GaoTianYan Field Survey, Jiangxi, China

Published in China

I went into the field today to set the camera traps here in 黄沙村, 联华 county, 江西 province, China. After waking up at 730, called to breakfast by the man in the host family I'm staying with I get ready with my field clothes. I finish packing the camera equipment, which is 3 camera traps, just in case we have time. I head to breakfast and he's still cooking the noodles and eggs in the bamboo fired wok. I sit by the fire drinking some coffee, staring into the fire with the caldron of water hanging above it. My field guide, a 68 year old man, arrives and sits next to me. He's got light sunken kind of eyes, but a youthful energy. I eat slowly, as they prefer... "man man chi 慢慢吃"... and then eat until I'm full.. "chi bao le 吃饱了" They say these same phrases to me every time I eat. They have a wok embedded into the counter with a fire slot underneath to put wood through. They eat a lot of smoked pork, hand made tofu that's also dried, and other meats including dog meat. One time I ate lichens!


After eating, I further put on more clothes, as the climate here is cool and damp with chance of rain. There is a thin mist that covers everything. As we walk along the bamboo picket fences towards the trail to start our journey, we pass many fields with cows, ponies, and dogs. The small village on the edge of the nature reserve has many houses and about 300 residents nestled within the mountains covered by bamboo, and conifers. The village appears to be doubling in size in terms of houses. After walking for a half an hour, another man joins us for the ascent to GaoTianYan (高天岩), which means, high heaven rock. We begin walking in preparation for a long day. After several hours, we reach a crossroads to the Taoist temple, which is at the top of the mountain at around 1300m. I'm told we'll have lunch there, and one of the men takes that road to begin preparing. We still have several hours to place the cameras so I take off with the other man who guides me along a trail through the bamboo forests. The wet bamboo is blue, sagging with rainwater, amist deciduous trees with no leaves. It's in this area that the man I'm walking with tells me that he's 75 years old, although I would have guessed he was 60. Later in the day, I find him quite whiny when he wants to place the camera traps too close to each other, and I can tell he likes to get his way. I can barely understand what he says because he slurs a lot while talking. Chinese language is difficult enough to understand, and thankfully nothing we have to talk about is that important. He usually can finally simplify enough that I can understand. I'm also challenged with speaking Chinese, although I'm told I sound very good. This area reminds me of coastal California, where I was living before moving to China. The climate and tree types are similar. We place the three cameras after crawling along trails and through the mountains. 


Then, we reach the Daoist temple, which is a reconstructed temple, and so the deities inside are new. We eat a simple lunch of tofu, cabbage, and fried rice patties, with rice. They drink liquor and have a nice chat, and insist that I eat slowly and if I like something to eat as much as I like. We sit by the fire, and I fall into despair. Why did I come here to be with two elderly Chinese men to set these camera traps? This is philantropy at its best. We've already been working for 5 hours to set the cameras. The worst part about it, is that the design of the cameras is not systematic. There was no GIS and no real map for me to use here. The map has the wrong units, and so I'm having to make it up as I go along. Yesterday, my GPS wasn't working properly, so I downloaded an app onto my android samsung, which worked half the time today. We spend another 2 or 3 hours placing cameras despite my bad mood. The Chinese fir forests here are really beautiful. 


Finally a day of rain. I've been working constantly outside for the past 10 days, and I feel like I'm getting a bad case of runners knee. For someone with another month of hiking, this is not good. I'm happy to have a break so I take time to research China's environmental policies and protected area conservation to prepare for my next research report. The place where I'm staying is an informal kind of hotel/restaurant that is run by the sweet couple who I stay with. They are always cooking Jiangxi style foods with a lot of peppers. Many of the dishes are meats in a sea of red or green diced peppers,which is how the people of Jiangxi prepare their foods. They also cook a lot of greens and wild mushrooms, which have been very delectable. 


Today, a group of people from the local government arrived along with the police to get my passport number to fill out some kind of foreigner registration form. They protect the forests here apparently, so I ended up telling them about all of the illegal tree poaching that I saw in the nature reserve; although, it was not a clear cut operation but simply someone cutting groups of 10-20 trees down at a time and hauling them down the mountain. One day I even found the really small small mill where they were milling the wood in the middle of a mountain area that wasn't exactly protected, but no one's land either? Apparently it was a thief and the local authorities seemed very interested that I told them about it. They told me if I one day found him to take a photo. Luckily for me, the group brought me a lot of fruit, filling one small table. They brought me a huge bag of raisins, which are so much better than the raisins in the US. The raisins from Xinjiang are green and so sweet. I usually can't stop eating them. They also brought dragon fruit, bananas, a bag of tiny mangos, and two large grapefruits. It was a significant gift which I thought they brought to me as a favor, but when I tried to give money they refused. How kind. I actually really needed the sugars in my diet. The other day I found a whole pack of Vietnamese coconut candy sitting in the road, which was a godsend because I had no fruits and no sugars to eat that day, and then I ate half the pack in one day and the other half that night. I must have eaten 15 pieces of candy.


Sometimes I find it quite daunting to walk in the forest for 4-5 hours a day. When I first began doing fieldwork I admit that I didn't like it whatsoever. I thought that fieldwork was mundane labor work that pays very little. Now, I even have runners knee or something that aches, so I worry about doing permanent damage doing this much hiking. I have really flat feet from doing fieldwork this long, and I kind of wish I was beyond doing fieldwork after 10 years of doing it, but no. Sometimes I wonder why I don't up for a career change if it's going to be harmful to my health and I don't get paid a lot. I make about $10 a day here. All of my peers seem to be going through the same thing. We're working on this really important ecology work, and we don't get paid well enough to make us feel valuable. It's a rough career to have when compare yourself to other friends with office jobs in computer science or finance making 6 figures or more. It still is mundane and boring for me so I take an mp3 player loaded with talks about self-improvement, comedy, Chinese language, or sometimes music. I try listening to other audiobooks but I can't usually follow them enough unless they're a live speech or something. Climbing the mountains everyday is really rough work. I'm hiking through the forests with no trails, up steep hills, through brush, under brush, up the hill again for 30-45 minutes with a backpack on that weighs 8 or 9lbs. It's not that bad, but not easy either... exhausting 7 days later for sure. I'm getting in great shape in a way. I have been hiking a lot lately after a month of yoga and hiking in Thailand and Myanmar. I'm sure when I return back to Beijing my Taijichuan teacher will be impressed. At first when I began this project I felt like I was in the wrong place, and I may be. I had no map to work with, and no idea where I was. So I set the first 3 traps, but the GPS was broken so I had to go back and take them out again. Then, after setting half of the traps I had a better idea of where I was on the map. I'm a little discouraged from the field site. The locals here are even more discouraged and haven't seen or heard of clouded leopard for nearly 10 years. I may be too late to this place. I'm setting the traps around a village nestled in the mountains. Taking on clouded leopard conservation in China is no easy task. It may take me a year to narrow down a decent field site to find them, let alone study them and their ecology. This place has the elevation and enough connectivity in the forests to where there maybe a small population here, but it's a long shot. I find that I'm mostly on a wild goose chase to find clouded leopards, and that the nature preserve design, governance, and local education is somewhat lacking the proper knowledge to preserve wildlife anyway. They have a few 65+ year old men in this village alone trapping the deer and wild boars for food. 

We hike for hours and yet only place one camera trap. When we get to the eastern side of the mountain there is a lot of tree poaching, and this is something I see everyday. There are 9 or 10 trees cut down. It seems like a new operation that's only begun recently. There are a lot of these micro-clear cuts in the forest that I now have seen everyday that I've been hiking. In the springtime in Jiangxi the rain is falling lightly, and every few days the rain will fall again. 


The people I'm working with are really great. Sometimes it's one person, sometimes two or three. It seems they are really hardworking. I notice they wear blazers to work, very classy!


Yesterday was raining, and today we didn't go out until after lunchtime. Fortunately two groups of over 10 people came to lunch each day. I've become the Jiangxi gourmand, eating at the small hotel/restaurant where I'm staying. The feasts have a lot of different dishes/flavors. One of my favorites is the soaked wild bamboo, which becomes tender with a slight crunch, or the wild mushrooms which are harvested from the mountainside then sauteed in oil with green onions. Most of their meat dishes are full of red and green peppers. The ham slices have a huge portion of fat on one end, with a slight bit of tough dried meat on the other end. Usually they make a plate of sauteed greens as well as a large pot of rice. I notice that they use most of the animal parts. Their chicken soup has chunks of meat cut off with the bones still inside, with the head sitting in the soup pot as well, which most times I see people eating with no problem. I've been offered dishes with only the intestines of the chicken, which are then covered in an oil and red peppers. Pig feet, with their tendons and ligaments cooked down to a softer pliable form. It's common to eat a dish of julliene potatoes which are then sauteed with a bit of green onion. Eating liver is a common dish of course covered with red peppers and oil. For breakfast, lunch and dinner, we're usually huddled inside the kitchen area that uses a woodfire wok, and a hanging cauldron. The rice usually cooks in the cauldron, afterwards a plate of slices of pork will be kept warm. The daily burning of the wood keeps us warm, and keep the drying pig meats on the rack above properly smoked. The dry hot air from the fire fills the small room and covers the inside of the building with a thick black charcoal.




From Beijing to the Countryside Great Wall at GuBeiKou

Published in China

The Chinese character for city is the same as the one for wall - cheng.  Several decades ago Beijing was surrounded by a high wall around the city with defined the boundaries against the countryside. Remnants of China’s city wall construction still exist today. One place in Beijing to see old style walled city construction is in the Forbidden City, which was once home to the emperor. The remnant courtyards, pavilions, and buildings arranged in a proportional grid.  This type of walled construction was how administrative buildings and imperial buildings were kept separate from the rest of the city. Of course, then beyond all of these walls was the Great Wall, which protected the country from Mongolian invaders, which is where we are travelling today from Gubeiko to Jinshanliang; from a dilapidated part of the wall to a part of the wall restored to 1984.


I sit slumped in a bus seat, looking out the windows at the terrain flowing by. Charlotte, Jirka, and I are tired, our eyes drooping. Charlie, short for Charlotte, and I met one week ago. We both got Chinese government scholarships to study wild felids in China at Beijing Forestry University. She invited me on this trip with her Czech boyfriend Jirka. We are on a bus from Beijing to  a small city with several hotels and restaurants, and in that passage there was a certain purification. Things are easier to see, there is no more smog. There is chance to final breathe. So we breathed. (Beijing is very polluted with air smog). We are finding a better way to live for the weekend.  We stay in the Green Tree Inn, wandered around aimlessly until we ate some dumplings, and woke up the next morning there to a huge 15 preparation Chinese breakfast that only costs 10 yuan, and knowing we aren’t going to have another chance to eat like this again we eat enough.


We hop on another bus to Gubeiko, where our trek will begin. As we roll north, the city begins to disappear and the land became fertile with visible foliage, and it was as if we were driving back into the past. The villages became smaller and the settlements became more rural. Gubeiko was a small village, and we stop there to load up on water and supplies. Spicy tofu vacuum sealed in plastic, fake meat no doubt loaded with preservatives, eggs vacuum sealed with the shells broken, crackers and breads filled with grape or bean paste, small chestnut filled sweet deep fried and packaged, which is all that is available. The drinks all contain some kind of sugar or artificial sweetener, except for the water. We stock up and begin our journey.


We pass through the tiny village. Before us are the rolling hills and craggy outcroppings on top sits the Great Wall. In the far distance, the wall climbs a huge expanse of higher mountains which are like mirages in the distance. The slope we ascend grows steep, until we are on the flat old worn section. Perhaps this was the true and original fifteenth-century brick, and not a copy. Or were they reproductions, I wondered? This part of the wall was never reconstructed apparently. Some of the sections here are dilapidated, and the mud that surrounded the brick remains in thin sections which we walk across slowly. Here we see the journey ahead of us, with the rock towers fortifying the summits. A cheerful group is on the wall ahead of us, yelling at the top of their lungs from the towers above us. The woodland scrub is full of fruiting hawthorn trees, vigorous and studded with thick thorns. We see the Gubeiko town at the bottom, clustered around the foot of the wall.


We hike through the towers one by one; walking up stair after stair until the view changed slightly from the next tower on the wall. It's magestic and beautiful to see the wall go on for miles and miles ahead of us. We are surrounded by unspoilt wilderness and beauty.If you're going to do this hike be prepared for lots of stairs going upward. We hike for nearly 4 hours and come to a small town from which we will have to hike another hour and a half to a resting place. We are strained, fading, and becoming worn out.  We’d hiked and scrambled all morning seeing lizards, scorpions, raptors, and insects. We get to a military area where the part of the wall is closed and we need to hike through a valley to rejoin the wall after the military area. It's wild, and there are a few wells and man made pools along the way.

Exhausted and hardly able to walk after 6 long hours hiking up the stairs of the Great Wall, finally we find a tower to sleep in and we eat our vacuum sealed tofu, twinkie like cakes. It is not quite completely dark, think blue moonlight threading down through the open canopy of the tower. It was through a kind of twilight that we looked down to the Great wall’s ridge ahead of us.  A huge explosion woke us up instantly. The sound was a huge bomb going off.  I thought I was in physical danger, inside of the tower of the Great Wall, I thought I was going to die for a second; my heart stopped from the sound as it jolted me awake. We slept next to a military area, and we suspect it was a bomb from inside of the mining area.


Nice touch. Thanks.


I lay there quietly and was silent for several minutes. The entrancing beauty vanished from the surroundings; for that split second the beauty had become pure nightmare. The sounds and shadows in that tower became suspect.  I felt like someone was in the tower, although the sounds were softer than a man’s body, probably a rodent. I was beginning to suffer from slight hallucinations. I still thought it was a military person sneaking around so I move closer to the group. Another bomb goes off, luckily the last one for the night.  At first, I was merely listening to my own breathing and counting the beats of my heart; but then I tried again to fall asleep and succeeded.


We wake up to two people entering the tower we are sleeping in to take photographs of the tower. This entered my mind very quickly, and was interrupted by my consciousness that the light was changing.  They are being loud. I get out of bed to discover a beautiful, silent and peaceful view over the great wall. Trees jutting out of the hillside look like classical chinese paintings. A moment later, from the valley in which we now stood, we see the mist covered land spring itself like a moving hillside down and around the slopes of the wall ahead of us. The orage haze of the morning is reflecting off the bricks of the wall. We can see for miles from our vantage point. 

We all fall back asleep for an hour or so, and upon waking then are approached by a woman who wants to us to by a Hebei ticket for this section of the wall. We oblige her and pay the 65 yuan she wants. It is advised to pay these people for tickets as they are required tolls. If you didn't buy a ticket at the beginning someone will eventually ask you to pay, and no they are not trying to scam you. It really is their job.

 We begin walking towards Jinshanliang town, which will end our journey in nearly 2 hours of hiking. The closer we get to the end, there are visitors also walking on the staircases and climbing on the towers. Charlotte, tireless, sprints up the stairs. I cling to the stairs with my hands and labored up and up, keeping count of the number of towers until the end to ease the struggle of continuing until the end. I was afflicted with dizziness on parts of the wall which required balance. Soon I could only grope and crawl from stair to stair on all fours, that being said I am out of shape from my former desk job., and after a full day of 2 days of climbing stairwells I'm entirely exhausting my muscle strength. 

The tower chambers were cool and brick, and this section of the wall had some development and reconstruction which happened in 1983-1987. To us it was a timeless realm.  In the end, we walk down a short hike and eventually come to the bus station where we begin our 2 hour journey back to Beijing. On the way, we found a wild Marijuana plant, which is quite exciting for someone with a botany background, like me.  I collected some seeds of this wild China stray, and wondered where it could have come from. Locals perhaps? or was it simply a native undiscovered and unrecognized? Either way, for me it's a great ending to a long weekend.

 See photo collection below. Several panoramic shots and a few group shots.


Wending Wa Traditional Cultural Stronghold

Published in China

Wengding village is located in Cangyuan Wa Autonomous Region in Yunnan, Chinna. It's a "primitive folk custom zone", where there remains a community that maintains it's traditional cultural lifestyle.  When I first arrived, after a two hour taxi ride and after buying a ticket for around 50kuai, we drove into a long driveway lined with ox heads on sticks or tied around the trees. We arrived at the gate and there were people at the gate playing drums to welcome us to the village. They were dressed in traditional clothes. I was lucky enough to simply sit back and enjoy some tea while the villagers were playing cards. While sitting there in the shop having tea, I people watched. There were several elders walking around in their traditional clothing. There were younger women arriving to do some weaving. A few people approached me to have tea and ask me some questions. After I had enough tea I began to venture into the main museum area, and luckily a 6 year old girl arrived to show me around. She played the drums for me and showed me pictures of her family that were in the museum. She was so friendly and sweet. Then we went into their main lodge and this little girl got dressed up and showed me around. Her grandfather arrived and we began chatting and having tea in the lodge. I wanted him to tell me a story, because I hear the Wa have incredible stories. At first he told me my Chinese wasn't good enough and I couldn't understand, which was true... so I told him I could make a video of it instead, and he said to come back another time when he had more energy... but I was leaving, so there probably wouldn't be another chance.There was a lot of magic to him,  his smoking, and the lodge. I have no idea what kind of ceremonies they hold in the lodge, or what kind of ceremonies may hold this community together. I asked him if he was the leader, and he said he was too old for that.





After chatting and shooting photos of him for a while, a few others arrived. Apparently, a little girl was making a music video. She was completely dressed up and dancing and singing... so I started following them around a bit. I wandered around the village and tried to find people who lived there. I wandered through the forest, through their water fountain area, through the trees with ox heads tied on them, and through the rows and rows of thatched houses. At the end of the day I found their main totem area, with a large white totem that was the same as the other areas of Cangyuan county I had seen. These types of altars the Wa people make offerings to, and sing and dance around.


Menglai Village Weaving and Farm Life

Published in China

They are mostly subsistence farmers in Menglai. We were visiting 6 or 7 villages where the wells that were installed by the county to place a paper sign on the well. Their second reason was to take photos of people using the water taps, and of the water canals. It was a bonus for me because I got a lot of really incredible experience. There were many women weaving traditional bags or clothes. The people life such simple lives, many times off the grid. The landscape was transformed into these mountain farms by their dedication.




Carefree in Bagan, Myanmar

Published in Temple

I arrived in Nyuang Nu  airport greeted by the $15 archeological fee. I instantly feel like this place is a dead tourist trap. I wished I had stayed in Yangon or Golden Rock and am filled disappointment, which is not the way to feel when you arrive to see Bagan, don't be fooled by this fee. I tell the driver of the taxi I want a good hotel, abd he takes me to a lower end hotel in a dusty part of town. I was thinking this would be a good hotel so I check in. I later come to find out there are more romantic and beautiful areas of Nyuang Nu, Bagan, or even Old Bagan  to stay with no traffic noise and less dust. After checking in, I walked around Nyuang Nu for a few hours, had a nice vegetarian dinner. I went into a really dusty jewelry store with no good finds. I got a traditional Myanmar massage, which ended up being some untrained person simply kneeding my legs with her bony hands. Nevertheless, after climbing around on Golden Rock I was completely exhausted, and my legs were so sore I could barely walk.

The next day, I woke up and had breakfast. I started my adventure on electric bicycle around Bagan, and circled the main loop. I was having an absolutely boring time due to exhaustion from the previous trek to Golden Rock, and I had just finished a 11 day detox cleanse where I basically hadn't eaten any solid foods for 7 days. So my energy wasn't high.  I'm so tired I just want to regenerate, but I don't want to miss the time here either. I want to go deeply into Bagan because it's so well preserved, but the magic also seems to be sold to tourists and I'm not impressed. I feel like waiting for sunset to get photos, or needing a tour guide to take me to the best places. My dream was to explore and get lost, wandering from temple to temple.  I felt overwhelmed and not knowing where to go. I had to just go slow. I had time if I want it. The e-bike was totally uncomfortable. I need rest and meditation but I'm drinking a latte. After riding around for several hours I became impressed. I pressed some gold leaf on the hearts of the buddha's in the Ananda temple. I rode around marveling at the brick temple construction. I walked through halls and halls of Buddhist temple art. I squeezed through cooridors and felt the nail polish of fingernails bigger than my head. I asked the locals which temples were the most beautiful and followed the map. The insides of the temples were even more beautiful than I had imagined.


I headed to MahaBodhi temple, and then to a small village and some of the more off the beaten path temples. It finally happened that I got lost wandering through the temples. I rode the e-bike through sand trails, fell over a few times, and discovered abandoned temples. Finally, I was lost in the dry zone of Myanmar exploring the temples of Bagan . I was completely childish driving on roads recklessly and falling over. I went to one temple for sunset. I stayed until no one was left and enjoyed the solitude. I headed back alone in the dark and passed a lake. The dusty sandy roads were mostly all mine, amist the creosote, acacias and cacti it's free alone... I went to a village and bought a few of the gongs that they're selling. I was also attracted to the star sapphires and star rubies that they have for sale, although I'm afraid they're all fakes.  



4 Buddhist Temples in Cangyuan

Published in China

There's a Buddhist temple in Cangyuan that I wanted to visit so I head over there. It's a really interesting small broken down temple, which when the doors are closed I can't tell if it's closed permanently or not. I see some robes hanging on a line outside of what looks like a small room, so I realize that it's probably that the monk is tired or something.  It's closed for the day when I get there around 5pm. I find out later that only one old monk really runs the temple, so it's understandable that it's often closed and often open irregularly with no schedule. This temple is completely surrounded on all sides by massive construction of new buildings and apartment complexes. It's almost symbolic how unappreciated  and run down the temple grounds appear to be as if there is such a total lack of interest. I'm not sure if the temple is still operating or not. 

I head to the next temple, which I find by world of mouth and asking people. This temple is uphill looking over most of the town. I meet the monk there who tells me to have a look, then I immediately go towards the temple, but it's doors are also closed. I take a few photos of the outside, golden dragons, large dai drums, a wa drum, and a bell. I notice the temple ceiling scorched on top and sides blackened with soot, perhaps from fire ceremonies. They're doing construction all around the temple, installing piping and renovating the bedrooms. I ask the monk, who is dressed in yellow orange robes to open the door. He decides to open the door and let me have a look.  Once he opens the door, and I can tell this is an artistic temple. The large Buddha in the center is golden, and the rest of the temple is fully decorated and painted. The monk and I attempt to have a conversation in Chinese, which is somewhat unsuccessful, despite my year and a half of studying Chinese;  it is really difficult to communicate. He tells me that the temple is over 300 years old, and that he's been living there for 28 years, since he was 10 years old. He's the sole caretaker, and lives there alone. He tells me about some of the interesting decorations and paintings in the temple, which are really old and wearing away. In 2005, someone donated some interesting structures to the temple. I get the impression that the temple doesn't often fill up with people, due to  the large structures that take up a majority of the room. I manage to get a photo of the monk, who was a great guide explaining all of the things in the temple. I was really happy discovering the temple. It was really beautiful, and I felt like it was more beautiful because he had simply maintained it for so long. His energy was really interesting... he transformed his entire life by maintaining the temple, which was an outward reflection of purity and grace. 





Another day I head to another Dai Buddhist temple, and it happens to be the full moon. I show up sunset is just begun. Two monks and a group of 10 people are sitting around two tables about to eat a feast for the full moon festival. I tell them I want to simply take a few photos of the temple, and they insist that I join them for dinner. I tell them no no no, but they simply don't take no for an answer. I take the photos of the interior, do several prostrations, and then join them for the feast. There is so much food prepared. It's around 12 preparations. I chat with some of the students of Kunming University, and talk to the monk about their culture. They want me to speak in English a little, and the students can also speak a little. He gives me a friendship bracelet, and says some prayers for me before I leave. 

Later in the week, I visit next temple, which like a large community. Outside I see the community sitting around tables ready to eat lunch. Thinking I'm going to have a quiet time in the temple, I enter and start exploring. A group of 7 or 8 children come into to the temple to ask me questions about my life in Chinese, and tell me how much they love me in English! They were really funny in the photos, and most of them were young girls who were too shy to get their photo taken. The boy wasn't shy at all, so I got a picture of him holding up one of their scrolls, which is written in the Dai language. The Dai have a written language that's similar to Laos or Burma. They followed me around for an hour and even wanted to visit the large lake with me until I told them to go back home because it was too far and their parents might worry.


Who is Selling at the Cangyuan Market?

Published in China

A few days after the New Year, it was an auspicious sign symbolizing new beginnings to see the the slightest crescent moon out during the night drive from the airport in Lincang to Cangyuan Wa Autonomous Region.  The Wa minority are the major ethnic group of the region, whose culture is defined by colorful hand weaved clothes, dance and traditional storytelling. They don't have a written language unique to the area like Burmese, but they use english letters to form words. There were American missionaries that arrived over 100 years ago and then left, and there are Catholic churches here in the city. From what I'm told, Wa culture primarily resides in Myanmar with a population of over 600,000, and in China the numbers are much smaller with around 400,000 people. Cangyuan is the biggest city in the county.  In a few of the shops the people I met were from Myanmar, but their Chinese was so perfect I would have guessed they were Chinese.  Although the further out of this main city I went, the more Myanmarese immigrants I encountered who did not speak Chinese, and only spoke Wa and maybe Burmese as well.

 The winding 4 hour drive from Lincang eventually led me to the Nangunhe hotel in a fairly well developed town obviously in transition to a city. The construction here is part of the national development for the entire country, so the new airport and corresponding shopping malls and hotel complexes all concerted together are radically transforming this off the map town into a modern city. We drive past rows and rows of shops, some selling fancy clothes, household items, and other wares, English pubs or café's, and of course Chinese food restuarants. I notice wooden housing on stilts simply thrown together amidst the major construction, with narrow brick streets leading into the suburbs with gated houses. It's common to see the Wa or Dai minority villagers here amidst the crowds sitting on the side of the street with their produce or otherwise handmade goods which they brought from the rural areas. In the morning, I eat a normal Chinese breakfast of mushroom baozi, which are bread rolls with a savory mushroom filling,  and rice porridge. Then I take a walk around and check out the shops. Some of the traditional clothing shops have black,  red, and deep purple colored clothing weaved into skirts and shirts. Their clothing has their cultural symbol of the bull embroidered on the front.  This symbol is also found throughout the city in sculptures of bulls together or bulls heads, adorning the outside of the county buildings, and overall ingrained in the cultural heritage of the area.  A few of the people, not all, wear sandalwood paste on their faces as in Myanmar, but when I ask they are local to the area. 
I eventually reach an open air vegetable market, where the local rural people bring their produces to sell in the street. The inner section of the market seems to have more established vendors inside a main market building selling traditional clothes, toys, meats, rice, shoes, and knick knak items. These stalls don't change and are the same day after day. The meat market is in the very inner core, and there's also a section for selling live animals including fishes, chickens and ducks. I also found 20 different kinds of rice being sold by one vendor, and have since walked through many rice fields and tried many of these different varieties. 

The vendors outside are mostly ladies, some are Wa minority people, and some are Dai minority people. At first, I couldn't tell their was a difference, but after a few days of exploring the area it became obvious which minority they were from from their clothing. Wa people usually wear a colored head wrap, often have a long pipe, and embroidered or woven brightly colored often neon bright clothes.  Dai people often wear white, grey or pink colored head wrap. They often have Buddhist clothes, and often wear lighter colors. I later found out that the Dai people constructed all of the Buddhist temples in Cangyuan, which I document in another photoset on the blog.The vegetables they weigh with a rudimentary, tarnished, often broken scale and weights. Most of the younger women don't like to get their picture taken, but luckily the older women don't mind. Since they speak Chinese I can have a conversation if they ask me questions, and once I was invited to a wedding by a complete stranger!



Early Explorers on the Silk Road

Published in People


Marco Polo 

Marco Polo is the most famous European silk road explorer.  Originally from Italy, Marco left Venice when he was only 17 years old, in 1271, along with his father and uncle. He and his family travelled along the entire silk road for over 24 years, an estimated 24,000km2 (15,000 miles).  He spent 17 years in China and was an ambassador of sorts to Kublai Khan’s administration. Although not the first explorer to China from Europe, his wrote extensive travel journals and published a book, The Travels of Marco Polo, which revealed Chinese culture and travel accounts to the Europeans for the first time.  He gave a detailed description of the local merchant trade in Karakoram, Kashgar, Sache, and Hotan.   He also describes the Lop desert, or Taklamatan desert today. 


Sven Ander Hedin

Sven Ander Hedin was a Swedish explorer, geographer, photographer, writer, among other things. He laid a foundation for precise mapping of Central Asia, and was one of the first to unearth the ruins of ancient Buddhist cities in Chinese Central Asia. He discovered ancient cities and wrote travelogues, illustrated with his own photographs, paintings and drawings. His materials were published in hundreds volumes by Hedin and other expedition participants. He produced thousands of maps, drawings, and illustrations. His maps and routes he selected were used by the Chinese government in 1935, and the routes were used to construct streets, dams, and canals throughout the Taarim and Yanji basins in Xinjiang. He also discovered in the Lop Nur desert that the Great Wall once existed as far west as Xinjiang. Between 1893 and 1932 Hedin led five major expeditions and several lesser ones. The first (1893-1897) started from Orenburg, crossed the Ural and Pamir mountains, went over the Takla Maklan Desert twice, the second trip nearly proving fatal, and reached Lop Nor, the great salt lake of the ancient Chinese geographers. From Kashgar, he visited the Pamirs again and then made his first entry into Tibet. After returning to Khotan, he followed the Tarim River to Lop Nor, crossed Inner Mongolia, and arrived at Peking. He had covered 6,300 miles in 1,300 days. 


Albert von Le Coq 

Albert von Le Coq was a German archaeologist and explorer of Central Asia.  Le Coq helped plan and organize expeditions into the regions of western Asia, specifically areas near the Silk Road such as the Gaochang ruins. His account of the second and third German Turpan expeditions was published in English in 1928 as Buried Treasures of Chinese Turkestan. The expeditions found extensive networks of Buddhist and Manichaean cave temples in the Xinjiang . Although many of the manuscripts found in the cave were destroyed during the excavation, von Le Coq speculated that he had discovered a major Manichaean library. Le Coq carved and sawed away over 360 kilograms (or 305 cases) of artifacts, wall-carvings, and precious icons, which were subsequently shipped to the Berlin museum. The artifacts were put on display at the museum until 1944 when the relics were destroyed in a British bombing raid during World War II.


Nikolai Mikhaylovich Przhevalsky

Nikolai Mikhaylovich Przhevalsky was a Russian geographer and a renowned explorer of Central and Eastern Asia.  About 1869 Przhevalsky went to Irkutsk in central Siberia and in 1870 set out from the region around Lake Baikal, traveled through to Urga (now Ulaanbaatar), Mongolia, and crossed the Gobi to reach Kalgan (Zhangjiakou). His second journey began in 1876 at Kuldja in westernmost Xinjiang province, China, and took him southeastward across the peaks of the Tian Shan and the sands of the Taklamakan desert to the foot of the Altun Mountains. His third journey brought him within 270 km of his goal, Lhasa, Tibet, but he was forbidden to enter the area. On his fourth and last trip, begun at Urga in 1883, he crossed the Gobi into Russian Turkistanand visited one of the largest mountain lakes in the world. He died on the shores of the lake, at Karakol, which for a time was renamed Przhevalsk after him. Although he never reached his ultimate goal, the holy city of Lhasa in Tibet, he traveled through regions then unknown to the West, such as northern Tibet, modern Qinghai and Dzungaria (northern Xinjiang).  


Sir Marc Aurel Stein 

Sir Marc Aurel Stein was a Hungarian-British archaeologist, known for his explorations and archaeological discoveries in Central Asia.  During his first journey during 1900–1901, he traversed the Taklamakan Desert of Dandan Oilik, where there were many relics. Stein's greatest discovery was made at the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, Gansu Province in 1907, which is one of four of the largest Buddhist caves in China.  It was there that he discovered the Diamond Sutra, the world's oldest printed text which has a date, along with 40,000 other scrolls He acquired 24 cases of manuscripts and 4 cases of paintings and relics. He was knighted for his efforts from the British courts, but he continues to be considered a great burglar and condemned to this day in China for the removal of countless priceless artifacts from the caves and serious damages caused to the sites.  He published extensively on his explorations, such as own personal narratives and extensive scholarly report. Based on his diaries, he published Sand-buried Ruins of Khotan (1903) and Ruins of the Desert Cathay (1912). 


Paul Pelliot 

Paul Pelliot was a French explorers on the Silk Road. He was able to speak Chinese and Uyghur (only two of the 13 languages he spoke) fluently, with facilitated his exploration in China. After his visits to Xinjiang cities like Kashgar, Kucha, Urumqi, etc, he arrived at Dunhuang in 1907, just three months after Aurel Stein left. And, just like Stein, Pelliot acquired a large collection of documents and manuscripts at Mogao Grottoes at a fairly low price (90 pounds). Pelliot’s Dunhuang collection is mostly stored at theNational Library of France (La Bibliothèque nationale de France).


Sir Francis Edward Younghusband

Lieutenant Colonel Sir Francis Edward Younghusband was a British Army officer, explorer, and spiritual writer. Younghusband then crossed the Gobi Desert to the Chinese Turkestan, and pioneered a route from Kashgar to India through the uncharted Mustagh Pass. For this achievement he was elected the youngest member of the Royal Geographical Society and received the society's gold medal. Continuing on to India by way of the long-unused Mustagh (Muztag) Pass of the Karakoram Range, he proved the range to be the water divide between India and Turkistan. He is known for his expiditions to Tibet where he finally gained trading rights via a trade treaty with the Dalai Lama, which brought him knighthood in 1904. His travelogue was published in the books entitled “The Heart of a Continent: A Narrative of Travels in Manchuria,” “Across the Gobi Desert, Through the Himalayas, the Pamirs, and Chitral,”

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