Ancient Tea Horse Caravan Trail
We left Lijiang, an old border of Tibet, north for Zhongdian, which was renamed Shangri-la (locally called Xiangelela) by the government to encourage the tourists who were seeking the Shangri-la, Shambala in Hilton’s 1930’s book “Lost Horizon,” which I read before my travels. Hilton’s Shangri-la was a combination of descriptions from the people, geography, culture and religion of Dali, Lijiang, Zhongdian and the Meili Snow Mountain area.
Our Tibetan home styled hotel was steps away from the golden roofed Ganden Sumsteling Monastery, (which may have been the inspiration for the lamasery in Lost Horizon) the largest Tibetan monastery in Yunnan. (Built in 1679) It has several names, as most places do in this region. One is Little Potala Palace, due to its similar architecture to the one in Lhasa. Photos were not allowed inside buildings, but we circumambulated the exterior of the main buildings and within each temple and prayer hall. The centuries of positive intention were palpable, encouraging us to slow our pace, speak softly, be present. Red-robed monks were in prayer and their deep throated chanting reverberated inside me. The younger boys were, well, boys and one threw something at another, obviously not yet as dedicated to praying. An older monk quietly stepped up beside him, his presence reminding the boy to return to meditation.
Interiors were resplendent in intricate wood carvings, gold leaf, columns of multi-colored brocade, the larger than life Buddhas and other deities. I had also just read the Dalai Lama’s autobiography, which was historically fascinating, yet his description of all the layers and paths and symbols of Buddhism needed more time to absorb. My eastern religions college class was too long ago. The main takeaway is that each of us can help ourselves and the world by detaching from our distractions and concentrating on our our true selves, our spiritual selves and then we can more easily be kind and generous and caring.
Ancient Tea Horse Caravan Trail
ShuHe Naxi Village, also called Longquan
Upon entering the village, about a 3 km walk from our hotel, we were greeted by this Dongba (Naxi religion) Aspiration Windbell. “ This is a miracle place. You call the heaven, it answers. You call the earth, it responds.” These wish cards are similar to the prayer cards that Priscilla Otani showed me at the Shinto shrines in Kyoto and which were part of my inspiration for the memory card component of my What [(Is It) About My) Memory community memory project.
Though this village also has shops offering local specialities to tourists, there are sections that retain the older buildings and the sophisticated water ways that channeled water from the mountain.
The lunch highlight was the Ba Ba, a thin, fried, warm potato cake filled with, what I think was, a mix of sesame and walnut pastes. Afterwards, we searched for, and found, a delicious mei qui (rose) filled moon cake and a delightful shop where we not only bought some of the mei qui liqueur, in traditional glazed, ceramic, corked bottles, but also discovered (trial sips are encouraged at these shops) a less intensely flavored and delicious pu’er tea variety.
In Dali and onwards, I have seen women sweeping streets, from small alley ways to the sides of busy two lane urban roads. Roadside construction has often been with non-electric tools. (There are many, massive infrastructure projects in the larger cities and between them.) The rhythm and pace and noise are, what has been a common descriptive for me on this trip, moderate, not rushed. Smiles come easily. As I move along, I find myself slowing down also.
Ancient Tea Horse Caravan Trail
Jade Dragon Snow Mountain
Stepping out of the train station in Lijiang, I was stopped by this powerful massif, sacred to the Naxi people and, if I lived here, it would be certainly central to my life. I became immediately obsessed, to the point that Emma had to point out other, more pressing matters, like getting to our hotel, and finding food.
We were in Lijiang for less than 24 hours, so unable to get on the mountain, but it’s presence accompanied me on our explorations in the ancient Su He village and woke me up to witness sunrise on its flanks. I read Laurence Brahm’s book on sacred mountains (part of his trilogy of his explorations searching for Hilton’s Lost Horizon versioning Shangri-la). In it, he talks to a woman from Dali, who says, “When you live close to the mountains, you can better listen to what they say. They are the world of spirits.” Mountains have been significantly spiritual in my life.
Places have many names here, due to different peoples, different translations... Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is called Satseto by the Naxi, and Yulong Xueshan (xue shan is snow capped mountain. Now that we are heading north with glaciated peaks, we will be seeing more xue shan). It is the southernmost snow mountain in the Northern Hemisphere.
The Ancient Tea Horse Caravan Trail starts in the pu’er tea region in southern Yunnan (further pu’er explorations for us soon) up through Dali, Lijiang, Zhangdian (the original name of Shangri-la City, along our travels), past the sacred Tibetan mountain of Kawagebo (under which I will spend my birthday), through Lhasa, Nepal and into India.
The Naxi and Mosuo men ferried the tea and other goods along this route, so were gone for months at a time. Therefore, women ran the villages and social networks, and loved whom and how many men they chose (called walking marriages... the concept of father is vague).
Traveling the Ancient Horse Tea Caravan Trail, Yunnan
Sacred Cangshen (mountains) and The Jade Belt Wandering Cloud path
These are the mountains sacred to the Bai minority people of northwest Yunnan. They are on the west side of ErHai Lake ( ear-shaped sea). The path, reached by a moderately paced (most everything here is moderately paced), 2 person chairlift (or climbing, if so equipped), runs approximately 11 miles across these mountains on a fairly level paved, blue-stone path.
The lift passed over many shrines/tombs built amongst the trees on this sacred mountain with sod roofs so that the forest can grow around them. Like a scene from a mystical fairy tale.
At the top of the lift and level with the path is Zhonghe Temple, Taoist, built 738-902.
The path is at the altitude where the Jade Cloud usually occurs, like a belt along the range, so walkers on the path would pass through the clouds. We had a sunny day with views across the lake and up to the peaks, (Zhonge Peak is 4092 meters) Over the seven miles or so we walked, we found deep valleys and gorges and small rivulets and waterfalls... places where travelers wedged sticks under rocky overhangs as if to hold up the mountain. Many side paths were closed, but we enjoyed the mossy, lichen covered rocks and rising mist from the valleys and a sighting of a most theatrical bird - a Lady Amherst’s pheasant ( photo courtesy of an alpine bird site with no reference to local name) and the feeling that so many people have walked this path in peaceful contemplation over centuries. And... this traveling, for me, certainly focuses on sacred mountains and tea and sharing these experiences with my daughter.
There is Dali City, which wraps around the southern lobe of ErHai Lake and is modern and bustling and then there is Ancient City of Dali and its surrounds, where we stayed on the west bank. Some consider this the Chiang-Mai of Yunnan because western spiritual travelers (ie, hippies) landed here years ago and it is a village vibe with children playing in front of shops, small dogs wearing human clothes, and very friendly folks . During our time here, we saw only 5 other foreigners and Emma’s excellent Mandarin was quite necessary.
Dali, in fact most of this northwest Yunnan area, is known for its flowers and mix of mushroom infused foods, particularly roses. And, apparently, love. (Side note: on our hotel room side table was displayed a packaged condom with an image of a sunglassed, happy “condom man”)
We ate twice at the Xinghui Fairy Dali Love Theme Restaurant, where people came to declare their love via “love certificates” which were then added to the restaurant walls. The ErHai Lake fish stew, cooked by adding hot rocks to the broth, was sublime with its delicate celeriac? slices. Shipping Tofu - pan fried with an egg yolk? broth of chilies and peas and fresh herbs - mmmm! And chicken in clay pot with buckwheat noodles. Our waitress treated us to a warm mug of, what we think was, honey broth, fragrant Dali snow pear bits, a form of cabbage and a bit of rose water. We think this is supposed to be good for digestion. And, at the end, a small, beautiful blue dish of extremely aromatic rose liquor.
We went back to Xinghui ( by now the same waitress and Emma were laughing together) for the fish stew and, this time, a most comforting mix of shredded chicken and mushrooms and Bamboo rice, which is smoked in bamboo with a few sweet beans.
In the walled ancient city of Dali, we saw the Bai architecture and bravely tasted the pepper prevalent Bai chicken dish and mushroom mix. And, a large, intricately designed smoker device, the windows of which changed colors as if from some scI-fi movie.
The occasional English translation on signs, such as our fave Fairy Love restaurant and a shop subtitled “Formerly Slow” add to Dali’s endearing nature.
Doing research to learn more about these experiences is challenging as my VPN is blocked for days and google, including my gmail, is banned from my Chinese data plan. The upside, is that this trip is that much more experiential!
The power of centralized government paired with technology , part 1
The usual light show on the many architecturally interesting buildings across the Hungpui River from The Bund, was amped up in a coordinated, jaw-dropping, mesmerizing performance of color and theme on both sides of the river in honor of the International Import Expo. [And, pollution levels were dramatically down due to manufacturing being closed for the duration of the Expo].
Emma and I had watched the beginnings of it from a table at Jean Georges, where we indulged in a delicious high tea.
The power of centralized government paired with technology, part 2
Social Credit System = an ongoing assessment of citizens’ and businesses’ economic and social reputation.
Emma warned me not to step foot into a cross walk until the lights turned green. In populous areas, such as The Bund, these facial recognition towers are just one way the government keeps track of those who don’t follow good citizenship protocol. The system rewards and punishes based on scores ... “keeping trust is glorious and breaking trust is disgraceful.”
Walking across the street at the wrong time, spending too much time playing video games, paying bills on time...
Punishments can include: having your photo displayed on these towers, getting your dog taken away, being banned from gettin on trains or into good hotels, having your internet speeds throttled....
On other fronts, technology shows up in helpful ways, such as using WeChat for instant payment at most places. My hotel room knows if it is day or night and opens/ closes my drapes accordingly. The multitude of cleansing options of the Japanese toilet have been embraced in most places I visited in this city.
While Emma took an exam at Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance, and before we begin our tea and sacred mountains explorations in Yunnan, I spent the morning in this delightful park of winding paths, koi ponds, ...orienting myself to this time zone. Such peaceful joy, birds singing, leaves fluttering in the slight breeze.. I strolled by individuals playing their flutes or violins softly, couples practicing what looked like a version of the swing “yi, er, san,si....yi, er, san, si...” and found a shaded bench in front of these five hills - a tomb for Xu Guangqi, a famous scientist from the Ming Dynasty, who died in 1633, yet this woman spent much time in standing meditation in front of it before sprinkling water along its length. A man came up and performed a quick series of energetic movements facing the hills and moved on and then... two women and a man, dressed alike in employee uniforms, (it was lunch time) placed a speaker by me and began moving in what I would describe as Asian forms of country line dances, soon joined by other women passers by. An elderly man sat down close to me, tapping his cane to the music and rolling carved wooden balls in his other hand, occasionally happily exclaiming to me in some non-Mandarin dialect. Preschool aged children raced their little scooters nearby, laughing in happiness.
Emma told me later that the aunties often use their breaks to dance in open spaces as exercise and that anyone could join in. I wish I had!
Texas Roadtrip 2019
With Cory Cornett
The Kinsey Collection of art and historical documents deserved much more than a couple of hours and will, hopefully, travel to more museums.
Ragnar Kjartansson’s “The Visitors”
9 channel video projection
Dallas Museum of Art
Dirge-like, and eerily seductive... slow repetitions of lyrics such as “There are stars exploding around you, and there’s nothing, nothing you can do.” Each video a different, carefully staged room in a large home, each with a different musician/singer, rich color,each with it own full sound blended with the while as one moves through the space.
Texas Roadtrip 2019
My five years living in Fort Worth in the late 80s were both financially and socially challenging (the very bright spot was getting pregnant with and delivering Collin, a 6th generation Texan). I discovered the Japanese Gardens on my first exploratory trip for housing, when I realized how different our lives would be here vs. our culturally diverse time in Houston. These gardens became one of my frequent getaways, transporting me to peaceful moods and reconnecting me to my true self.
In the 80s, I was drawn into photography in a new way when I saw Richard Avedon’s large scale photographs “In the American West” at the Amon Carter... as SFGate’s Kenneth Baker wrote, these photos: “consistently shows us people whose self-representations appear to override the camera's powers of affirmation and betrayal.”
During today’s visit, I saw works and artists that had influenced me and/or parallel my creative interests...
Dallas-area James Surls “Seven and Seven Flower” with his use of fence posts and materials gleaned from his land
Lewis Wickes Hine “Steamfitter” . He was originally a sociologist; I am a political scientist... and chose to use his camera as a tool for activism
Mexican-born Gabriel Dawe “Plexus no. 34” using sewing thread to push gender + material stereotypes and his use of web like connections (plexus - network of nerves) which, for me, symbolize, in my community memory project, our collective community memory
Camille Utterback “Untitled 5” using digital/tech art in an interactive, collaborative way, each interaction influenced by the previous one and influencing the next one
And then a surprising juxtaposition of Georgia o’Keefe and a male artist’s (Robert Laurent) similar “, but sculptural, use of plant forms which, when she painted them, pigeon holed her as a painter of erotic female form.
When I lived here, I was the public relations￼ and marketing director for the YMCA. One of our members was friends with Ed Bass,who, at that time developed what was then called the , Caravan of Dreams (now Reata) on Houston street. On the roof of this performance/art center was a geodesic dome and bar to which we were able to have private access one night. ￼The dome relates to another project Ed financed, Biosphere 2, in the Sonoran Desert, which was initially supposed to be a totally enclosed space, Including domes, for environmental experiments. I seem to recall that the systems of natural air purification failed, but that there was still decent scientific information that came out of that project.￼￼ I enjoyed some Mezcal up there last night After drinks and light fare at Booger Reds in the stockyards and a quick tour around “the largest honkey tonk in the world”, Billy Bob’s :-)￼
Another place of respite for me when I lived here in the 80s were these water gardens by Phillip Johnson and John Burgee. Climbing down into them, below street level and with the falling water blocking out any city noise, was heaven. This morning I had the whole, glorious space to myself!
Texas Road Trip 2019
Cuero and Cheapside
In search of family homes
The families of both my maternal grandparents (Roesslers and Junkers) and my paternal grandmother (the Kruses) emigrated to Texas from northern Germany in the late 1880s. (My paternal grandfather’s family, the Cornetts, arrived in the US in the late 1700s and into Texas in the early 1900s from Louisiana). The German sides eventually had homesteads in south Texas around Cuero.
On this trip, I discovered that the Kruse homestead buildings in Cheapside had been torn down for fracking operations, but we found the Ruppert Cemetary, with the headstones of my great, great grandparents, who married shortly after arriving in Texas.
[Johanna Sophia Stoeffers (DOB 9/7/1848, DOD 7/19/1913) migrated from Schwye? Or Ellwarden?, German to Texas in 1871.
Johan Hinrick (John Henry) Kruse (DOB 3/3/1844, DOD 7/8/18895) migrated from Oldenburg, Reitland, Germany in 1871
Johanna and Johan married in December 1871. They settled in Brenham, Texas and worked as farm laborers until saving to purchase the homestead in Cheapside.]
The homes and some of the buildings of the dairy my great grandmother (Emma Kruse Gabler)created and ran in Cuero were still standing. And the home of my maternal grandparents (Ella Roessler Junker and Fred Junker) is there, though the garage where I played with parts from my grandfather’s automobile shop business and the bird houses where he raised parakeets, were crumbling, most likely from the floods from the Guadalupe River.
We had lunch at, what our family considers, the best smokehouse... Smolik’s, though I stopped eating their famous brisket decades ago.
Texas Road Trip 2019
Some of the many public art visits in San Antonio with artists Doerte Weber and her husband Ansen Seale.
Mel Chin’s “CoCobijos”
Houston-born artist Chin creates the word CoCobijos or “co-shelters” for this work that references resilience and community support. “Two-faceted cactus-like pads arc in a supporting embrace appearing to hold each other up.” The plasma cut lattice pattern resembles the xylem, interior capillary structure of prickly pear cacti.
This and other public art here were placed so as to be seen from highways, especially when leaves have fallen from trees in the winter.
Margarita Cabrera’s “Arbol de la Vida: Memorias y Voces de la Terra”
Margarita’s work filled my heart and touched my passion for community-engaged art. This 40x80 foot sculpture stopped me in awe as I rounded the bend in the path. She collaborated with 700 people, who created 700 ceramic representations of their 700 stories celebrating the city’s rich cultural history, diversity and community bonds.
Ansen Seale’s “Tricentennial Clock, 2018”
The Jewelbox Project
In historic Roatzsch-Griesenbeck-Arciniega House
Doerte’s husband Ansen let us inside the building to see this normally “peep-in experience” installation more closely.
The public art program in San Antonio is vibrant and impressive!
A place to decant my brain, to capture inspiration and share fresh insights. [Posts from 2015 onward]