子和爆竹

One thing is certain when we arrive in Leishan – this Guzang celebration definitely involves ducks, lots of them, and unbelievable quantities of booze and firecrackers. This might be a potentially lethal combination, and doubtless will be, particularly for the ducks. 
Every single shop in Leishan has abandoned their usual wares in favour of floor-to-ceiling displays of firecrackers, ten-metre long dragons rolled into neat coils, or huge luridly coloured boxes – the kind where you light the taper at one corner and run away for ten minutes of full-throttle bedazzling. 
The liquor, mijiu or rice wine, is being sold on the footpath in plastic jerrycans, with the smallest size ten litres, and the average purchase twenty-five. At around 40% alcohol it’s clear, deadly stuff and is about as tasty as lighter fluid and just as flammable. 
Every motorbike coming out of town has two boxes of firecrackers on the back, counterbalanced with two jerry cans of strong liquor on either side, and a brace of ducks nestled at the driver’s feet. 
我们到达乐山的时候有件事可以确定——这个鼓藏节一定会有很多鸭子,还有多到难以置信的数量的酒和爆竹。这将是一个潜在的致命的结合,毫无疑问是特别为鸭子准备的。
乐山的每一个商店都放弃了他们日常的商品空间用来搁置爆竹,从地板到天花板,十米长龙整齐地绕成线圈,还有巨大的色彩斑斓的盒子——那种在盒子一角点燃导火线的礼花,每个烟花都可以饱满地绽放十分钟之久。烈酒、米酒或者黄酒,被盛放在塑料罐里在小径上售卖,最小的十公升,平均每人购买二十五公升。大约有百分之四十是纯酒精,显然是致命的玩意儿,像淡味饮品一样可口但却是易燃的。

 

25 litres of liquor…check, smallish box of fireworks…check. Now to load the basket of ducks……..

2. Feast Number One 一号盛宴

We arrive in the tiny village of Paiweng on foot, leaving the van parked at a point where it can’t drive any further on the narrow dirt track. The first sign of something afoot is the distant echoing crack of firecrackers, and a cloud of smoke above the next valley. 
As we round the last corner we see the village sitting in the folds of steep hills, with rows of dark wooden houses on stilts staggered up the hillside. A barrage of fireworks goes off in front of the house immediately to our left, deafening us and lighting the narrow zigzagging pathway we’re taking to the family home of a friend of Big Mountain, high on the hillside. The paths are busy with guests arriving – Miao women in their traditional dress of a black velvet tunic embroidered with pink roses, hair in a high bun decorated with a single pink rose.
Arriving at the house, the start of the festivities is marked by the lighting of a long red snake of firecrackers right next to the woodpile outside the kitchen door. It seems unnecessarily risky but clearly it’s been safely done thirteen years before. Or…not. I guess thirteen years is long enough to rebuild a whole village razed to the ground by fire, and forgive whoever lit the firecracker that did it.
Inside the kitchen, the grandmother of the house greets us as she guts fish for the feast. She motions for us to move into the big open room at the centre of the house, a high-ceilinged space with stairs at one end leading to the upper floor for sleeping, and an open verandah at the other, pefect for watching the neighbour’s fireworks display as cinders rain down on the roof.
We’re warmly welcomed by the rest of the family as they prepare for the feast. The oldest daughter’s husband carries in precariously leaning stacks of porcelain rice bowls, painted with small blue and pink flowers, and lays them out on the floor in long rows. 
He reappears with twenty five litres of mijiu, and taking a tin teapot, decants from the drum and begins to pour a bowl of mijiu for each person, full to the brim. Out of politeness he includes both of our children, who, out of politeness and strong looks from us, decline.
The women and men come in from outside and take their seats as the food begins to arrive. The whole extended family is here – the grandmother, all of her daughters and their husbands and children, aunts and uncles, lined up on narrow wooden settles around the room’s perimeter. 
We eat – first, a steaming wok full of blood congee, a type of rice soup, rich and tasty. It seems impolite, as guests, to ask where the blood has come from. Balanced across the rim of the steaming wok a narrow wooden plank is laid, and on this rest three dishes, keeping warm – spicy duck, chopped into small pieces with a sharp cleaver, fried fish, and pickled sour bamboo shoots. 
The fish has grown in the nearby rice terraces through the summer along with the rice. Come harvest the water is drained out of the terraces and the fish can be easily caught. 
Another bowl of braised duck arrives, and suddenly the symbolic duck swimming across the celestial lake and bringing back the spirits of the ancestors is sitting in a bowl in front of me. I guess their role was not purely metaphorical after all.
No sooner have we started eating than the husband of the oldest daughter lifts his bowl of mijiu in a toast. We follow suit. 
‘He jiu!’ he commands, literally ‘Drink alcohol!’ It rhymes with Sergio when he says it.
We all take a sip of the burning liquor and resume eating.
A few minutes later one of the other daughter’s husbands raises his rice wine in a toast. ‘He jiu!’ he says. ‘He jiu!’ we all reply, and take another, bigger sip.
I reach for a piece of the sweet rice terrace fish, and just as I’m about to wrestle it free with my chopsticks I see another toast about to take place. 
‘He jiu!’ comes the call. 
‘He jiu!’ we all respond. 
This time though, the command is followed by ‘He gan!’ ‘Drink dry!’ and around me old men and young women alike down their rice wine, followed by that puckered face caused by skulling hard liquor. They tip their bowls sideways to prove they’re empty.
Everyone is rosy cheeked and happy. The teapot comes back out and refills our bowls, and another round of firecrackers go off. 
‘He jiu!’
我们徒步走到排翁小村庄,将车停在再也没法往进开的一条狭窄的土路上。准备工作发生的首个迹象就是远处爆竹的回声,以及在旁边山谷上方腾起的烟雾。
当我们到最后一个拐角处的时候,我们看见村庄坐落在陡峻山坡的重叠之中,在我们左侧是一排排的像在山坡上踩着高跷的深色木房。一串爆竹在我们左侧的房子前面噼里啪啦响了起来,快要震聋我们了,也照亮了我们去大山的一个朋友家的一条之字形的小路,就在那个高高的山坡上。路上拥挤着到访的客人——身绣着粉色玫瑰的黑色天鹅绒束腰外衣苗族妇女,头发高高束成一个小圆包,上面插着一支粉色的玫瑰。
到达房子的时候,在厨房外的柴堆旁点燃一串鞭炮标志着节日正式开始了。看起来没必要冒险但是显然十三年前这么做也是安全的。又或者并非如此。十三年的时间足够长将原来的村落用一场大火夷为平地并且再建一个新的村落,与此同时也原谅了那个点燃鞭炮的人。
在厨房里面,房子的主人一个老奶奶问候了我们,她正在准备晚宴,清洗着鱼的内脏。她提议我们去房子的中心,一个大的开放的房间,那里的天花板很高,在房间的一头有楼梯通往上层睡觉的地方,而另一头则是一个开放的走廊,非常适合观看邻居家的爆竹,尤其是当烟花落到房顶的时候。
当房子的其他家人准备晚宴的时候我们受到热情的欢迎。大女儿的丈夫以一个不怎么安全的姿势倚靠在瓷制饭碗堆旁,这些碗的上面画着蓝色和粉色的小花,一排排被摆放在地上。他在出现的时候拿着二十五公升的米酒,带着一个锡制茶壶,从桶里倒出米酒,又为每一个人倒入碗中。出于礼貌他也要给我们的孩子们倒了,但我们委婉拒绝了。
女人和男人们从外面走进来,当食物上来的时候他们也坐了下来。整个家庭都在这儿了——奶奶,女儿们和她们的丈夫孩子还有叔叔阿姨们都依次落座于房间周围窄窄的木椅上。
我们开始用餐——首先,一锅腾着热气的血糯米粥,是一种稻米做的粥,浓稠而美味。作为客人询问这血是从哪里来的看起来很不礼貌。在冒着热气的锅上平放着一个窄窄的木板,上面放着三盘菜,这样可以保持这些菜是热着的——用锋利的菜刀切成丁儿的辣鸭、炸鱼还有腌制的酸竹笋。
另一碗炖熟的鸭子端上来了,游过天湖并带回祖先之灵的具有象征意义的鸭子突然间就这样出现在我面前的这个碗里。我猜它们的角色毕竟不是纯粹具有比喻性的。
大女儿的丈夫举起他碗里的米酒干杯时我们就开始用餐。我们就跟着他们的样子做。
“喝酒!”他命令道,字面意思是“喝烧酒!”
我们都品了一小口烧酒,之后继续用餐。
几分钟后,其他女儿中的一个丈夫又举起米酒干杯。“喝酒!”他说。“喝酒!”我们都答道,之后又喝了一口,稍大一些。
我想拣一块甜糯米上放着的鱼,在我将用打架的筷子快要够到的时候我看见又要有人敬酒了。
“喝酒!”紧接着又是一声。
“喝酒!”我们都回答道。
尽管这一次,指令是“喝干!”“喝光了!”我身边的男人和女人都一饮而尽,紧接着便是烈性酒引发脸红胀了起来。他们将碗倒过来证明酒都喝干净了。
每个人都是面色红润而且非常快乐,茶壶被拿过来又斟满我们的碗,又一轮开始,像放鞭炮一样的感觉。
“喝酒!”

3. Feast Number Two 二号盛宴

At some point the ‘He jiu!!’ begins to reach a crescendo, with shorter and shorter intervals between toasts. Then just as everyone’s warming up the whole room stands and moves towards the door. We’re full to bursting with food and a little drunk.

‘What’s happening now?’ I ask Big Mountain. ‘Is dinner over?’
‘That was just the first dinner!’ Big Mountain tells us. ‘Now we go to her sister’s house up the hill for the next dinner!’
The what??
We arrive to find another long wooden house, its big central room filled with people lined up on each side and braziers warming more dishes of food in the centre.
Out come the towers of rice bowls, and out comes the tin teapot, this time poured by the daughter of the house. 
We greet the new family we haven’t yet met with a toast.
‘He jiu!’
And reacquaint ourselves with the family members from the first feast.
‘He jiu!’
And then everyone toasts us, as guests.
‘He jiu!’
The food is similar, a warming soup (this time bloodless), crispy-skinned duck, and shredded fish with a sour sauce.

The toasts continue for several rounds. Everyone makes the same puckered face when they have to ‘He gan!’ and drink the bowl dry.
Funny stories are told. 

‘He jiu!’

Serious stories are told.

‘He jiu!’

And then someone spots my bowl is empty, a sure sign I need to be shown true Miao hospitality by having a daughter of the house clamp a bowl of rice wine to my lips and hold it there until I drink all of it.
After that, details get a little hazy. I take a series of really, really dreadful fireworks shots while next to me Big Mountain takes National Geographic quality images despite being just as intoxicated. The mark of a true professional.

Fireworks, possibly shot from a ‘lying in the grass’ position. Not going in Nat Geo anytime soon.

Before midnight we take our leave, our hosts pressing upon us that we absolutely must be back at 4am for the most important part of the celebrations – the sacrifice of a pig.
Looking around me at the ongoing toasts being made for our departure I can see there is unlikely to be anything but snoring happening at 4am. I ask the grandmother of the house what time we should really return. ‘Eight at the earliest. More like nine or ten’ she says, with a wink.
在某一刻“喝酒!”开始渐增,敬酒之间的时间间隔越来越短。
“现在发生什么事了?”我问大山。“晚饭结束了?”
“那只是第一餐!”大山告诉我“现在我们去山上她姐姐的房子吃下一顿!”
什么??

我们最终到达的时候发现另一个长长的木头房子,房子中心的大房间的每一边都坐着人,火盆中央上方加热着更多的菜。接着出现垒成了塔的饭碗,还有锡制茶壶,这次是由房子中的女儿倒酒。
我们敬酒问候了我们之前没见过面的新的一家人。
“喝酒!”
离开第一顿晚宴之后重新认识这家成员。
“喝酒!”
然后每个人都将我们看作客人向我们敬酒。
“喝酒!”
食物是类似的,热乎乎的汤(这次没什么血色),脆皮鸭子还有撒了酸汁的切碎的鱼
敬酒仪式继续了几轮。当他们不得不“喝干!”的时候,每个人都有一样的红胀的脸,而且也确实将酒和干净了。 
期间还讲着有趣的故事。
“喝酒!”
接下来又说了一些严肃的故事。
“喝酒!”
然后有人质疑我的碗是否是空的,我需要给他们一个肯定的示意,房主家的女儿将盛着酒碗贴近我唇边,拿着它直到我喝干所有的酒,这就是苗族人的好客。
在那之后,细节逐渐变得模糊。我放了一连串真的致命的爆竹,而那个时候挨着我的大山居然照了如同国家地理品质般的照片,尽管当时是喝醉酒的状态。他果然是够专业。
在午夜之前我们离开了,主人执意要求我们清晨四点再过来参加庆祝仪式最重要的一个部分——献祭猪的仪式。
环顾周围是他们为我们的离开而持续不断地敬酒,我想除了凌晨四点的鼾声外应该不会有什么其他事情发生了。我问房子里的奶奶我们该什么时候过来。最早八点。九点或者十点也是可以的,她说着眨了下眼,

4. The Sacrifice 献祭
We return at eleven, fortified by a good nights’ sleep and strong coffee. Still, the ongoing firecrackers are a bit upsetting to the delicate equilibrium, as are the squeals of pigs meeting their end in every corner of the village. For some reason I had thought the village en masse might sacrifice a single pig, but apparently there is to be one pig for every family. Or in some cases, two.

While the butchering is happening, each one marked by fresh rounds of fireworks, I take the opportunity to wander around the village in daylight. It’s a beautiful place, full of life and colour.

But it’s hard to walk very far without coming across another pig. The task of killing, cleaning and butchering the pig falls to the men in the family, carried out on the path outside each home. 
I’m very proud of my two girls who take it all in their stride, proclaiming that ‘if you’re going to eat it, you have to be able to deal with it being killed’. How different from their squeamish attitudes before we came China, I think to myself.

我们十一点到达,以一个良好的睡眠和一杯浓咖啡振奋了一下精神。依旧是持续不断的爆竹声,对于心里的那种微妙的平衡感而言有点让人心烦,当村子每一个角落的猪看到自己生命的尽头之时,它们发出尖叫声。出于某种原因我以为全体村可能只是献祭一头猪,但显然是每家一头猪。或者在某种情形下会是两头。
当屠宰开始的时候,每一场屠宰仪式都会伴着新一轮的爆竹点燃。我抓住机会在白天游览了一下这村子。这是个美丽的地方,充满生机与色彩。
不绕过另一头猪很难走得远一些。宰杀、清洁还有屠宰的任务由家庭的男性来完成,这些都将在每家外面的小路上进行。
我很自豪我的两个姑娘都大步跨了过去,她们表明了“如果你要吃它,你必须面对它被杀的事实”,我暗自思量,这是多么不同于来中国之前她们那种神经质的态度啊。

5. Feast Number Three 三号盛宴

At midday we return to the house for what turns out to be the main feast, a meat and offal celebration of every part of the pig. Behind us haunches of meat hang from the wall, dripping small puddles of blood. 
The first course is laid out for everyone to taste – cold slices of cooked liver and marble-white pork fat with partially fermented sticky rice, sweet like apple cider. The pork fat has a clean sweet taste, and soft luscious texture I don’t expect to like as much as I do.
The room fills again with people, faces from the night before and an occasional new face. Out come the bowls and the tin teapot. I admire the fortitude of the Miao as they fill their bowls yet again with mijiu and the cry goes up once more to ‘He jiu!’, although with just a little less conviction today and noticeably smaller sips.
We huddle around the hot dishes as they arrive – a bowl of soup, flavoured with thick slices of pork and pieces of cooked blood, sliced fried intestines cooked in a rich and savoury sauce, chewy and incredibly tasty. My children eat them. And ask for more.
The room fills with steam, and more toasts, and some faces begin to sweat and look unwell with the onslaught of more rice liquor. But they soldier on, and at the appointed time we all rise and move on to….

正午时分我们返回到房子品尝最重要的筵席,包括猪肉和它每一个部分的内脏。我们身后墙上挂着猪的中腰部分,血滴在地面上形成一小滩。
第一道菜呈上来供每个人品尝——烹饪后的肝脏放凉后切片,大理石般白肉伴着部分发酵的糯米,甜甜的像苹果汁。白肉有一种甜甜的味道,我从未期许过的那种柔软甘美的肉质。
房间又一次挤满了人,有前一晚见过的面庞还有偶尔的新的面孔。碗和锡制茶壶又拿了出来,当苗族人再一次填满碗中的米酒,再一次喊着“喝酒”的时候我承认他们的坚韧,尽管今天少了一些确信,而且明显喝得也更少了些。
在菜上来的时候我们拥挤一团围在热菜周围——一碗热汤,用猪肉厚片和烹饪过的血块做的,切成薄片的内脏伴着浓重开胃的酱汁,耐嚼而且非常美味。我的孩子们吃完这些,还要求再来一些。房间里充满蒸汽,还有更多的干杯声,一些脸庞已经开始出汗,看来难以应付对于再多一些米酒的进攻。但他们还在坚持着,在我们约定好的时间全部举起酒杯一饮而尽

6. Feast Number Four 四号盛宴

Unable to believe we were all going to tuck into our fourth feast in less than twenty four hours we head back up the hill to the sister’s house. The atmosphere this time is a little more subdued, with all the family elders sitting together at one end of the room.
I am asked to take their portrait, a succession of four polaroids, one for each of them. The look on their faces is delightful as they see the pictures develop and colour.

Before long though, everyone has rosy faces and and has fortified themselves for the important and health-giving feature of this final feast – fresh pig’s blood, uncooked and congealed like jelly. No matter how well prepared or how adventurous, fresh blood is one thing I cannot bring myself to try, but everyone else takes a small bowl.
This seems to signal the end of the feast, although in fact, the guests are simply leaving to start another round of visiting and feasting in the neighbouring villages. As a parting gift, each family is given a whole pig’s leg or two to take home, carried over the shoulder hanging from a pole.
难以置信在二十四小时之内我们又将去品尝第四顿盛宴,我们朝着山上姐姐的房屋走去。此时周遭的气氛减弱了一些,家里所有年长的人坐在房间的一边。
我被要求为他们拍照,一连串四张拍立得,每人一张,当他们看到相片一点点显示变得有颜色的时候他们的表情都非常的开心。
不久之前,每个人的面颊都是绯红色,为了强健他们的身体,最后这餐是非常重要的,而且有益于他们的健康——新鲜猪血,没被烹饪过的,凝结成像果冻一样的东西。不论准备多么充分或者多么爱冒险,新鲜猪血是我唯一无法说服自己尝试的东西,但其他每个人都尝了一小碗。

这看起来像是筵席的尾声,事实上,客人们仅仅是离开去邻村开始另一轮的拜访,参加新的筵席。作为一部分的礼物,每个家庭都会受到一两头猪的腿,腿被挂在一个杆上,这样被人们扛在肩上

7. Bullfighting 斗牛

Much of the visiting and feasting now over, the fourth day of the Guzang Festival  brings a bullfighting tournament in Leishan’s stadium, packed to capacity with spectators. 
I’m not sure what to expect. This is bull versus bull, with no human intervention unless a bull is fatally wounded. I’m expecting it to be bloody and confronting on many levels.
Intead, what we see is quite comical as two sedate and lazy water buffalo bulls are led into the arena through separate doors, ambling slowly. Suddenly they see one another and fly into an intense territorial rage, charging the other bull and locking horns. The first three battles end when the weaker of the two bulls unlocks horns and runs away, and the fourth after horns have been locked long enough to declare a draw. No blood is seen at any time. 
现在拜访和筵席都结束了,鼓藏节的第四天实在乐山露天体育场举行一场斗牛比赛,这里会有很多的观众到场。
我不知道期待什么,这是一场公牛之间的对抗,除非一头牛受到致命伤否则没有人会中途干预。我想这一定非常血腥,而且会有不同级别的对抗。
事实上,我看到的相当滑稽,两只沉着慵懒的水牛通过分开的门被牵到场地,他们步态缓慢。突然它们看到彼此,气氛充满了控制领域的高度紧张的愤怒气息,它们欲控制对方,牛角纠缠在一起相斗。第三场比赛以较弱的一头水牛解开牛角逃走结束。第四场比赛,牛角长时间纠缠在一起相持,最后平局收场。整场比赛没有见过一滴血。


8. Recovery, with Singing, Dancing, and Possibly Pig Bucket Races 复活,唱歌,跳舞还有斗猪比赛

The last days of the festival are subdued by comparison. Firecrackers continue to go off sporadically and there are pigs’ legs aplenty being carted around over shouders or on the backs of motorbikes. 
The villagers of Paiweng try to entice us back on a promise of singing and dancing on the village basketball court – but we run out of time to return to see it.
It’s been an exhausting few days and I’m keen to eat nothing but vegetables for a while. 
So let’s see – I think I’ve covered everything – ducks, ancestors, firecrackers, rice liquor, bull fighting, pig sacrifices, feasting, and….oh wait! What about the pig bucket races? We never did get to see those.
相比较而言,最后几天节日的气氛减弱了。爆竹继续零星地放着,人们扛着大量的猪腿,在肩膀上或是摩托车的后座上。排翁的村民想让我们回去,他们说在村子里的篮球场地会有跳舞唱歌——但我们没有时间去看了。最近几天真是筋疲力尽,这一阵儿除了蔬菜我再也不想吃其他东西了。
所以让我想想——我想我已经概述了每件事情——鸭子、祖先、爆竹、米酒、斗牛、献祭,盛宴,和……哦,等等!还有斗猪呢?我们再也没机会看到那些。
那就期待着2025年的鼓藏节见吧。

Looking forward to seeing you all for Guzang 2025 then.

Reflecting the Heavens: The Rice Terraces of Yuanyang 映射天堂:元阳水稻梯田

This is a big call, but I’m going to say it – if you only see one other place in China besides the Great Wall, it should be here, the Yuanyang region of Yunnan. (My husband, reading over my shoulder as I type this, is harrumphing and disagreeing – “What about the Terracotta Warriors? The Lost Library of Dunhuang? All of Shanghai??)
He has a point – for a place that is five hours out of your way from either Kunming or the Xishuangbanna region, you need a solid commitment to go. But we wandered into the area with absolutely no plans to do more than a day trip and left five days later. It hooks you like that. 
I’m going to give you five good reasons you should consider going to all that bother.
这个称呼很大,但是我还是要这么说——在中国如果除了长城之外你要看的第二个地方就应该是这里了,云南的元阳地区。(在我打这些字的时候,我的丈夫越过我的肩膀看到,他表示不同意,哼着说——“那兵马俑呢?遗失的敦煌藏书库呢?还有上海呢?”)

他有一个观点——要是那个地方偏离我们的道路,离昆明或是西双版纳都需要5个小时的话,你需要一个一致的承诺约定才能去。但我们毫无计划地花了一天多的行程,迷路游荡来到这个地方并且在5天后才离开,我们像被钩住了一般。
我将给你应当考虑去这里的五个理由。

 
1. The Rice Terraces 梯田
An incredible feat of agricultural engineering over 1300 years old, Yuanyang’s rice terraces are just simply spectacular. If you thought the Great Wall was an impressive man-made structure imagine these terraces, folded in and out of deep mountain valleys, in some places more than three thousand layered terraces extend upwards from the valley floor like mirrored steps leading to the sky.
In winter and early spring before the rice sprouts and turns the terraces a vivid green, the water reflects the sky, clouds and stars in an ever-changing array of pale colours.
The terraces are reached via the small town of Xinjie, from which they can be viewed at various sites along a loop road. The viewing platforms afford great views without disrupting the terraces themselves or the work of the farmers.
一个难以置信的超过一千三百年历史的农业技术创举,元阳的水稻梯田就是如此的壮观。如果你认为长城印象深刻——将一个建筑物想象成这些梯田,在深深的山谷之间里里外外地折叠着,在从像镜像的阶梯延伸至天空那样,在一些地方,超过三千层梯田从谷底延伸向上。
在冬天和早春的时候,稻米发芽并转化成生机勃勃的绿色之前,在不断变化排列的纯净的云朵间水面倒映着天空,云朵和星辰。
通过一个叫新界的小镇可以到达梯田,沿着蜿蜒的小路在不同的点都可以看到它们。从观景台可以看到很棒的风景,丝毫不会破坏梯田本身或是农民作业。

2. Rice 米
Not just an attraction for tourists, Yuanyang is one giant living, breathing rice farm, worked by the thousands of local villagers for whom rice is their livelihood. Rice gets planted, tended, watered, the seedlings transplanted, watered more, and finally harvested in a long cycle from early spring through to late autumn.
Given that rice has been a staple food in China for several thousand years, and China is the world’s greatest producer and greatest consumer of rice it’s fascinating to see first hand just how it’s grown, using the same centuries-old methods. 
The rice terraces will appear quite different depending on the time of year you visit – busy with farmers planting seedlings in spring, green and lush in summer, golden brown in autumn and busy again with autumn harvesting, in late autumn through winter and early spring the terraces are still ponds of reflected water.
不仅对游客而言是一个景点,元阳本身就是一个巨大的,充满生机的稻米农场,上千的本地村民依赖稻米生活。从早春到晚秋,稻米在这里被种植、照料、浇水、移植秧苗,再浇水,最终经过一个很长的周期得以收获。
如果几千年来稻米是中国的主要粮食,中国就是世界上最大的稻米生产者和消费者。看到一手的稻米用几个世纪以来的古老方式种植是如此令人陶醉。
根据你一年中到访的时间不同,稻米梯田呈现的景象也很不同——在春天农民忙着撒种子,夏天则是一片繁茂的绿色,秋天是一片金黄色,而且此时又要忙着丰收了,在晚秋走向冬天的这段时间还有早春的时候,梯田仍就是反射天空景象的水塘。

3. The Hani People 哈尼族
One of China’s many ethnic minorities, in Yuanyang the Hani constitute just over 50% of the population and are originally of Tibetan origin. 
Smiling, open, friendly and relaxed, the Hani (and local Yi people, who constitute the second largest ethnic group in the area) are one of the best reasons to visit Yuanyang, seeing life is it is for these traditional farmers. Tourism is gradually increasing but still plays a distant second fiddle to the area’s main business – rice cultivation.
The men have mostly taken to wearing western-style clothing outside of festival occasions, but the Hani women and children of both sexes still wear traditional clothing – a heavily embroidered tunic fastened with large silver buttons made from old coins, and trousers with bands of embroidery below the knee. The women wear head dresses of various kinds depending on their area of origin (see below). 
在中国众多的少数民族中,云南的哈尼族构成了超过百分之五十的人口,而且他们是藏族的起源。
微笑、开放、友好又无拘无束,哈尼族(还有本地的彝族人,他们构成了这个区域的第二大少数民族)就是来造访元阳的最好的一个理由,看看生活本身就是这些传统农民们。旅游逐渐发展但相对于这个地区的主要产业——稻株栽培而言仍然是一个有一定距离的二流角色。
在节日之外的时候,男人们多数穿着西式的服装,但是哈尼族的妇女和孩童仍穿着传统服装——很厚的绣花束腰外衣,并用古硬币制作的大银扣来固定,裤子的膝盖以下都是一群刺绣。妇女们依据她们原区域的不同戴着不同款式的头饰。(如下) 

4. A Hani Long Table Feast 哈尼长街宴
Now I don’t want to get your hopes up but if you happen to be visiting Yuanyang in October, November or December you may be lucky enough to ctach one of the dozens of Long Table Feasts during those months. Each village holds their own at different times.
On our way to the area we stopped in Honghe, where every local we met invited us to attend the nearby annual Long Table Feast in the village of Jiayinxiang, an hour away – awfully kind of them seeing as it wasn’t actually their feast they were celebrating, a little like inviting complete strangers to your next door neighbour’s wedding without asking them first. 
We went anyway, because it sounded like the sort of wedding party you could, as complete strangers, crash without offending anyone, and we were right. 
现在我不想激起你的希望,但是如果你碰巧十月、十一月或是十二月来元阳,在这几个月里你肯定足够幸运能赶上几十场长街宴中的一场。在不同的时间每个村落都会举办他们自己的长街宴。
在我们来这个区域的路上,我们在红河停留下来,在这里每一个本地人都邀请我们参加附近一个叫佳音乡的一年一度的长桌宴。一个小时的路程——他们看起来不是真正的在庆祝他们的宴会,而是有点像邀请完全陌生的人来你隔壁邻居的婚礼,而且没有请示他们。我们离开了,因为这听起来的确像个婚礼派对,你作为陌生人,没有冒犯任何人而闯了进来,事实上,我们是对的。
村庄的入口用旗布装饰着,小路用冷衫树枝铺盖。因此当在上面行走的时候,你的脚会带起松木味道。夜更深的时候味道会更清晰,这是个多好的主意啊。当我们还在试着想出来究竟宴席在哪里举办的时候,一列队伍就出现了——本地人穿着节日盛装,跳着舞,敲着木棍,敲着鼓,挥舞着成熟的稻杆儿,还唱着歌、我们卷入了上百个狂欢者的队伍,跟着他们被带着走向街道里。

The entrance to the village was decked with bunting and the pathways laid with fir branches, so your feet stirred up a lovely pine scent as you walked. Later in the evening it would become clear what a very good idea this was.
While we were still trying to work out exactly where the feast was taking place a procession began – locals dressed in festival best, dancing, tapping sticks, banging drums, waving branches of ripened rice, and singing. We were caught up in the procession of hundreds of revellers that followed them and were carried off down the street.

Rounding a corner we suddenly saw just exactly how long the Long Table Feast was. On either side of the crowd-filled street were long rows of low wicker tables, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty end on end, and every one groaning with Hani festive foods – small crisp-fried fish, poached chicken, roast duck, boiled peanuts, rounds of corn, and lichen salads in small bowls. 
Everyone – bar very small children – was drinking white bowls of rice wine. Lots of them. The toasts started with a shout at one end of the street and spread in a Mexican wave to the other end as each table stood in rapid succession to toast the table next to them. The food had barely been touched and almost everyone was already red-cheeked and rolling drunk, telling funny stories, singing songs and toasting again and again as Mexican waves rolled up and down the street. 
It looked like terrific fun but the only problem for us was that every single seat was taken and non-local Chinese visitors to the feast all seemed to possess a pre-purchased ticket. Dang. We knew there’d be a catch and someone would figure out we weren’t invited.
We stopped two young Hani women to ask if in fact there were any remaining tickets to be had, and they promptly, in typical hospitable Hani fashion, took us back to their house and fed us there. Imagine calling your mother to say you were bringing a family of four to Christmas dinner, and you’d be there in five minutes? Christmas fireworks indeed.
But not in Hani households, where low tables were set up in the open ground floor room of their house, clustered with bowls of roast pork, pickled greens, wild herbs, roasted walnuts, fried fish, spicy duck and a fiery, intense dipping suace of fermented tofu and pickled chilies.
The toasting continued unabated, we all had a rollicking good time and eventually over the course of the evening met all the relations and neighbours and friends of relations, whose job seemed to be to go from house to house, eating a little and drinking a lot. 
Needless to say we slept that night in the campervan, parked outside the village. 
绕过一个拐角处我们突然看到这个长桌宴到底有多长。在人群的两边——两行柳条桌填满了街道,20304050连接着到最后。每一个上面都摆满了哈尼族节日的美食——小脆炸鱼、清蒸鸡、烤鸭、水煮花生、圆玉米(爆米花?)、小碗里的青苔沙拉。每个人——禁止非常小的孩子参加——都喝着白碗里的米酒。他们中的很多人。当每一桌的人紧接着和邻桌的人干杯时,由街尾处的干杯开始以一个墨西哥式的波浪蔓延到另一头。食物几乎没有动,几乎每个人脸都红了而且烂醉如泥,讲着有趣的故事,唱着歌,一次又一次干杯,一次又一次如同墨西哥波浪般在街巷里起伏。
这看起来非常有趣,但我们唯一的问题是每一个座位都有人占了,非本地的中国游客看起来之前都买过票了。我们知道一定会有人被捉住,有人会发现我们没有被邀请。我们拦住两个哈尼族妇女问她们事实上是否还有剩余的票,她们迅速地将我们带回她们的房子,并在那里招待我们,以哈尼族特有的好客方式。想象一下打电话告诉你妈妈在圣诞晚宴你将带一家四口参加的时候,五分钟内你还在那里么?事实上一定会是一场圣诞大争论。
但并不是在哈尼族的家庭里,在他们房间空旷的地上摆放着低矮的桌子,上面摆着很多碗,盛着烤猪肉、野菜、烤花生、炸鱼、辣鸭,红红的浓烈味道的腐乳还有腌辣椒。干杯继续着,丝毫没有减弱。我们度过一个愉快的时光,挨家挨户见过所有邻居和朋友,谁的工作看起来怎么样,吃一点喝一点之后最终在夜晚结束这个过程。不用说也知道,我们那晚睡在房车里,它就停在村子外。

5. Did I mention the rice terraces? 元阳梯田
There’s just no denying they are extraordinarily beautiful no matter what time of day. In the early morning clouds creep up from the valleys below and at night, the perfect stillness of the water reflects the silvery moon and the tiny diamonds of the stars, sprinkled across the sky and sprinkled again across the land in their reflections. It’s magical.
不论一天里的什么时候,毫无疑问他们都是格外的美丽。在清晨的时候,云从山谷下慢慢升上来,在夜晚睡眠完美静谧的水面映照出银白的月色和璀璨的星辰,它们布满天空,与此同时又布满大地。真是太奇妙了。

Yuanyang Hani Rice Terraces元阳梯田
Near Xinjie township, Yunnan Province
Open daily
Admission RMB 100 adults, children under 1.3m free of charge
Admission ticket covers all the rice terrace areas and is valid for the length of your stay
Accommodation is available in Xinjie (where you will need take a bus or hire a minivan from the main bus station to drive to, and then around the terraces) and also at small guesthouses in Shengcun and Pugaolao villages. In Pugaolao (see below), you are right at the top of the Duoyishu Terraces, one of the largest terraced areas, which means you can view subnrise and sunset from the comfort of your guesthouse balcony.
在云南省的新界镇区
白天开放
入场费成人100元一米三以下儿童免费
入场票包括所有的稻米梯田,有效时间就是你待在里面的时间

新界提供住宿的地方(你需要从主要公交站坐公车或是雇一辆小型货车过去,然后它们就在梯田周围),也就是生村和普高老村落的小型私人旅馆。在普高老村落(如下),你就站在多一树梯田的顶部,它是梯田中最大的一个,也就是说你可以在旅馆阳台前就欣赏到日出和日落

All Smoke, No Lava: Tengchong Volcano Park 腾冲火山公园

Ever since the Brady Bunch went to Hawaii and saw volcanoes I’ve wanted to see a real volcano too, glowing with lava and occasionally letting off spurts of sulphurous steam. Like Indianna Jones faced with the Temple of Doom, the thought of a sacrificial pit filled with bubbling lava was very thrilling to my fourteen year-old self, although I wasn’t as keen on the human sacrifice component involved. 

Suffice to say I have a highly romantic and somewhat idealised mental vision of volcanoes, dented somewhat when Mount St Helens erupted, completely lava free, killing fifty seven, and rekindled after recently re-reading Mark Twain’s American travel odyssey Roughing It, with a description of a night-time walk across the three-mile wide crater of the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii:
“Under us, and stretching away before us, was a heaving sea of molten fire of seemingly limitless extent. The glare from it was so blinding that it was some time before we could bear to look upon it steadily.
It was like gazing at the sun at noon-day, except that the glare was not quite so white. At unequal distances all around the shores of the lake were nearly white-hot chimneys or hollow drums of lava, four or five feet high, and up through them were bursting gorgeous sprays of lava-gouts and gem spangles, some white, some red and some golden—a ceaseless bombardment, and one that fascinated the eye with its unapproachable splendor.”
Mark Twain, Roughing It, 1872
自从布雷迪去夏威夷看到那些我也曾如此期待的火山,伴着火山岩浆喷发耀出红光,喷射出硫磺。就像印第安纳琼斯面对末日殿堂一般,想到一个充满熔岩沸腾的献祭深渊令14岁的我不禁毛骨悚然,虽然我不喜欢有人类牺牲这样的内容掺和进去。我只想说我的确有一种高尚的浪漫主义情怀,把火山理想精神化了,削弱了当圣海伦斯火山爆发,完全的熔岩释放,致使57人遇难又重新复燃的实情,在最近重读马克吐温的美国人在奥德赛旅行,艰难岁月一书中有一段描述是在夏威夷徒步走夜路穿越基拉韦厄火山的一个三英里宽的火山口。
“在下面,我们面前是一条绵延至远方的道路,一片起伏的火海看起来没有尽头。耀眼的光芒使人目眩,带我们平稳的看清下面还需要一定的时间。就像是在正午时分直视着太阳一样,除了刺眼的光不是那么白以外。沿着湖岸边不规则的距离都是白热化的烟囱或是中空的鼓形熔岩,四五英尺高,在它们之上是一团团熔岩华丽爆炸的喷雾还有像闪烁发光的珠宝一般,一些是白的,一些是红的,还有一些是金色的一连串的爆炸,发出的无与伦比的光彩吸引着你的眼球。” 马克吐温艰难岁月1872


So after hearing that western Yunnan is home to China’s own volcano cluster, we took an almighty detour towards the Myanmar border to the centre of the action at the Tengchong Volcano Park, or more properly and Chinglish-ly named the National Geo Park Of Tengchong Volcanic And Geothermal. I guess that covers everything.
My expectations of volcanic satisfaction were high, given that in China everything is big. This was going to be major, and we could also say it was educational and therefore justify the four days’ round trip out of our way to see it.  
The whole Tengchong region is a hotbed of seismic activity with volcanoes, hot springs, geysers and reasonably frequent earthquakes. We thought it might be an exciting place to take the kids to maybe see some science in action, but just in case we saw a bit too much science in action we made a family pact not to tell anyone back home until after we were safely somewhere else. Which we now are.
I’d built up quite an exciting level of risk in my mind, imagining walking Twain-style across a just-cooled crater of lava, but my first niggling doubts that the experience might be just slightly underwhelming came when we arrived at the Volcano Park and purchased tickets.
“Would you like tickets to Big Empty Mountain, Small Empty Mountain, Black Empty Mountain or all three?” the ticket seller asked. 
Empty? I thought. Empty? Surely not. 
We opted for Big Empty Mountain, being the biggest, but first took a turn through the Volcano Museum where they displayed an out-of-work geiger counter and a battery-operated volcano replica at least as tall as a person, rivers of red cellophane lava flowing endlessly down its sides. This was going to be GOOD.
Outside beyond the impressive five flagpoles Big Empty Mountain looked decidedly small up close, so I checked the map just in case we had detoured to Small Empty Mountain by mistake. We hadn’t, because the flat tree-covered hillock off to our right was, in fact, Small Empty Mountain, and Big Empty Mountain was dead ahead.

所以听说云南西部也是重活本土火山群的故土时,我们毅然决然的绕道前往缅甸边界进入腾冲火山公园的活动中心,更适当的讲,中英文名字叫做腾冲火山和地热国家地理公园。我想这名字包含了所有信息了。我对于火山印象期待很高,因为之前已经有一种中国每件东西都很巨大的印象。这次也一定不同凡响,我们也可以讲这是很有教育意义的,因而也能见证我们偏离正常路线绕行4天的旅行专程来看它。
整个腾冲就是火山活跃带的温床,温泉,间歇喷泉还有适度频率的地震。我们原以为这应该是个可以带孩子们来的很有意思的地方,也许可以看看运动中的科学,但是以防万一,我们看这种运动的科学有点多,我们达成一个家庭协议。直到我们安全了才会在回家之后告诉其他人。也就是现在。
在我脑海里形成这一点确实比较冒险,想象走在一个刚刚冷却的台湾风格的火山岩坑口,但我首先零星的怀疑竟是当我们到了火山公园买票的时候这种经历无足轻重。
“你想要去大空山小空山, 黑空山或者包含三种的门票吗?” 卖票人询问.
空的? 我想了一下. 空的? 当然不要了.
我们选择大空山,因为是最大的,但先转个弯浏览一下火山博物馆,那里陈列着废弃的盖革计数器和一个和人一般高的电池供电的火山复制品,红玻璃纸做的火山熔岩沿着边界流下。这个真的很不错。
走出外面,印象深刻的五个旗杆旁边的大空山看起来真的很小,所以我检查了一下地图,以防万一我们误绕到了小空山,但是我们没有,因为在我们右边平坦的树木覆盖着的小丘事实上就是小空山,而大空山就是面前这个。
Big Empty Mountain. Be very afraid.




The climb up Big Empty Mountain’s 648 stairs was just the thing for building anticipation of what a real volcano crater would look like. Never mind that the volcano itself was small. The crater would be black. Crusted with ancient lava. Perhaps occasional little puffs of high-pressure steam. Maybe.

Huffing and puffing, we arrived at the top to find this:

爬上大空山648级台阶就像是不断建立期待中真正的火山口是什么样的,无所谓火山本身多小。火山口很黑,远古时期陈旧的熔岩。也许偶尔会有高压蒸汽产生的小小喘息,也许。气喘吁吁的我们到达顶峰时发现:

Possibly the boring-est photo of a volcano ever taken. Ever.

At least the view from the top was lovely, and for a very brief minute we were able to convince the kids that the far off hill was smoking, until the cloud moved and destroyed that illusion.

I asked the girls how they thought it might have been better.

The older one favoured a scorched earth approach to volcano improvement:

“They should have taken away all the trees and grass so it looked more like a real volcano” (volcanoes in her mind being blackened cones of rock glowing red from within).

The younger one felt some lava inside the crater would have been better than “a bunch of trees” or failing that “at least a lake you could swim in”.

In summary, they named it a “spectacular disappointment” and didn’t even stop to look at the lava souvenirs carved into fish shapes, something they may one day regret.

至少从山顶看下去很美。有一刻我们可以向孩子们确认遥远的山峰还在喘息,直到云朵移开,打破了我的幻觉。我问孩子们她们觉得怎样会感觉更好点。大一点的孩子赞成用焦土的方法改进火山:“他们应该把树和草都移开,让它看起来像一个真的火山”(在她印象中火山应该是内部闪着红光的黑色锥形石)。小一点的觉得火山口里面的熔岩应该比“一丛树木”更好些,或者就算不是的话“至少是一个你能在里面游泳的湖”。总之,她们把这个称作是“无比的沮丧”(坑爹),甚至不想停下来看看雕刻成鱼的形状的火山纪念品,也许有一天他们会有点遗憾的。

The Sea of Heat 热海
Which is how we ended up later that day at the fabled Tengchong Sea of Heat, acres of boiling waters, geysers, bubbling mud and noxious gases. At least, that’s what we all thought it should have. We did know there was an outdoor swimming pool heated with therapeutic underground spring waters, and if there’s one thing that makes up for pretty much any disappointment when you’re a child, it’s the thought of splashing around in a swimming pool for a few hours.

We spent an hour searching through the campervan’s dozen or more cupboards for everyone’s swimming costumes, unworn since the beach on Lian Island, packed them into a bag along with changes of clothes and hairbrushes, and fought our way to the ticket office through a hundred tour buses and a hundred ladies selling eggs wrapped in raffia in the carpark. Why eggs? We had no idea.

The smiling ladies behind the vast ticket counter asked whether we wanted to see everything in the Sea of Heat, or just a select few things like the Boiling Cauldron and the Sea of Pearls.

“We just want to go swimming actually” we said.

“OK, so altogether that’s one thousand and seventy two yuan” she told me.

I handed her a one hundred yuan note, thinking she’d said seventy two yuan.

“No, no, a thousand and seventy two yuan. Two hundred and sixty eight yuan each person” she replied. That’s close to a hundred and eighty dollars. Two hundred and sixty eight yuan is the same price you would pay for dinner for ten in a local restaurant, or a room in a 4 star Chinese hotel.

At this point, expensive disappointing volcano behind us and promise of swimming rapidly evaporating before us, I became one of those tourists. The one who can’t believe how expensive everything is. The one who has to make her point known to the poor dummy manning the ticket desk, the same dummy with no say over the obscene prices charged by private enterprises who have bribed their way into running a business inside a national park.

“268 yuan? Why is it so expensive?”

“It’s very, very good.”

“Can you sleep there overnight?”

“No…”

“Do you get breakfast, lunch and dinner for free?”

“No, of course..”

“So HOW can you justify charging 268 yuan to go swimming??”

“It’s very good. The waters are very steamy.”

My husband gently pulled my elbow. “Let’s just pay to see the hot springs, how about that?”

在传说中的腾冲的热海,我们结束了那天最后的旅程,这片热海有几英亩沸腾的水,间歇泉,冒泡的泥浆还释放着有毒气体。至少这都是我们认为它该有的东西。我们知道有一个室外水疗泳池就是靠地下泉水加热的,当你还是个孩子的时候,若是有什么可以弥补任何失望,唯有在游泳池里嬉戏几个钟头了。
我们花了一个小时搜索房车各个角落或者更多的橱柜,就是为了找到每个人的泳衣,自从连岛海滩之后就没有穿了,把它们打包起来和换洗的衣服还有发梳放在一起。然后我们全力前往售票厅,在停车场穿过一百辆旅行车和一百个卖鸡蛋的女人,用拉菲草包着的鸡蛋。为什么是鸡蛋?我们不知道。
在巨大的售票台后面的女士问我们是否要看热海的每一个区域,或是只是选像沸腾池和珍珠之海这样的几个景点看。
事实上我们只是 “来游泳的” 我们说.
“好的,所以一共一千零七十二元”她告诉我。

我给了她一张一百的, 想她还会说还有七十二元

“不,不,一千零七十二元。每个人两百六十八”她回答。那快接近一百八十美元了。两百六十八都够在当地十个人吃饭的饭钱了,或者是中国一家四星级旅馆了。

在这一点上,我们身后是昂贵的令人失望的火山,面前时承诺中那个雾气缭绕的游泳池,我成了那些游客中的一个。一个不能相信每个东西都这么贵的游客。一个一定要搞清楚售票处这些虚假的工作人员,还有同样虚假的毫无说明就索要的无理票价,这个票价一定是私营人员通过贿赂的手段在国家公园里面经营这种生意。
268元?为什么这么贵?”
“这个真的非常,非常好”
“能在那过夜吗?”


 不行……
“那能免费吃早饭,午饭和晚饭吗?”
“当然不行。”
“那你凭什么要268元去游个泳??”
“真的特别好,是有雾汽缭绕的水池。”
我丈夫轻轻地拉了拉我的肘。“让我们就付款看看热温泉吧,怎么样?”




So we paid the relatively paltry sum of forty dollars to see the Boiling Cauldron, an impressively scalding pool of sulfur-bubbling water where suddenly eggs wrapped in raffia made perfect sense. Why just look at a pool of boiling volcanic water when you could cook stuff in it? Genius.
因此我们就付了相当于40美元的数额去看了沸腾的大锅,一个特别令人印象深刻的景象出现了,这是个滚烫的冒着硫磺泡的水池,突然有裹着拉菲草的鸡蛋出现,感觉真是好极了。当你能填满它来煮东西的时候,干嘛只是眼巴巴的看着它?简直是天才。

The cheapskates who had brought eggs in from the carpark were relegated to a simmering puddle in a far corner, away from those who could afford to pay the premium price charged by yet another private enterprise for the privilege of having their eggs (and peanuts and potatoes) cooked in the actual Boiling Cauldron.

At that point I could feel the familiar buzz of a bee in my bonnet but thankfully kept it to myself. We had all paid the same entry price, and yet we couldn’t all cook our eggs in the Boiling Cauldron, and we couldn’t all enjoy the view from the outdoor seats because those things were all extras run by private companies.

As we walked through the park VIP Beauty Spas and Very Expensive Tea Shops popped up at every turn. I don’t mind paying an entry ticket to see an attraction, far from it, but when most of my path is roped off to permit access only to people who’ve paid VIP prices? It’s just….just….JUST NOT VERY COMMUNIST now is it??

从停车场带进来鸡蛋的吝啬的卖家被安排在远处角落的一个水坑煨煮,远离那些付过额外费用给私人企业的摊贩,他们有特权可以在真正的沸腾大汽锅中煮他们的鸡蛋(还有花生和土豆)。
在那一点上我感觉很像是阀盖上一只嗡嗡的蜜蜂,但我只是自己知道。我们付了同样的门票。然而却不能在沸腾大气锅里煮鸡蛋,而且也不能享受从外面的座椅上欣赏这些风景,因为那些东西都是私营小店额外经营的。
当我们穿过公园顶级美丽水疗区以及每个拐角处突然出现的昂贵茶餐厅时,我并不介意付额外票价去看一个奇景,姑且不说这一点,但是当我大部分的道路都被围起来的时候,而且仅仅是允许付过会员价的人进去。这真的,真的,真的非常的不人性(共产主义),不是吗?




Unfortunately, the best view of this waterfall of boiling water and frog-mouthed geysers was roped off, obstructed by a large tent selling photos of tourists taken in a VIP position with the best view.

不幸的是,最好的观看沸水瀑布和青蛙嘴间歇泉的景观位置都被围起来了,被一个巨大的帐篷摊位阻塞,这个摊位就是以卖给游客在最佳位置拍摄的照片为主。

And the previously impressive boiling river had been diverted with a very attractive rock wall and pipe to feed the VIP Spa nearby.
之前印象深刻的沸腾河已经被改变了, 变成一个吸引众人的石墙和供养附近水疗的一个管道.
The pavilion and bridge were, unbelievably, Included in The Entry Price. I kept waiting for someone to spring out and charge me for walking on it.
We rounded a corner and there it was, the Unbelievably Expensive Swimming Pool in the midst of a Costly Private Resort, smack bang in the middle of a national park we had all paid to get into. The path through the valley was no longer passable because the resort had requisitioned all the land.
The girls made little conciliatory remarks to make us feel better, like “I bet they wouldn’t even let you play Marco Polo in there” and “people probably spit in the water”. 
We stood on one side of the fence and watched the only two occupants of the pool, men with white towels wrapped around their waists, walk past smoking. 
“You’ve been ripped off!” I wanted to yell at them, and at all the tourists around us. But they were too busy lining up to pay for a laminated copy of their geyser photos. Oh China.
亭子和桥也是一样,难以置信,都包含在门票里面。我等待着某个人能跳出来,控诉我在上面行走。
我们绕到一个拐角,就是这里了,在昂贵的私人度假胜地的中央就是这个贵的要命的泳池,在我们支付一切只为进入国家公园中心的时候又是猛然一惊,通往山谷的路径不再通行,因为度假村已经征用了所有的地盘。
姑娘们说了一些安抚的话语让我们感觉稍微好一点,像是“我打赌他们甚至不会让你在那里玩游戏的。” 
我们站在围栏边,看着泳池边的两个人,手腕上绑着白毛巾,抽着烟走过我们身边。
“你们上当(被宰)了!”我真想朝他们,朝着周围所有的游客喊出来。但他们都忙着排队支付那些喷泉照片的费用。唉,中国。





Tengchong Volcano Park 腾冲火山地热国家地质公园
Approximately 25km north of Tengchong just outside Mazhanxiang village.
Admission 60 yuan per person

Sea of Heat 热海
Approximately 10km south of Tengchong
Admission 60 yuan per person for limited access to attractions

Yunnan’s Biggest Market: Yousuo Friday Market 云南最大的集市: 右所周五集市

Every Friday in Yousuo, north of Dali, Yunnan’s biggest, noisiest and liveliest market takes place, spilling across the main road through town and into side streets, lanes, and a vast open area at the foot of the mountains. The local Bai people arrive from nearby farms and villages, baskets on their backs and dressed in their finest to buy and sell goods – livestock, vegetables, embroideries, woven baskets, pots and pans, sweets and tea.

Markets are a peek through the keyhole into another culture and way of life – what people eat, how they do business, how they dress. And markets are full of what the Chinese call renao 热闹, translated literally as ‘heat and noise’ but meaning ‘noisy excitement’ or ‘hubbub’. 

Renao is one of my favourite Chinese words and describes that indefinable atmosphere of all-round enjoyment and festivity that makes a good restaurant great, or a party unmissable. Noise and heat. Bustle and excitement. Crowds and activity. 

I love renao, and would rather visit a local market than a hundred temples, if the truth be known. 

Impressivley well-travelled writer Thoedora Sutcliffe recently wrote about 100 Lessons Learned from 1000 Days of Travel around the world with her son. It’s a great read and a  great list, but Number 3 particularly caught my eye:


3. Big Ticket Sights Are Almost Always Worth It …..if you’re within 50 miles of one of the wonders of the world and don’t see it, you’ll be kicking yourself for decades.

I mostly agree with her, but if there’s a market within 50 miles of one of the wonders of the world and I miss it, then I really will kick myself.

So what will you find at Yunnan’s biggest, most renao-ish market? Have a look.

大理北部一个叫右所的地方,每周五都会有云南最大规模,最喧嚣和最生机勃勃的市集。本地的白族人身着美丽的衣裳,背着竹筐,从附近的农场和村落赶来进行商品买卖——牲畜,蔬菜,刺绣,编织的篮筐,坛坛罐罐,糖果和茶叶之类的。通过窥探市集可以了解到另一种文化和生活方式人们习惯吃什么,他们如何做生意,他们如何着装。市集到处都是中国人常说的热闹,字面理解成“热烈喧闹”但实际意味着一种兴奋和喧哗。
热闹是我最喜欢用的中国词语之一,它可以描述出那种难以名状的氛围,到处是节日的喜悦和欢乐,可以用来形容一个很棒的餐馆,也可以表示一场不容错过的派对,喧闹和热烈,活跃又亢奋,充满活力的人群,我喜欢热闹,说真的,相比于成百上千的庙宇我更喜欢这样一个本地的市集。

高价景观总是值得一看

令人印象深刻的著名旅行作家克里夫最近在和其子环游世界的过程中写了一本书,从千日旅行中学习的百堂课程。读起来真的很不错,还有很棒的列表,尤其是第三章节非常吸引我。
我非常赞同她,但若有个市场离世界奇迹只有50英里,而我却没去这个市场,我真的会后悔的。
所以你猜我们会在这个云南最大最热闹的的市集发现什么好玩的呢?跟我一起看看吧。








Piglets in baskets: one farmer tried to swap a piglet for our youngest daughter, but we resisted. Just.
筐子里的小猪:一个农民想用他的小猪交换我们最小的女儿,但是我们拒绝了。这点不容置疑。

Bai women shop with baskets on their backs, straps on their foreheads or over their shoulders. Cane baskets are still the most popular but coloured woven tape baskets are becoming a new trend.
白族父女用背上的竹筐进行购物,将绳子勒在前额或者绕过她们的肩膀。藤筐仍是最受欢迎的,但彩色的编织带篮筐即将成为新的流行趋势。
The women favour a sleeveless cobalt blue or red tunic belted with a hand-embroidered sash, and a scarf or flower-embroidered head dress to cover their hair, often with a straw hat perched on top. Those who wear the flower-embroidered head-dresses often cover it with a net scarf to keep it clean in the dust of the marketplace.
女人喜欢无袖的钴蓝色或是红色束腰外衣,搭配一条手绣的腰带和围巾或是用绣花的头饰遮住他们的头发,通常也会在上面带一个稻草帽。那些带着绣花头饰的女人常常用围巾再盖上,防止市集的灰尘弄脏头饰。

Local sweets: peanut brittle, rock sugar, ground sticky rice flavoured with rose water, sesame toffee
本地甜点, 花生太妃糖, 冰糖, 玫瑰味的糯米糖, 还有芝麻太妃糖.

Tricycle truck – slightly larger than a motorbike, holds slightly more than a wheelbarrow. Maximum load seen carried: six people plus a pig and eight chickens.

三轮卡车比一般的摩托车大一些,装的东西要比独轮手推车多一些,看起来最多能装载:六个人外加一头猪和八只鸡。

If you don’t have a tricycle truck you can also carry your chicken purchases like this. Friends have suggested it would be a useful way for carrying unruly small children.
如果你没有三轮卡车,也可以这么带你的鸡。朋友建议对于不老实的小孩也可以用这种方式。

Not everyone wears traditional dress of course
当然并非每个人都穿着传统服饰

Coolest dude in Yunnan, selling thermoses. Because everyone knows only cool people use thermoses.

云南最酷的人, 都卖热水壶. 因为人人都知道只有很酷的人才会用热水瓶.

Bai woman selling joss papers for burning at the temple.

Yunnan has a unique climate and topography, so you’ll find plenty of unusual foods not seen elsewhere in China
Left: mao doufu – mold fermented tofu  Right: hai cai hua 海菜花 (ottelia accuminata) – a water plant with delicate white flowers that float on the water surface of lakes, the stalks of which are used in cooking.
云南气候和地形都很独特, 所以你能发现很多中国其他地方不会生长的食物.
左: 毛豆腐发霉的一种豆腐
右: 海菜花 (海菜花属一种生长着精美白色小花的水生植物,漂浮在湖水表面,它的茎干可以用来烹饪)

The man who sells everything from his square-metre shop: kitchen scourers, rubber gloves, safety pins, sewing needles, packets of single-use shampoo, zippers, plugs, and a thousand other useful things.
在这个一平方大小的小店,卖家销售各种商品:厨房调味品,橡胶手套,安全别针,缝衣针,一次性香波,打火机,插头还有成百上千种其他的有用玩意儿。

And lastly the street dentist, who for 50 yuan (about $8) will fit you with a shining silver cap for one of your front teeth, on the spot. Without even taking off his sunglasses.
街巷牙医,50块钱(8美元)就可以当场给你的一颗门牙镶上闪闪发亮的银套。甚至不需要脱掉他的太阳镜。

Yousuo Friday Market
Every Friday from early morning until mid-afternoon
Yousuo is on the  G214 about 40km north of Dali, Yunnan
GPS: Lat 26.018064  Long  100.063546 

Heavenly Lugu Lake 泸沽湖

We never intended to go to Lugu Lake, way off our path and straddling the border between Yunnan and Sichuan in China’s remote southwest, but as we travelled south through Sichuan to Leshan, and then Ebian, the smog and smoke that had clung to us since Chengdu cleared and we were suddenly in the midst of glorious autumn countryside, clear blue skies and pine forests, with whitewashed Yi village houses hung with garlands of bright yellow corncobs drying in the sun. It was rural China as I had always hoped it might be, without the belching factories and ugly billboards.
我们从没打算去泸沽湖,它远离我们的路径,在中国偏远的西南部地区,处于云南和四川的边界交叉处。但当我们向南旅行,穿过四川去乐山,然后去峨边彝族自治县的时候,云雾是如此地靠近我们,自从成都渐渐明晰之后,我们突然发现置身于美好的秋日乡村之中,蔚蓝的天空,还有松林,彝族村屋白色的墙壁上挂着金黄色玉米棒子在太阳下晒着。这就是我一直期待的那种田园气息的中国,没有拥挤的工厂和丑陋的广告牌。

The air smelled of autumn leaves and fir trees and we felt uplifted and relaxed, although the roads under us were bad and getting worse – bitumen giving way to uneven concrete, then cobblestones, and finally dirt. Bits of the road had fallen into the river, and other bits were more holes than road. Driving was like a constant battling obstacle course.

空气中闻到秋天落叶和杉树的味道,这让我们振奋又放松,尽管脚下的路不怎么样而且可能更糟糕一点沥青没能掩藏这些缺憾,不均匀的填充物,鹅卵石,还有那些尘土。路的少量地段已经陷入河水中,其他路段上还有更多的洼地,行驶就像是在穿越一个持续不断的障碍训练场。

Just 200km from Lijiang and the promise of a warm bed, the dirt gave way to mud as mountain springs washed across the road and left deep mud-filled furrows. There were black pigs and water buffalo wallowing in the road, the mud was so deep in places. We tried but couldn’t get through, and had to detour around Lugu Lake, which turned out to be our luckiest break in ages – climbing up to 2600m through a stunning river valley with cliffs and high waterfalls we arrived at a vast expanse of clear, deep blue water ringed by mountains. It was stunning.
离丽江只有200公里,期待中温暖的河床,然而当山泉冲刷过道路之后,留下深深的泥土沟纹,尘土也最终败给了这些泥浆。到处都是黑猪和水牛在路上打滚,个别地方的泥浆很深,我们试过几次,但是没能成功,所以我们绕道而行去了泸沽湖,结果竟是我们最为幸运的一段时光攀登2600米的高度,穿过紧邻峭壁和瀑布的绝妙山谷,我们到达一片开阔的视野,深蓝的湖水被群山环绕。真是太惊艳了。

Local legend says the lake was once small and shallow, and in its middle lived a huge fish with his head stuck out of the water. One day a greedy man pulled the fish out of the water to eat it, inadvertently unplugging a hole in the base of the lake from which rushed a flood of underground spring water, and the lake was made.
本地传说这个湖泊曾经又小又浅,在湖中央住着一条大鱼,它的头突出在水面上。一天有个贪心的人像把这条鱼拖出来吃掉它,不小心在湖的底部拔出一个洞,从这个洞里涌出大量的地下泉水,之后这个湖就形成了。

We stopped by the lake’s edge – the deep blue water was full of mysterious underwater forests we could see clearly below us, and blooms of white water hyacinths floated on top, moored by their long, trailing stems reaching down metres to the lake floor. Villages were clustered around the shore, populated by Yi, Naxi and Mosuo peoples living in log cabins and everywhere were flowers – marigolds, geraniums, azaleas, daisies and deep purple bougainvillea.  
我们在河边停下来深蓝的水充满了神秘的水下森林,我们可以清楚地看到它们就在我们下面,还有盛开的白色凤眼兰在顶部飘摇,它们系泊于此,是因为尾随的长茎深扎于数米之下的湖底。村民聚合在岸边,大部分是彝族,纳西族和摩梭族人,居住在小木屋里。到处都是鲜花金盏花,天竺葵,杜鹃花,小雏菊还有深紫色的叶子花。

I had sort of forgotten that in some places flowers are grown just because they’re lovely, after living in a country where every last bit of land is dedicated to food production and even the pots on people’s inner city windowsills are used for growing vegetables.
生活在这样一个国家中,最后一点土地都被用来粮食生产,甚至是城市里的窗台都被用来种植植物,我都有点忘记这样的地方了,鲜花自由生长,仅仅是因为它们如此可爱。

In the far distance was a little temple on a hill, and below us a man rowed a dugout canoe across the lake, gathering wild plants from the water’s edge. 
相对较远的一个地方的山坡上有座小庙,在我们下面是一个划着独木舟过湖的人,船上载着从水边采集来的野生植物。在我们知道这个之前,我们取消了在丽江(毫无疑问是很美丽的地方,但是我们之前去过)三天的停留,在闲适的达祖村预定了家庭旅店,沐浴在阳光里的阳台,非常适合阅读。要是能来上一杯冰镇的啤酒就更完美了,如果我们手边有的话。

Before we knew it we had cancelled our three day stay in Lijiang (beautiful, for sure, but we’d been there before) and booked ourselves into a guesthouse in sleepy Dazu village, with a sun-drenched balcony perfect for reading. It would have been even more perfect for drinking a glass of chilled wine, had we been able to get our hands on some.
There’s not really very much to do at Lugu Lake except look at the water, and the sky, and read a few more chapters of your book. If you have a surfeit of energy you can cycle around the lake shores to see other gorgeous villages, or take a dugout canoe trip to one of the small islands while the Mosuo women sing canoeing songs to you. I’ve heard the Mosuo women live in the world’s last fiunctioning matriarchal society, where children take their mother’s name.
在泸沽湖除了看湖水,蓝天,阅读几页你带的书以外,没有太多的事可做。如果你精力旺盛,你可以骑行环湖看看其他美丽的村庄,或是划一叶孤舟到众多小岛中的一个,途中还能听到摩梭族女人向你唱着划舟的小曲儿。我听说摩梭族是世界上最后一个母系氏族社会,孩子们跟随母亲的姓氏。

We spent three long lazy days swimming, canoeing, cycling and eating, just enjoying the chance to do very little for once. Our guesthouse cooked us farmer food when we were hungry – a whole chicken braised with pickles and potatoes, fried slices of gourd, mountains of rice – or we walked to one of the little restaurants around the shore and ate char-grilled chicken cooked on a spit, or charcoal lake fish sprinkled with spice and salt. 
Sitting together in the sun, my daughter said to me ‘Travelling is great, but it’s not exactly a holiday, is it?’ a distinction I’d never made myself, but the more I thought about it the more I realized she was right. 
Travelling and holidaying are not the same thing. Travelling is often difficult, and tiring, and sometimes just wears you down. Holidaying implies a much more relaxed state of mind and much less attention needed to the issues of roads and maps and food supplies and drinkable water. 
I resolved there and then, when possible, to try and spend more of this last third of our long, long travels holidaying more. Roads and drinkable water permitting. 
我们度过了三天慵懒的时光,游泳,划舟,骑行还有品尝美食,尽情享受,什么都不做,饿了,我们的家庭旅馆为我们烹饪农家菜用咸菜和土豆炖的一整只鸡,炒西葫芦片,还有盛得像小山一样的米饭或者我们漫步到湖边的其他小餐馆吃口水鸡,或是撒着香料和盐巴的碳烤鱼。
就像我女儿说的旅行太棒了,但她不仅是一个假日,不是吗?我自己从未明确区分过,但我越多地考虑这一点,就越觉得她是对的。旅行和假日不是一件事。旅行通常很艰辛疲惫,有时候会让你筋疲力尽。假日更是一种精神状态的放松,不需要太多关注道路,地图,食物和水等等这些琐事。
我决定了,只要有可能,将会用超过最后旅行的三分之一的时间来享受更多的假日。只要道路和饮用水这些条件允许。



Nature Inn, Dazu Village

Lugu Lake 泸沽湖
Entry 80 yuan per person from either Sichuan or Yunnan side, valid for whole lake
从四川或是云南进都是每人八十元,环湖期间一直有效


Nature Inn 本色客栈
Dazu Village, Lugu Lake, Sichuan
Doubles from 168 yuan/night
+86 18280617758
四川省泸沽湖达祖村本色客栈
两人 168/
四川省泸沽湖达祖村本色客栈


The trip so far….

Aliens in Ebian 峨边的外国人

‘Are you from Singapore?’ the man at the petrol station asked me.

‘Singapore?’ I said, wondering what part of my fair skin, freckles and light hair looked exactly Singaporean. ‘No, no, Australia. Ao-da-li-ya’
‘Australia!’ he repeated, but mixed up the syllables so that it came out sounding like Italy in Chinese.
‘No, not Italy: yi-da-li, Australia: ao-da-li-ya’ I clarified.

‘Yes! ao-lo-di-yi!’ I’m pretty sure that was an entirely made-up country just for my benefit. Australy. Itstralia.
‘Yes!’ I said, handing over the money. ‘Very big! Not many people!’
Meandering south from Leshan’s Giant Buddha, we entered the long river valley of the Dadu River in southern Sichuan, a place very similar to my standard description of Australia – very big, and not many people, even fewer of whom seemed to have heard of my home country. Perhaps it was my accent.

The area was remote and beautifully wild – tall craggy cliffs rising vertically from the river bed towards the sky, with plummeting narrow waterfalls rushing back down to the river at intervals. In such remote and mountainous country flat land for farming was scarce.

你来自新加坡吗?加油站的那个男士问我。
新加坡?我重复了一遍,难道是我的皮肤,雀斑或是头发使我看起来像个新加坡人。不,不是的,澳大利亚,我来自澳大利亚。
澳大利亚!他重复了一遍,但是混淆了几个字母所以导致用中文发出澳大利亚这个词的时候听起来像意大利。
不对,不是意大利,意利,是澳大利亚,澳我澄清道。
好的!澳意!我完全相信这一定是出于对我的尊重他组合了这个国家。澳大利,意大利亚。
是的!我说,一边把钱递给他。地方很大,但是人不是很多。
乐山大佛向南漫游,我们进入了四川南部的大渡河的一条河谷,这里很符合我刚刚对澳大利亚的描述很大,但是人不是很多,这里的人似乎更少听说过我的国家。但也许是因为我发音的缘故。
这个地方偏远而独具野生的美丽高大崎岖的峭壁沿着河床直冲天际,倾泻而下的瀑布不时冲击着河流。在如此偏远而遍布群山的乡村,几乎没有用来耕作的平坦的农田。








I thought, mistakenly as it turns out, that we had covered all of China’s worst roads in Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and Qinghai. But Sichuan had saved the worst of all for us – a 68km stretch of rocks and mud weaving in and out below the construction of a new riverside highway, alarmingly punctuated now and again by landslides.

The road, if I can truthfully call it that, was only one lane wide, so we drove in a caravan between trucks until there was a slight widening, then stopped so the caravan of trucks and cars travelling in the opposite direction could pass us. The going was painfully slow.

The road also welcomed us with a sign saying:

‘LESHAN COUNTY: ALIENS NOT PERMITTED TO ENTER’

which we neglected to photograph on the grounds that it might later incriminate us.

‘Are you an alien?’ I asked my husband. 
‘Certainly not!’ he replied. ‘Are you?’
‘No!’ I said, as we both failed to make eye contact with the police patrol parked under the sign.
‘I’m sure they’ll let us know if we’re considered aliens’ we decided, knowing full well we might be turned around at any minute by the men in black. Except turning a campervan around on a single lane mud track when there are sixty impatient trucks banked up in both directions was always going to be tricky. At least, that’s what we were counting on.

That 68km section of road took eight long exhausting hours to traverse, and as you can well imagine there was nowhere to camp that wasn’t already occupied by a construction crew or a broken-down bus.

Amongst all of this, the town of Ebian rose up like an oasis. More accurately, Ebian peered through a dense fog of pollution from the nearby nickel smelters and factories, sitting at a sharp bend in the Dadu River and clinging to the steep slopes of the riverside hills. It twinkled at us in the growing dark, beckoning us to come and find a guest house or hotel, a more attractive option than camping at the petrol station amongst people who confused Italy and Australia.

我原以为我们已经在内蒙古,新疆和青海经历了中国最糟糕的道路。但结果是我误解了这些,四川留给我们最艰难的行程在一条60公里的道路上上下颠簸,上面尽是石头和泥土,这是一条新修在河边的公路,时不时可以看到山体滑坡的警示。
我深信这条路只有一条小巷那么宽,因此我们只能在大卡车之间有些许宽度的时候行驶,然后如果对面有卡车或是汽车可以直接过去的时候我们就先停下来,这样的话我们的行进速度非常缓慢。
路边也有个标示注明:
‘LESHAN COUNTY: ALIENS NOT PERMITTED TO ENTER’
乐山县:外国人不准进入。” 由于担心事后受到指控,我们没有在路上拍照。
你是外国人吗?我问我丈夫。
当然不是!他答道。你呢?
不是!我说。我们都没敢看在停在警示牌下的巡警。
我确信他们能告诉我们是否是外地人,我们决定搞清楚这一点,否则在接下来的任何一分钟都可能被灰溜溜地赶回来。来回拥堵了60多辆不耐烦的卡车,在泥泞的单行线上掉头是一个技术活,至少,我们希望能做到。
这条68公里的路耗费了我们8个小时的时间行驶。你可以想象到根本没有地方让我们安营扎寨,因为经过的区域已经完全被建筑施工队或是坏掉的巴士占据了。
此间,峨边彝族自治县的出现就像是一片绿洲。更准确的说,从附近镍熔炉工厂产生的污染浓雾望去,峨边彝族自治县坐落于大渡河的转弯处,紧邻河畔丘陵的陡坡处,在渐浓的夜色中闪着光亮,吸引我们前往去找到一个宾馆或是旅店,相比于露宿在有那些搞混意大利和澳大利亚人群的加油站中,这是一个更为诱人的选项。
在陡峻和蜿蜒的道路上我们慢速行进,进入镇中心,我们完全被这地方搞懵了,到处是三轮出租车,震耳的音乐,汽车鸣笛声,还有晃眼的闪光灯标,这个地方的发展的速度超越其本身应有的,而且还没有解决好过剩的人口问题。
这么多的人,一时间震惊了我们。
五十张陌生的脸庞好奇的看着我们停车,然后看我们走出房车,询问我们要不要去马路对面的小旅馆住宿。
穿过新一批的峨边彝族自治县房屋建设区,在一个大厅里三个年轻女人身着套装,玩着手机,她们一起看过来,下巴都快掉了,也许我就是个外国人。
这让我们感觉到有点不舒服,但不会像之前那么不舒服,那时候被20个感兴趣的本地人围着,拥挤在旅馆的小角落,问着一连串的问题:
你们从哪里来啊?
你是做啥的啊?
你一个月挣多少钱啊?
你怎么会说汉语啊?
外边的小孩是你家的吗?
她说的是啥啊?
她来自澳大利亚。月收入人民币一万元。两个女儿。
人群传阅着我们的护照。
我们这里没来过外国人!桌边的少女告诉我。这让我不那么安心,但是好在本地的警察没对我们产生太多兴趣,我们也想远离他们。























We wound down the steep and twisting road into the centre of town, utterly chaotic with a mayhem of tricycle taxis, blaring music, horns, and bright flashing lights, a place that was rapidly outgrowing itself and hadn’t worked out yet what to do with all the surplus people. 

The surplus people, meanwhile, had suddenly spotted us.

Fifty incredulous faces watched us park, then watched me get out of the campervan to ask about rooms at the tiny hotel across the road.

In the lobby three young women wearing suits were playing on their mobile phones over a scale model of a new Ebian housing development. They looked up in unison and their jaws literally dropped. Perhaps I was an alien after all.

This made me feel a little uncomfortable, but not nearly as uncomfortable as the process of registration which involved twenty very interested locals crowding the hotel’s small counter and shooting me with a battery of questions:

‘Where are you from?’
‘What’s your job?’
‘How much do you earn each month?’
‘How come you can speak Chinese?’
‘Are those your children outisde?’
‘What did she say?’
‘She’s from Australia. Monthly income 10,000 renminbi. Two daughters.’

Our passports did the rounds of the crowd.

‘We don’t have any foreigners here!’ the teenage girl manning the desk told me. This reassured me not at all, but as yet the local police had shown no interest in us and we wanted to keep it that way.

For people unaccustomed to aliens, Ebian’s locals were mighty keen to get to know us. A tight crowd followed us around the small night market until we found a restaurant that looked clean and welcoming, but as we sat down the rosy-cheeked waitress took one panicked look at us and ran off, returning five baffling minutes later with the owner, an older man.

‘Hel-lo!’ he said, slow and loud. ‘Speak Chi-nese?’
‘Yes, we can’ I answered, in Chinese, at which the owner turned to the waitress and scolded her for pulling him away from his TV show to come and speak a language to these foreigners she could clearly already speak.
She blushed and giggled and then sat herself down at our table, and in the most incredibly rapid-fire Sichuan dialect said:
‘Ha! I’m-so-relieved-you-speak-Chinese-for-a-minute-there-I-thought-I-wouldn’t-be-able-to-communicate-with-you!! You-can-understand-everything-I’m-saying-right??’
‘So!’ she continued, with scant pause for breath, ‘Where-are-you-from-where-do-you-live-do-you-eat-spicy-food-how-much-do-you-earn?’
‘Can we order some dinner first?’ I asked.
By now, all the other kitchen staff and the owner were also seated at our table, along with their kids, waiting to hear the answer to her questions.
So we ate dinner, and in between bites tried to answer everything they wanted to know – how many square metres our house in Shanghai was, whether we thought Sichuan was better than any other province in China, and why we were able to eat spicy food, despite everything they’d heard to the contrary. 
The next morning, by now familiar with everyone in downtown Ebian, we went for a walk. What I hadn’t noticed in the dark the night before was now obvious. Ebian’s population is about half Yi people, the women wearing intricate beaded headresses and looped plaits. They thought we were incredibly exotic, touching our daughters’ hair and skin, but we felt like very shabbily-dressed…well…aliens. Strangers in a strange land.

对于那些不熟悉外国人的人,峨边彝族自治县的本地人很热衷于了解我们。在夜市中一群人紧密地跟着我们直到我们找到一家看起来还比较干净好客的饭店,但是当我们入座的时候,一个面若桃花的服务生惊恐的看了我们一眼跑开了,经历了令人困惑的五分钟后,她把老板带来了,一个年纪稍长的男人。
你好!他大声拖长声音道,能说汉语?
是的,我们能我用汉语回答到,老板扭头指责服务员打扰他看电视,她能和外国人沟通的。
她红着脸傻笑着,然后坐在我们桌边,以快得难以置信的四川方言说道:
哈!知道你会汉语感觉舒服多了,之前我还以为我没法和你交流了呢!!你能听懂我说的话,是吧??
那!短暂的停顿后,她继续说道,你们从哪来啊?你们住哪儿啊?你们吃辣的食物吗?你们挣多少钱啊?
我们能先点菜吗?我问到。
此刻,所有厨房的其他员工和老板也坐在我们的桌子旁,和他们的孩子一起,等着听我们的回答。
所以我们吃过晚饭,在陷入新一轮的提问前我们试着回答他们想知道的每一件事我们在上海的房子有多大,我们觉得是不是四川比中国的其他省更好,还有为什么我们能吃辣的食物,尽管他们想听到完全不同的回答。
第二天早晨,我们已经熟悉了峨边彝族自治县这个镇的每一个人,所以我们出去散了个步,之前在深沉的夜色中我们没有注意到,但是此刻竟是如此明显,峨边彝族自治县的人口几乎一半是彝族,女人带着复杂的珠状头饰,而且辫子是围成圈的。他们认为我们非常的奇异,摸着我们女儿的头发和皮肤,让我们感觉自己确实穿的有些怪异,好吧,外国人。我们是在奇异土地上的奇怪的人。










For a touch of familiarity we ate breakfast at the same restaurant as the night before, where our rosy-cheeked waitress (above, left) whizzed between tables filling in the other customers on our particulars and answering questions on our behalf. I was ever so grateful.
I never did find out whether we were actually allowed to be in Ebian or not, or why that particular area might have been restricted to us. But should your craft ever land there, a friendly and curious welcome is guaranteed. 

由于些许的熟悉感,我们在前晚吃饭的同一家饭店吃的早餐,就是那个面若桃花的女孩(上图左侧)所在的饭店。之前她周旋于满是顾客的饭桌之间,并且从我们的角度出发回答了那些问题,我真的非常感激她。
我始终也没搞清楚我们是否被允许进如峨边彝族自治县,或者为什么这个特别的地方要限制我们的进入。如若是你旅行至此,你准会收到友好又带有好奇心的欢迎。


Where is Ebian?
Leshan County
Sichuan Province, China
Practically in the middle really.