June 10-11, 2009

After finishing our hike at Tiger Leaping Gorge we continued south.  We stopped for one night (again) at Lijiang, and then took another bus to Shaxi.

The thing that drew us to Shaxi is that, from what we read, it was supposed to be far less touristy than our next destination (Dali), and therefore a better place to get a little closer to local village life.  Looking back now we can confirm that this is absolutely true – Dali is a total backpacker Mecca by comparison.

Shaxi used to be a major stop on the southern silk road.  Tibetans sold their horses and in exchange bought tea.  For this reason you see a lot of restaurants and hotels here called “Tea and Horse”.  There’s still a major market in this town every Friday.  People come from villages all around to buy and sell.  Tourists have to pay a fee to enter this market area, even on non-market days when there’s really nothing to see.  Pnina and I were thinking about staying in some hotel that turned out to be inside the market area.  When we realized we’d have to pay a fee just to reach our hotel (ridiculous), we opted for another hotel just outside the market, a place called Ou Yang Guesthouse.  This turned out to be a good choice.  For 20 yuan/night we had a huge room (bathroom outside).  Internet was free (with wi-fi too) and each night the hotel owners cooked a beautiful spread of local dishes for 15 yuan per person.

One of the dinners we had at the hotel.  The biggest surprise was that one of the dishes was exactly like potato latkes (not shown in this picture – it was a different meal):

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A flower in the hotel’s courtyard:

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On our first day at the hotel we found three Chinese tourists sitting down to make pot-stickers.  They invited us to join them and we accepted.  We had no clue what we were doing and even after making a couple dozen pot stickers we were still pretty clumsy compared to them.  It took us five times as long to put one together, and ours were lumpy and sad-looking by comparison.  Still, it was a lot of fun.

Making  pot-stickers – CC on the left, Kou (siitting down), Yau (in the back), and Pnina:

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Pnina working the dough:

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Hoping that this time I got the right amount of stuffing for my pot-sticker:

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And, finally, stuffing ourselves silly:

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After this huge lunch we had to walk off the pounds, so we set out to see the village.  It’s not a big place.  If you walk in almost any direction you reach rice terraces soon enough.  We’d seen a lot of terraces by this point, but we’d never actually walked among them, along the muddy ridges that separate one pool from the next.

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In a different edge of the town we found these interesting tombs:

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The next day we took a bigger hike outside the village.  We were joined by one of our pot-sticker friends, Kou (nickname Kou Kou), plus a couple other Chinese girls who were also staying at the hotel, Mia and Shabai.  We started by heading into a valley that had different statues and carvings on the sides of the cliff, some of them sheltered by impressive “houses”.

Mia, Kou Kou, Shabai and Pnina, standing with a friendly donkey we met along the way:

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And a little further down the road we found an equally friendly goat.  Shabai made herself a tiara using branches she picked along the way, and the goat was very keen on eating it:

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Heading into the valley with the rock carvings:

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One of the edifices sheltering rock carvings.  The rock carvings were so-so, but it was interesting to see this structure in the middle of a cliff:

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At the top of the hill we had a nice view over the surrounding hills and villages:

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A little further down the road was the entrance to Shibao Shan, which is the major attraction by Shaxi.  It’s a nature reserve that has even more temples and carvings.  At this point we split up – Mia and Shabai decided to go into this sanctuary, but the rest of us had enough of these cliff carvings and decided to head further down the road in search of  a monastery where we heard we could get a great vegetarian lunch.  This monastery turned out to be much much further down the road, maybe 6 miles.  But eventually we found it and it really did have a tiny kitchen where they made a good vegetarian lunch.  Like in some of the monasteries in Emei Shan, the food was technically free, but we left a donation to cover the cost.  And the monastery itself was also interesting – it was a sprawly place with various imaginative statues and shrines scattered near the top of a hill.

Reaching the monastery after a long climb:

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Notice this guy’s unusually long arm.  There was another statue with similarly long legs:

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The meal we had at the monastery:

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The next day when we left Shaxi, it happened to be market day (Friday).  We only caught a quick glimpse of the hub-bub before taking off:

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False Advertising

This was obnoxious.  I bought an ice cream bar in a small store in Shaxi.  Obviously I couldn’t read the text on the wrapper, but the picture made it look something like a Snickers bar.  But when I opened the wrapper, what I found inside was vanilla ice cream coated in banana-flavored tapioca.  What the hell??  And this wasn’t the only time this happened.  Back in Juizhaigou I bought a pack of what looked like chocolate-covered coffee beans.  No wait, it actually said “coffee beans” in English on the cover.  But the stuff inside had no actual coffee beans, just a faint almost-coffee flavor.  That’s BS, man.

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Thank You For Smoking

Here’s Pnina standing with a farmer and his baby boy:

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What I like/hate about this picture is that the baby is holding a pack of cigarettes.  This is such a Chinese thing – it seems like every single man in China is a heavy smoker.  It’s a cultural thing.  People offer each other cigarettes all the time, it’s a way of showing respect or bonding or something like that.  We were offered cigarettes too on a few occasions.  But Pnina hates cigarette smoke more than anyone I know, so for her China was hell.  In particular there were a few situations where she just couldn’t avoid the smoke, e.g. bus rides where people smoked and there was no window to open.  A few times she broke social norms and (gasp) asked the locals not to smoke.  It was kind of awkward.  Smoking is such a natural thing in China that it’s like someone walking up to Pnina in America and saying “please stop drinking that water, you’re offending me.”  Anyhow, we loved the sights in China and we met some of the friendliest people of our whole trip, but when we eventually left China Pnina was definitely glad to leave all that smoke behind.

Bonus Picture

Farmers drying hay on the road:

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