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Posts Tagged ‘Xizhou’

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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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