Ah The Famous Great Wall....

No I am not talking about the bricks and mortar thing built on the northern border to keep out the invading hordes on horseback, but the the virtual wall built to keep resident citizens from accessing Google, or Yahoo, or Facebook or YouTube (or more than two thousand other websites).

It took me a couple of days to figure out how to beat it but it hasn't been easy, especially since I am changing hotels daily and on the road dawn to dusk visiting far flung sites with a bunch of friends and colleagues from the hort trade. (I have also absorbed quite a bit of Chinese culture and cultural history!)

It has only been two days in country, but a lot of has happened, and a lot of ground covered...and I'll try to catch up on it after dinner tonight. I did manage to get my photos from the camera to the laptop and that should add a little fun to it -- especially the Lek shi farmers market this morning -- just a block from our hotel, the four star Xin Peng!



Departure Dinner

It's been just under a week, but it seems I have my chops back (sticks that is). Spent the last couple of hours at the big family dinner for my friend Rongna Liang, who was the inspiration -- and the sparkplug -- for this whole trip.

Check out this spread:

Goodbye Chengdu

Its all what I have come to know as the social round table. That is the most striking difference I have noticed about China versus the US: they are very social people while we are very isolated people (this is aside from the fact that it seems they will eat just about anything).

This dinner was a little more sedate than some of those put on by my hosts: no pickled duck tongue, or chiffonaded pig stomach, nor either thin sliced pig snout or ear crisps, just your basic hotter than hell veggies and meats with soups and white rice.

After dinner I had to negotiate a cab ride to the airport (46 Yuan, or $7.50) where I am staying in a runway-side hotel for the night. Not even unpacking...just a hit and run.



Rabbit Head Anyone?

The food court at the Asia Mall, such as it was, had a wide variety of choices including deep fried octopus (with head up and tentacles splayed in a perfect star pattern). I passed on that, but my eye was caught by the shrimps...and next to them the rabbit heads (it was Sherry that identified them for me).

Rabbit Heads

Ummm, boy!  Later in the day, after visiting the Wenshu Monastery, we cruised the surrounding streets and came upon a sort of farmers market that had an incredible and unusual lineup. More on that in another post, and I hope to put up a photo gallery of the place...

What's For Breakfast?

Am scrambling to make the 7:00 am airport shuttle. Had about 10 minutes for breakfast: boiled egg, some potatoes (!) plus some green beans and pickled cucumber with garlic (not to mention the requisite melon). Had to pass on the coffee, as it was the same as at the Chengdu Hotel, which is to say a fifty-fifty mix of Nescafe instant and powdered milk. The tea was good though.


Breakfast Ears


I also decided to pass on the “Cold Pig Ears” as they seemed a bit heavy early in the morning. Now maybe a pig foot .THAT I could do!

Home In Kunming

Made it to the hotel in Kunming by lunchtime. There was a little mixup in that my host took me to this really flashy marble and mirror place where they did not seem to have my name on the list. In the end it turned out that the "hotel complex" included this new international posh-posh and its older brethren across the way a couple of hundred yards, which is where I ended up.

Truth be told I am happier over here. It is a classic mild climate place, a ring of three stories (no elevator) around a central courtyard full of mature philodendron and bananas and such, with sitting nooks among them (and WiFi).

Kunming Hotel Courtyard

A little worn around the edges perhaps, but a solid internet connection, "leave me alone" ambiance, and no flashy types in their shiny Eurocars.

Out the back, through my ten foot window I can see across our fence (below me...I can't see it) is some sort of compound centered around a fact a monk just came around the right side, swiping his robes back up toward his elbows.


Four days? No problem. No traffic, no moving every day, no handlers and drivers....just the mellow Mr. Ma, who was driving 80 clicks down the middle of the 120 click expressway in from the airport, young daughter in the back seat, trying out her English on me and desperately wanting to pull the rollaboard suitcase from the parking lot to registration. A real change from Chengdu!

Toiletries For Sale

At this hotel you have to closely examine everything before you touch, due to hidden price tags (not really hidden, but a number surrounded by Chinese characters). This bathroom rack is the classic:

Toiletries-Garden Expo

We have your shaving kit (15), we have your bamboo fiber towel (15), your men's underwear (18), your ladies panties (18), your condoms (30) and your nail care kit (15)...what else could the happy couple need...oh, but we're not a couple...DAMN!

I think we can tell, by the relative pricing -- underwear costs more than a shaving kit? -- what people really value when they are staying in a hotel...

Olive Grove Zapper in YAF Arboretum

The extent to which China (or at least Sichuan and Yunnan) are committed to recycling and energy efficiency is impressive. Unlike India, or Thailand, or Vietnam -- all of which have similar transport systems, the Chinese seem to have embraced a quieter, more electrified future. It is quieter than Costa Rica, even quieter than Bakerton (out my hotel  window right now, despite the occasional pedestrian or car, it is quiet enough to hear the monks chanting in the shrine across the way.

Yes, a lot of this electricity comes from coal, which they have. This was used to cook our lunch...

  Coal For Lunch

But there is widespread use of solar, both for powering small transport and for freestanding devices. Check for instance this solar powered Bug Zapper mounted at the end of the new planting of olive trees (both the Sichuan and the Yunnan forestry academies have 4-5 year old olive groves).

Solar Bug Zapper

This is just one more of the fascinating juxtapositions I am seeing on this trip: these two "phenomes" are no more than a few hundred yards apart and under the control of the same management. It is like the shiny new office buildings surrounded by crumbling tenements.

Growth. Renewal. Maybe even progress, who knows anymore. But it is all high relief here.

Out In The Country Again

Sudden change of plans this morning. I was up late last night and early this morning prepping for a 9 am presentation to the Academy and was closing down on it at 7:30 when I went over to the main building for breakfast.

As I was leaving the breakfast room, the desk man (who speaks no English) flagged me down with the telephone and it was my host, Mr. Ma, the editor of the Southwest China Forestry Journal.

He informed me that the president of the Academy wanted him to take me to visit one of their rural stations about 100 km ESE of Kunming, and that we would leave after lunch. Goodbye window shrine!! The room, while not central to Kunming, had been peaceful and quiet...

Presentation and lunch at the Academy done we walked down to the East Section of the Kunming Botanical Garden (famous for their camelias)...stopped at the PO so I could get some Chinese stamps for my old friend Monica Hathaway, and Ma could sweet talk the Postmistress into getting us comps for the garden. I didn't have my camera with me or I would post some shots.

We launched around 3pm, through rush hour (why that was not considered I cannot understand).

We drove out past the famous "Stone Forest" which I had assumed to be right in Kunming from all I'd read but it was actually 75 km away in the town of Shilin. I got a few pix of the karst near the Expressway, and hope we might stop back, but time was (apparently) short even after having whiled away the mid-day.

  Phalli Valley

We made a stop along the way (apparently for my benefit) at an ancient Chinese warlord's mountain fortress about 10-15k SW of the main expressway and walked around there for an hour or so. I may post a photo gallery of it at some point as it was reminiscent of Canyon de Chelly. Here is one pic.

Mountain Fortress 1

We arrived in Lu Liang, which bills itself for crafts (on the highway signs) but is clearly a stone cutter's town. Amazing stuff glimpsed from the expressway, but impossible to photograph that way.

All around the town were hundreds of acres of high tunnels. Not like ours; these are intense and a total way of life for the farmers that tend them.

High Tunnels Yunnan 1

We arrived around 6:30 pm (I had gotten up at 5:00 am) and went immediately to dinner. As we pulled through the gate to what I thought was going to be the hotel, the two gate guards in olive camo fatigues stood and saluted.

We decamped and walked across a courtyard full of vehicles with roof light, through a portal, and across a classic urban enclosed space, with a basketball court and cadets playing two on two. We entered a spartan dining hall where more cadets were stocking the tables.

As the guest (the first American) I was given the first-feng-shui position, back to the wall, facing the door we had come in. I had to sit while everyone else prepared...and could do nothing for myself.

The Chinese have a ritual toasting ceremony that I will have to describe at some point (but I am too tired now at 10:30pm). I will leave it with a picture of the table (notice the turntable for grazing the dishes and the little toasting glasses and carafes of liquor).




Street Market, Lu Liang, Qujing, China

Was having breakfast this morning at the Sheng Bang Hotel in Lu Liang  (very nice place) when I noticed out the window that there was a street market just across the main thoroughfare. We were scheduled to leave for a trip up to a small town in the mountains (6600 ft) where the Forestry Academy is consulting with the county foresters on new crops for economic development.

So I slurped down the rest of my rice noodle soup and ran across the street. I shot all these pictures (according to the digital time stamps) in nine minutes. As with the earlier gallery, I concentrated on things you would not see in our markets, and will identify those I don't know (and there are plenty) as I can...

Help me Rongna! <G>

Link to Photo Gallery of Street Food Gallery in Lu Liang Qujiong, Yunnan, China  9-16-15

It's Smoking In Yunnan!

I had heard when I was in Sichuan that Yunnan produces some of the best tobacco in Asia, and I decided then that I would bring back some cigarettes for my SheTown friends that enjoy that mildly intoxicating smoke.

Yesterday, I got to see first hand their tobacco production.

Tobacco In Field

It took me a few minutes (passing the fields in the car) to realize that I had reached the actual production area -- it is in the highlands, around 6600 ft, where temperatures annually range from the mid 20s to the mid 80s -- because these plants don't look like the ones I remember from my days at UMass Amherst, which was, at that time, in the middle of a large tobacco production region.

One of the unique aspects of the Pioneer Valley  viewshed is the tobacco barns that dot the landscape. Here in Yunnan, the tobacco is dried in small, hermetically sealed sheds, and as soon as I saw one with open doors and realized what they were, I started noticing them everywhere.

Tobacco Shed

And if you want to talk about a local ag product produced and consumed locally -- I know you would prefer it was food, but that is produced and consumed locally, too -- tobacco fits the bill.

Just check out my new friend and colleague is stoking up the cig-bong.


It turns out I was wrong in my earlier Facebook post to think it was his bong...around here, public  gathering places have cig-bongs available for general use.

Anyway, here is a pic of the (almost) finished product. I'll be bringing some home for those who care,

Tobacco Dried

Kunming Fresh Food Market

Here is a gallery of photos taken at the Kunming fresh food market the morning of September 18th.

There are plenty of green grocers and butchers around town (I have discovered) but this is the home of the most basic vendors, and there were a lot more crops (and mushrooms) there than I had seen previously.

My favorite mushroom (to hear about, not to eat!) is one treasured by the Yunnanese, called "See You Tomorrow." You'll find it in a number of dishes and in tomorrow's "evacuation" as, despite its culinary delicacy, it is indigestible, and passes right through the system!

Photo Gallery - Kunming Fresh Food Market

Last Night In China

It's been a long and interesting time here in the ancient kingdom...and I had a hard time keeping up with this blog, both because of how busy my hosts kept me in the early parts, and connectivity and computer problems at the end,


I wouldn't have passed it up for the world. I am just getting ready to crash for the night at the airport hotel in Chengdu. I fly out at 9 am tomorrow and will get back to DC at 7 pm "tomorrow." I will be glad to be back even though I have had a great time.

Here's a picture out my hotel window (of the airport) just after 10 pm on my last night.

Last NIght