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rkkwan's 6-day trip to Yunnan Province, China

rkkwan's 6-day trip to Yunnan Province, China

Nov 16th, 2006, 04:52 AM
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rkkwan's 6-day trip to Yunnan Province, China

Well, since my thread on Hong Kong and Macau is already getting pretty long, I'll start a seperate thread for my trip to Yunnan. It wasn't just a leisure trip, and I didn't go to Dali, Lijiang or Shangri-La.

Instead, it was to Lincang in Southwest part of the province to visit many schools and children.

Since I still have a couple of threads still haven't completed, I'll add to this thread over time. But since I've started to post some pictures on my site, I'll first invite you to see something:

First, you may find photos of all my plane trips in this gallery. First part is Houston to Hong Kong, then Hong Kong to Lincang. Return trip will be posted a little later:


And this is a school we visited that's seeking help from the non-profit Sower Action of Hong Kong to raise money to build a new school building. You can see the conditions of the current one, including the bathrooms:

rkkwan is offline  
Nov 16th, 2006, 07:05 AM
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HI again!
love the photos, can you explain more about the Sower Action of Hong Kong please?
twotravel is offline  
Nov 16th, 2006, 07:39 AM
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Pauline - I'm not directly associated with them, but went more or less as a guest.

The name is actually Sowers Action, with the "s". I'll let you read about them yourselves.

rkkwan is offline  
Nov 16th, 2006, 11:12 PM
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Let me first explain a little about the nature of this trip. Some of my family members have donated money to Sowers Action, a non-profit based in Hong Kong, to build schools in remote, poor areas of China. Two schools were completed early this year in SW Yunnan province - a primary school (Grades 1-6) and a high school (Grades 7-12). I decided to join my parents and 3 other relatives to check them out, to visit the area, and to understand the situation and process there. We paid for our travel expenses as well as the volunteer's from Sowers. Later on, we found that there would be formal dedication ceremonies at those two schools.

Now, this is a travel site, and I was there basically only to observe. It was not my money, and I have no direct connection to any of the people involved. Here, I just want to report our trip and what I saw. I would report how I felt at times, but I would try as much as possible NOT to go into the politics of it.

I hope you will do the same. I would NOT respond to things said about the Chinese Communist Party or its leadership, corruption, etc. I plead for you to refrain from those as well and find another thread, another forum for those. I would gladly respond to non-political questions or comments.

Once I have new photos of the trip posted, I'll mention them here.
rkkwan is offline  
Nov 16th, 2006, 11:53 PM
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Day 1, Wed 11/1/06

We started early this day, arriving 5:45a at the "All China Express" coach stop near Prince Edward MTR in Mongkok. We were joined by Mr. Yeung, an active volunteer from Sowers Action. There are now 24-hour coach services to the Huanggang border crossing from various points in Hong Kong. We boarded the 6:00a bus (HK$42, Octopus accepted), which dropped us off at the Hong Kong border control at Lok Ma Chau at 6:30a. All must get off and take all luggage with them.

No line at the Hong Kong border, and we reboarded the bus (keep the ticket stub, and listen carefully where to reboard - announcement were made in Cantonese, Putonghua and English) at 6:40a. Two minutes later, we arrived at the Chinese border at Huanggang.

Really short line at the border at this time of the day, and here's the process:

- There are separate lines in the same hall for Hong Kong residents holding a "Home Return Permit" and other passport holders. But before getting into the hall, you need to fill a health declaration card and hand it to the official;

- Then once in the hall, you need to find and fill the English side of the yellow entry form before getting in line.

Since I didn't have the forms pre-filled, that really delayed the process. Otherwise, I would have entered China in 2 minutes.

Once you exit the immigration building, you'll find a lot of people asking where you're going. For us, we already had a minivan pre-arranged to take us to Shenzhen Airport (SZX). Or if you're riding a "direct coach" to the airport, you'll look for the coach and reboard there. If you don't have arrangements between Huanggang and the SZX, then you should start negotiating. There are coaches, private vans, private cars, etc, all soliciting for your business. If you decide to take a regular taxi or public bus, then you need take the footbridge over the highway to the bus/taxi stands. [The Shenzhen subway will get to Huanggang soon.]

Anyways, we found our driver, and the drive from Huanggang to SZX takes 25 minutes via the Guangzhou-Shenzhen Expressway.

Flight report for SZX-KMG (Kunming) along with the other flights are in this thread in the Airline forum, so I won't repeat here.

rkkwan is offline  
Nov 18th, 2006, 02:28 AM
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Day 1. Part B. Kunming

After getting our luggage, we were greeted by a 21-year old girl who works for Sowers Action in Yunnan. Their office is in Zhaotong, a 10+ hours bus/train ride NE of Kunming. She came down by bus the day before and would accompany us for most of our stay in Yunnan, mostly to learn her skills in dealing with local officials and to interview students and their families.

We had about 3 hours in Kunming, so we took a couple of taxis for a 3-minute ride to... Wal-Mart! Hm, why? Well, on the side of the building (which is basically the same size, shape and form as a Supercenter here) is a chain restaurant that sells "Cross-Bridge Noodles", a Yunnan specialty. We opted for the more expensive 40RMB/person combo, and got to sit in a VIP room with service. [You can get a cheaper bowl of noodles in the self-serve part of the restaurant.]

Our meal comes first with a miniature "clay-pot chicken soup", then like 5-6 cold dishes, and finally the vermicelli noodles. Each one got a bowl of soup the size of watermelon, and then you add all the ingredients in it - quail eggs, various meats, vegetables, bamboo shoots, wild mushrooms, etc, and the noodles. I think I was the only one in our party who finished the whole thing.

Since we still had some time left, we went next door to visit Wal-Mart. The set up is extremely similar to a supercenter here, and what they sell are mostly high-quality Chinese-made stuff and few foreign brands except for electronics. My aunts were very impressed by their selection of whole Yunnan ham (very famous), and planned for another visit on the last day of our trip. As more and more Chinese can afford cars, they have a parking lot in front of the store too, though a bit smaller than here. But they also offer a free shuttle bus to/from many highrise residential complexes. Very cool, and business seems brisk.

We returned to the Kunming airport for our 35-minute flight to Lincang in SW Yunnan. Also on our flight was the Secretary of Education for the Lincang region, who was returning from business in Kunming and who would host us for the next few days. With her was a reporter from the Kunming Daily newspaper.

As you see, our traveling group has grown from 6 to 10, and we weren't even there yet!
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Nov 18th, 2006, 10:44 AM
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1C. Lincang

Before the trip, I've wondered what it looks like in this part of Yunnan. Photos are hard to find, but I did look at satellite images on Google Earth. Surprisingly, parts of Lincang, including the town itself, have high resolution images. And more surprisingly, I saw lots of new buildings.

Turns out the Beijing government have put quite a bit of money in the region in the last 5-6 years. The airport opened in 2001, the major highway from Kunming rebuilt, and there are many new buildings, including our hotel, Wasai Hotel. It's a beautiful building with spacious rooms and good amenities. I'd say it's up to international 3*, except for the smell of cigarette smokes in many rooms. There's no such thing as non-smoking rooms in most of China. BTW, "Wa" is the name of the minority group that's populated Lincang, and "Sai" means territority.

It was late afternoon by the time we checked-in, but we had two schools to visit. First was the "No. 1 Highschool" of ths regional capital, which is rated 3rd (or fourth, can't remember) in all of Yunnan Province for its achievements. It's a large school and many of its students board there, as their home village may be hours away by road.

Once they learned that my parents and I came from the US, the teachers encouraged more than a dozen kids (Grade 11 or 12) to chat with me in English. While the students had English classes, they had little opportunities to practise. I basically asked them what their plans are, after graduating from highschool - where to go to college and what do they want to study. Many mentioned Shanghai or Beijing and even one said America, even though none of them have even traveled to Kunming.

When it's time for them ask questions, some asked where I work and what I do. And many were surprised that I work with many Mainland Chinese. They also asked how to improve their English skills, with basically no foreign visitors to their city, unlike Kunming, Lijiang or Dali. This was such a different place from Beijing or Shanghai where foreigners have to caution against English-speaking locals trying to pull them into tea-ceremony scams.

After about 45 minutes, we left and went to the No. 2 Highschool. Didn't get to chat with English here, though the students were just as interested about us. One girl who had chatted with my mom for a while actually cried when it was time for us to leave.

Dinner was at a Thai-style restaurant with private huts around a garden. Our party has grown to 2 tables with the school principals and officials from the two highschool and various education and Communist party officials. One of the minority groups in Lincang are called "Dai", and they are basically the same as people in Thailand. Our meal includes dishes from various groups, not only the Dai's. I didn't write down everything as there were so many dishes, so many meals. But they taste good!
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Nov 19th, 2006, 07:54 PM
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Before I go on, let me state one more thing about Day 1. When we arrived at the Lincang airport, local school and party officials welcomed us with bouquest of fresh flowers. While it was nice and made for great photo op, I do find that unnecessary and quite wasteful. But that was the only time during my trip I felt that way.

Day 2

A. Yunxian

We left our hotel at around 8:10am and headed north from Lincang along the newly rebuilt national route G214 towards Yunxian. G214 is a major route that goes north to Dali, from where one can connect to Kunming by expressway or train. From Yunxian (1hr), we switched to a smaller road and head SE for and arrived at the primary school about another hour later for the ceremony.

I wasn't expecting it, but suddenly we were there, and was greeted by the principal of the school, teaches, and a marching band (well, actually, just drums and cymbals - still these are just Grade 1-6 kids). Kids from the whole school lined both sides of the footpath leading from the road to the school in new uniforms. [Initially, I thought the uniforms were borrowed from elsewhere, but later I noticed in the pictures that they have the name of the school embroidered on it. It's still unclear to me who paid for and own those uniforms.]

They decorated the place with some flags, and the dedication ceremony was pretty nice and short, with several speeches, including one by my mom and one by a student representative, who wrote it herself. Last thing was pulling the veil off the plaque with the school's name on it. Whole thing took about 30 minutes. Then the kids were back to the classroom while we toured the facility and visited them one by one.

So, what was the facility like? It's a simple two-storey structure with 8 rooms. One classroom for each grade, 1 to 6, a teacher's room and a library/AV room. All rooms have large windows and are very spacious - in fact, larger and more airy than those I attended in Hong Kong. Detached from the building was a new outhouse. Still extremely primitive with no toilet seat or fresh water flush, but at least it was cleaner than most I've seen in places like this.

There had been massive corruption in China in years past when it comes to money for education, especially donated money. So a lot was done to safeguard that and to make things more open. For example, there was a plaque permanently built into the wall right next to the staircase about the cost of the school and who paid for it. And that Sower Action would never paid for a whole school - they require the local government to pay for about 30% so that they feel responsible to control costs and keep an eye on the construction, etc... I feel very comfortable with the process.

And a school like this cost under 300,000 RMB total, or about $40,000. Price of a SUV.

Before we left, we hiked up a hillside on the other side of the main road to see the original school buildings, which was made of woodbeams and mudbricks, with no windows. Worse is the steep mudpath one needs to hike to get to the school from the village. Overall, I wouldn't say it's horrible, but the new facility is clearly a huge improvements.
rkkwan is offline  
Nov 20th, 2006, 02:23 AM
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We had a little time before lunch, and the local education officials invited us to visit a nearby "experimental" primary school. It's a larger school with dormitories and kids come from the poorest villages afar. In this school, kids have to learn and help out with agricultural methods, and they raise pigs and chicken there. They also have some fields. From what I understand, the theory is that not all kids will be able to finish highschool, go to college, etc... and some will benefit just to learn about more modern farming methods that they can practise back home.

While we were there, the whole school was having lunch. Each kid have a bowl of rice, and they sat around large tables on which are one large bowl of soup, one large bowl of vegetables, and one large bottle of chili sauce. Didn't see any meat in there.

[One of the minivans in our "fleet" had a dead battery around this time. In the old days, that'd be disaster in such remote areas. But not anymore. A quick call on the cellphone get someone out to install a new one in no time. In this part of China, they may not have running water in the lavatories, but cellular coverage is much better than here in Houston.

For many people, they have simply skipped the generation of having a land phone. They went directly from no phone to cellphone.]

At lunch time, I realized the number of people dining with us had increased once again. We went from 6 people to 8 to 12 to 2 tables the night before. From here on, it's 30-40 people at each meal. I finally understand the term "entourage".

After lunch, it was an hour back to the town of Yunxian, and then another hour NW to the next county, Fengqing, to visit another school. The one that I've posted links to at the top of this thread.
rkkwan is offline  
Nov 21st, 2006, 01:24 PM
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Did you like the Cross-Bridge Noodles? We had it at the Yunnan Province owned state restaurant in Beijing, it was delicious and belly warming on a freezing day!
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Nov 21st, 2006, 08:15 PM
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Shanghaiese - Yes, I do like the Cross-Bridge Noodles. I think one can get some in Hong Kong too. Well, I like it enough that I finish the humongous bowl, despite the fact that I finished the disgusting breakfast served on China Southern just a couple of hours prior.

2B. Fengqing

We got to the county seat of Fengqing, and we got flagged down by one of the accompanying vehicles. One of the tires on our minivan was going flat, so we had to stop there to get that fixed. While waiting, we found a tea store and bought various teas there - mainly Pu-erh, as well as a red tea which QE2 supposedly also enjoyed.

Not a very good day for our minivan. First battery, then tire. But car repair shops are quite abundant in this part of Yunnan, especially for tires and brakes - because of the steep grades and often poor condition of the roads.

With the tires fixed, we headed up a small road up the hill. Pavement soon ends, and the condition of the road got worse as we zig-zagged upwards. The road was muddy with pretty deep ruts. We had an excellent driver and didn't get stuck once, even though our minivan was not 4-wheel drive, and ground clearance wasn't that much better than a car. The other 3 vehicles that came up with us were all SUVs. Somehow, the 2 VW Santana sedans that were with us earlier had disappeared.

So, after about 25 minutes on that road, we climbed from about 1,550m at Fengqing to about 1,900m at this little primary school. That's a 1,400ft climb. You can see the conditions of the school in the photo gallery I've linked to: rkkwan.zenfolio.com/p212914365/

The purpose of this visit was to observe how Mr. Yeung, the Sowers Action volunteer from Hong Kong, does his work. We checked out the existing facility, its surroundings, count the number of students, etc... and then we sat down in a conference with the school principal and the local education officials. They are asking Sowers to help them build a new building, similar to the one we dedicated that morning. We went through the numbers - like expected number of students for each class in the next 15 years, whether the building should be 2- or 3-floors, exact size of each classroom, and even the number of "holes" in the new lavatory building.

We were there for about an hour, until Mr. Yeung gets all his questions answered to satisfaction. He could then go back to Hong Kong and recommend for or against Sowers Action helping this school. [Yes, he felt like they would.] Then we left and went down to Fengqing for dinner.

(to be continued...)
rkkwan is offline  
Nov 22nd, 2006, 04:42 AM
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Let me backtrack and describe a bit of my own feeling about this visit. When we first turned onto the mountain "path" (as it could hardly be called a "road"), I didn't expect to go that far up. I thought the town was right there, so why build the school so high up?

One very very significant difference between here (or Hong Kong) and parts of China is this - here, rich people live up in the hills in big houses, while poor ones live in inner city, except in some parts of Appalachia. But in Yunnan, rich folks live in new apartment blocks in the towns, but poor farmers live all over the hills. They cut terraced fields wherever they can to grow stuff, and they live where their fields are.

I then also realize how there can be 1.3 billion people in China, as many are still poor farmers who live outside of the towns. So, the grade schools have to be near where they are, if you want them to send the kids to school. It's too steep to ride a bicycle, so everybody just walks. Only then I understood why the school is where it is, and who it's serving.

And then I also understood why the road can be in such poor condition. It's simple - the farmers grow just barely more than enough for themselves. It's not like they're sending huge amounts of stuff to the town to sell or like they're going shopping every day. I think most people don't go down to the county seat more than a couple times a year.

Anyways, I really invite you to see the pictures, and I hope to get some feedback to tell me what you feel. Maybe my photographic skills are too good or something - making everything beautiful - but I'm hearing from more than one person who've seen them that the school doesn't look too bad! Really? They have no windows, no lights, no heat (and of course no a/c), a shabby roof, dangerously-looking pillars in the middle of the room. When we first got there, one class was having music class or something, and with the walls so thin (and again no doors or windows), the whole school can hear them. The other classes cannot concentrate on their own work, for sure.

And that bathroom was horrendous. Even the kitchen for the teaches and staff looked pretty bad, my mom reported, as I didn't go in and look.

Another thing I'm hearing from others is this - why don't "someone" volunteer to just repaint the building? I don't know how to answer that at first, but the conditions and standards are just so different here in the US and there. Over there, everybody's working - men in the fields, women taking care of the house and kids and livestocks - and earning so little (annual per capita income about US$80), it's really hard to expect anyone to volunteer to fix the school. It's probably good enough the farmers agree to send the kids to school rather than have them help out in the fields!

And who pays for the paint, and who's to get it? No one has a car to go down to town, and with people earning that little cash, who's paying? And if one has looked at their village houses, it's apparent they would paint their own home before the school.

I think the better question is what the government is doing. We saw lots of new developments in the towns - new hotels, new stores, new restaurants, karaokes, foot massage parlors, new apartment rows. So, there's some fresh money coming in, probably quite a bit from the government. But unfortunately, basic education is not a top priority in how the money's to be spent. I am not an economist nor a sociologist, so I don't know what's the "efficient model" in bringing the living conditions of a place up to standard.

Should the money be best spent in promoting economic activities so that you let some people get rich fast and first, and then hope the money with trickle down? That seems to be the way they're doing, and personally I can't disagree with that. So it's up to the charities, at least for now, to bring education up to standard.

I also think many Americans will not understand, who thinks education is a right, and has to be funded from the highest government level. Actually, even in the US, education is a local thing, with local public school districts taxing people to build schools and hire teachers. Now, when people are earning US$80 a year, how much can you tax them to build schools?

And, in where I grew up, Hong Kong, the majority of schools are run by churches and charities, with government subsidies. Including the ones I attended. Sure, the local Anglican church may have lots of funding these days, but they were started basically as charities for the church to educate local kids.

My point is that in many parts of the world, for whatever reasons, education is not top priority for the local government. Changes may come, but it may take a long time. Meanwhile, it doesn't take that much to improve the conditions for quite a few kids for at least some years. Can't fault people for donating their time or money for helping out...

Okay, enough ranting. I think I'll go edit the photos to make the place look worse!

Back to the travelogue next...
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Nov 22nd, 2006, 02:49 PM
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After we got down the hill, we had dinner at a new restaurant across from the massive and brand-new county government building. We had some interesting food here, including fried bees and some wild-mushrooms. Lots of us were eating with us from the local government and Communist Youth League (which is responsible for grade 1-12 education in China) but I have no idea who most of them are.

Then it was an hour's ride back to Yunxian where we overnight.

2C. Yunxian, again

We were staying at the 2* Yunxian Guesthouse, probably the best in town. It was pretty basic, and not as fancy as the one in Lincang, but still clean and comfortable.

It was still kind of early, and the driver of the VW Santana invited us to his Karaoke bar (they called it KTV in China). Turned out this young and smart guy wasn't a professional driver, but he's one of the best driver in the local party. So, he was to drive that car to go with us for the next 4 days. And he just opened the KTV a couple weeks ago.

My parents and my uncle and aunts have all bailed, so I went to represent the family with my horrible Putonghua. Fortunately, I did know a few songs in Mandarin by Hong Kong singer Jacky Cheung, so that was okay. We had some beer, but also a famous local wine that's made from papaya juice. Relatively sweet, but quite flavorful. Not bad at all. The winery is owned by a private individual, and is one of the new industry in that area.

Anyways, I had fun. The decor inside the room was pretty basic, but they did spruce up the lobby, with cool neon lighting, and young pretty girls as hosts/cashiers. With us was also a beautiful lady who've been with us all day, from the Yunxian Communist Youth League. Very very nice person, who could also sing.

Afterwards, we went to a small market with a bunch of food stalls for midnight supper. I remember having some vermicelli noodles, but there was also an interesting fried tofu snack. It's like those outdoor food markets in Singapore or Penang, though the sitting area was less comfortable.
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Nov 22nd, 2006, 03:20 PM
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Day 3. 11/3/06 Friday

A. Kengma

After having breakfast (simple porridge, buns, etc) at our hotel, we said farewell to the young lady host from Yunxian. And it was a three hour ride to Kengma. It's a relatively well-maintained road that sometimes follow a valley, sometimes going through canyons, sometimes riding high along a ridge. At times, it look like the Swiss Alps or Tuscany in Italy, if one ignores the few houses along the road.

We were getting close to the Burmese border now, and there was a People's Liberation Army checkpoint before Kengma. All of us need to show ID/passports, and explain why we were heading that way. It became apparent that one doesn't mess with the PLA soldiers, not even our Communist Youth League official.

From what I've read, Kengma suffered a pretty devasting earthquake a few years ago. Perhaps that's why there are plenty of new buildings. We were only passing through here and to have lunch with no official visit or business, but that didn't stop the local officials from joining us for lunch.

After lunch, we spent a little time at the local main monastery. There are lots of Burmese influence around here, including its architecture. And while this buddhist temple itself is pretty non-descriptive, there were some Burmese style tower around it, and some of its buddha statues came from Burma, including a jade one.
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Nov 23rd, 2006, 07:58 AM
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3B. Cangyuan & the "Wa" People

From Kengma, we headed south towards our final and ultimate destination on our trip, Cangyuan. The road got more twisty, and lots of repair and repavement going on. We climbed some hills, cross a tributary of the Langcang River, and then we were in the Wa Autonomous County of Cangyuan. A few km later, we stopped near some caves along the main road and was greeted by a huge group of people - including the local Communist Youth League rep, Cangyuan officials, etc, including a beautiful Wa school teacher in traditional dress who'd accompany us for the next two days.

A little description of the Wa people (also spelled "Va"). There are just over 1 million of them, with about half in China, half in Burma. And of those in China, they live basically in two counties, one of them Cangyuan. In Cangyuan, over 80% of the population are Wa people. The Wa doesn't have a written language until 1957, and their believe is Animism. The water buffalo and the cow are central to their believe and lives, but they also eat them - more about that later. They wear sleeveless cotton clothings mostly in red and black, with silver ornaments. Wine and dance are central to their lives. Also, they have very dark skins - even darker than the minority groups that share common ancestors to the Thai and most Burmese groups.

[I will post photos later on.]

And the geography here is also very interesting. The county seat of Cangyuan is only about 3-4 miles from the Burmese border, near the southern end of a beautiful valley, at around 1,200m/4,000ft above sea level and near the Tropic of Cancer. The valley is about 25-mile long as the crow flies, but is twisty and with many branches, and is entirely surrounded by hills as tall as 2,400m/8,000ft tall. Widest part of the valley is about a mile, at the county seat, but at most other places, around 300 yards or so.

The valley floor is flat, and they grow corn, sugar cane, some rice, and raise cows and water buffaloes. Along some hillside is a species of the Alsophila trees - they look similar to palms, but these ones grow in pairs. Very interesting. As I mentioned, the valley is surrounded by hills on all sides, and from what I understand, the water flows through underground cave(s) to reach a tributary of the Lancang River, who becomes the Mekong. [Cangyuan = "Source of Lancang", though realistically it's just one of the many sources of it.]

As you can tell, this is an extremely isolated area, with a minority people that only tastes modernity in the last 50 years. They are self-sufficient, but not much more. In fact, many of the improvements (electricity, tile roofs, a water reservoir, cellphones, hotels) only come to existence within the last few years. If we had visited just 10 years ago, I think the experience would be even more drastic.

Anyways, even today, most Wa people still live in huts made of bamboo. Many still have straw-grass roofs, though the government is replacing them progressively with tiles in a very beautiful deep red color. First time I saw a village, I thought it's a modern 5* resort until closer inspection.
rkkwan is offline  
Nov 24th, 2006, 11:05 PM
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Fascinating report. Loved the photos. You can see the difficult conditions at the school. We visited China for the first time this year and found it incredibly interesting.
travelgirl2 is offline  
Nov 25th, 2006, 02:10 AM
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travelgirl2 - Thanks for reading and checking out the photos. Maybe it's the Thanksgiving holiday, but I'm not getting a lot of replies here. Which is kind of surprising. [Anyways, I'm writing this mostly for my own "entertainment". I'm starting to care not if anyone's reading. ]

But back to the trip now:


As I mentioned earlier, we were greeted by a large group of officials once we entered Cangyuan. The first place we visited is right there on the roadside, which a large semi-open concave indentation in the mountain, and some caves that unlit. According to the legend of the Wa people, their ancestors used to live in caves, and those are their origins. [Remember, they do not have a written languange until 50 years ago, so, all stories and legends were passed on verbally from one generation to another.] So, caves in the mountain side are still sacred places to them, and they use the indentation for celebrations and ceremonies.

A few miles further south, we came to the valley floor, and walked through a "model" or "show" Wa village. This one is next to a scenic area, where an elevated walkway has been built so one can walk above the fields for just over one mile to appreciate the scenery.

In the village, we saw loose corn being dried for pig feed, an older lady smoking a pipe, some finished cloths, and a small group of men rebuilding a habitat. In this village, most of the buildings have the beautiful deep-red tiles on the roof, replacing straws. But because of their believe, the main community hall still have straw roof, and won't be replaced.

After the village, we walked along that raised walkway along the valley. It was a surreal experience, as the sky was clear, the nearby highway has no traffic, and there's just a light breeze. It was around 4pm, but the place was so quiet, so serene. The sound we heard are those from the cowbells tied to the many many cows grazing in the valley. With the tones of the each bell different from another, it was pure music. If one doesn't care about modern things, this would be close to Utopia.

Near the short cliffs on the east side of the valley are one species of alsophila trees. This species have been around for millions of years, and are similar, but not identical to palm. Interesting to see them at 4,000ft above sea level. Also, they grow in pairs. If one of the tree get cut down, the other usually will die.

Then we went to visit the homes of three primary-school students in the area who got support from Sowers Action. The first girl is 11 years old, and is in Grade 5. Her home is halfway up a hillside, and it was a pretty difficult hike. Unlike some other houses, theirs haven't received the roof tiles.

The home is a rectangular structure with bamboo sticks as support, raised roof with straws, and then wooden panel. Inside is one large communal room and one small one, mostly for storage, in the back. They do have electricity now, but the only thing I see that uses electricity is a light bulb hanged from the ceiling which they turned on when we got there.

Like all traditional Wa homes, in the middle of the main room was a slow-burning flame, fed by three pieces of wood placed in a "Y" pattern. As it burned out, they would push the pieces of wood closer to the middle. On top is a kettle, but they also hang meat from the roof to be smoked dry from the flame.

Behind the main structure is a small hut. I believe a couple of pigs might be living there, and there were lots of chicken hanging around too. In the front the house, I took a picture of a banana tree.

We gathered around and chatted with the girl, who was very shy but pretty and nice, and her parents. They brought out the main beverage of the Wa people, which they call "water wine". It's like a fruit juice (probably made with corn) with extremely low alcohol content. Chen, the Yunnan girl working for Sowers, did her work in interviewing the family, about their financial situation and everything. We found out that the dad has to go to the other side of the valley to work his fields - about a half a hour walk each way, at least; so is the walk for the girl to her school. Officially, per capita income is 420RMB (US$55) per year.

Then we went to two other homes, both better built in other villages. One is a Grade 6 student, another a Grade 2. The younger one was very very cute. [BTW, all the people have two names. One is in their Wa language, and then a Han-Chinese name for official and schooling purpose.]

So far, I found the regular Wa people pretty shy, and were still quite suspicious of foreigners. Or perhaps because they've met with so few. For example, while no one hid from my camera, most were not-sure what to do, including the kids. In other places, one may expect kids to gather around the photographer to get their pictures taken, especially now that I can show them on the LCD screen the shot I took.
rkkwan is offline  
Nov 25th, 2006, 04:35 AM
Join Date: Feb 2006
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rkkwan - I've also been reading along, with much interest. I visited some smaller towns south of Kunming last time I was in China, but didn't get out into the countryside the way you have done. How difficult do you think it would be visit some of the places you went as an independent traveler with no Mandarin (why is it sometimes called Putonghua?)?
thursdaysd is offline  
Nov 25th, 2006, 06:17 AM
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thursdays - For many of these people, Mandarin is already a 2nd language, and you'll not find anybody who speaks English. [Probably except the English teacher in the schools; anybody else who speaks English won't be staying around in these areas earning next to nothing, especially in places like Cangyuan.]

So, it comes down to your skills in using sign language and drawing pictures; and your willingness in doing so. Or using a whole bunch of cards with English and Chinese translated already.

In my opinion, "independence" is a relativey term. At places like this, you at least need a car and driver. So, if you can communicate with him somehow, then he can be kind of a guide already. Public transportation is non-existence once you get out of the various county seats, and you don't just want to visit those towns anyways.

I mean, I don't think I even saw a public bus that goes the 22km between the Lincang Airport and the regional capital. People who could afford to fly there also would have a car arranged already.
rkkwan is offline  
Nov 25th, 2006, 07:03 AM
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Thanks rkkwan. There was no English spoken in the Yunnan towns I visited - I got by on sign language and a phrase book with characters (I had already found that few people seemed to read pinyin). But there was public transport - I wrote the name of the next town in characters and showed it to the bus drivers. I always feel so extravagant with a car and driver for just one person - assuming I can afford it. Perhaps I should look for a tour to the more remote areas.
thursdaysd is offline  

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