Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.

China: Day 9

by Kathy 27. August 2010 16:32

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<< Day 8: Xi’an—The Terracotta Warriors | Day 10: Lijiang—Lion Hill and Wangu Pavilion >>


Lijiang—Black Dragon Pool


The sky this morning was blue, with none of the milky haze that had enshrouded us in Xi'an.

Even better than the blue sky was the freedom of an unplanned day. During the last five days in China, we had experienced the pleasure of three different tour guides transporting us to wonderful places--the Summer Palace and 798 Arts District in Beijing, the hanging temple and Yungang Caves in Datong, and the peaks of HuaShan and the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an. While our guides were all knowledgeable, as well as very nice people, our normal (and preferred) way to travel is to explore areas independently. This morning, I think that we all felt a sense of relief at being on our own again—like taking off a pair of fancy shoes and relishing the delicious freedom of being able to wiggle your toes around.

In Lijiang, we were staying at ThéTea Boutique Hotel, a small traditional-style courtyard hotel in the Old Town portion of the city. Our room had two levels, with a small sitting area with the children’s beds downstairs, and a larger bedroom upstairs for Ben and me.

Outside our room was a swing that became one of Genevieve and Sebastian’s favorite places to hang out.

The hotel offered two choices for breakfast: “Chinese” or “Western.” They were out of the Chinese version by the time we finally emerged from our room, so we ordered the Western version. I am always fascinated by what people in other countries think that “Westerners” like to eat. We each got a fried egg on top of a thick slice of Spam, two slices of chewy bacon, a small container of yogurt designed to be drunk with a straw (delicious, but it took me a while to figure our why there was no spoon), an orange, sliced bread, and coffee. We ate our fill and still had quite a bit of food left over.

After breakfast, we set out to wander through the Old Town, which had been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997.

Our hotel was located at the end of an alley. Here is a view looking back toward the hotel entrance:

Genevieve and Sebastian were excited to be out front, leading the way:

Cars are prohibited in the Old Town area, and the streets were paved with large bricks. This man was repairing the road/walkway by forcing a small piece of red cloth into the crack.

There are many streams and waterways that flow through Old Town of Lijiang, and the local people use the water in their daily lives.

Our hotel was a few streets away from the main “tourist” area, and we enjoyed the quiet residential feel of the neighborhood.

We crossed a small bridge to get to the main area of the Old Town.

On the other side of the bridge was a sign that instructed us: “Don’t forget to keep civilized behavior during outing, and also shopping should be rational.”

So, all of you irrational shoppers, beware!

The main portion of the Old Town was lined with tourist shops. The tour buses hadn’t yet arrived at the main entrance, so the streets were fairly quiet.

The shopkeepers were very mellow and respectful; they did not call out to potential customers or aggressively tout their products.

This woman was demonstrating the techniques of traditional weaving. (Notice the tennis shoes.)

Many of the buildings had intricate woodwork on the windows.

Throughout the Old Town, construction was booming. The wooden framework of new buildings could be seen almost everywhere.

Genevieve and Sebastian were drawn to the many channeled waterways.

Several shops offered tourists the opportunity to dress up and have their picture taken by a photographer; this woman chose a bright red outfit.

Large decorative water wheels marked the main entrance to the Old Town.

The children just couldn’t resist trying to touch the flowing water.


At first glance, this man appeared to be watching the fish below, but then we noticed that his eyes were closed.

Near the water wheels was a small monument that identified the Old Town of Lijiang as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Across the plaza, in contrast to the older buildings, stood a modern video display.

Another mom, taking a photo of her sweet child:

A colorful procession of Naxi women passed us, and we joined the other tourists in snapping photos.

For about 1400 years, the Lijiang area has been home to the Naxi people, a distinct minority thought to be descended from the Tibetan Qiang tribes.

A man with a small goat was lingering in the plaza, looking for tourists who wanted to pose with him.

North of the main entrance, many of the buildings looked newly constructed.

We saw the same items being sold in tourist shops over and over—wood carvings, woven scarves, cotton skirts, purses, silver jewelry, and food. Around every corner was basically another row of the same shops we had just passed.

One of the popular items was yak meat (which we didn't sample).

Some women were washing clothes and dishes in the main river next to the walkway.

The walkway ended at the entrance to Jade Spring Park (also known as Black Dragon Pool Park).

Genevieve took care to step over the bottom of the wooden doorway—it is very disrespectful to step on the raised wooden thresholds when entering a building in China.

Jade Spring Park was created in 1737 and contains a small lake known as the Black Dragon Pool.

I had read that on clear days the Pool provides an incredible reflection of the mountain in the background, named Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. The skies were blue for us, but apparently not clear enough for the lake to pick up the mountain image.

The scene was still very beautiful.

In the southeastern corner of the park was a temple:

A nearby sign stated that the structure was the “former gateway of Fuguo Temple”, built during the Wanli period of the Ming Dynasty (1573-1619).

Genevieve, in front:

Next to the building were several rows of locks, similar to those that we had seen on the holy mountain HuaShan near Xi’an.

On the edge of the lake was the Long Life Pavilion, with offered refreshments and a nice view.

There was also a stage, but no performances were scheduled for today.

The park seemed to be a gathering point for many of the local people. We stopped to watch a group playing a game of mahjong.

We crossed a flat bridge to reach the beautiful three-tiered Deyue Pavilion, which sits on a small island.

Genevieve and Sebastian were excited to spot fish swimming in the Pool.

From the Deyue Pavilion, we could see the Five Arch Bridge.

We had initially thought that we would walk all of the way around the Black Dragon Pool, with a stop on the northern end to visit a museum containing many exhibits about the Naxi people, including their unique pictorial language. However, the Pool was much larger than we thought, and we still needed to walk all of the way back to the hotel. Given that we were supposed to be in “relax” mode today, and the fact that Genevieve and Sebastian had already absorbed a tremendous amount of history and cultural information over the past few days, we decided to skip the museum.

We shortened our walk considerably by cutting across the Five Arch Bridge to the other side of the lake. Here is the bridge from a different angle:

The stone railing posts were decorated with carved elephants and lions.

On the other side, a small boy was running along the lines in a garden design, while his mother sat nearby.

Leaves were piled up on top of a tiled roof:

In contrast to the dry brown leaves were these small pink flowers:

We thought that this tricycle and hose had enough intrigue to qualify as “public art”:

A final view of the lake:

Leaving the park, Genevieve and Sebastian made a beeline for the small bridges crossing over the river that flowed beside the walkway—their “gotta climb” instincts were triggered.

Sebastian thought that this large leaf would make a great boat, so he set it free on the river.

On the river path back into the Old Town, the Nordic Delight Cafe enticed us with a sign offering café lattes, salads, sandwiches, milkshakes, cheesecake and homemade rolls. The food was delicious, and a nice change from our usual lunches and dinners of Chinese food. Sebastian was happy after his milkshake:

Of course, he usually is a happy kid—full of enthusiasm and creative ideas.

As an added perk, the Nordic Delight had a stash of children’s toys in the corner, which Genevieve and Sebastian enjoyed playing with while our meals were being prepared. Sebastian especially loved rolling the vehicles around.

As we continued on our walk back to the hotel, these two men hurried by in their bronze and silver garb.

Ben and I shared a laugh as we noted that we have seen metallic painted people in many places during our travels--e.g. Barcelona, San Francisco, and Oaxaca.

The bronze and silver men quickly claimed a spot near at the entrance to Old Town, and soon were posing with tourists and collecting money.

Four horses stood nearby, one without a rider.

For a fee, one of us could have hopped right up and posed with the other horsemen.

We passed the horses by, but we did stop for a photo with the falcon man.

(Sebastian's body position reveals his nervousness at having the bird's sharp beak so close.)

The Chinese signs were often translated into English that sounded just a bit off.

Ben browsed for a new wallet in a leather shop.  As the children and I waited outside, a little boy in his fine suit brought over his puppy and struck up a conversation with us using a few English words.

It is amazing, really, how a few words in another language can connect people, and bring smiles all around.

Back at our hotel, the children relaxed in the small sitting room area which was their bedroom at night.

Here is Ben in the upstairs room:

A small stream ran by our hotel. Looking across the hotel courtyard (and breakfast area), we could see the houses on the other side of the stream.

Nearby, two men were constructing a new roof:

One man seemed to be perched precariously on top of the wooden boards while sawing off the uneven ends with a hand saw.

After our rest, we ventured out again to explore Old Town. Sebastian was ready:

We chose a different route than the one we took this morning.

We passed by a set of three pools called the Sanyan Well. The pools are built over an existing spring that flows from high to low. The first pool is the highest, and is used for drinking. The second is used for washing vegetables, and the third is for washing clothes. Here is one of the pools:

This well system, with the elevated pools and washing protocol, is common in Lijiang.

We loved the rooftops with their sweeping, upturned corners.

And who knew what lurked underneath the eaves:

We planned to eat at the Tibetan Dance Center, which I had found on the Internet while planning our China journey. The restaurant there was supposed to offer traditional Tibetan food and a dance performance, and I had printed out the map. However, many of the streets in Old Town are not well marked, and we wandered around and around, in and out, backtracking here and there, and looping past the same places several times, only to realize that the Tibetan Dance Center did not appear to exist anymore.

In our search, we stopped at an office with a large sign saying “Tourist Information” (in English), but none of the women inside spoke any English or seemed interested in helping us at all. They even refused to look at our map that had instructions written in Chinese. This was surprising to us, as well as disappointing.

We then stopped and asked several shop owners for help, showing them our map, but most of them shook their heads and indicated they did not know anything about the Center.

We knew that tensions between China and Tibet had escalated greatly over the past year to the point where tourists can now only travel to Tibet if they are part of a guided tour. (Tibet is technically considered part of China, having been annexed through invasion and military force in 1950. The Chinese government has implemented many horrific policies in attempting to eradicate the religion and culture of the Tibetan people. Such policies, however, have not been successful in suppressing all of the Tibetan resistance. Lately there has been a louder voice from within the Tibetan community, as well as the international community, demanding greater rights and autonomy.) We didn’t know if the increased conflict had led to the closure of the Tibetan Dance Center, or whether it had closed for other reasons, or simply moved to another location; however, we knew that we would not be eating there tonight.

One of the places that we passed several times was this small market offering vegetables, greens, chickens, and rabbits.

Of all the people we spoke with, the nicest were three women who had been working outside of a restaurant called the Mouse Bar. They had tried to help by looking at our map and pointing in the direction of a hotel that was supposed to be near the Tibetan Dance Center. One woman had conversed with us in halting English, with big smiles and lots of arm movements. When we finally gave up in finding the Dance Center, we zigzagged our way back to the Mouse Bar for dinner.

The restaurant had outdoor tables with a good view of the festive lights and other people walking by.

Of course, one would expect to find a mouse in a Mouse Bar:

While we were eating, a man started strumming a guitar and singing inside the restaurant.

The food was very tasty and fresh—noodle soup, fried long beans, chicken (no bones!), curry rice noodles with beef, and bean curd (that did not taste like the tofu we have in California). Ben also couldn’t resist ordering the dish called “fried chicken skin”—after all, isn’t the skin the best part of fried chicken? I have to admit that the bite-sized crunchy bits of skin were VERY GOOD, although we couldn't finish the entire plate.

For dessert, we selected four tangerines from a woman who approached us off the street with a large bag of fruit. The exteriors were very lumpy and discolored (which might have made me hesitate in purchasing them from the local grocer at home), but the insides were sweet and juicy.  Mmmm.

The streets were thick with tourists after dinner.  There were quite a few Western faces too, which we hadn't seen much of during the day.  We threaded our way through the crowds and eventually reached our quiet little alleyway and our peaceful hotel.  Sweet dreams. 


<< Day 8: Xi’an—The Terracotta Warriors | Day 10: Lijiang—Lion Hill and Wangu Pavilion >>

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Comments (2) -

9/11/2010 12:48:26 PM #


Thank you for these wonderful memories of old Lijiang.  My wife and I spent 14 wonderful days there in April/May of 2010.  I have three grandkids about the age of your children and can identify with your experiences.  What fortunate children you have!  Anway, I've bookmarked your website for further viewings.  Namaste!

gunggung007 United States | Reply

9/12/2010 9:48:23 AM #


I appreciate your kind words. You must have seen many amazing things during your two weeks in Lijiang! I'm glad that you will continue to view our stories. Many thanks! Kathy

Kathy United States | Reply

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