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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Another favorite activity while staying at the Linden Centre was our dumpling-making session in the kitchen, with the lovely kitchen staff!
ZOE’s 10th BIRTHDAY!
Certainly our favorite day in Xizhou, May 7th gave us a big reason to celebrate. Double digits for Zoe!
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!
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.
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: 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: 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!
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!
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!
Our celebration ended with a lovely birthday dinner and of course, the cake!
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!
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.
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.
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!