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Posts Tagged ‘Dali’

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Hand stitched antique “fish tail” baby’s hat from the Bai minority and hand stitched shoes from Xizhou

Xizhou (it’s pronounced Zee Joe) came highly recommended by a guy from Singapore as “very autentic”. And indeed it is, with its shabby old Bai houses, their white plaster walls hand painted with natural scenes of ducks and cranes, fish and birds, mountains and waterfalls. Our hotel is in one corner of the old cobbled square surrounded by low wooden shop houses. It was once a Yang Family Mansion (one of the four “big” Bai families) and still keeps retains an air of “shabby chic”.

The main square in old Xizhou

The main square in old Xizhou

In the square there are cook shops and little seats here you can sit and eat a variety of take away foods – our favourites are “Cross the bridge noodles” and hot savoury bread cooked on griddles over burning coals. There’s also a sweet old guy with a couple of tables in a sunny spot selling real Yunnan coffee for only 10 yuan a cup! This place is great!

Some of the Bai gardens

Some of the Bai gardens

A bike ride along the shore of Lake Erhai shows us “the good life” Bai style. It’s a little paradise with small market gardens growing all kinds of crops; beans, cabbages, cauliflowers, pak choi and other Chinese greens, spring onions, strawberries, oranges, parsley, mint… and a bird population of hoopoes, kites, shrikes and wagtails (according to Jim!)

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washing the crops in a communal pool

 

The lake provides fish, and the incredible backdrop of the Cangshan Mountains provides scenery and plenty of water to fill the lake and irrigate the fields. These country people live in sturdy white walled villages, a maze of interconnected shady narrow streets with never a straight line. Bai villages, we have found, are incredibly easy to get lost in… you follow a lane confidently until it ends up in someone’s courtyard and you are forced to retreat back through the maze.

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Pictures on the walls show fishing with cormorants

 

Many of the crops grown in this area end up in the restaurants of nearby Dali – a town extremely popular with Chinese tourists. With all the wonderful displays outside, you don’t need a menu, you just tell them what you want (or point in our case) and they cook it for you.

Husband and wife team - she rows, he fishes!

Husband and wife team – she rows, he fishes!

Back in town, I am poking about in a shop selling antique bits and pieces. What with the Lake and the fish and all, my eye is caught by a display of hand embroidered baby hats with their fish-tail backs. The guy speaks some English with the aid of his well-thumbed phrase book – he points at “This price is very reasonable” I point at “It’s more than I am willing to pay” and we take it from there.

One of the hats has two tiny pockets sewn on the front containing tiny fish teeth. He tells me that the fish is a sign of prosperity and good luck for the Bai people, and I am happy to take his word for it.

Only a generation ago, Bai women spent a good portion of their lives embroidering, so what is filling that gap now that they buy ready made clothes? Even the traditional styles are made with machine made embroidery.

Well, the young women (like the young guys) are busily employed with their smart phones, which clearly take up almost all of their time. The older women keep busy with knitting or cross stitching big pictures and some older women still make embroidered baby shoes to sell.

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Bai woman’s flowery bonnet – now just printed fabric

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The older Bai women may still embroider their aprons

 

The baby carriers still look great even though they are no longer stitched by hand.

The baby carriers still look great even though they are no longer stitched by hand.

Things are changing very fast in China – really fast. The lake shore is being developed relentlessly. Some construction is funded by the ubiquitous Yunnan Rural Credit Co-operatives which loans money to individuals, but a lot of it is on a much bigger scale. There are big, swanky hotels going up by the Lake and huge apartment blocks, and over on the eastern shore a whole new city is waiting under its green construction wrappers for potential “investors”.

Traditional Bai embroidery has all but disappeared in a generation, and it seems certain that the Bai pleasant lake-side way of life of farming and fishing is disappearing fast too. How can it withstand the pressures of this terrifically fierce Tiger economy?

 

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A great place for bird watching! I’m not an expert but here are a few of the birds we saw…

An atmospheric (i.e. dull!) day for photographs was quickly enlivened by a Ruddy Shelduck.

The people-watching is just as fascinating as the wildlife.

It’s very hard to do justice to the beauty of a kingfisher without all the tripods and telephoto lenses, but somehow the image of the bird itself creates the thrill.

a little birdLooking great in the reeds, atmospheric posing by this……er ….buntingy warblery job?

boat on the lakeLake Erhai supports several fishing communities as well as all the birds.

duck in reedsA grebe in the reeds

A Black-crowned Night Heron… and a juvenile keeping it company, which I only noticed was there after taking the photograph.

And then it took off, but Diane still got the shot!

This spectacular character hung about on the edge of a village near the fields.

A couple of blue guinea fowl type things were paddling about in the reeds. You can’t see their long red legs in the water. They were sharing this pond with no fewer than 11 night herons.

small veg plotsThe Bai people farm labour-intensively, neatly and productively. As we made our way back from the lake towards Dali …

bright bird… we noticed how very many birds were feeding and hunting in their fields, including a hoopoe!

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Indigo shibori or tie dye

Part of an indigo shibori tablecloth

Dali, Yunnan Province, SW China

Dali – long-time hippie paradise– more Japanese organic cafes and groovy backpacker hostels than you can shake a stick at. It’s not hard to see why people have come here and kind of forgotten to go home again.

Jim in front of cafe

Jim in front of his own Peace Cafe

There’s a few of them in our guest house. The owner himself is one – a quiet Australian (yes they do exist!) who has managed to find a way of making a living here by organising dumpling parties and pool tournaments while playing his favourite rock videos. It’s just like “The Vaults” away from home!

This very pleasant little town is just a 15 minute bike ride from the lake shore. In between there are small scale, extremely productive fields. These supply veg to Dali’s seemingly hundreds of eating establishments

Behind the town are the Cang Shan mountains with extremely impressive cable cars, and an amazing paved walk all along the top – we did at least 11 kms of it, and there’s plenty more. Is there nothing the Chinese can’t do? An Expressway method of hill walking!

In spite of the endless coffee and cocktail drinking opportunities, the beautiful surroundings and the very congenial guesthouse company, we are here to work – honestly!

We have come to Dali because this is the area where some of the wonderful deep indigo blue tie dye fabric we sell in our shop is made, and we have come to track it down. We are directed to a village about half an hour away. The population is Bai – another of those 55 Chinese minority groups. The women wear bright pink scarves or disconcertingly flowery headdresses.

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Two Bai ladies in those very popular pink headscarves!

If we had any doubts that we would have trouble tracking down the fabric, they don’t last long. No sooner have we stepped off the bus than we are “taken in hand” by two Bai ladies who beckon us to follow them down small alleyways. Either they make a living kidnapping tourists, or they want to sell us something.

They take us to a couple of houses with big yards where the fabric is made. Inside the smell of indigo tells us we have found the right place and we are confronted by the largest indigo vats I have EVER seen!Very big vat

At these small household factories the designs are marked on to the white cotton in a disappearing yellow dye. This is then farmed out to the locals who stitch and tie thread around the designs. This makes a resist against the dye.woman stitching

Once the design is completely sewn up, it is dyed and then the thread is pulled out to reveal the pattern. The cloth is washed and dried and ready to sell. The Bai seem to have a monopoly on this technique, and the older women sometimes wear bits of it. But mostly it gets made into very nice tablecloths.

Back in Dali we spend a pleasant day negotiating for the very best tablecloths on sale.

   So you see it’s not all swanning about! Hard research has to be done, and even harder haggling, and then what do you think we did? Yes another trip to our old friend China Post.

Old lady in chair

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