“The last of the old Tibetan towns will be gone”

The Old Town that got renamed Shangri-La (& maybe it was), aka Zhongdian, ha burned down. In Yunnan, on the old Tea Horse Road. An electrical fire. Water was shut off– it’s at a frozen 10,000 feet and the BBC reported the town fathers were concerned about burst pipes. (Really?) We visited in Jan., 2012, the empty, frigid winter off-season. Chinese & foreign implants–passionate preservationists– were responsible for restoring this Tibetan treasure, worn down nearly to rubble, finishing in the’00s, explains Paul Mooney (2010, South China Morning Post.)

fire2

And now — ashes. First I heard zongdian11/4 burned; now that most is gone.

I’m so sad.Here are my boys,two years ago, in the Old Town.

A Bengali expat, ecotourism specialist whom Mooney quotes: “How many old towns on the way to Lhasa are still intact? If we don’t save this, the last of the old Tibetan towns will be gone.”

zongdian door

Like most tourists,we came from Lijiang and Dali  — (we blogged about highway and power grid development, how suspect and demeaning our yearning for “Old” felt, finally, although we treasured meeting legendary herbalist Dr. Ho). But I came to this blog to remember Zhongdian–and it wasn’t here. So here it is.

Was.

Some pictures below are the massive Ganden Sumtsaling monastery there — but not in the fire’s path, that I know of.

zongdian women
This is part of the old Kham. These Khampa women were finishing a morning visit to a temple above the Old Town.

zongidan monastery
The Ganden Sumtsaling monastery, which looks a bit like a miniature Potala.

zongdian monatery middledistance
The monastery, Qing era, being restored now for tourism – huge Chinese cranes on the horizon.

zongdian2

zongdian ethanzongdian monast curtains

A Few Funny Foods

Edible flowers–Yunnanese food, at the famous Golden Phoenix near Beijing Foreign Studies University, and Minzu, campuses in Haidian.

Stir fried with garlic

Bagels are great…but not Chinese. Amazingly, we found a Beijing bakery devoted to — the bagooel.

And at the Beijing Capital Airport Burger King, why just fry your burger? Coat it in bread first: The Tempura Whopper.

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All the Animals I’ve Seen in Tibetan Monasteries

By Kenny

Here are some pics I took in a few Tibetan monasteries. Most of them are at Ganden Sumtseling, in Shangri La. One is in western Sichuan.

Enjoy.

Cat in monastery

Yak in monastery, Tagong, Sichuan

Pig in Shangri-La


Another pig, Shangri La

Cow, Shangri La, Yunan

Dog in monastery

Monastery chicken, Shangri La

China, Building…

Highway over farms


Our weeks of ‘ethnic-‘ or ‘eco-‘ tourism have me thinking about China’s build-out. Beyond our treasure hunts for un-razed old Beijing, I mean something much bigger. We seem to exclusively pursue the preciously pre-industrial. As if that’s all “Chinese” means–in a human sense, and re: the built environment.

Ethan spit a phrase back at me during our 2 weeks in Yunnan and Guanxi (provinces bordering Vietnam and Burma), a wake-up to how much we chase the quaintly scenic, the un-“spoiled.” In China, the building is happening so fast and all at once, I think it’s part of the knee-jerk anti-China senftiment prevalent now. I think the build-out scares Americans far more than our own (slower, older) devastation of nature.

One day, on mountain bikes, after a long hard climb escaping Lijiang’s city limits, on reaching dirt paths around Lashi Lake–and even there, after crossing giant highway construction–we reached peace, lake, horses, corn fields, big birds (could it be the rare white-necked Tibetan crane?!?).

And Ethan asked, “Are we off the beaten track now?”

Lashi Lake, near LIjiang

Mr. Livingstone, I presume?

Bai village family


I think many Chinese tourists regard, and experience, ethnic minority areas the way many Americans do the Amish. We wrap our fears about modernity, our sense of loss and helplessness, up in a sort of ‘love’ for their ‘natural,’ ‘noble savagery.’ I don’t mean to insult. These narratives are bigger than we are, unconscious.

China is building, everywhere. Yet until now we have hardly posted pictures of this. Our photos are, to some extent, lies. Wish fulfillment. (Fear, idealization, ‘love,’ big narratives, as above.)

Zongdian (Shangri-La) Yak Crossing

In Ariel Dorfman & Armand Mattelart’s classic How to Read Donald Duck , two Chilean radicals’ scathing, landmark 1971 booklet (now a collectors’ item) on imperial relations, framed as an attack on Disney comics, it’s a bullseye when they describe “the historical nostalgia of the bourgeoisie…[for] lost paradise”:

“A Wigwam Motel and a souvenir shop are opened, excursions are arranged. The Indians are immobilized against their national background and served up for tourist consumption. …Stereotypes become a channel of distorted knowledge. …[The] principle [is] … sensationalism, which conceals reality by means of novelty, which not incidentally, also serves to promote sales…”

Corn dries, Baisha restaurant.

So here we are ‘consuming’ China–not ours, actually, but someone else’s empire. Ostensibly looking for “reality,” “authenticity,” yet taking so few pictures of the changes underway, the infrastructure rising everywhere. Favoring instead quaint (powerless minorities), color, sensation.

Overpasses cross lakes and soar above villages. Towering dams cement cliffsides. Massive bridges span the Yangtze and tunnels bore through (near Lijiang in Yunnan) mountains. (Same deal in Western Sichuan, now sealed off due to more Tibetan self-immolations and unrest).

In one minority area we visited, near Dali, a fresh village mural educated people about electrification (how not to get electrocuted).

Near Dali, electrification mural

The building is part Keynesian stimulation, keeping the economy percolating (so we read) to avoid a slowdown that could provoke big social unrest. (Vs. the ‘small’ and medium-sized unrest, already occurring, involving hundreds rather than, say, millions.)

Ganden Sumtseling, Shangri-La, Yunnan

Maybe it looked like this in the Eisenhower era when America built out infrastructure.

Elevated highway construction, Yunnan

Kids can study at night in electrified homes. Educated kids won’t need to wade knee-deep all day in cold rice paddies. At that level there’s no righteousness in chasing the “lost paradise.” Hats off to China’s retiring technocratic generation, soon to be replaced.

Yet. What if the build-out is truly ill-conceived? If Party leaders (central and provincial) are so close to the elites who run the state-owned conglomerates, they’ve got hands in eachother’s pockets. If the governing elite simply hired the enterprise-running elite — the state owns the biggest engineering firms, cement manufacturers, transport and energy conglomerates. If they’re investing the nation’s wealth not in education or healthcare, but roads to nowhere, tunnels through mountains, out of nepotism, favoritism, intra-elite self-dealing?

Shangri La Tibetan women

If ethnic tourism is inherently suspect, so is the despoilation we ecotourists are trying to escape, if it’s without checks or balances. So is one-party rule without media watchdogs. All sides of the equation are troubling.

More Foods I’ve Never Seen Before

In honor of Tu B’shvat! Happy holiday, trees and plants. We celebrate you tonight in at a Tu B’shvat seder in Beijing …and on Coplans in China!

A Citrus with Tentacles

Saw in Nanning, Guanxi

Green and Tortoise-Like

No idea.

Plum-Size With Stripes

Got me on these.

Like 7,000 Greens, None of Which Are Spinach or Cliantro

Greens for Sale Dali

These I have seen, but only in heirloom seed catalogs:

Beautiful Red Carrots

Red carrots

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