At first glance, Lijiang looks like a Chinese theme park designed in the South African Casino style -cobble stone roads, little canals, young girls running around in traditional costume with jeans underneath and of course enough lighting to be visible from space. This was not the traditional old Naxi town I had read about and was looking forward to. But once you move out of the commercial heart of Old Town, it becomes another place altogether. This is the China that you see in old movies, complete with people sitting on the sidewalk selling fruit and old ladies with veggies and grain in baskets on their backs.
We also rented some bikes and drove out to the surrounding countryside (Baisha and Shuhe - yes, the same Shuhe where we tried to volunteer-teach!) to see what the neighbours were up to. The people here seem to lead a very peaceful life : they grow what they need, they spend the entire year cultivating their land on the impossible mountain slopes by hand and ox (no machinery), and they all seem happy and content. Seeing this and riding through the fields shouting "Ni hoa, ni hao!!" made us decide that we will do as many as possible bikes rides on this trip - it just brings you closer to the land and the people than the experience you have on a bus.
I would have loved to speak to some of the local Naxi people to get a better insight, but even after a couple of Putonghua (Mandarin) classes with our very friendly guesthouse manager River, we are still not nearly good enough to discuss anything other than how good something is and directions.
The Naxi (Naa - shi) is a matriarchal society. Joey and I were contemplating the genetic lottery: a women born in 60 years ago in South West China will today be the leader in her community; the same women born in North West China will have almost no worth.
We also went on a 2 day mountain trek to Tiger Leaping Gorge - no sign of a tiger, leaping or otherwise, and a whole lot of gorge. And it was absolutely gorgeous. Besides the photographs that can of course never fully capture the absolute greatness of the mountains, I sometimes even felt that my eyes do not have the full capability to really see it either. The trek was ARDUOUS. That was definitely the word of the day, as described in the Lonely Planet. On some parts of trail a few profanities in front of arduous was necessary - we had no idea that it would be quite so difficult. Of course afterwards we found out that most people do the trail in 3 days, not 2. The breathtaking view (literally - the air gets quite thin at 2680m above sea level!) made it all worth it though, as well as the several cold beers and hot local food the end of the day. Hope you enjoy the photos - we are proud of ourselves for finally lerining to use the camera!!!