Xizhou, China


Xizhou Village street

Xizhou Village street

China! A country slightly smaller than the U.S. in area, but home to over 1.3 billion people – we have had a remarkable three weeks here and have barely scratched the surface of all that China has to offer. We will split our itinerary into small(ish) blog posts to keep them manageable. As you know, we are posting these from Japan due to our inability to access the blog from China, so we are playing catch up in a major way. Short but sweet is our blog mantra for now!

XIZHOU, YUNNAN PROVINCE

Our first stop in China was the village of Xizhou in Yunnan Province, located in the far southwest of the country.  This is largely a rural region of China, where agriculture and local craftsmanship (marble, textiles, etc.) constitute the bulk of the economy.

A Bai woman hitches a ride past some rice fields in the village of Xizhou

A Bai woman hitches a ride past some rice fields in the village of Xizhou

Xizhou is home to 50,000 people, which by Chinese standards means it is an “extremely tiny” hamlet. The local population is comprised of the Bai ethnic minority and the architecture reflects the Bai tradition of compounds (homes) with central courtyards, painted roofs and pillars, upturned eaves, and lovely tile work and painted walls. The colors were striking and the village was absolutely enchanting to wander through.   With over 100 historically protected buildings, Xizhou is one of the best examples of pre-reovlutionary architecture still in existence in China today. The peace and serenity within the village walls offered the most blissful four days we could have imagined. We didn’t want to leave!

Cart awaiting its horse

Cart awaiting its horse

While in Xizhou we stayed at a fabulous hotel called the Linden Centre, a beautifully restored 1940’s Bai home that offers visitors a chance to experience authentic Bai living and cultural immersion in Xizhou. Brian and Jeanee Linden, American expats with a deep passion for China, founded the center in 1981 and have successfully created a charming, peaceful home away from home for their guests. It almost felt as though we were staying in a living museum, and the Linden family and Centre’s amazing staff became our dear friends within just a few short days.

Looking through the entrance to the Centre

Looking through the entrance to the Centre

Courtyard in the Linden Centre

Courtyard in the Linden Centre

Within the Linden Centre courtyards

Zoe strolls around the Centre, free to explore!

Thayer lounges on the roof deck, looking over some garlic fields

Thayer lounges on the roof deck, looking over some garlic fields

Just outside the walls of our hotel, workers harvesting their garlic

Just outside the walls of our hotel, workers harvesting their garlic

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Sacks of garlic, ready to go to market

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Farmers burn the garlic stems once the crop has been collected – the girls had to cover their heads to get through the acrid smoke on the way back to the Centre

Jeff learns some traditional tai chi from Frank, the Centre's General Manager

In the main courtyard, Jeff learns some traditional tai chi from General Manager, Frank He.

The girls walk to breakfast on a sunny morning at the Centre

The girls walk to breakfast on a sunny morning at the Centre

A new family activity at the Linden Centre!

A new family activity!

Thayer relaxes with a game of Solitaire on her bed

Thayer relaxes with a game of Solitaire on her bed

Still playing a LOT of cards...

Still playing a LOT of cards, especially at meal time!

When we could tear ourselves away from the incredible courtyards at the Centre, we loved exploring the village of Xizhou by foot and by horse cart.  

The ladies, strolling from the Linden Centre into the small town

The ladies, strolling from the Linden Centre (behind the orange walls) into town

Lovely little side streets appeared around every corner

Lovely little side streets appeared around every corner

Entering one of the official gates of Xizhou

Entering one of the official gates of Xizhou

Entrance to a family's courtyard in the village

Entrance to a family’s courtyard in the village

Zoe and Thayer stroll around the center of the village

Zoe and Thayer stroll around the center of the village

And find some fun exercise equipment to play on!

And find some fun exercise equipment to play on!

Enjoying a smoothie break at a local cafe

Enjoying a smoothie break at a local cafe

Thayer opted for the horse cart on the way back to the Centre

Thayer opted for the horse cart on the way back to the Centre

Fun ride!

Fun ride!

We tried the local Baba (Chinese pizza) - delicious!

We tried the local Baba (Chinese pizza) – delicious!

Thayer makes a new friend

Thayer makes a new friend

Locals play the Chinese game of Mah Jong

Gentlemen playing the Chinese game of MahJong

During one of our morning walks into town we stumbled upon a movie crew filming a production involving the Chinese army (fending off invaders?).  Apparently, Xizhou is quite often used for shooting Chinese films because of its authenticity and traditional ambiance.  There wasn’t much happening on this particular set as we walked past, so we took a moment to snap some photos with the cast. 

Extras, waiting for some action

Extras, waiting for some action

The actors seemed pleased to pose with us

The actors seemed pleased to pose with us

That same morning, we visited a local rice noodle factory and learned how multiple generations of one local family make rice noodles in their hometown.

On our way to visit the rice noodle factory, passing some kind of street clean up

On our way to visit the rice noodle factory, passing some kind of harvest-related activity in the street

First, the rice is soaked for many hours before it is cooked

At the factory… First, the rice is soaked for many hours before it is cooked

When the rice is twice cooked and very soft, it is run through this machine - almost like a play doh game

When the rice is twice cooked and very soft, it is run through this machine – almost like a play doh game

The machine flattens it into long strips

Another machine flattens it into long strips

The strips are then hung out to dry, like the laundry, before getting sliced into strips in the final step

The strips are then hung out to dry, like the laundry, before getting sliced into strips in the final step

The girls were allowed to make little rice patties with wooden molds, imprinting designs on them

The girls were allowed to make little rice patties with wooden molds, imprinting designs on them

Rice cakes!

Rice cakes!

After learning about how to make rice noodles, we continued on to explore the village’s bustling morning market.  As with all of the outdoor markets we have sampled throughout Asia, Xizhou’s version did not disappoint. 

A colorful array of produce at Xizhou's morning market

A colorful array of produce at Xizhou’s morning market

The butcher shops

The butcher shops

Ladies haggle for fresh eggs

Ladies haggle for fresh eggs

Or you can just by the chickens and ducks instead

Or you can just by the chickens and ducks instead

For the sweet tooth…. brown lumpy things are sugar!

For the sweet tooth…. brown cones are sugar!

Don't forget your fresh chili peppers

Don’t forget your fresh chili peppers

So many varieties of beans and seeds for sale

So many varieties of beans and seeds for sale

Favorite Chinese snack -  chicken feet!

Delicious Chinese snack – chicken feet!

Another favorite activity while staying at the Linden Centre was our dumpling-making session in the kitchen, with the lovely kitchen staff!

First you have to roll out the small dough balls into flat circles

First you have to roll the dough into a snake and slice it up into small pieces

When you have a small, flat circle of dough, you put this pork filling inside it

When you have a small, flat circle of dough, you put this pork filling inside it

Thayer gets help when she overstuffs her dumpling

Thayer gets help when she overstuffs her dumpling

Zoe learns the art of pinching the dough around the filling to make a pretty pattern

Zoe learns the art of pinching the dough around the filling to make a pretty pattern

Like this!

Like this!

Finished product

Finished product

Delicious dumpling dinner!

Delicious dumpling dinner!

ZOE’s 10th BIRTHDAY!

Certainly our favorite day in Xizhou, May 7th gave us a big reason to celebrate.  Double digits for Zoe! 

Zoe is the birthday girl

Zoe is the birthday girl

We started the day in the kitchen at Zoe’s request, so that she could help her new friends make the birthday cake.  Chocolate….. yum!

Zoe and Thayer mixing the chocolate

Zoe and Thayer mixing the chocolate

The chef does most of the hard work to finish the cake

The chef does most of the hard work to finish the cake

Then we ventured down the block and met Mr. Wu, a well-known Chinese painter in the village.  We spent a couple of lovely hours with Mr. Wu, learning the art of Chinese ink painting and experimenting with our own creations. 

Naturally, we started our painting lesson with a nice cup of green tea

Naturally, we started our painting lesson with a nice cup of green tea

Mr. Wu demonstrated how to use the brushes and ink

Mr. Wu demonstrated how to use the brushes and ink

A close up of Mr. Wu's sample painting

A close up of Mr. Wu’s sample painting

Focused on her work!

Focused on her work!

THAYER: Painting with Mr. Wu was very exciting and I got to paint some beautiful pictures. I loved Mr. Wu!  He was so nice and I helped him learn English.  He liked me too and he picked me up a lot. I went back another day to paint again because I liked it soooooo much! 

Zoe really enjoyed her time with Mr. Wu

Zoe really enjoyed her time with Mr. Wu

ZOE: I was so interested to learn about Chinese ink painting! I explored with different techniques and I learned that if I put a little bit of paint on the top of my brush but then water at the bottom, I could make these beautiful flowers by pressing the full body of the brush down on the paper (see photo above).  I was really happy with my discovery and creations!  I think Mr. Wu was impressed as well.  I also drew some lotus flowers and now they are my favorite flower to draw. The lotus flower, in China, means new life and new growth, and also the way the flower grows under water and blooms at the surface is also very meaningful here.  Mr. Wu said that I should keep painting and exploring my creative side.

Schuyler practices the art of imperfection with Chinese ink

Schuyler practices the art of imperfection with Chinese ink

SCHUYLER: Mr. Wu was such a nice man and I was so excited to start painting when I got to his house.  However, it was hard for me to find something that I wanted to paint, because his style of painting was so abstract.  Trying Chinese ink painting made me very frustrated because the results aren’t as precise or realistic as I’m used to with my art.  I didn’t understand the flow and technique because I usually copy things when I sketch them – I like to look at things and see if I can make them look exactly the same on paper.  Mr. Wu’s art is all about imagination and interpretation, not exact renditions or precise lines. I learned a lot about myself as an artist on this day because I met with so many challenges, and now I know that if I want to be a better artist I need to practice all kinds of different techniques and make peace with them… not get so frustrated! 

Blair explores her creative side (where has that been?)

Blair explores her creative side (where has that been?), and Zoe paints her lotus flowers

Mr. Wu, Zoe and Thayer proudly display the day's works

Mr. Wu, Zoe and Thayer proudly display the day’s works

When not painting, Thayer spent her time woo-ing Mr. Wu's pet bunny that just hopped around his yard

When not painting, Thayer spent her time woo-ing Mr. Wu’s pet bunny that just hopped around his yard

THAYER: Mr. Wu’s bunny was cute and cuddly.  He was a wild bunny that decided to live with Mr. Wu so he could hop really fast and it was hard to pick him up.  But my Mom caught him and he went into my hands.  He was soft!  He was a white bunny with no spots at all.  I loved him! Or her!  See you next time, on the blog! 

Jeff and his new artist pal

Jeff and his new artist pal

After our painting lesson, to help make Zoe’s day feel extra special, Schuyler and Thayer designed a scavenger hunt for her all around the Linden Centre.  We had a great time watching her follow each clue to a birthday treasure.

SCHUYLER: Another birthday abroad, another scavenger hunt!  Just like way back in December in Melbourne when we celebrated Thayer’s 6th birthday with a big scavenger hunt, we did it again, Chinese style, for Zoe.  This one was more of a surprise, because I’d been sick still since our arrival and Zoe didn’t think we were going to pull it off.  But I secretly worked on it when I was resting in bed and it was really nice to have something else to focus on besides my upset stomach! The best part of the scavenger hunt for me was watching Zoe open her presents after each clue.  Her face lit up with every one, and we managed to scrounge together 10 little gifts for her so it was a long hunt!  Thayer had been hiding Zoe’s present since we left New Zealand!  We decorated each clue with the Chinese characters for words that best describe Zoe.  For example, her first clue’s theme was “energetic,” so we wrote that word on the front and then put the Chinese characters meaning energetic on the back.  Other words that we used were Brave, Musical, Optimistic, Creative, Thoughtful, Loving…. and a few more that I can’t remember.  The Linden Centre was the PERFECT place to set up a scavenger hunt because there were so many common areas and rooms to use (library, game room, kids room, courtyards, gardens).  It was fun for all of us to participate, and made Zoe’s birthday really special! 

Reading her first clue

Reading her first clue

Silly glasses for everyone… getting the party started!

Silly glasses for everyone… getting the party started!

In an antique side board, Zoe finds another gift

In an antique side board, Zoe finds another gift

Thayer hid a gift under the egg chair on the roof deck

Thayer hid a gift under the egg chair on the roof deck

Zoe's

Thayer spends hours playing “keep the balloon in the air” in the courtyards

Our celebration ended with a lovely birthday dinner and of course, the cake!

Cake enters the dining room

Cake enters the dining room

Happy Birthday Day Dear Zoeeeeee….

Happy Birthday Day Dear Zoeeeeee….

Hooray for 10!

Hooray for 10!

ZOE: There is so much to say about my birthday at the Linden Centre! When I woke up on the big day, I was really excited to finally be double digits – 10!  I didn’t think that I was going to get many presents because we are traveling, but I got a lot of really cool gifts and some great coupons for things like new tennis clothes, baking utensils, etc. when I get home.  My scavenger hunt was so creative – the clues were awesome and I was so excited to find each treasure!  The first present was the funny sun glasses  which got everyone excited for the celebration. After the scavenger hunt we had a really nice dinner.  There was a well-known government official (retired Mayor) visiting the Centre that night and he wished me Happy Birthday in person…. and then of course asked to take a photo with us like most local people do.  We gave him some of our silly sunglasses to wear for the photo and he loved it!  When the cake came out after dinner it was really funny because there were 10 candles but by the time the cake got to the table there were only 2 lit, and then there was just one lit, so it was a bit of a mad dash to blow out the remaining candle with a wish! Overall, I thought my birthday was better than I could ever have imagined.  I was worried that being in China would make it harder to celebrate, but it actually made it more fun!  

After the celebration, the girls share our leftover cake with the Kitchen ladies who helped make it all happen

After the celebration, the girls share our leftover cake with the Kitchen ladies who helped make it all happen

ARCHITECTURE

Front gate of a Bai home

Front gate of a Bai home

JEFF: Unexpectedly, my stay at the Linden Centre was incredibly stimulating from an architectural stand point.  First, it was wonderful to explore the Bai homes in the village and to watch local construction practices under way including traditional timber framing methods.  I was amazed by the craftsmanship and engineering that is still practiced in this modern day. I hardly saw any power tools whatsoever – everything is still done by hand. 

Incredible craftsmanship and decor in the Bai structures

Incredible craftsmanship and decor in the Bai structures

Second, because the Chinese government has been very impressed with the restoration and management of the Linden Centre, Brian and Jeanee Linden have been encouraged to develop similar new projects in and around Xizhou. I joined Brian and the Centre’s General Manager, Frank He, at the site of their newest project in town which is a hotel and art and wellness center (including a cooking school, spa, ceramic studio, etc.). I was particularly struck by the historical preservation aspect of the project, as I have been involved in similar work back home in Portsmouth. After so many months away from the office, I was eager to exchange ideas with Brian and Frank, and I returned to the site multiple times during our four days in Xizhou.  It was refreshing and re-energizing for me from a creative/work standpoint.   

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Jeff explores the Linden’s new project

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Hauling buckets of cement up to the second floor

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Jeff discusses the project with Brian Linden, Zoe (clearly fascinated), and Frank (Project Manager)

ONWARD….

Our stay at the Linden Center went by much too quickly, and we all agreed that we could have used more time at the Linden Centre and in Xizhou. We didn’t have a chance to explore the lovely nearby lake Erhai, or try Comorant fishing, or explore the larger neighboring city of Dali… we will just have to come back!  It was a sad farewell for all of us – we will cherish this stop on our journey as one of our favorites of the year. 

Next stop: Another Yunnan town called Lijiang, and the famous Tiger Leaping Gorge!  See you soon!

Saying farewell to some of our Linden Centre pals!

Saying farewell to some of our Linden Centre pals, Andrew and Annalise!

 

 

 

Categories: ASIA, Xizhou, China

10 comments

  1. Again, your blog just triggered my wanderlust! I’m planning to get to Vietnam in July (because of your blog), and although I’d now love to try China as well, I guess I’ll just have to appreciate it through your eyes! Thanks for the wonderful insight from so many points of view!

  2. Happy belated birthday Zoe!! What an memorable one for you!! What an other awesome experience you guys. You make such nice friends where ever you go just love receiving your blogs.
    You all look fantastic! Please no haircuts until I see you guys. Love you all and can’t wait to see you.
    JOJO

  3. Great to see you after many weeks. The variety of activities is inspirational, but then again, the five of you are so open to new experiences and adventures.
    How wonderful that Zoe celebrated her 10th birthday in China. – she will never forget it. Once again thanks for sharing your time with us! Love you and see you soon. Mem &Pep

  4. oh how I have missed you Demers family 🙂 Thank you for the virtual adventure!

  5. I have been silently following your fascinating trip with soooooooooooooo much pleasure. What a gift you are giving those of us at home! Just wanted to be sure you know what pleasure your blog has brought to people like me (whom you don’t even know) although I did meet Schuyler and Blair in VT years ago when Lee’s Wells friends were gathering and was thrilled when S. connected me with Princess Fiona :-))) and being at the Camp leaves me feeling as if I know something essential about Jeff. I wish you all safe travels and a joyous homecoming. Fiona (Fein, not green)

  6. Great to have you guys back on my computer ! No news for too long. Truly enjoyed this part of your wonderful journey again, I heard my stomach rumble seeing those markets and foodstalls and loved to witness Zoë’s 10th birthday ! Keep those memories in your heart and they ‘ll last a life-time.
    Klaas.

  7. HAPPY BIRTHDAY DEAR ZOEEEEEE! Double digits in China! Very very special. I turned 10 in New Hampshire!
    Happy you’re in Japan right now so we can read your stories again, really liked it again! Thank you Blair. Xizhou looks really nice to me…..
    Enjoy the rest of your trip! You’re almost there…..

    Love, Linde

    p.s. Time to stop with that upset stomach Schuyler!

  8. Belated Happy 10th !!! Birthday Zoe, Amazing Blog yet again. You all look soooo healthy and Happy. Wonderful times on your travels. Cant wait to see and speak to you. xxxxxx

  9. So great to have you online again. What I love about your adventures is how you find (at least) one thing on every stop to “dig in to local life”… this time the rice noodle factory, then Chinese painting… and of course, Jeff exploring a worksite. Your experiences are educating me, not only about the cultures you are experiencing, but also about how to travel… how to step off the beaten path. Thank you for that.

    Happy Birthday Zoe! When I was 10 I received my first little camera and went on a field trip with my class to Plymouth Rock… think of the stories you will have to tell years from now about where and how you spent this double digit birthday!

    I hope you feel better soon Schuyler.

    Enjoy your time in Japan and I look forward to the next post about China!

    xo Paula

  10. HAPPY BIRTHDAY ZOEEEEEEEE!!!! China looks BEAUTIFUL. How about those chicken feet huh? See you guys in a few weeks.xoxox

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