It's difficult for me to start at the beginning like this, being where I am both in body and completely in mind-- Zhongdian/Gyelthang, the beginning of the Tibetan world, has consumed me almost completely. But I still feel it's important to go in chronological order.
Our first day of travel was the longest, almost 7 hours, but I didn't mind. I passed the time listening to my iPod (what a godsend in terms of culturesickness), watching the scenery change, and teaching John car games. At long last we reached Weishan, the capital of the ancient Nanzhao kingdom (which used to cover parts of Yunnan and Gansu provinces as well as Burma and Laos). Weishan is a lovingly restored village in the heart of a Bai-Hui Autonomous Prefecture (that means that, at least in theory, the Bai and Hui minority people there get some power over their own affairs). It's been around for a thousand years looking about the same way and we had a great time exploring the cobbled streets and ancient teahouses. At night, John, Tania and I went exploring and ended up in a kind of city square. There, at least 50 children played on a large monument to dead Communist soldiers and elder Bai women danced in the warm evening air for exercise.
Tania and I joined in the dancing, learning the steps as we went along, but quickly found ourselves winded-- the elevation was taking its toll even then. Emerging from our dancing bubble we discovered that John had become the object of some attention, and he was running around the square being trailed by all 50 children of all ages. Ultimately we quelled their hunt with promise of songs and spent the next few hours teaching them to dance (the chicken dance and macarena), singing them songs (from Disney to the Beatles) and watching them dance and sing in return. When we finally decided we'd had enough, it took a full half an hour to detach ourselves, whereupon we met up with some other programmates at a hole-in-the-wall bar with a 200-year-old well in the middle. I enjoyed picturing this well in use, the source of peoples' water, long before even the Civil War.
Up bright and early the next morning, we piled into the van for the short ride to Weibaoshan, a Daoist mountain in the area. The mountain is positioned on a land drop off so that even though one feels one hasn't ascended too dramatically, the view from the road is at times akin to one out of a plane window. Weibaoshan was very peaceful. We spent our time there exploring the temples-- a Daoist Master gave us an amazing Taiji demonstration-- and hiking around enjoying the arrestingly gorgeous views (although again the elevation took its toll.) After dinner we took some cookies and sat on the steps of the temple entrance, watching the sun set magnificently over the trees and surrounding mountains. A few hours later, Ali, Tania, John, and I sat on those same steps looking at a fantastic display of stars-- the first Chinese stars I've ever seen.
Next time: Dali-- the world's first and only city-wide backpacker cafe and Shibaoshan, where a monkey picked my pocket.