Lijiang, China


Chairman Mao Zedong, Founder of the People's Republic of China, proudly on display in Lijiang

Chairman Mao Zedong, Founder of the People’s Republic of China, proudly on display in Lijiang

From Xizhou we traveled north to the town of Lijiang, home to Bai people as well as a very tiny ethnic minority known as the Naxi people. We stayed in a small village outside Lijiang, called Shuhe, and spent our days exploring both Shuhe and the Old Town of nearby Lijiang which is yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Blair’s college roommate, Gloria Riviera Scuitto, who lives and works in Beijing, traveled to Lijiang with her two boys, her mother, and her aunt to spend a few days exploring with us!

Gloria and her sons, Tristan and Caden, in Lijiang

Gloria and her sons, Tristan and Caden, in Lijiang

BAISHA VILLAGE

On our first morning in Lijiang we visited an ancient Naxi village called Baisha Village, with dusty, sleepy streets and traditional Naxi women and men living simple lives. The Naxi people are one of the smallest ethnic minorities in China, with only 300,000 remaining members. In the village, we witnessed their lifestyle and visited a famous embroidery school, where the girls received a lesson in this local art form.

Just outside the village, Jeff and Zoe learn from our Naxi guide about their written language, hieroglyphs

Just outside the village, Jeff and Zoe learn from our Naxi guide about their written language, hieroglyphs

Within the walls of the Naxi village, stepping back in time

Within the walls of the Naxi village, stepping back in time

Village square, at the butcher's

Village square, at the butcher’s

Elderly Naxi women relax in the town square

Elderly Naxi women sell veggies in the town square

These grannies' matching clothes indicate their age as over 75 years, and they all wore a pin that indicated the same - aging with pride!

These grannies’ matching, colorful clothes indicate their age as over 75 years, and they all wore a pin that indicated the same – aging with pride!

We were invited into the courtyard of a farmer’s home, and met the oldest member of a four-generation family living within.

Naxi farmer gives us  welcoming grin

Naxi farmer gives us a welcoming grin

The girls were asked to guess how old she was…. and Zoe nailed it.  98 years old!!!  We looked around her simple home and got to see how she had been living for the better part of a century.

Now you can see how tiny she really is!

Now you can see how tiny she really is!

Inside the farmer's kitchen

Inside the farmer’s kitchen

She was cooking steamed buns on her stove top

Steamed buns cooking on her stove top

The top floor of her pig pen was storage for hay and her coffin - the wooden planks - which is good luck in Naxi culture (being prepared for the afterlife)

The top floor of her pig pen was storage for hay, herbs and her coffin – the wooden planks – which is good luck in Naxi culture (being prepared for the afterlife)

BLAIR: I asked this beaming, 98 year-old farmer what her recipe was for a long, healthy life. Our Naxi guide, translating on her behalf, explained that the key to health and happiness was good friends in life.  “Money is just paper,” she said. “You need good friends to live long and happy.” Our translator continued, “You see how simple her life is, but it is happy and complete.” It was a good lesson for us all. I could have spent the rest of the day talking with this woman, but we had to move on. 

SILK EMBROIDERY

Baisha Village is home to the well-known Embroidery School of the Mu Family, where Naxi girls learn the art of silk embroidery from master teachers.  Their pieces can take weeks to years to complete, depending on the skill of the artist and the difficulty of the design.  We learned that the craft of silk embroidery was banned during China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960’s and ’70’s as an unnecessary luxury, and the skills passed down through generations of women were nearly lost.  Today, this embroidery school is funded by the Chinese government in an effort to revive the traditional art, and students are welcome to attend the school at no cost.  Schuyler, Zoe and Thayer benefited from some very kind students who spent over an hour teaching them simple stitches and allowing them to practice on some beautiful pieces!

Zoe learns some basic stitches from her helper

Zoe learns some basic stitches from her helper

ZOE: At the embroidery school I learned a lot of different stitches like straight ones, a star, and a zig zag stitch.  I was allowed to choose my own colors and then practice the different stitches on the printed cloth. I was so surprised at how long it took to fill in even a small patch of the cloth completely.  I realized how difficult this art form is and how skilled and precise you have to be. And patient!  I remembered learning how to weave on the big looms in Luang Prabang, Laos, and feeling a similar way.  Impatient! 

Schuyler gets right to work and barely glances up for the next hour

Schuyler gets right to work and barely glances up for the next hour

Thayer's helper threads the needle

Thayer’s helper threads the needle

And she's embroidering!

And she’s embroidering!

While in Shuhe/Lijiang we also explored the town and hills by horseback! A gaggle of jingling, prancing, ponies appeared at our hotel for us and we all climbed aboard, grateful for the individual horse-minders who accompanied each of us. We strolled out of town and up into the hills, taking in the stunning views and even dismounting for a while to hike through a small Naxi homestead at the peak of our climb.

The ponies are all lined up, ready to head out of town

The ponies are all lined up, ready to head out of town

THAYER: I felt a little bit scared to ride the ponies but being with everyone made me feel better and having a lady holding my pony helped so much! There were some steps and my horse jumped over them a little and that was scary but I didn’t fall off. It was a beautiful day to be on a horse!

Gloria and Blair, taking photos of each other while bouncing around

Gloria and Blair, taking photos of each other while bouncing around

All smile,s on the way to the forest

All smiles on the way to the forest

ZOE: It’s always fun to see a place on horseback! On this trip, we have been riding in Holland, Kenya, New Zealand, and now here in China. Our trail ride through the village and mountains was so pleasant, especially because someone was holding my horse so I didn’t have to worry about controlling him!  But it was a little bit scary on the cliffs and steep parts. There have been a lot of times on this trip where I feel really nervous about something or uncomfortable in some way, but I have to fight through it and then I end up realizing that I had a lot of fun and it was good that I didn’t give up on it before I tried. 

Heading up into the hills, rocky and steep terrain

Heading up into the hills, rocky and steep terrain

Schuyler takes in the view of Lijiang from the peak

Schuyler takes in the view of Lijiang from the peak

SCHUYLER: The horseback riding was an interesting experience. It wasn’t my favorite thing that we did in Lijiang, but I did love seeing the view and being up in the mountains and fresh air and cool temperatures (after Southeast Asia!).  I didn’t really trust the horses that much because they had to be held the whole time so I was a little nervous.  The way up was super steep and rocky and my horse would slip sometimes or hop up levels. I was holding on for dear life! The scariest part of the ride was actually walking through a narrow alleyway in the village, next to a building under construction, and a big piece of cement fell from the top floor and hit the horse’s rear end in front of me. That could have been ME! I could have had a cement concussion!  Luckily, the horse didn’t seem to notice the brick that fell on him (maybe Chinese horses are extra tough?).  

Hiking in the hills, taking a break from our saddles, the girls pass a Naxi woman in the mountain- top village

Hiking in the hills, taking a break from our saddles, the girls pass a Naxi woman in the mountain- top village

Traditional Naxi home (and horse) in the woods above Lijiang

Traditional Naxi home (and horse) in the woods above Lijiang

Enjoying some time in the woods together

The girls, with Tristan and Caden, enjoying some time together at the lookout over Lijiang

Thayer gives a wave to some women working by the road

Thayer gives a wave to some women working by the road

On the way down, some stunning views!

On the way down, some stunning views!

Additional cultural enrichment came in the form of a visit to the Naxi Dongba Cultural Exhibition (basically a Naxi museum), where we learned that the Naxi are apparently the last remaining culture in the world still using hieroglyphs as their written language. We saw some very ancient Naxi texts carefully preserved behind glass, and then met a Shaman (wise man or priest) who demonstrated the art of drawing the pictographs. It was fun for the children to take turns writing in Naxi!

At the museum, the courtyard's stone work displayed the Chinese zodiac calendar.  We each found our animal and smiled for the camera.

At the museum, the courtyard’s stone work displayed the Chinese zodiac calendar. We each found our animal and smiled for the camera.

Well-preserved ancient Naxi texts

Well-preserved ancient Naxi texts

A museum guide explains some Naxi hieroglyphs before we take turns trying to draw them

A museum guide explains some Naxi hieroglyphs before we take turns trying to draw them

Naxi Shaman, demonstrating the art of Naxi writing at the museum

Naxi Shaman, demonstrating the art of Naxi writing at the museum

All the kids enjoyed drawing the hieroglyphs

All the kids enjoyed drawing the hieroglyphs

Schuyler designed her own poster with hieroglyphs describing herself, and the Shaman drew them for her

Schuyler designed her own poster with hieroglyphs describing herself, and the Shaman drew them for her

SCHUYLER: The top symbol on my page that looks like an arc represents the sky, and then underneath that is the sun.  I chose these because “sky” is part of my name, and the sun’s brightness and warmth reminds me of being positive. My next symbol is the horse, which is my Chinese animal and the horse represents success. Then next to the horse is a character that explains what my name means, which is ‘scholar’ or ‘ wise.’ The last symbol is just for a girl, ME!  I’m really happy with how it turned out – it is very meaningful to me and I think the characters are so beautiful to look at. I was glad to be able to learn how to draw some of the characters before the Shaman made these for us. 

The Shaman writes about Zoe

The Shaman writes about Zoe

ZOE: I asked the Shaman to draw me pictographs that represented who I am. I picked “monkey” for my Zodiac year, free spirit, nature/wildlife and the beauty of the outdoors, and simple girl which just means basically that I’m a girl. It turned out to look really nice and I’m so excited to hang it on my bedroom wall back at home!

Thayer proudly displays her own story

Thayer proudly displays her own story

THAYER: My symbols represented “brave soldier, simple girl, born in the Year of the Pig, adventurous spirit, and beauty.”  They were all my choices.  I liked learning how to draw the symbols!

While in Lijiang, we also spent some time exploring the Old Town and strolling through the lovely Black Dragon Park.

Entering the gates of the Old Town

Entering the gates of the Old Town

Narrow cobbled street in Lijiang's Old Town, with canals running throughout.

Narrow cobbled street in Lijiang’s Old Town, with canals running throughout.

College pals, strolling Lijiang's narrow streets

College pals, strolling Lijiang’s narrow streets

This bedazzled Shaman was walking the streets of Lijiang, rooster on his head!

This bedazzled Shaman was walking the streets of Lijiang, rooster on his head!

IMG_4229

Gorgeous Black Dragon Pond, with snow-capped mountains in the distance

IMG_4231

Temple at the Pond

We found a little exercise park/playground, for the young and old alike!

We found a little exercise park/playground, for the young and old alike!

Wheeeeeee!

Wheeeeeee!

Our Naxi guide, Anna, with all the kids

Our Naxi guide, Anna, with all the kids

SCHUYLER: Overall, I really was happy to be back to 100% health in Lijiang and to get some fresh mountain air there. I really loved Lijiang because of the tranquility and culture. There were also SO many dogs wandering around the streets that were fun to look at! 

ONWARD…

After three busy days in Lijiang, the Demers crew continued northward in Yunnan Province, visiting the famous Tiger Leaping Gorge before exploring the high-altitude, Tibetan enclave of Zhongdian (renamed “Shangri-La” in 2001, likely to promote tourism).  Stay tuned for some Tibetan culture and (literally) breathtaking views! 

See you there!

At Black Dragon Pond, Lijiang

At Black Dragon Pond, Lijiang

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: ASIA, Lijiang, China

4 comments

  1. Your photography is stunning! I love your choices of subjects… that pig’s head couldn’t have gotten any bigger. But most of all, I love the 98 year old’s wisdom…. the secret to longevity isn’t about money, it truly is about friends. Makes me realize how lucky I am,

  2. You guys always top each trip.. Great picture of the family.. That’s a keeper!!! Every trip is always so amazing!!!
    Love you all
    JOJO

  3. I have to echo Elsa, my college roommate who is following your blog religiously. Thanks Elsa. I must echo her sentiments….the photography is out of this world and the words of the old and wise woman puts it all into perspective. It IS all about relationships. Counting down the days till we see you! Hugs, Mem and Pep

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