Saturday, February 23, 2013

Kunming, China

The capital of Yunnan province is Kunming (say "kwin-ming").  Lucky Airlines flew us safely to the 4th largest airport in China.  The Flying Tigers in WWII actually landed in Kunming bringing supplies to aid the allied forces.  Kunming is a 'melting pot' of China where all 56 ethnic minorities are represented in its population.  The province of Yunnan has about 36 million people.  When we arrived, we went to a Muslim restaurant for lunch, but it was in a miserable part of town that was dirty and unattractive.  The food was okay, though, and they made a little bread roll that was unique and tasty.  We went to visit the Golden Temple, a Daoist temple built in 1671 AD from 250 tons of copper!  It is the largest copper temple in China, though very small compared to other temples, and it no longer has its golden color.
  The temple was commissioned by Wu San Gui, a worthy Chinese generalissimo.  His huge sword and spear were on display as well.  He was strong!
A good-looking man, Wu San Gui.

His concubine was said to be so beautiful that she would rival Helen of Troy.  Here she is.
The concubine is the statue in the pond--ha, ha!
Inside the temple, things look more golden.

3D dragon in the roof

Outside, the smell of incense fills the air and there are beautiful gates, sculpture and gardens around the temple.


So cute!

There are many replicas of bronze sculptures from all over China on display here.

The lions or dragons who stand sentinels in front of Chinese buildings to protect them from evil and bring luck and prosperity are male and female.  The male is on the right with a round ball under his paw representing the union of heaven and earth.  The female has a cub under her paw, usually upside down in a playful position.  She guards the cub just as she guards the building she's in front of.  I really liked this statue because the cub is not underneath her paw!  I think the other pose doesn't look as playful.  This is the only time I've seen one this way.

Also nearby was a 40-ton bronze bell in a large tower that dates from 1416AD and is the 4th largest in China.  Wish I could have rung it!  Maybe you would have heard it!!

Bell tower
 It's always part of the experience to do some "people watching".
Grandma and Granddaughter

Grandpa and Grandson playing cards
We drove through the crowded streets to another temple in the center of town.  The guide told us that 900 new cars PER DAY are registered in Kunming!  Before now, it was too difficult for people to own a car, but things are changing.  

Yuantong Temple is atypical because it is not on a mountaintop, and when going through the different halls, you go downhill instead of climbing up.  There were many beggars, mostly crippled, waiting for us out front.  Wish I could help them all.  Although small compared to what we've see elsewhere, Yuantong Temple is the largest Buddhist complex in Kunming and it is over 1000 years old.  There is a lot of renovation going on, but it has a much more intimate feel to it than most we've visited.  It is called a "Museum of Buddhism" because all the different factions of Buddhism are represented here.

This Buddha is holding his sword up in a defensive position.  That tells all traveling monks that this is not a place where they are welcome to eat and take lodging.  I guess because it was in a major population location, it overwhelmed them to have visitors.  I thought it was interesting that the statute gives that message.
There's a "moat" around this temple, but it's dry for renovations.

Wooden-carved dragons--sweet!

My offering of incense

Pretty stone bas relief

Another unusual thing about this temple complex was the animals we saw.  There was a flop-eared rabbit, a couple of cats, turtles, white doves, and of course, gold fish in the ponds.
The turtles are on a rock in the pond, with goldfish swimming around them.

My grandson, Luke, wants this bunny!
We went to a beautiful restaurant for our mushroom hot pot dinner.  It was actually pretty good.  The waiter comes to your table and prepares and serves it all.  At least it was different!

These are mushroom, but they also added chicken and other vegees.

In the lobby was this beautiful furniture, and a golden "yuan bao", the ancient Chinese coin.  Everyone's getting ready for Spring Festival.

The most entertainment we got all day was when the bus took us to our downtown hotel.  It was on the narrow intersection of a crowded street, and the bus just stopped kitty-corner in the middle of the intersection and we got off and unloaded our luggage from the bottom while the drivers all had to wait.  We had 42 people on our bus!  It was an "only in China" moment!
There's a driver in that white car, just waiting......

That's our hotel, The New Era Hotel, on the corner.

There was a beautiful stained glass window in our hotel lobby.  

Next stop:  Hanoi, Vietnam

Friday, February 22, 2013

Dali, China

We drove the three hours from Lijiang down to Dali.  Along the route we saw farmers working the rice paddies.  The terraced fields are so unique.  They look especially beautiful when they are flooded, but it's not that time of year.

Wind Farm - Chinese characters on the side of the hill

Farmers busy working
We stopped to pick up our guide, and he took us for "three cups of tea".  It is a traditional welcome for guests in the Bai minority culture--the first cup is bitter, the second is sweet and the last is fragrant.  "Tea" is a very open word in China.  Basically hot water with anything else in it is "tea".  The first cup was a green tea, so I didn't drink that, but the second was honey, walnut and ginger, and it was delicious.  The third had cinnamon and a little tangy flavor to it.  While we drank, some dancers performed for us in traditional costume.  One dance showed a bride and how all the guests pinch her for "good luck".  Three pinches means eternal happiness.  (Probably she's eternally happy that she never has to get pinched after that!)

The performance was staged in a beautiful, big courtyard home that was owned by a wealthy Chinese man who made his fortune in marble.  There are marble quarries in Dali and the beautiful marble is made into lovely art as well as building material.  The home had some marble accents which were so pretty.

No, it's not a mountain or ocean painting, it's marble!

Courtyard entrance--isn't it fabulous?

More lovely art--3D!
We checked into a lovely hotel in the old town area, within the ancient city wall.  Dali was on the southern Silk Road, as well as the Tea/Horse Road.  It is a small town by Chinese standards--less than a million people, but tourism is increasing.  They have many laws protecting the environment, such as no water skiing, no snow skiing, no plastic bags (rice-bamboo paper bags only that biodegrade within 20 days of burial), and they use wind farms and solar heating for energy.  Good for them!  Their main exports are tea, tobacco, flowers (orchids and camellias) and holstein cows, producing yogurt and cheese.  (Cheese is not popular in China!  We have to buy imports.)
Our hotel lobby--gorgeous!


The hallway and door to our room

 We went to a park across the street where the camellias are in bloom.  They are about 3 times as big as those my Dad grew.

The park was not in the best state--people had carved graffiti into the agave leaves, and we saw rats running around the mahjong tea rooms, but the water was pretty.

My reflection in the water under the bridge.

Dining choices along the street. It included several insects!

Chinese barber 'pole'--it spins around

The West Gate of the old city wall.

 In the morning, we went to visit the famous "Three Pagodas of Dali".  The tallest 16-tiered pagoda called Qianxun was built around 846AD, stands 70 meters tall, and is the oldest in southwest China.  You can't go inside, as there's only an old wooden staircase.  The two adjacent pillars were built 100 years later on, and they are both slightly tilted because of earthquakes!  They look quite impressive against the backdrop of the Cang Shan Mountains.

Local native dress

Juying Chi, a second reflecting pool in back, gives another beautiful photo op.

Leaning tower

 There is a large Buddhist Temple Complex behind the pagodas called the Chong Sheng Temple.  It has dozens of buildings and temples and Buddhas, all in current use and well maintained.  It is set up as most in China, where you walk through one temple, then up higher to the next temple.  Walk through it and go up higher to the next one, and so on.  This complex had nine temples and went for at least a mile up the mountain.  
Love the Chinese translations and spelling-- "Racy Clable" on your left.

Another common temple site--dragons carved in a slanted stone slab in front.

Happy, smiling golden Buddha

More austere-looking Buddha
Golden Buddhas in Chongsheng Temple

Pretty koi ponds on the grounds
The last of the temples is Lookout Tower, where we could climb to the top and see clear across the valley to the Erhai (Ear Ocean).  We sure do enjoy being out of the pollution in the big cities.

 This large golden "spike" is called The Vajra, or devil-surrendering stamper.  It is made of copper and plated with gold and this is the largest one in China.

We found Magnum Bars in the snack stands here, so this tourist stop rates 5 stars!

We went to visit a marble salesroom with beautiful vases, sculptures and other object d'art.  I bought a rolling pin!  I got a kick out of the delivery cart driving right into the store with all the displays.  Only in China!  
Marble on display

Kirk got a kick out of this salesclerk with the Stanford sweatshirt!

Look out!
For lunch we were all excited because we were going to a restaurant on Foreigner's Street in old town.  Hopefully we'd have food we could recognize!  NOT SO!  It was all Chinese and the only difference was that it was served on rectangular tables instead of a lazy susan.  :(

Unsupervised minors setting off fireworks!

They really do use these balancing baskets.  (Notice the cute trash can.)

Darling little baby helping her Mom sell New Year's decorations--the Year of the Snake.
In the afternoon, we rented a tandem and rode with some friends down to the Erhai lake.  It felt so great to do something physical after all the bus and plane riding we've been doing.  Our only exercise has been walking!
Pavilion on the lake

Woman washing her vegetables

The only "man" we saw working in Yunnan!

Construction workers--all women

I might actually eat a fish caught in this lake--it was relatively clean.

We particularly enjoyed riding through the fields and watching the people farming and working. It was very refreshing and interesting. 

Farm home in the countryside.

Think YOU work hard?

She is hand watering each plant.
We came back to town and rode alongside the city wall.  At one point, there was a big gate and I took out my camera to get a photo.  Suddenly I heard a guard yell, "STOP" and realized there was a sentry under the gate.  Apparently it was a military area and photos were not allowed.  Oops!  Glad they didn't arrest me!

I remember when this bronze was unearthed in 1969--from the Han Dynasty.  It intrigued me then, and I got to see the original in the US.  Here is a replica, still considered a prime example of great Chinese sculpture and form.
'Bronze galloping horse treading on a flying swallow'

This pagoda southwest of old town looks very much like Qianxun, but it was in a "park" that was locked up.  The tower had greenery growing from the roof.  Apparently it doesn't get the same attention as the 3 Pagodas down the street.

Back at the South Gate, there were costumed Bai people in front taking pictures.  The one in red is the legendary "Monkey King" that I mentioned earlier.

South Gate

Honglongjing (Red Dragon Well), a spring coming up and flowing into old town.

Courtyard homes in old town
We returned our bicycles as the sun was going down, then wandered through old town looking for some of the famous cheese.  We could only find vendors who were frying it and putting it on a skewer, but we never trust fried things here--who knows what kind of oil it is or how old it is!
Not sure what this was for.....  A leather Halloween costume?

The bottom of Honglongjing as it flows into old town.

South Gate from the inside

View south from the city wall

Hiking on the city wall

View of old town

The lights are on--see the holes in the sidewalk?  That's the creek running through town.
We were exhausted when we went to bed tonight.  Lots of hiking and cycling today.  It felt good.  The next morning, on the way to the airport, we drove by the Dali University in the new town.  We wondered if they needed English teachers!

Yangbi River in new town Dali
We knew we'd have a safe flight.  Just check out the name of our airline!

Next stop:  Kunming, China