Aren't dogs meant to sleep IN their basket?
Our trip to Heijing last month included a trip to the Salt Museum there. Amongst the more dull exhibits was this photo montage of people in stocks and chains, with some apparently being beheaded. I had to ask Ava for a translation to find out what it was about. Apparently the mining, purification and selling of salt (a valuable commodity in those days) was a strictly controlled process and the poor individuals in the pictures had merely been caught trading the stuff without permission. Ouch!
We returned from Heijing yesterday evening with two extra passengers in the car. While Ava and I were looking for a toy gift for JD we came across a farmer selling baby ducks (or so we thought - turns out they were geese!). I picked one up and it said, jokingly, it could be a cute present for JD. At 7RMB (70p) each, we suddenly found we had bought two, before considering the full consequences of having a pair of food-guzzling, fast-growing, ever-pooping birds in the house! We managed to get them home in a box and, on arrival, JD was genuinely delighted when we showed him what was inside. "GaGoo!" he kept shouting at them (his word for "bird", derived from the sound of a cuckoo often heard outside his bedroom). Now I just need to Google "raising geese" to see what fun we are in for over the next few months! We're hoping they last longer than the goldfish!
Heijing attracts few tourists, at least not westerners, so it has maintained a very traditional way of life; cobbled streets, horse and carts and a market every Sunday. We had fun today checking out the various stalls where local specialities include salt (carved into a variety of shapes), wild mushrooms and pear vinegar. We did make one impulse buy, but more of that tomorrow. In the afternoon, we took a horse and cart to a nearby salt factory, now a museum. The exhibits themselves were a bit ho-hum, but the flowers, dragonflies and water-boatmen (insects that skim on the surface of the water) were fascinating. In the afternoon, I played mahjong with three of the family, holding my own if not actually making any money!
Jiajia and I are spending this weekend with friends ("DL" and her family) in Heijing, a very well-preserved ancient town, built on the proceeds of a salt mine. Jiajia and I went there once before, 4 years ago, but it rained the whole time which dampened our enthusiasm. This time though we are having lovely sunshine and use of DL's recently purchased property here. And what a place! A hundred-year old, 25 room mansion built for a salt magnate, and later owned by a leader of the Kuomingtang (the army who opposed Mao Zedong's Communists). Each of the rooms has original period furniture and the whole place screams history!
Exploring each room in turn leads to new discoveries and interesting stories. These painted-over panels, for example, extol the virtues of Mao Zedong and the Communist Party - the house wasn't always owned by the Kuomingtang! And at the "back" of the house, a large concrete gateway had once been added, with a hammer and sickle carved above it - now bricked shut again. We had no running water at first (but we're used to that!) but managed to get a single tap working later. What DL and family plan to do with this place (and the substantial land that came with it) is anyone's guess but, in the meantime, we are very lucky to have the run of the place.
The beautifully-carved shutters of the windows of our hotel room look out onto a delightful courtyard surrounded by wooden rooms and complete with it's own stage. Ava couldn't resist a little dance (to minimal applause it must be said!). After exploring the many ornate rooms and corridors in the hotel (in which we appeared to be the only guests), we headed into town and found a steep path that led to a small temple. The lady in charge there was really friendly and seemed a little put out when we politely declined her invitation to share lunch.
In the afternoon, we decided to brave the rain and low-lying mist clouds and tackle the 500+ steps leading up to FeiLaiSi or "Fly Here Temple"!. Flying there would have been a less painful option! The promised views were mostly clouded over, but we did get a glimpse of the town for brief moments [see photo]. And of a small crab on the steps of the temple, which wasn't quite what we expected!
The Temple itself was fairly run-of-the-mill, but we appreciated the chance for a sit-down out of the rain, before attempting the slippery return route.
By the time we returned to HeiJing, it was time for a well-earned meal, a shower and a soft bed for our aching limbs!
We'll leave tomorrow, and hope to find a quicker and less hazardous route back.
Ava and I took a late holiday break today to the town of HeiJing, north of Kunming. We went by car (rather than by train) which turned out to be a mistake. Heavy rain, landslides, water buffalo, reckless oncoming traffic, potholes, herds of goats and a disheartening lack of signage led to the "4 hour" journey taking us over 6 hours. HeiJing itself is over 500 years old and was built on the riches of nearby salt mines. The ornate and traditional buildings of that era are still here to be seen, along with cobbled, pedestrianised streets, ancient temples and a river which seems to be going from "near-empty" to "surging" with the non-stop rain!
The highlight of the visit so far has been our hotel. It's very traditional [see photo] and about 150 years old. The rooms are fairly modern within though and the main street of the town is just a 5 minute walk away. Now if only the rain would stop!
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