Emeryville Amy

This blog will be a combination of my favorite places in the Bay Area and abroad, memoirs, recipes, restaurant reviews and travel experiences.

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Location: Emeryville, San Francisco Bay Area, CA, United States

Thursday, March 30, 2006

From Anshun to Kumming to Li Jiang


Our next adventure began with an overnight train from Anshun to Kunming. We arrived about 40 minutes before the train left and we waited in a huge smoky room with hundreds of other people who were all on the same train as us. Once they announced that we could head through the gates to the platform the masses swarmed and pushed to get through the ticket gates. We hung back because we knew we had our seat assignments already.

We were only able to get two soft sleeper berths and one hard sleeper. Gretchen volunteered to take the hard one but then later switched with Thomas because a man kept staring at her. We had two men in our compartment but they were clean, polite (even letting me have the lower bunk) and they didn't clear their throats or spit once. Public spitting is prolific here. Gretchen has finally decided that every time she hears someone do it she will ask God to bless their health. She has been blessing a lot of China! It was a bit strange sleeping without any curtains or dividers in the room but it ended up being fine. I tossed and turned a lot but overall slept fairly well. It was challenging using the squatter toilets on a moving train. That is a skill that I have not developed yet, but I made it through. I think they had the heater on full blast all night and the windows didn't open. On the plus side the berths were surprisingly soft for China, softer than any other beds so far. Most people on the train had a hard or soft seat and no sleeper at all so I felt lucky.

We arrived in at 7:00 am and fought through the crowds to the exits and then to the ticket window. We attempted to get train tickets for the return trip but they were sold out. We found our way to a bakery and bought some nice rolls and some water. There is a park called Green Lake Park that they had been to before and we caught a taxi and drove through the city to it. It was a lovely park surrounding a lake. Weeping willows draped over the edges of the emerald green water. Groups of locals were doing Tao Chi, fan dances, sword fighting, badminton, ballroom dances and traditional line dances. Grandparents were out with their grandchildren and there was a wonderful energy about the place. We had all of our luggage with us and we were a little tired from the train trip so we walked around for awhile and then took a taxi to the center of town.

There is a wonderful pedestrian walkway in the middle of the city that is filled with beautiful shops and restaurants. Down the center flowed a stream and more weeping willows. Some of the side streets were lined with Sycamore trees that arched over the street and were bright green with new foliage. A cafe called out to me with a sign that said, "Encounter Coffee". I figured that I was due for some caffeine and we went in and sat down around a nice table with comfortable chairs. I ordered a cappuccino and received a nice strong fresh coffee with whipped cream and cinnamon and lime zest on top. It was delicious.

Our next stop was the airport. We arrived early so that we could hopefully book plane tickets home since there weren't any trains available. Eventually we were able to get some that would work okay. We waited in the assigned waiting area until they announced it was time for our flight. We went out and got on an airport people-mover bus. I thought we were loaded to capacity when we boarded, but at least 30 more people squeezed on to our amazement. It was a short but bumpy flight. The barf bags were front and center in the seats pockets so that people could get to them easily. That is never a good sign. They said that there would probably be turbulence and they were right. Turbulence doesn't bother me but Gretchen felt really queasy. At one point the translation over the PA system said that we would be landing immediately. That was a little worrisome because we were still quite high and flying through a narrow mountain range. Luckily he only meant "shortly".

We took a bus from the airport to the town of Li Jiang. We drove past a beautiful green valley and red mountains covered with pine trees. The houses that we saw were made of mud bricks or stone and had lovely slate roofs that arced up at the edges. I am not sure what the elevation is here but it is really high and the snow capped mountains are even higher. We got to the old town where we had an address for a cheap guest house. Old town here is absolutely enchanting. No cars are allowed on the cobblestone streets. Streams and weeping willows and little footbridges flow down between the shops selling local handicrafts and the bars and restaurants. The curved slate rooftops and the beautifully carved wood paneled doors and windows were picture perfect. There were quite a few tourists but almost all of them were Chinese. We saw a handful of other Caucasians, more than we have seen anywhere else except Beijing, but even so there were maybe only a dozen.

As delightful as this scene was our bags were getting heavy and we realized that Old Town was very large. We stopped in one guest house that a nice person suggested to us but it was more expensive than we wanted to pay. We kept going further into the maze of tiny streets (somewhat like the tiny streets of Venice) and we passed by a guesthouse that said "Welcome Friend to the Carnation Hotel" I liked the look of it and we decided to check it out. Walking through the outer doorway we were transported into a peaceful oasis. The courtyard in front of us was surrounded by beautiful lacquered pine balconies with intricately carved paneled doors leading into the rooms. A tranquil seating area was in the center. I instantly wanted to stay here. When we found out that a room for me was only 20 yuan (about $2.50) and only 30 for Thomas and Gretchen we couldn't believe it. We followed the owner up a very steep narrow staircase to see our rooms. They had beds made out of the same wood and crisp white linens and views out over the hilltops and across to the mountains. Unbelievable. The only drawback is that the toilet and shower are down the hall and the toilet is a squatter. Tomorrow night I think that I will be able to switch to a room with my own bathroom for a few dollars more.

We relaxed for awhile in our little corner of heaven and thanked God for his amazing provision. Gretchen and I kept giggling because we couldn't believe our good fortune. After the hustle of the crowds and the grittiness of Anshun the cleanliness and peace of this place fed our souls. We were hungry because it was about 4:00 and we had only had a small bite to eat before our plane so we headed back through the streets. Just before we left the guest house we were talking to a nice guy from Malaysia who helped us translate a few things with the owner. He was visiting here for a month and he might stay and open up a shop here. He led us to a local (not touristy) open-sided restaurant. We thanked him and he left. We were having a little trouble reading the all Chinese characters menu so Thomas got up and walked over to where all of the fresh vegetables were and pointed at a bunch of them. We ended up with 4 delicious dishes: broccoli with garlic and red bell peppers, green onion with tofu, beef with chilies and a pork (more like a type of bacon) with ginger slices , mint and hot peppers. A wonderful meal for about $6.00 for the three of us.

As we walked our early dinner off a whole bunch of little school kids came flooding out of their school and onto the tiny streets with us. They were delightful and we felt like we were in a real neighborhood. We stopped in a few shops and Thomas thought about buying a sheep skin hat/scarf object that included the tail. We walked up to the main square and then over to a park area which was supposed to be a good place to view the sunset. The mountain named 9 Dragons was in the distance and we sat and watched the sun go down. The colors weren't as dramatic as we hoped but it was still nice and the peaks of the mountains as they appeared and disappeared with the clouds were lovely. As we walked back down to town we walked past several different local women singing native songs. One woman was singing as she washed her clothes in the stream. Our path took us through a touristy area that had lots of bars and restaurants and people singing and dancing. Many of the locals are dressed in their native costumes. We are very near Tibet and there is a lot of Tibetan influence in the clothing and handicrafts.

Back down in the main square the only lights were from the red lanterns lining the restaurants and the golden lights from the shops. It felt magical especially when we walked to the market square where they had a bonfire with hundreds of people were dancing around it in big circles. There were drums and local flutes and lots of singing. It was a huge wonderful native dance party and we all could be a part of it. On the hill above us where the glowing golden rooftops of the homes perched there and crowning them all was a golden temple at its peak.

Later when we returned back to our rooms we looked out of our windows at that same awe inspiring view. What a wonderful day!


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