KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
On our first day in Lijiang, David and I went out to explore the Old Town and as we crossed the bridge, we were approached by a woman who spoke fairly good English. She wanted to know if we needed to hire a minibus to take us to some of the famous sites outside of Lijiang. We told her we already had the card of the taxi driver who drove us from the airport and she smiled and went on her way. When we finally decided that we wanted to travel outside the city, we decided to look for her because we hadn't come across anyone who spoke English as well as she did, but we weren't confident that we could find her again. We headed out towards the famous Waterwheel in the Old Town and before long, she found us again. We told her we wanted to visit Baisha, and she smiled and told us it was her village and she would love to take us there. Her brother is a minibus driver and she comes to Lijiang early every morning to try and find business for him. She presented us with one of her business cards and we were impressed to see that she had both English and Chinese printed on the card, with the prices of the various day trips around the city. This was the first time we had come across someone so enterprising and we made arrangements to leave right after lunch.
Baisha is on the plain north of Lijiang. It was the capital of the Naxi kingdom before Kublai Khan made it part of his empire (1271 - 1368). It has hardly changed since that time and is close to several old temples that contain frescoes depicting various Taoist, Chinese and Tibetan Buddhist themes. The Red Guards defaced most of them during the Cultural Revolution; however, one temple in Baisha has some intact frescoes. These cannot be photographed, but I did take a picture of one of the damaged ones. We wandered through the courtyards of the old temple and came across the oldest willow tree in all of China (481 years) as well as a very large, old gingko balboa tree.
As we were walking through the small town, we came across Baisha's most famous resident, Dr. Ho. He has a sign outside his door that reads, "The Clinic of Chinese Herbs in Jade Dragon Mountains of Lijiang". Dr. Ho was an unknown doctor in an unknown town until the travel writer, Bruce Chatwin, wrote about him and now the good doctor appears in every travel book about Lijiang. We stopped to say hello and were invited in to see his small herbal clinic. I encouraged Anil to speak to him about his sensitive stomach and before we knew it, Dr. Ho was wrapping up a package of powdered herbs for Anil to take with him. Not to be left out, David told him about his diabetes and another package of different herbs was prepared for David. Dr. Ho even included a document, stamped with his seal, to present to the customs officials if need be. Payment for the herbs was not expected, but a donation to his clinic was graciously taken to allow the doctor to provide free herbs to the local poor. Dr. Ho and his wife were very happy to show us all the business cards left by other Canadians and encouraged us to take their photo before we left.
After we were finished at the clinic, our guide, Mu Chua, invited us to come to her home for tea and snacks. We were happy to accept as it gave us the opportunity to see the inside of a Naxi courtyard home. She led us through the town and down a small road along the farmer's fields. Naxi homes are built in clusters with close relatives nearby. As we walked, she called out to many of the people working in the fields harvesting vegetables and planting winter wheat. As it is now early November, the weather is cool and most of the harvesting has been completed. Corn is grown in abundance; as food for livestock and the stalks are cut and gathered, to be used as bedding for pigs. Everywhere we looked, bright yellow corncobs were hung on racks or spread on the ground to dry. Bright red chili peppers were also drying and the red and yellow colours added life to the homes of sun-dried bricks and black roof tiles. We stopped along the way to pick some pear apples from the orchard near Mu Chua's home and to talk to a farmer about the possibility of buying some antique wooden doors. The farmer finished filling his pails of water at the village water tap, lifted the pails with a shoulder pole and led us to his home. The doors he offered for sale were still in use and David declined to buy them. He told me later he wasn't willing to dismantle anyone's home for doors to import; he was only looking for ones that were about to be discarded.
We finally arrived at Mu Chua's home and were seated at a small table in the verandah. There were chickens and roosters loose throughout the home and while we waited for the tea to be prepared, we noticed a child's exercise book open on the table beside some crayons and stubby pencils. Mu Chua's five-year-old daughter was practicing the English alphabet as homework from her kindergarten class. We were offered a meal but accepted only some tea along with oranges and walnuts grown in the neighbouring orchards. I was surprised to learn that the oranges we had been eating while in Lijiang, were all grown locally. I would never have imagined that oranges could be grown in an area that gets so very chilly in the fall and winter.
What started out to be a simple trip to see a village temple, turned out to be an incredible experience because of our luck to meet this gracious Naxi woman. We made arrangements to have her and her brother take us to the Tiger Leaping Gorge the next day, a trip that would take most of the day. We asked how she managed to speak and understand English so well and she explained that she had learned from her grandfather. He had worked with the famous Joseph Rock, the eccentric Austrian botanist, who had lived in Lijiang from 1922 to 1949. Her older brother and sister weren't interested in learning English, but she was keen. Unfortunately, her grandfather died when she was only six years old so she only learned the basics. She tries to speak to tourists as much as possible to improve her vocabulary, but we found she understood us quite well. I can't tell you what a delight it was to speak English with a local person in China. Most people don't understand even a single word we speak.