Monday, November 6, 2006

Channel to China! -- Lijiang


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A typical alley in Lijiang. Click on the photo to see the full album.

Lijiang was the China I dreamed about: peaceful canals, cobblestone streets, winding alleys, and red lanterns dazzling the night.

My first day was rough, though. I didn't have any accommodation booked when I arrived. I usually like to reserve a place in advance, but after Dali, I was starting to see the virtues of winging it. It's much better to see a place before booking it. The quality of cheap accommodation really varies.

I met Claire, a backpacker from England, on the bus to Lijiang. Once we got off, we searched for a place to stay. The Lonely Planet China was pretty useless. Every place they recommended was pure crap. Finally, we found a place on our own: the Old Town Long Yuan Hotel. The staff didn't speak English, but I spoke enough Chinese to secure rooms for Claire and I. We each paid 70 RMB a night for a private room and a Western toilet. I was happy. Here's a picture of the courtyard:


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While Dali was laid out in a neat grid pattern, the old town of Lijiang was a maze of alleys and side streets. A lot of the streets looked the same. The twisty turns made it impossible to see around corners. It took me a while to orient myself and start to find my way around.

One of the must-do things in Lijiang is to attend a Naxi orchestra. The Naxi are the minority people of Lijiang. During the Cultural Revolution, Naxi musicians hid their instruments underground to prevent them from being destroyed by the Red Guards. Now, their musical traditions are trotted out as a tourist attraction.


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I have this new obsession: I really like taking pictures of old people. They just add so much character and authenticity to a scene. So the Naxi concert was photo heaven for me. According to the host (who spoke in Chinese), some of the Naxi musicians were over 80 years old!


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Lijiang came alive at night. Claire and I walked along a canal that had restaurants in long rows of traditional buildings. Red lanterns were lit everywhere, casting China's favorite color all over the place. Waitresses in Naxi dresses and their customers had singing competitions with restaurants on other sides of the canal, trying to sing louder than each other.


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As well as old people, I also like taking pictures of funny signs. This last picture has both, so I couldn't resist putting it in. Whenever I see something like this, I just say, "Only in China."



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