Cheng Chin Yuen

Friday, August 04, 2006

Ladies at Bai Sha

Next time when I stop climbing...


Probably one of the buried instruments.

Blind with a good ear.

We are all behind you!

Naxi Concert Hall

Ren Jiang

Street Snacks

Stuck while life goes by.

Loser Dog

Seal Team

So angry I can't see!

For my mum.

Tu(3) Dou(4) more yum than yucks!

Life Under the Bridge

Three Legs Good

Post Olden


Stairway to Heaven

Something in your hat mam.

What makes Li Jiang Li Jiang.

Crafty Art

Pretty Tribal?

Mian Xian + Jiao Zhi

Exit made Easy

Red Light District

Just another cute fellow on the street.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

26th July – Kun Ming to Da Li

Spent this morning looking at the photographs of Mr Chu Cancan, a Beijing-based professional photographer who came to Yun Nan to shoot Zhang Yi Mou in Li Jiang. Quite a few of his images are really great, shot with the top of the line Canon DSLR. His work has taken him to many places in China and you can probably see some of his work at His friend rejected a posting in Singapore because there was nothing much to photograph over here! Too small!

The initial journey out of Kun Ming was really heavy on our lungs. Our mini-bus was travelling under one of those uncompleted super-highways so all the exhaust and dust from the heavy traffic got sandwiched beneath the great concrete roof above us choking everything underneath it for 5 to 10 slow strangling kilometres.

On the bus, the auntie next to Karen almost killed her each time she raised her armpit. I tried to get a whiff of it but only smelled the roast duck the guy in front of me was chewing. You can buy vacuum-sealed drumsticks and even pigs trotters! Another girl across the aisle left a carpet of melon seed shells below her seat by the time she got off the bus. The bus driver was berated for driving too slowly and stopping for too many breaks! Everyone wanted to get the travelling over and done with. One funny highway sign reads ‘For Rear-Collision, make space’.

We reached Xia Guan at about 4.30pm and with some friendly local help, caught bus number 4 to Da Li.

I booked a room for two at Friend’s Guesthouse in Da Li from the hostel in Kun Ming. For 60 yuan we were supposed to get a room without a bathroom but the good folks here gave us a really nice room with one anyway. They pride themselves on having the cheapest rooms in Da Li. Internet is free and there is a whole DVD library to borrow pirated films from. I tried to watch the Da Vinci Code on my laptop but gave up after a while. I couldn’t switch the language and the pirated disc kept skipping. I think I will stick to Stephen Chow shows tomorrow night.

Da Li feels like an extended version of Yangshou's cobbled Xi Jie but the wood-and-stone houses here are average only 1 and a half storeys and still look really authentic. Some have grasses and weeds growing out of their tiled roofs and awnings. But it is still two or three long rows of tourist inspired shops. A small waterway runs along this main pedestrian street and locals wash their hands and bowls in this little canal. Mandarin Books & CDs does have a small collection of English books but they are too expensive. Will try my luck with the backpacker places instead.

Karen bought candy floss from one innovative man who converted his bicycle into a floss twirler using the spin of the back wheel.

An outdoor gear shop owner told us that he sold two kinds of goods. The first was original but factory defects so a North Face gore-tex top with a slightly off-centre stitching would go for S$120. The second were imitations though ‘copies’ was the term he used. These were poor in design and quality and went at prices insulting to brands like Arc’teryx, Mountain Hardware and The North Face. We had a good time guessing which was which. The windstoppers felt like diving suit material!

After buying essentials like toothpaste and shampoo, we were lured into having an early dinner by the sight of an auntie chopping up some really succulent braised pork knuckles. For 15 yuan, we had half a huge knuckle which could feed 3. The balance between skin, fat and tender meat on a bed of shredded radish was ultra-YUM! ‘We better go cycling tomorrow,’ says Karen after the guilt-ridden meal.

27th July – Da Li

Looks like the ‘cycling tomorrow’ plan has to be pushed back by one more day since we woke up half a day late.

After a five-star lunch of fish hot pot and fried yellowish wild mushrooms (a Yun Nan speciality) we went back to sleep. It was too hot to walk about. What made the hot pot so good was one fresh flipping fish from the tank, three varieties of mushrooms, Chinese cabbage, bean curd, pork slices, Yun Nan ham, radish, garlic and probably some MSG.

We did manage to move our lazy bums off the bed for an afternoon walk that took us off the main streets. The Da Li folks seem to like dogs, especially of the short-legged and furry kind. The dogs certainly have a great time. There are no cars to knock them down and no one to cook them. Instead each street offers a dozen friendly butts to sniff each day. It’s good fun watching these creatures play and wrestle.

One of the happiest moments when we travel is to pick out our dear Singlish in the din. It happened today at a Tibetan-themed backpacker place when I was searching for a book to buy. It took only 3 weeks in China to meet our first Singaporean travellers as compared to 4 months in India without meeting any! Two sunburnt girls and one ABC! They were on a short trip and advised us to do the cycling early tomorrow. No matter what people back home are saying about speaking proper English, Singlish is living nationalism when you are out of the country! Can understand can alreadi lor?? Why must talk until so cheem?

Going Italian for dinner proved to be a costly 75 yuan affair. The ‘Mexicano’ pizza turned out to be vegetarian thought the corn sprinklings were a nice touch and the black pepper beef rice would have been quite good except that it was a bit lacking in the tiny beef slivers. Da Li produces its own ‘Snow Moon Flower Cloud’ (something like that) designer beer which is too gasy and is sold at 8 yuan for a small bottle. Better and more economical to stick to LiQ or Tsing Tao.

Knowing better after The Da Vinci Code, tonight’s pre-bedtime movie was Stephen Chow’s ‘King of Beggars’! Quite hilarious but I think I prefer his later works like Shaolin Soccer and Kungfu Hustle. The master of making bad-humour good is quite revered on the long distance buses in China. Omnibuses of his works are also sold in thick VCD boxes. Did I mention this before? Xiao Hua, whom we met in Long Ji told us that Stephen Chow’s favourite voice-over man for his Chinese films passed away recently (ya the guy who does his high-pitched laughter).

Oh, a gold sign at our guesthouse reception reads 'Aliens and Foreigners are welcomed to stay here'.

28th July – Da Li to Wa Se

Today we justified more than 3 weeks of binging with a cycling trip of epic proportions – 35kms! My 10 yuan bone-shaker and Karen’s 20 yuan foldable bike did wonders to give us a full body (especially the butt) workout. On the rental form, my price category was advised for cycling less than 10kms and to be used within Da Li so that recovery after the imminent breakdown would be easier. There were the 30 yuan ‘cycle-able anywhere’ bikes but they were too expensive and we were too cheap.

We cycled to the Cai Cun pier where we had breakfast of deep fried potatoes, boiled corn and noodles. The corn grains are much bigger than those I have ever eaten and there where three different kinds of noodles in the bowl including a variety that looked like custard shavings. The cold noodles were eaten in a spicy peanut-soya sauce with shredded radish. Really convenient for the hawker, rojak-style preparation, no need for a stove. The lady also sold large sunflowers which looked like round cushions from which you could pick, crack and eat the seeds.

Because we were thought to be ‘students’ our 130 yuan boat ticket across Er Hai Hu, China’s 7th largest lake, was reduced to 80 yuan per pax. Out of this, 30 yuan was supposed to be part of an ‘environmental protection fee’. When we reached the other side, we were again slapped with a 10 yuan ticket to enter the ‘scenic spot’ which conveniently stood between the road and the jetty. So began our 15 km ride to Wa Se (literally Dig Colour) over sustained slopes made more challenging by our two-gear heavy bikes. The bold downhill stretches that came after the panting was nice. It was nice to have the breezy lake on our side though the sun showed us no mercy.

Along the way, we passed the crude tents of the sun-baked fisher folk who went out in metal boats to lay long green cylindrical nets. The fish they caught are split down the middle and sun-dried on the road.

At Wa Se, the pork ribs I ordered came in a mushy brainy brown mash atop a bed of boiled potatoes. It wasn’t as bad as it looked. Nearby, the cook was killing fresh fish by smacking them on the head to knock them out before de-scaling them. Ordering food in China has been quite fun. Just pop into the kitchen and point to what you want and tell the cook how you want it done. A group of tour-guides passed the time with a few rounds of ma jong while they waited for their food.

Wa Se isn’t much but the folks living the simple life here are nice and friendly. The kids here seem to spend more time swimmng and leaping off jetties than going to school.

On the long way back, we stopped by a temple where a man and two women were praying aloud to the many frightening Gods in the main hall. The chicken and pig’s head that was offered on the altar was soon chopped up and cooked in the temple’s kitchen. Outside the temple was a fresh pool of chicken blood. The friendly caretaker who was eager to see his photograph refused payment from the three who came to pray but I made a small donation in the box and wished everyone Ping An Wu Shi (Harmony and Nothing Bad happening). That got everyone smiling happily. This is the kind of living and functioning temple real tourists would want to visit, not the shells that come with the ‘scenic spots’.

Changing money in China is quite an experience. Unlike most countries, the money-changer is a rarity so you are forced to do it at the banks where the rates are bad. Back home the rate was 5.1 yuan for S$1. Here it’s 4.91. You have to fill up a form, surrender your passport and make sure that your notes are in perfect condition before you get your big stack of old ren min bi. The biggest denomination in China is only 100 yuan and the smallest note is 1 cent! To use the public toilet generally costs 3 to 5 cents. Counterfeit notes seem to be a problem here and 50 and 100 yuan notes are always scrutinised. Some shops are equipped with IR emitters to detect forgery. Unlike the Indians, the Chinese do not staple their notes together. In fact the Indians are probably the only people crazy enough to puncture Ghandi’s face with two holes to keep the stack together.

Dinner was a can’t-go-wrong beef noodle where for 2 extra yuan I got an additional topping of beef tendons. A wicked dessert of Snickers cheesecake and strong cappuccino was lapped up at The Sweet Tooth. This little joint is operated by the Deaf Community in Da Li. The only problem with this place was that Kenny G’s ‘Forever in Love’ kept going on forever not that the staff noticed.

For those old enough to remember the first TV version of Journey To The West, we get that everyday here. The special effects then are really something ‘special’ today but the guy playing the Monkey God is indeed the Andy Serkis of that era. Each episode is painfully slow-moving. The monk talks slow enough to put you to sleep and the only new thing in the standard formula is the type of monsters Sun Wu Kong has to battle. Today’s X-men included 7 ‘spider women’ and one guy with about 10 eyes on his belly!

Tomorrow we leave for Li Jiang where we will extend our passports at the local PSB (police station). Good night!

29th July - Da Li to Li Jiang

Breakfast was 6 sticks of lean mutton satay (5 yuan). I wished I had dscovered this cluster of Muslim stalls by the South Gate earlier!

The 3 hour ride to Li Jiang brought us along the western flank of Er Hai Hu and across the surrounding highlands. It was one of the more comfortable rides we had where you knees are not compressed by the seats and there is no one in the aisle to bother you with her armpits. The bus driver smoked and jammed braked only once which is forgivable.

Li Jiang with her haphazard maze of severely weathered cobbled-stone streets, water-ways and cosy wooden shops makes a deeper first impression. Da Li and Yangshou are too regular in layout. We had a hard time looking for cheap accomodation and finally settled on Old Town Youth Hostel which had free internet access but no water in the bathroom till midnight! A nice little girl brought us through the tangle of alleyways here from the sister hostel and even offered to carry our bags for us!

Our rush for visa extensions have to wait till Monday so we finally had some lunch at 5pm. It was one of the best claypot noodles and dumpling soup I had in China. We wanted to try the Naxi earthworm bean curd for dinner but the extreme gormet was not available. So we settled for tree bark with ham and a 5 flower meat dish. The tree bark turned out to be some rough mildly bitter fungus or leaf which went quite well with the ham and corn rice. The steamed 5 flower meat turned out to be thinly sliced meat with enough generous fat layers to make KFC a healthier choice.

I like the way tea is served in China. Just dump the hot water over the leaves and wait patiently for them to sink.

Tomorrow we do more walking on the beautiful cobbled stone streets of Li Jiang!

If we were soldiers...

I hate shopping

Trying to understand

Lost in Da Li City

Masak Masak

Pig Out!

Fu Xing Jie in Da Li

Point and Cook

Hot Pot Happiness

Chewy Flour, Syrup, Condense Milk Wrap

Routine Boredom

Complicated Roofing


Waiting for the cobbler

Two Mr Wrinkles!

Street Hawker in Dali

Never without a job

Friendly Competitors

Edible Cushions?

On Er Hai Hu

Hand of the Lake Monster

Speaker for the Dead