A Travellerspoint blog

June 2012


The next day, the rain continued lightly, but we were able to walk to the bus station and got out of town without a problem At first when we arrived in Dali, we felt disappointed at seeing another large and rather ugly city, though the mountains and the lake were beautiful. But then after much negotiation, we got into a cab to take us to the old city, which we thought was right next to the new. Instead it was 14k higher and closer to the mountains. We have been here now for five days and it is quite beautiful, though touristy. Many old buildings, narrow streets, small shops and bars, old stone walls and beautiful gates surround the small city. It is a mix of foreign tourists and Chinese, though mercifully cars are banned on several of the main streets.


Pagodas Near Dali

Within the first couple of hours of arriving, we wandered into a small bar called Paramita, somehow drawn in by the energy of the place as well as the Billy Holiday music.

Paramita with Kankan in background, Joachim and Antonette Foreground

We spent several hours talking to Lia, the Chinese owner and her friend Kankan, also Chinese, who speaks English with A British accent, having learned it on her own by listening to BBC. They were incredibly welcoming and we felt very comfortable. They are both, at least to us, rather atypical Chinese in that making money is not so important. Both of them have been involved in several humanitarian projects with children in different parts of Yunnan. Within an hour we felt like good friends. They also offered us some pot to smoke, which came as a shock, given our understanding about Chinese drug laws

We said we'd return later, but got sidetracked by meeting a German couple back at our hostel, Joachim and Antonette. They are traveling here for another month, after having come overland from Germany through ]Russia and the trans-Siberian railroad, and then into Mongolia to ]China. Later they will go to Brazil, where they have purchased a catamaran and will sail the world for as long as they like, or until their money runs out. They have sold their businesses and decided to end their working careers, at least for now.
We spent a few highly enjoyable days hiking and biking with them. Yesterday we climbed part way up Mt Cangshen, just out of town, foregoing the cable car, and then did a long, but beautiful traverse on a well maintained stone path crossing many waterfalls. Luckily the weather held.

Nanette with Joachim and Antonette on Mt. Cangshen

Views of the Hike

Sunset Over Cangshen

Views of the Lake that we Biked1Yunnan_pictures_051.jpg1Yunnan_pictures_141.jpg

Today we took a minibus to an interesting market with Naxi and Bai women dressed in native costumes, a lot like South America.


We returned to show our friends from Paramita where the local weed grows wild in huge clumps, not far from the mountain. They've only been here two months and were unaware of this particular stash.

We have spent several nights hanging out at the bar, talking to Lia and Kankan, and later meeting Lia's Canadian husband, who returned from Kunming with Sid, an Indian-American artist friend from New York. An assortment of other interesting people wandered in, including a very bright young Aussie, studying traditional Chinese medicine, and a rather crazy Israeli, retired hematologist, looking to move to New York.

The first night Lia and her friend invited us to stay for dinner, In between chopsticks of their delicious food, we engaged in what were highly intellectual discussions about art, China, the Living Theater, Jerzy Grotowski, the Yin and Yang of Chinese medicine, world politics, etc. , enhanced no doubt, by the plentiful weed that was being passed around. Lia also told us that her 41 year old brother had more or less suicided of alcoholism three years ago and that this really screwed up her parents who blamed each other. Lia seems to have her own problems with drink, and now I fear, with pot as well. She really knows how to take care of others, though I'm not sure how well she cares for herself. Her friend Kankan seems much more grounded, and especially considering that she is a middle school drop out, is incredibly well informed and has a formidable intellect. The first night we spent in the bar felt a little like My Dinner with Andre, a long intellectual riff.

We also spent an afternoon or two making art to help decorate the bar.

Nanette with unfinished Buddha Pic and Lia

Last night we returned with our German friends, who don't smoke. Things got a little out of hand, with the laced brownies that everyone had consumed. The conversation though lively, was much less coherent and by the time we returned home at midnight, very late for us, it was a little difficult to walk a straight line and everything felt like it was moving at a rapid clip. We haven't partied like this in a very long time.

How Lia and her more business oriented Canadian husband, will ever make money out of the bar is difficult to say. People seem to hang out most of the night, drink a little, and smoke a lot. Perhaps there is a plan afoot to market the local stuff to foreigners? The scene here is shockingly unlike anything we have experienced thus far in China, more international and open. Clearly the authorities know what is going on, but at least for now, do nothing. Perhaps they are making money out of it; hard to know. It has been a very relaxing time, full of fascinating people. It will be hard to pull ourselves away.

Posted by jonshapiro 12:22 Archived in China Tagged people parties postcards Comments (2)

Shanghai to Kunming:Lost in Translation

Shanghai was big, busy, and full of shop til you drop malls and various restaurants. There was not lot of culture, though we were only there for two days. We stayed in an old hotel near the Bund, which was a disappointment as most of the old buildings were abandoned and in disrepair. Shanghai, like so many other Chinese cities, is destroying the old and putting up the new, mostly glitzy office buildings and neon lit shopping centers.




We liked Kunming in Yunnan province somewhat more. The climate is good as it is located at almost 6000 feet, but alas the rainy season had already started. We spent a nice day wandering around the University and large nearby park.


And then went to a 1000 year old Buddhist temple, rebuilt many times. The temple was one of the most interesting we have seen in China, full of old ladies meditating with their prayer beads, as well as sleeping and eating on the temple grounds. We were allowed to walk around but not to actually go inside the main building.




After a couple of days we tried to make our way to Dali, some 150 miles west of Kunming and more in the mountains. We picked the wrong day. All night long it poured and was still raining when we got into our taxi the next morning. The streets were jammed, and many were flooded. The city was virtually paralyzed, and traffic was backed up in all directions for miles. After two hours of trying to reach our destination, the driver seemed to indicate it was hopeless, and dropped us somewhere in the city which was totally unfamiliar to us. We tried to find out where the bus station was and several people pointed and then shook their heads when it was obvious we couldn't understand their Chinese. Eventually we surmised the place was flooded, but it was hard to know for sure. Then we tried to get back to our hostel, but that soon proved impossible as all the cabs were full and not moving anyway. We went up to a couple of policemen and asked for a hotel, but despite knowing the word, they didn't seem to understand or know any hotels, and neither did anyone else we asked. We began to get anxious about being stuck on the street and unable to go anywhere. It was raining hard, and so while Nanette waited with the luggage, I scouted around to try and find a place to stay. This went on for some time and I eventually turned back thinking that Nanette might be worried about my being gone so long. Luckily, I found a place that somehow I had overlooked the first time, and even more lucky was that there was someone at the desk who spoke some English. We were right near the bus station as it turned out, and yes it was totally inundated with water.

All in all it was a frustrating and trying day; one of the more difficult ones we have had in China.

Posted by jonshapiro 06:52 Archived in China Comments (2)

A Farewell

Our daughter and friend have been here this past week, when we and they were wined and dined by many of our favorite students. It has also been time to say goodbye to them as we are leaving in a few days. A couple of nights ago we had a royal send off from our combined evening classes. We went out to dinner at a "frog restaurant." Actually Nanette and I had been there before with some other students, but it is a very typical Chinese place, full of noisy locals, sitting around large tables with lazy susan's, eating huge amounts of food. The frog itself is quite tasty, served in a large bowl with tofu, sichuan peppercorns and spicy noodles and vegetables. And yes, it does taste a little like chicken. Normally, we would only order a bowl of this and cabbage on a burner, another spicy and popular dish. This time however, there were 14 of us, and Andy, who can afford it, insisted on paying for everyone, but also continued to order dish after dish of vegetables, fish, pork, tofu, you name it. Impossible to eat it all, there was a lot left over. Also a very Chinese thing to do. We consumed huge quantities of the localpijou, or beer, though at half the strength of the US brew, it didn't really effect me. Everyone took lots of pictures, except us I should say, as my camera was stolen at the beach a few days before. It really was an incredible feast, and then we went to KTV, which is a kind of karoake bar. Actually it's not really a bar per se. Everyone gets a separate room for their own party, and then drinks more beer while they sing along to smaltzy Chinese pop music. They do have some English rock, but it is all copies of the original stuff, probably made by Phillipinos. They seem to love karoake over here, so this too was a very typical Chinese experience. We all had a great time, and Nanette and I managed to wow them all with our 60's free form dancing. Our daughter was somewhat embarrassed at her parents making fools of themselves.

Last night was another fun evening with a few of the day students whom we have befriended. This time we went to a Korean barbicue, and then to a western style bar by the ocean where we listened to copies of familiar rock songs sung live by young Phillipinos. They managed a pretty fair Bob Marley, complete with Jamaican accent, but couldn't quite pull off Tina Turner.

Only four students showed up to take the exam in Nanette's class. In my advanced history exam two students cheated and I had to remove their papers. The head teacher tried to get me to change their grades though in the end it makes no difference. Some things never change.

Despite this, I will miss the incredible generosity and friendliness of many students, particularly Happy and Marjorie, and all three of my evening students, and I know there are many others that Nanette will miss as well. Natasha and Paige left today for Shanghai where we will also go briefly in two days, before heading for Yunnan.

Posted by jonshapiro 14:30 Archived in China Tagged parties living_abroad Comments (1)

Once a Psychologist, Always a....

One of my evening students, Betty, age 32, is married with a 4 year old son, and lives with her in laws in a small apartment. She often misses class or is late, but has been quite open in her comments about China and family life. In other classes she has mentioned her dilemma with her son, who complains about the nursery school they send him to and often throws tantrums in the morning. She is uncertain whether to switch schools, because she is not sure how he would react or that the others are much different.

It turns out that it is much more complicated than I knew. She resents her in-laws, who, she says, do nothing to help out, and look down on her because she comes from a poorer family than her husband. When they got married, he was able to give her family a fairly large sum of money, but she was not able to reciprocate. This is a very important here, as people generally marry within their same socioeconomic background. Also her husband does little to help take care of their child, even though Betty works full time, as he does. He apparently takes his parents side whenever Betty complains. She desperately wants to get their own apartment, but they can't afford it now.

It appears that she is quite enmeshed with her son, who carries on and demands presents in order to go to school. She feels she is a bad mother because she loses patience with him, though at other times she just gives in. He is an only child like so many others, because of the one-child policy of the government. If they had more children, they would have to pay a large fine. She worries about her him, and feels that he is not very good when it comes time to playing with other children. She does her best to encourage this, but thinks the school, private and expensive, over emphasizes learning activities and neglects social skills. This way they can point to all the facts the children can recite and bolster their reputation. The teachers indicate that her son is not a problem with them, but she is concerned that he is too much of a loner. I suggested she go and observe when he doesn't know she is there, but the school apparently does not welcome such visits.

It is obvious that she feels quite isolated and somewhat depressed, whereas her friends all think she has it made. A car, a decent job, a husband who doesn't beat her, and an affordable place to live. This makes it difficult to complain, which is something that is rarely done in China anyway, except with one's closest relatives. I suggested she try and get her husband to get her son up in the morning and bring him to school. Since he feels he is better able to control him, she can use this as a reason to get him more involved. I said that perhaps , if her husband had more responsibility for their child, he might see that his parents do very little to help. Betty was, of course, thrilled with this suggestion, though it remains to be seen how her husband will respond. I also indicated that sometimes children pick up on the tension and unhappiness in the family and misbehave as a result. She seemed to understand this idea, and that it made sense to her.

She went on to mention that ten years ago, her younger brother and mother were severely injured, after they were physically attacked by the neighboring farmers because of some kind of disagreement. She was in college at the time, and spent more than a month going to the hospital everyday and taking care of them.

"Where was your father," I said.

"Well,"she indicated, "he is a simple country man, and usually daughters take care of these things."

She also told me that the police did nothing. I was incredulous.

"They never get involved with poor families. They only care about the rich."

So apparently nothing was done to investigate. Although her family members recovered, she worries about them. I got the feeling that they might have recovered physically, but not emotionally, and they are still very poor. She was the only child to go to college. I told her I thought she had a lot on her shoulders. I wrote this on the board, and after I explained what it meant, she nodded. She said that she finally felt that somebody understood her situation. In China, she said, nobody ever goes to see a psychologist because everyone will think they are crazy. I assured her that I didn't think that. The other and younger female student in the class was also very supportive, and I think it was helpful for Betty just to talk about her situation.

English lessons plus therapy, not to mention my own cultural education. An interesting evening.

I later heard from her that her husband was in fact, taking more responsibility with their son, and that things had eased up a bit at home.

Posted by jonshapiro 09:29 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

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