JUNE 7,  1996  FRIDAY

Long, long trip to Red Mountain. 3 1/2 hours one way, on a very rutted road in a rented Jeep.  Four of us are packed in the back seat - Sun, Dusty, Mei, myself. Jack has the front seat to himself, but is probably not much more comfortable that we are. 


A few miles out of town we have a flat tire - a  'puncture'.  I spend a few minutes exploring the grazed meadow around us.  Euphorbia nematocypha and Iris bulleyana, are in abundance as would be expected. Neither one of these plants are grazed, so they are quite common in the fields here. The euphorbia has also become very common to us.  But it is still a beautiful plant, very full rounded leafy clumps about 18" high and showy heads of greenish yellow flowers. It would be an excellent garden plant, if the quickly ripening and falling seed could be collected. There is one early bloom on the iris.   


We drive through a long valley before we start climbing, up and up, occasionally through wooded areas of Larix potaninii, Abies forestii and some Pinus armandii. The larger trees, mostly Abies, are being logged at an alarming rate, but at least it felt like a forest.


We enter a zone of giant rhododendrons, a forest of them in full bloom with gnarled bare trunks, a dense canopy of thick rhododendron leaves and tight round trusses of white-on-pink buds, and an occasional bright pink form. Some of these old specimens are 30' tall or more. There is not much growing beneath them; it is very dark and dense.  As we drive, we see hillsides in the distance, hazy-white with rhododendron forests in full bloom.


Our destination is a slope near Red Mountain itself at about 13,750'.  It is lean up here, a sree slope made reddish with a high iron content, looking quite barren from a distance.  We have lunch in a little depression next to a rocky slope, out of the wind. I lean against a bank of dwarf rhododendrons just coming out of their winter mode, with mounds of Diapensia purpurea var. rosea, Bergenia purpurescens, Cassiope pectinata just starting to bloom, within my grasp as I eat the dried yak meat that we ordered extra from the restaurant last night, the individual servings of 3 minutes noodles that we have taken to eating on our outings, preparing it on the spot with hot water from the thermos, the hard boiled eggs. The view is fabulous - stark and dramatic. The snow has just recently melted, and most of the plants here still have the packed down look they have before they have a chance to respond to the warmer days. They are just starting to grow, although there are some early bloomers. It must be overwhelmingly beautiful in fuller bloom. After we eat we walk down into a shallowly wet and rocky depression, but it is so clear, with mats of Diapensia in bloom, lots of Caltha scaposa and Oxygraphis glacialis, and a dense low-growing silvery-leaved potentilla with sprays of yellow flowers. Our destination is the scree slope on the other side and beyond this wet area, but I get too involved (again), take too many pictures, spend too much time with the details, and by the time I get to the road near the scree slope, Jack and Sun are on their way back. Jack has a handful of a beautiful rich purple allium on a stem about 10" long and seed pods of a silver haired saussurea. Sun, who has explored further, says there is Rheum alexandre beyond the ridge.


The ride back is only slightly more comfortable.  We see scattered Meconopsis pseudointegrifolia in some of the lower meadows - nearby are grazing yaks, these with long black hair and a broad white stripe down their backs which extends onto their tails. They are beautiful animals.


Dinner tonight is a 'hot pot', served from the center of our round table, with heating coils below, a big pot with simmering broth set on it. The pot is divided, one half of the broth is hotly spicy, the other is not.  Plates of raw food are brought to the table and dumped in to cook. It becomes a deep simmering stew of all kinds of things - we reach in and take our pick or be surprised - great fun. Some of the ingredients are smilacina shoots, onions, pig stomach, pig livers, long thin slices of dried tofu, chunks of fresh tofu, pig brains, (mushy, I can't get used to this), other greens, potatoes.




Back to Napa Hai today, but not to as high an elevation this time. On a dry brushy slope we scramble to see Androscae bulleyana.  Neat single rosettes of thick, sharply acute leaves and single stems about 6-10" high with a cluster of small bright red flowers with yellow eyes. It is a monocarpic beauty. They grow scattered thinly around the shrubs: there are, among others, Pinus armandii, Quercus pannosa that has become so common, but no less desirable, Indigofera pendula, Caragana franchetii (a low spreading thorny shrub with densely growing silvery leaves and yellow flowers), a small yellow viola, a yellow Lonicera.  Nearby is Philadelphus purpurascens with sprays of white flowers, each with a contrasting deep purple calyx. The plants we see vary in the intensity of the purple in the calyx. Deutzia also grows nearby.


Jack almost ran into a viper-like snake near the cliffs above that he was exploring.  He didn't stay to investigate.



We are now in Dechen in a government run hotel, for foreigners. This area is 'closed' and does not see many westerners without the hard to get  proper permission papers. This is another fascinating town in an incredible setting.  We have driven from Zhongdian to Dechen, 180 K,  through scenery that to try describe would be like trying to describe the taste of chocolate, or the smell of oriental lilies. Massive bold uprisings,: huge, barren, as we snake our way insignificantly through this dry land lay bare around us, but uplifted with a strength and force beyond our imagining, engulfing us in its power as we drive for hours in awed silence.


 Dechen is nestled on a hillside, about halfway down to a deep valley. The hotel is really very nice, my room has a double bed, a TV, a cabinet, and 2 impressive chairs of carved, heavy, cherry-stained wood with back and seat inserts of Dali marble. The girls who greet us are so eager to help, taking our luggage with zest, all smiles. There is no elevator in this building. I am on the 4th floor. No in-room western style toilets here -  rather, the women's washroom is down one floor and at the end of the hall. The shower is down the hall on our floor. The toilet facilities are composed of 3 stalls, each separated by a low white-tiled wall, no doors of course, and a trough that runs the length. Just stoop and do it in the trough.  Frequently they rinse the whole thing down. It's not too bad. 


The images of China are blurring, numbing.  I guess that means I am being imprinted somehow. Yaks, Tibetan men and women walking down the road with their heavy loads. It seems like we are in the middle of nowhere, but homes and villages are tucked in everywhere. We  saw many young monks today, in burgundy robes.


As I lay in bed, writing, I hear yak bells on the street below.  I look out the window from my 4th floor room, and see a horse with a full load on his back, two young yaks and a scrawny brown dog eating out of the garbage can.  There is TV noise coming from many of the rooms around me. This is a very noisy place. I think I'll make the long trip to the bathroom, then get out my earplugs and try to read or sleep.


As I lay in bed, writing, I hear yak bells on the street below.  I look out the window



Morning in Dequen, 7:00. Something is being broadcast from loudspeakers on the street. I must find out what it is. (I find out later that it is their twice daily propagandized version of the local news - it last for an hour each time.)


We walk  through the town this morning while the car is being repaired. I buy a tall Tibetan hat of gold brocade with furry black ear flaps for a friend at home. It cost 50Y, about $6.00 American money. I want to bring home a Chinese garden tool, so I buy a weeder, for 3Y about 40 cents. This town is built on a steep hill, we get lots of exercise just walking around. 



Today we stop at a viewpoint to see Mei-li, the highest peak in Yunnan. It was hidden from us yesterday as we drove to Dechen, but it is clearer today, and the prospects are promising. It is considered 'lucky' to see the peak , and even Sun has never seen it. 


This viewpoint is a Buddhist holy spot, with white washed small temple-like structures and the frequently seen bunches of tall bamboo poles tied with prayer flags. Many strands of rope are strung here also, crisscrossed around the area, draped with the colorful flags - bright yellow, red, or blue squares with buddhist prayers printed on them, tattered from the persistent wind, even tied to the nearby shrubs. As the wind blows, it carries the prayers of the faithful to heaven. It is a fabulous sight and feeling to walk among them. The sky is brilliant blue, the clouds are scattered white cotton puffs. The jagged peaks stretch across the horizon, snow covered, with dark ridges that change with the shifting light. Mei-lei remains ellusive, clouds hiding it's face. We wait for Mei-li to clear. We wait, and it finally pokes through it's private cloud.  A broad glacier streams slowly from it's peak in mountain time. Tibet is within sight.  I know where I am -  I am in China gazing at the eastern edge of the Himalayan Mts., but it hard to internalize that I am really here. We sit in silence and watch, each of us involved in our private world at this moment. The mountains are powerful and the feelings are intense. India has crashed into Asia and the earth has risen and shifted, and here we are, and it is still moving beneath our feet in such a different time frame that we can't begin to feel it happening.  


We are on the road again. The sky is clear now, a picture postcard of blazing white peaks against deep blue sky framed by green hills - it is too much to handle.  Mei-Li is showing his face. I look away. I look back and Mei-li follows us awhile as we drive around the sharp bends of the hills that, in turn, hide or reveal him. We finally drive out of sight.



Jack, Dusty, Sun, and I walk the town, looking at shops, find an old narrow stone street to explore. The houses are set closely to each other, no room between them, very nicely kept and the street is very clean.  They are 2 story homes mostly, some with balconies bordered with carved railings, often painted with colorful Tibetan designs, as are the window frames. Along one side of the road runs a concrete ditch with water running through. Along the ditch is an occasional  wooden box-like structure built directly above it - they are pig pens, housing one big pig or a few small ones - the pigs are dry and clean and probably happy in their piggy way, ignorant that they are soon to be invited to dinner.


I am curious about what the houses are like - I peer into an open doorway to a small courtyard in back. Sun asks the old Tibetan woman there if we may see. She is happy to welcome us to her home. We walk through a short narrow dim corridor between rooms to a small square open courtyard.  A few potted plants, benches, open space shared by neighbors on 4 sides. It is nice, and unexpected. She invites us into the main room of her home. There are beautiful carved cabinets like the home we visited in Zhongdian, but smaller and darker. She invites us to stay for yak butter tea, but we decline. She is old and thin, with the dark furrowed face typical of the old Tibetan women, brightly dressed in a blue and black turban, her apron colorful with short vertical strips of pink, yellow, blue, a common style in this town.


come back later to take some pictures. She is still there, standing near her doorway with a friend, both brightly clad, chatting away, as I suppose any long time friends and neighbors do, maybe telling her about the foreigners who were there earlier. She greets me as I pass.




We take the long trip to White Horse Mountain, a pristine alpine area, with sharply jagged uplifts and distant scree slopes. There are exciting plants here, though not quite blooming. We are at almost 14,000'. It has snowed lightly last night up here, and there is the lightest cover of snow on some of the rhodies, but it melts in the mid-day sun as we wander. The sun is shining bright, glinting off of the crystal clear creek that is meandering through the meadow.  Even here, on the other side of the creek, is a makehift wooden home, with a big black Tibetan mastiff tied on a leash next to it, watching us carefully, occasionally letting out a warning bark. 


Caltha scaposa grows here in shiny gold abundance, and a low growing pale yellow anemone, like A. obtusiloba. A tiny rheum is in flower - a wrinkled rosette about 3-4" across with a flower stem to about 3" (so far), Incarvellia compacta, a very tiny viola with tiny linear leaves, a low blue leaved corydalis (I think), and rhododendrons of course, a purple sp. and beautiful soft pink, almost white Rhododendron primuliflora,  also a pink flowered daphne-like low shrub, fragrant, beautiful. Sun said he would find out what it is. I hope he does.



Caltha scaposa grows here in shiny gold abundance, and a low growing pale yellow anemone, like A. obtusiloba. A tiny rheum is in flower - a wrinkled rosette about 3-4" across with a flower stem to about 3" (so far), Incarvellia compacta, a very tiny viola with tiny linear leaves, a low blue leaved corydalis (I think), and rhododendrons of course, a purple sp. and beautiful soft pink, almost white Rhododendron primuliflora,  also a pink flowered daphne-like low shrub, fragrant, beautiful. Sun said he would find out what it is. I hope he does.


At a stop on the way down to town, we follow a creek that runs through a rocky brushy slope. On a rock face at the end of a small boulder field is a surprise population of Paraquilegia, this one easy to approach, with no breathless climb to rock faces in the scree. What a beautiful plant! So I didn't miss it after all. 


Tonight we have 'medicine chicken' in the 'hot pot' style. We are all sick with colds and coughs. It is the Chinese version of 'Chicken Soup'. Every part of the chicken seems to be in it, and lots of medicinal herbs. I eat my first, (and probably last) chicken foot - sticky and glutinous, not very appealing to my taste, but interesting running my teeth gingerly over the toe bones, feeling the claw, trying not to get too close. But it did make us all feel better, and clear up some of the congestion.



This cold is really getting to me. I'm feeling weary and like I'm ready to go home. I'm waiting for my second wind.  


We are on the way to Weixi, but the road that we had intended take, along the Mekong river, is impassable from recent rains, so we backtrack to Zhongdian.


It has snowed in the mountains overnight. We pass the exact spot that we visited yesterday, near the White Horse Snow Mountain. Today it is white with snow, inches of it, and the meadows that we explored in the brilliant sunshine yesterday are now covered with white. The sky is gray and heavy with impending snow clouds. Quite good timing on our part, I would say.  We travel a long way through these snow covered hills. It is quite beautiful, and totally unexpected.


We spend the night at the same hotel in Zhongdian that we had stayed at before.



We head to Wiexi today. We follow the Yangtze River for a long way, through some very dry areas with dramatic rock formations, through areas that are subtropical, from 6500' up to to 8500' and down again.  Weixi is located in a beautiful valley at about 7400'. We travel a long corkscrew winding road down into this valley past the usual entourage of horses, goats, herds of pigs and piglets, cows, yaks, people with big bundles, rice paddies, wheat growers, homes, curious wide-eyed children, bicycles. We are here after a long 9 hour ride on often bumpy, often harrowing roads, through wonderous scenery.


Weixi is very near to Tibet, and not too many foreigners get the necesary permissions to come here.  It is a strange town.  It feels different somehow, as if everyone is more cautious, more suspicious, of us and of each other



     Thousands of white butterflies with black veining on their wings, fluttering across the road and on the roadside, for miles. One gets caught inside the car. It flutters away.



     Thousands of white butterflies with black veining on their wings, fluttering across the road and on the roadside, for miles. One gets caught inside the car. It flutters away.


     The silent rhythm of the rice paddies as they undulate down the hillside, in varying shades of new rice green, following the contours of the land.


Mei and I share a room in this hotel in Wiexi. There is large, bright, living room area, a big window, and 2 bedrooms. The water works sproadically, but it is not hot. It is warm tonight and the window is open. Mei and I watch TV and talk. She tells me what is happening on the Chinese version of a soap opera that we are watching. I ask her if she has seen any American movies. She tells me that she has seen the Chinese dubbed versions of 'Pride and Prejudice' and 'Gone with the Wind'. 


Mei loves to sing, and she has gone to join the young people at the karaoke club below us. It is very loud, and most of the singers are very bad, but it is obvious that they are having a wonderful time. Karaoke is very popular in China, and we have been kept up late more than one night listening to it emanating loudly from a nearby karaoke club.   



Today we drive to an area called Li-ti-Ping, an area known for the great variety of rhododendrons that grow here. The area is mostly wooded with an abundance of other very interesting plants, Arisaema consanguineaum, Aconitum, Paris, lots of interesting things - Enkianathus with large almost reddish bells, lots of ferns - one in particular attracts me, with upright lanceolate leaves about 8" high growing from rhizomes on a mossy rock, and a treasure, a small liliaceous thing, possibly Streptopus, on stems about 6" high, with single flowers at the upper nodes like delicate small broad bells, white suffused pink, with pink spotting inside, growing on a shady rocky bank. But once again, our stay is too short. I would like to come back here someday. Aquilegia rockii is in full bloom with rich purple flowers, part of the dense taspestry of the roadside flora, combined with unnamed ferns, Rodgersia,  Tiarella (polyphylla?).     


Our next stop is a moist meadow with a meandering creek, small hillocks, and boggy areas with shallow pools reflecting the few small puffy white clouds above. It is a beautiful spot, but highly grazed.  It is warm and sunny today. I would like to lay in the sun for awhile and let the cows and horses that are here graze around me.


Stellara chamaejasme is common, dotted densely in spots around this meadow, as is Iris bullyana, though not in bloom. Abundant also is the same small Roscoea (tibeticus?) we saw last week in the meadow in the Yulong Shan.  A purple Pedicularis is in bloom. On a gentle hillside, under shrubs, Nomocharis is budding, but we don't know which species. Nearby are a few small colonies of a bright blue corydalis, it looks like C. pachycentra seen earlier, and a few isolated specimens of Omphlogramma vincaflora.  A large herd of black pigs and piglets is grazing casually near the van when we get back.


Stellara chamaejasme is common, dotted densely in spots around this meadow, as is Iris bullyana, though not in bloom. Abundant also is the same small Roscoea (tibeticus?) we saw last week in the meadow in the Yulong Shan.  A purple Pedicularis is in bloom. On a gentle hillside, under shrubs, Nomocharis is budding, but we don't know which species. Nearby are a few small colonies of a bright blue corydalis, it looks like C. pachycentra seen earlier, and a few isolated specimens of Omphlogramma vincaflora.  A large herd of black pigs and piglets is grazing casually near the van when we get back.


he van we are traveling in was hit by a log truck today - a fast moving big blue lorry barreling around the corner just ahead of us on this narrow dusty mountain road. We never heard it coming until it was, literally, almost on top of us. The door on the side of the car that I was sitting in was slightly smashed in, with no disastrous results, but enough to shake us up for quite a while, as we continued to have recurring visions of being pushed over the side of the road, plummeting into Chinese oblivion. It was too close for comfort, and it was only the clever driving of Mr. Yi that kept us from that fate.  I learned a new term today - 'Yak Driver' - a useful term to yell out the car window at rude drivers.   


The door on my side of the van doesn't open now, I have to crawl over the drivers seat to get out.



This morning we visit a Daoist temple. About 800 years ago, intricate carvings of Buddha and other religious symbols were carved into the side of this sandstone mountain on various levels, and later, the actual temples went up around them. We climb up and down many stairs as the attendant leads us through the different levels, unlocking the gates for us as we climbed through the temple area. It is an incredible place. As we hike the long path to the temple grounds we pass through shrubby areas including, among others, Lyonia, Lithocarpus, and Pieris.


Now I sit in my room in a hotel in the town of Jianchuan.  It is a big town, somewhat sub-tropical at 7400'.  I love this hotel we are in, with the intricately carved dark wooden shutters and the heavy wooden chairs and table with Dali Marble inlay.  My room has a separate small living room area, a bedroom, and a bathroom with hot water and a sink that doesn't leak water all over the floor when you turn on the tap. Somehow, I feel like I am in a 1940's Humphrey Bogart movie - don't know why.  As I lay on the double bed with the oversized cream colored pleated-fabric-covered lamp above me, I look out onto a huge window with many shuttered sections, some flung open now to let in the sultry air. The dark carved shutters are backlighted by late afternoon hazy sunlight, and the tall eucalyptus trees just outside are swaying slightly, rustling in the balmy breeze. I hear birds. From somewhere close, over a wall, I hear a pig squealing.  


From my room on the second floor I look down into a courtyard of a Chinese garden, and I want to go to sit out there. The door to the garden, accessed from inside the small lobby of the hotel, is locked, and I ask in gestures if I may enter it. The young woman in the office seems reluctant, but obligated, to open them. The garden is in great need of maintenance, but is lovely nontheless. There are 2 low round concrete tables with 4 immovable concrete stools around each, tile and stone paths that converge from 3 sides to a circular center area, and a planter in this center area with some small tree that I cannot name. The paths are edged with neglected weedy pots of flowers, some of them are leggy chrysanthemums. There is a fountain with abstract Chinese style rocks, naturalized with plants and weeds.  A portion of a wall and a locked gate are covered with rambling honeysuckle. There are many of the simple but beautiful dark gray pots that we have seen frequently and that I like so much, along the pathway, or on pedestals.  As a backdrop there is a wide 3 sectioned wall, mostly of white space, each section trimmed with colorful Chinese design in the corners and across the top. The whole wall is topped off with the traditional Chinese roof with peaked corners. 


But there are weeds everywhere and it is badly in need of care. I would like to take charge of it for a season. It's really quite lovely and a restful place to sit.




We stay only one night at this hotel, a stopover. Today we head back to Dali, along the Yangtze River. Just out of town we pass an area with many brick and tile makers and we stop to look around. There are many of the huge earthen and brick domes here that we have seen periodically throughout our journey -  walk-in kilns, many busy brick makers, some working under open structures with thatched roofs - there are huge rectangular slabs of clay running the length of one of them down the center.  I think it is a dividing wall before I see the feet stomping and squishing, walking slowly back and forth on the ledge of clay, softening and working it.


In a big circular mud pit, a water buffalo is tied to a stake in the center. He has something like blinders on over his face. A young woman, barefoot, clad in gray, prods him with a big stick as he plods around in the pit, slopping around in a slow circle as she guides him. I take some pictures of this intriquing scene. She is uncharacterisitcally photo-willing and smiling, posing with pride. I find out that the water buffalo is being used used to mix straw in with the clay mixture, preparing it for later use.  There are stacks of bricks and slate gray roof tiles here, some with the circular decorative end pieces that I have been admiring all along the trip. The cost -  2 for 1 yuan. about $ .06 apiece. I buy 2. Not a bad deal.


We continue on our way. We see many water buffalo today. They are incredible animals, massive, of huge bulk, supporting immense weight on such seemingly short legs, with beautifully shaped heads and horns. I take some pictures but miss so many, especially of the people, the faces, the expressions, the activities.  But I will never lose the many mental images of pictures never taken.



      An old man with a broad straw hat walking beside a rickety wooden cart with big wheels, piled high with golden wheat, being pulled by a water buffalo.


      In a wide wet ditch on the right, a slight movement on the surface catches my attention.  A closer look and I see that there are two water buffalo there, their huge steely gray backs and heads with long swept back horns barely reaching above the muddy water, like hippopotami.


     An old man sitting in a doorway at the top of a short flight of cracked gray stairs, one dark pant leg rolled up to his knee, bright pink socks, wearing a Mao hat.  He has a long pipe hanging from the side of his mouth. He is scratching his leg but stops at mid-scratch and looks up to watch us as we pass.


     The look of the cultivated valleys from far above, in the morning light. The unintended patterns the fields make from this angle, the new-rice paddies, the wheat fields, the freshly tilled blocks of fields ready to be planted - the painting it produces as a whole, the irregular symmetry, the broad sweeps and undulations, the different shades of green.


     An old man with a broad straw hat, a scrawny manchu beard and rolled up black pants, barefoot, yielding a big stick, herding his pigs up the road towards us, trying to keep them to one side.


     An old cemetery, the old lopsided burial monuments, quite overgrown with weeds, the immense and steely gray water buffalo lazing in the overgrown grass among them, almost hidden.


     A middle-aged man with a long face and very wide-open eyes sitting cross-legged under a lone tree at the side of the road, wearing a Mao cap, smoking a long pipe, watching us as we drive by, looking like a caricature of himself.


     Passing through a country town, on a narrow dirt road, and, on the left, 7 small black piglets come running out unsuspecting from the narrow space between two buildings. We think they are going to run into the street in front of us, instead they make a sharp turn as one and they are quickly up the stairs and through the doorway of the house next door, like a cartoon. We all laugh. Will the occupant of the house be surprised? Probably not. 


Lunch today - Fried baby eels, Houstonia rhizomes, thin sliced of cold pork, goat cheese.


We are stuck in traffic in a small town on market day. There are so many people here, so many vehicles, we cannot move. Trucks and bicycles and cars are jamming us in on this narrow  road. We cannot even see beyond the truck in front of us. Vendors are lining the roads, selling anything and everything -  piles of noodles and grains, vegetables, meat, beautiful carved tables with Dali Marble inlays, huge baskets, tools, pots and other cooking implements. People are everywhere, many of them in ethnic dress. Most of the women are in blue hats with wide black headbands, dark blue vests over beige shirts, lighter blue aprons, loose blue or black pants.  A young man walks by just beneath the van window pulling a cart of pigs. Lorries are jamming the road - carts, bicycles, 'tractors', everybody from miles around must be here today.  It is quite an amazing scene. China is walking by as we sit here, stuck. 


  We are finally moving, after about an hour of barely inching along. 



Back in Dali. We are staying at the brand new hotel here. It is quite luxurious. The hot water and the toilets work perfectly, but somehow it lacks ambiance.  We walk the market this afternoon.  An old man sits on the sidewalk behind a pile of large tubers of some kind. We find out that they are freshly dug Paris, for sale at 15 yuan a kilo. He has two kilos worth and we buy them all, about 90 tubers, for about $3.60 American money. What a deal.  



Today, we revisit the Cangshan Range, for only a few hours. It is misty and overcast, but not raining. The Rodgersia we saw earlier on the trip, 3 long weeks ago, is now fully open, covering the hills with fluffy light pink blossoms. There is much variation in the intensity of the color. I gather some aconitum and roscoea selections in an open woodland beneath Pinus yunnanensis, and some interesting small roadside plants.  


This afternoon we visit the famous 3 pagodas of Dali. The tallest one is 1000 years old, the other two are about 800 years.  It is quite the tourist spot, with rows and rows of tables on wide clean concrete walkways with souvenirs for sale that one must pass to get to the temples, many with identical items made of Dali marble.   



Today we head back to Kunming from Dali  It takes all day, and in some ways it feels good to get back, like coming home. Sun is very glad to be getting home to his wife and child. 



JUNE 19  Weds. 

Today I visit the Stone Forest with Sun. Jack and Dusty have been here before, so I have a private tour. This area is one of the most famous sites in Yunnan, not a forest at all, but rather a rare geological phenomenon, about 200 acres of fantastically shaped jagged limestone pillars, with narrow pathways winding through, around, and up the surrealistic rock formations. But it is jammed packed with people, Chinese tourists mostly, a geological disneyland, complete with restaurants, hotels, shops and shops of souvenier items, photo oportunities - opportunities seldom missed by the mobs of happy visitors clicking away at every turn, more interested in taking pictures of each other than of the sights around them. In spite of the crowds it is an awesome place.  


Lunch on the way - Crispy duck - very delicious, this area is known for this dish, much like Peking Duck, - Hemerocallis flower soup, Houttneya roots, goat cheese.


June 20

Cleaned plants all day at the KBI, preparing them for the flight home and for the agricultural inspection when they reach America. Jack, Dusty, and myself, Zhou, Zhou hua, and 2 Chinese girls who work at the garden, worked all day. Sun joined us towards late afternoon. It took from 10:00 to 5:00. We  barely finished - it rained on us for part of the day. What a chore.


June 21

I spent a good deal of today by myself, wandering the streets of Kunming. I walk through the nearby plaza. There are many old men here and some women, smoking cigarettes, playing majong at low round tables. There is a long row of birds in ornate wooden cages hanging side by side on a wire. This has been a common sight here and in parks in other cities - the old men have brought the birds from their homes, to show them off, to give them air, to give them the company of other birds to teach them to sing. I take a picture of one of the birds in a particularly ornate cage - the old man who owns the bird seems very pleased and proud of his pet. It takes me a few minutes to set up the picture and to wait until the bird perches the way I want. When I finish, as I thank the old man and turn to go, I find that close behind me is a tight semicircle of quite curious and amused old men bird owners. I am startled, but smile and head on my way. I walk to the Bird and Flower Market one last time, to Green Lake Park, to the Zoo. I want to stop and eat but I don't know any English menu restaurants, and I chicken out at the last minute. I buy some bread, a small bag of Cheetos and a bottle of juice from a road side vendor.  I walk for hours. It is a wonderful experience. I know people look at me, but mostly they are just curious, that's all. It is an adventure, it feel good - comfortable.



Tomorrow we leave. I lay in bed. 7:40 A.M., wanting to go out and walk, but also wanting to write. I am filled with thoughts and feelings, too many, really, to sort out now, but to be processed with time. I wonder if I will see America differently now. I think so. Better in many ways, worse in many. I have only scratched a tiny scratch in the surface of what China is. We have seen a lot of city and country, got an overview of people and landscapes in this part of Yunnan, traveled with an educated man, met well-to-do Tibetans, been to 'closed areas', seen so much. It is easy to believe that there really are 1.2 billion people in this country. On the verge of going home, I am again overloaded with stimuli. Too many people, swarming, everywhere, always. I'm anxious to go home.



Zhou takes part of today to bike around town with me. He helps me buy silk promised for a friend at home. It is a perfect way to end the trip. He shows me some city sights. We visit both of the 'two pagodas' - they are very old, seperated by about about half a mile (?), in the heart of this bustling city which has built up around them, and then he takes me to one place in town, where on the second floor in a sort of park-like meeting place, where from one corner of the 2nd story balcony of an old building that holds a library in one of it's rooms, both of the pagodas can be still seen at the same time, above and around the traffic and buildings of the city. We have 'Crossing Bridge Noodles' for lunch at the same restaurant that we went to on the very first morning that we were here. Near the restaurant is a 'pharmacy' with jars and bowls of herbal medicines lining the shelves, dried and dusty.  On the counter is a large liquid filled jar with many snakes soaking in it. Zhou tells me that it is a tea, good for arthritis. Hmmmm. 



I am ready to go home. I must be very hungry for American culture. I am watching 'Bay Watch' on the english speaking Star TV network as I pack my bags. I wonder if the people here think that this is what America is really like?



I take one last walk around the plaza.  It is early Saturday morning, and there is much activity here - the old men with their singing caged birds, groups of men and women doing tai-chi exercises, sometimes with live music accompaniment, more often to taped chinese melodies. One old man performs alone, under the shifting leafy shadows of trees, wearing an old blue uniform of earlier times, gracefully wielding ornamented swords in silent tai-chi movements, eyes half closed, lost in another world (of younger days?) moving in fluid slow motion to music only he can hear. I watch him, captivated, for quite a while. He continues on even as I leave, oblivious to the rest of the world.  People are walking, sitting, playing music, dancing.  It is a fine morning. 



Sitting in the Kunming International airport, ready to leave.  The flight is 3 hours late, so we wait a little longer.


7:00 flight delayed at least until 8:00 maybe longer.  I pass the time talking to a flamboyant red-haired woman from Hong Kong, with long long red fingernails - a self proclaimed psychic, with all the answers to life and love. I have fun talking to her. 



Still waiting - it's  8:45.  I have been hearing rumors that flights are not allowed into Hong Kong after midnight, but they are making an exception in our case.  We'll see.


Too tired now to think about writing, but I want to. I wonder how things will be different when I am back. It depends a large part on how I want it to be different. I am apprehensive. I don't think that I will know how this trip will have affected me for a long time yet.


10:05. No sign yet of any plane. I just took my notebooks to write something - I forgot what -


Applause from the window deck - the plane is in!!!

Plant hunting in China - part 4

Part 1        Part 2      Part 3       Part 4

Part 1        Part 2      Part 3       Part 4

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