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Spring Festival Traveling Part I: Lijiang Ancient City

March 8, 2011
The No-Eyed Snaggletooth Dog

The 20 Year Old No-Eyed Snaggletooth Dog Who Lives at Mama Naxis Guesthouse

Unfortunately, Liz and I made our Spring Festival plans too late, which meant that we could not find overnight bus tickets from Kunming to Lijiang. Thus, we arrived in Lijiang on the evening of February 7. Not having made plans as far as accommodations we walked into a few places, all were either full or way too expensive (we were quoted 880 RMB at one place). After the trouble, we decided to check into the place Liz stayed at last time she was traveling through Lijiang, Mama Naxi’s* Guesthouse. We found a nice room there for a reasonable price during Spring Festival (something around 150/night), and it was nice to put our bags down after the long bus ride.


The Baba (粑粑) Oven (photo by Liz Phung)

Walking out to explore the city before the daylight was gone, we both took our cameras out like a couple of dorks and took to snapping pictures (I feel much more comfortable taking pictures in such overwhelmingly touristy places). Walking down the street, a man was sticking discs of dough to the inner wall of a clay furnace with coal burning in the center of the bottom of the furnace. We ordered a sesame baba (芝麻粑粑), it was a delicious doughy disc, crispy on the outside, with a gooey sesame seed center.

Dongba writing

Dongba (东巴) Hierolglyphic Writing with the Corresponding Chinese Below

Perusing down a couple of streets, we were almost immediately lost. Traditional Chinese urban planning consists of tiny labyrinthine alleys that continuously change direction or dead end in intersections that comprise all sorts of (non-right) angles. Moreover, every street in the Lijiang Ancient city looks exactly the same, with identical touristy knick-knacks and crafts, djembes, ethnic minority clothing and books on the Dongba (东巴) Script. After walking down the streets, and realizing that the next one would look the same, we tried to find a place to eat, but we could not find anything that didn’t look outrageously touristy, we assumed all touristy places would be bland and expensive. Pretty, young women in Naxi and Mosuo clothing shoved menus in our faces which confirmed our suspicions about the high prices of touristy restaurants at least. We could not find our way home and found ourselves on some dark streets, we were soo hungry.

The Moon over Lijiang

The Moon over Lijiang

Finally, we figured out how to navigate the maze, temporarily, and were close to home when we found an older woman running a small restaurant, looking at the menu, the prices were very reasonable, so we settled in for some Northern-style jiaozi (dumplings) and pai huanggua (vinegary cucumber). Speaking to her about our order, we picked up on a peculiar accent, she was from Shenyang, the capital city of Liaoning Province in the frigid Northeast, former Manchuria territory. She went off into the kitchen area of the minuscule restaurant, which was also the doorway, and began putting things together, continuing to half ramble to herself and half speak to Liz and me. It was a great meal, and Liz got a hug afterwards (I went in for one, but she didn’t notice or didn’t care, and I didn’t receive one). We could have Naxi cuisine another time.

The next morning, we got up early and had some wonderful egg and bacon double-decker sandwiches (this was the first time I had bacon for at least 6 months, it’s non-existent here excepting overpriced, and often bland, Western restuarants) at Mama Naxi’s, our hostel, and then we decided to take a walk through the city a bit.


Washing Vegetables in the Water from the Well (photo by Liz Phung)

We found ourselves at an almost hidden well, unobscured, but hard to see amongst the obnoxious commercialism assaulting our senses. I went down the stairs to it, a woman was washing her vegetables in a very systematic manner in one of three pools. And a group of Chinese tourists were taking turns at sipping from the well, likely to later scratch it off a todo list. I looked at the plaque to the side of the well; each pool had a specific purpose, the first one was for drinking (though I doubt anyone has the guts to regularly drink from these wells anymore), the second for washing vegetables and the third for washing clothes. The water was constantly moving from the well out to one pool and then the next before moving down one of the larger drainage ditches that were on the side of the major streets (perhaps I shouldn’t say streets as cars are banned from the entirety of the Lijiang Ancient City). These ditches were full of flowing water the whole time we were there, and people still use them today. We saw women washing their mops in them and using the water for other domestic purposes. The alleys are constantly bisected by tiny ditches that routes household wastewater out of the courtyard downhill into the major ditch on the street. Lijiang is built on a hill, which keeps the water fresh, by keeping it flowing through the town down to Lashi Hai Lake (拉市海). I should mention that its ancient water management system has been praised internationally (though has been recently damaged by intense development due to a rapid increase in the amount of tourism).

*Naxi (said “Nawshee” also written Nakhi) and Mosuo are the groups indigenous to Lijiang Prefecture. They are similar in culture, though many suggest that Naxi have been influence more by Han Chinese culture and Mosuo, more by Tibetan.

One Comment leave one →
  1. ngquijano permalink
    March 10, 2011 06:54

    Beautiful photo of the moon over Lijiang. Your experience with the labyrinthine streets of Lijiang will probably remind Allyson of her difficulty in finding her way back to her hostel in Venice at night during carnival.

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