Wednesday, July 21, 2010

T3 at Beijing airport

The only thing keeping me from thinking the Bathrooms in the new t3 at
Beijing airport are not in china was the cold water only taps at the
sinks. There is toilet paper, auto flushing toilets, soap, and paper
towels. Heaven.

And seats outside of security AND starbucks!

Sent from my iPhone

Monday, July 19, 2010


Hello everyone!

Sorry for the long absence. Jessi and CJ were visiting, so I didn't take time away from their visit to blog. I hope that's ok. :)

In any case, I wanted to keep filling you in on our trip to SW Sichuan/NW Yunnan, even though it is at the risk of not filling you in on more recent happenings.

We spent 2.5 days in Zhongdian.

The first night there we had dinner at the hostel we were staying at with all the students (and spouses of students and one faculty member) involved in the U Wisconsin NW Yunnan IGERT. Well, all the ones currently in town. We had a delicious hot pot meal (I know, I don't know how the word delicious and hot pot can go together, but 3 of the 5 hot pots we've had since we've been in China have been good). I had met many of the students from the other UW before and so it was good to see them again.  After dinner Michelle, Josh, Liz, Brian, and I went to get karma by turning the big prayer wheel above town.

The next day we got up early to head out for a hike to the Thousand Lakes Mountain. It's one of the sacred sites for local Tibetans and we were being guided by a local man who Michelle had previously met. The hike was gorgeous, but quite wet. I wish I hadn't left my rain pants in Chengdu (this was done to save space in the car). We hiked for about 3 hrs up an old logging road through a forest which had been logged in the 70s or 80s.

After hiking for a while we got to the high yak pastures for this village and were invited inside for lunch. We drank salty yak butter tea (YUM! We had had very little salt the last 2 weeks and it was fabulous!), fresh yak yogurt (which they eventually drain and smoke to make cheese), cheese (squeeky and ok with sugar), and tsamba cake. The tsamba is toasted barley flour which is mixed with yak butter tea and sugar to make a little cake. I really like it. The yak butter tea in this region is what people in Jiuzhaigou call Lhasa style tea. It is made in a butter churn by mixing salt, tea (made with big tea leaves from bricks, which is basically the rejects from Chinese tea packed for easy travel by horse), and butter and then churning. It's fairly salty. The cheese is sort of like yogurt. They make it from the whey from a previous batch being mixed into warmed milk. Then it sits for a while and is drained in a basket, then put over the fire to smoke and dry. The hut had cheese and butter stacked in various places all around it.

Also in the hut were 3 baby tibetan mastiffs. They were so cute! It's amazing how such adorable puppies end up as such nasty adult dogs. Those things are MEAN! Next door was a little hut for the baby yaks. They keep them there to feed them and keep them from nursing from their moms. We learned that the people keep yaks, dzos (hybrids), and cows. The yaks have the best meat and milk, but the dzos produce more milk and meat earlier in the season, making them useful to keep around. Cows are needed to breed with yaks to make dzos.

After we dried out for a while we went walking through a forest which died from a pest and then saw two of the lakes. Gorgeous! The rhodendrons were in bloom, so it was really spectacular next to the lakes.

Then back to the yak herder hut (the "muchang", pronounced moo-chaang) for more tea, tsamba, and yogurt. We bought 3 cheese blocks from him. Our group gave one to our close Tibetan friends here in Jiuzhaigou. They said it was quite different from what they can get here.

We had Tibetan food for dinner. Then came the unfortunate discovery that our bathroom didn't get any water pressure when anything was happening downstairs. We also got no wi-fi. So for extra money, we ended up in a room with no water or internet. I ended up having to shower in Liz's room because the lady at the hostel, despite knowing we needed to shower and were having water problems, started laundry as soon as our water started going again. Josh and I moved to the spare room in Michelle's house the next morning.

Michelle was sick overnight, fortunately no one else was.

We had a relatively lazy morning - lunch at a western place so Michelle could eat something bland, then I took a nap, Brian took a walk, Liz went shopping, and Josh went to use the internet at a cafe. We had dinner at a cafe owned by Michelle's friend.

Tomorrow I'll write about the drive to Yading. It was exciting and a very good thing it hadn't rained too much recently.

amanda :)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Driving from Yangjuan to Zhongdian

Installment 2 of the Trip to SW Sichuan

On the morning that we left Yangjuan it started to rain, which was good news for anyone who wants running water and lives in most of Production Team 6. Fortunately we navigated the dirt roads back to Yanyuan without too much trouble. Josh had driven this stretch of road 5 times over the last 10 days, so we didn't expect any problems. We even dutifully checked out with the Baiwu police (the whereabouts of foreigners need to be registered everywhere. If you are staying somewhere other than a hotel with registration forms, you need to register with a police station).

After depositing 10 days worth of garbage in the dumpster at the bus station, we headed on the road to Lugu Lake. We had decided to take the longer route, around Lugu Lake, instead of a shorter way directly toward Lijiang because a) the road was marked as provincial instead of county and b) Lugu Lake is supposed to be quite beautiful. The drive to the lake was reasonably pleasant. The road was good and we got to the lake by lunch time. It turns out that Lugu Lake is really developed. We had to pay an entrance ticket to get into the lake. Unfortunately Liz and I didn't have our student ID cards, so we couldn't get a discount. The map we were given was extensively annotated for the Sichuan side and had nothing at all for the Yunnan side. Strange. Only a small bit of the lake is in Sichuan. In any case, we drove around the lake and enjoyed the beautiful, misty scenery from the car. We sort of half kept our eyes open for lunch opportunities, but I am the only one from the group that can read Chinese fast enough to spot what restaurants there are at car speed, and I have a hard time making restaurant decisions. Finally we stopped at an overlook and saw a little water-side town which we decided would definitely have food. Brian had previously been to Lugu Lake, but wasn't sure where he had been before and the area has developed a lot since then.

Lugu Lake is famous for scenery and local culture. There is also some decent trekking in the area. The local people, the Mosu (I believe that's how it's spelled) are a matrilinial culture, where people live in their mother's house their entire life. Once women are adults (around age 13), they are given their own "flower room" where they receive their boyfriend for evening visits. Custom requires that men return to their mother's home before dawn each morning. Generally people have long-term relationships but short ones are not uncommon either. Local culture dictates that one of the worst things is to be a jealous lover and that no one in a family should talk about the love lives of relatives. This helps to keep jealousy from being a problem. Often children don't know who their father is. My understanding is that the culture dealt with the issue of needing economic security, romantic love, growing families, and having the security of a loving family by having strong maternal family units and open sexual relationships. It certainly is a unique solution. I don't know a ton about the culture, but really enjoyed the book Leave Mother Lake as a description of one woman's experience growing up there. In any case, because of the "walking marriages" (the practice of a man visiting his girlfriend's room at night), the area has been romanticized in the Chinese mind as an area for easy sex. So there is a whole business of Han women dressing in Mosu clothes and working as prostitutes to visiting men. (On a side note, Josh is fairly certain that the hotel we stayed in in Xichang had some undercover side business going on because he and Brian got a call after we went to bed which Liz and I didn't get. Josh thinks it was a woman asking if they needed company for the evening.)

We had lunch in a youth hostel next to the lake. The hostel was cute and set up in Chinese independent tourist style - hanging benches, wooden tables and benches, and a hearth to sit by in colder weather. We had a lovely Chinese lunch and then piled back into the car. Brian thought the place was too touristy, but we decided to veto his vote to find a different place to eat because the whole area seemed really touristy.

We figured we were making good time to Lijiang (our destination for the night) but then once we entered Yunnan the roads deteriorated rapidly. We had roads under construction and otherwise not great roads which finally ended in a traffic jam for 2 hrs while we waited for the paver to finish working for the day. The road was closed until 6:30 and so we hung out and hiked a little during that time. Once we got through the roads deteriorated further and at one point we were driving on a cobblestone road, which was hugely unpleasant. We didn't get to Lijiang until nearly 10 pm. By the end of the drive we were on mountain roads in the fog with random piles of sand on the sides. Really scary, especially as our tires weren't quite up to snuff. Once in Lijiang, we found a parking lot and walked into the old town. Between Brian and my memories of the town we found a hostel to stay at for a reasonable price and a nice Tibetan place for dinner. The hostel had internet so we all stayed up too late on our phones/computers.

The next morning we went for breakfast at a place recommended by the Rough Guide writer that Josh and I know and then went in search of a place to get new tires. Basically we re-learned that in China if people don't know where to send you, they will give you BS directions. People kept trying to stop us to buy tickets (maybe for entering the world heritage site?) and we drove back and forth and back and forth on the same roads forever. Finally we tried a different road and found a tire place. Phew. For about 250 USD we got our tires changed. They weren't going to balance them but I caught them and thanks to the dictionary in my phone we were able to communicate that the tires needed rotation. The new tires made a world of difference in our driving experience.

The road to Zhongdian was uneventful. It is a fabulous road and there weren't many people on it. Nothing particularly stands out other than that I remembered a lot of sights that I had seen 4.5 years ago when I was last there. We got to Zhongdian in the middle of the afternoon and Michelle met us and helped us check into what looked like a beautiful hostel. Josh and I had a gorgeous room on the top floor. The honeymoon suite of the place. Or so we thought....

You'll have to wait until tomorrow to hear what it was really like....


amanda :)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Over the next few days I hope to get some decent reports up for you of our trip to the southwest (or further into the southwest, I suppose, since we already live in SW China). The plan is:

1)      Yangjuan

2)      Driving to Zhongdian

3)      Zhongdian

4)      Driving to Yading (Daocheng)

5)      Yading

6)      Driving home

Lots of driving. You've seen the map already (I hope), so you can reference that for where we are. This first post is for the 10 days starting after my post about the drive to Xichang and being stopped for the crime of "driving in a construction zone while foreign".

The drive from Xichang to Yangjuan was relatively non-eventful and doesn't merit its own post, so we'll move on to our visit to Yangjuan.

Yangjuan is the site of numerous UW faculty, grad student, and undergrad research projects. Both individual and collaborative, interdisciplinary projects are taking place here. It's also the site of the Yangjuan Primary School and where the Cool Mountain Education Fund ( helps support the school and gives scholarships to students attending secondary school. The village is a Nuosu village set right on the edge of some hills, next to a river, and overlooking a limestone plateau of sorts. The area is quite poor (it's actually an officially designated poor county by the government) and nearly all people over 16 and under ~50 have migrated to cities to look for work. The result is that there are lots of kids living with grandparents and few people of an in-between generation. It's a bit strange but very common for rural areas in China.  The landscape is really beautiful – a mix of dry pine forests and wetter mixed forests in the mountains.  At some point we will get our pictures up to our webpage, but I don't know when that will happen. You'll have to just get the text for now.

When we are in Yangjuan we stay at the school in teacher's dorm rooms and are fed by Jzjz, the local mother to all UW folks who work here. Since there were only 4 of us, she fed us in the courtyard to her house rather than at the school. Generally we ate Sichuan food for dinner and buckwheat rolls or pancakes with congee (rice porridge) and boiled eggs for breakfast. She insisted we carry huge quantities of pancakes or rolls for lunch. We supplemented these with peanut butter, honey, and other treats we carried from Chengdu.

Our team of 4, 3 geologists plus a driver/jack-of-all-trades (that would be Josh), was headed to Yangjuan to follow up on previous geomorphological studies in the area. Specifically we are interested in the broad question of unraveling the relative effects of modern Chinese policies and long-term indigenous land use practice on environmental degradation in the region. Our days were divided into the following tasks: river valley mapping (cross sections and GPS mapping of landforms), sample collection, and digging soil pits to document soil changes with distance from the village. The soil pit digging took most of our time. Near the village there is little to no soil and so the scratch in the dirt "pits" were pretty easy to complete. Further away from the village the soils were over a meter deep and so I spent many days with my head in holes in the ground trying to dig deeper or to pull out samples to describe. We all learned a lot about how to describe soils in the field and feel like we got pretty good at it. The surveying and GPS work are normally restricted for foreigners to do, but we have a good relationship in the area and so we're able to do it. We have been trying to figure out how much soil came off of what parts of the hillsides and where it ended up in the valley bottoms. And when all this happened. That's what the sample collection part of the trip was for – we will date samples to determine when things happened. Mostly we are using Pb-210 (a naturally occurring radionuclide), Cs-137 (a nuclear testing nuclide which marks surfaces from the late 1950s/early 1960s), and C-14 (radiocarbon, which dates when wood/charcoal died). The dates will take a bit longer to pull together, but the rest of the story seems to fit pretty well, so far.

While we were in Yangjuan the power was only intermittent and for the first few days our room had no power at all. Finally someone replaced the wire to the breaker for our room and that helped a lot. At least we could charge stuff in our own space without having to find someone to let us in to the teachers' office. We lived in a little dorm area of 3 bedrooms and 1 common room. Each room had a bed with no mattress (planks of rough hewn wood with cardboard on top), a blanket, a pillow, and a desk. In Josh and my case we donated the desk to communal use because we had a spare bed which Josh assembled and we used to store group food on. Liz had the only outlet. Actually, it was a power strip hard wired into her light. She had to unscrew the light bulb in order to get overnight power.  Flies were abundant. Josh and Liz got really good at killing flies. They even could kill them on the ceiling using a 5-meter-long meter stick.  

The water system broke a while back because the guy in charge of maintaining it didn't bother to use the money (20 RMB from each family each year) to keep it up and instead either bought animals or used it to support a mistress (or something else… those are just the stories we heard). There is a pump for the school but the principal doesn't like to use the power to pump water from the river. This area had been really affected by the drought in SW China and so the water source tributary was dry anyway. They are supposed to get a new water system but the money has gotten lost somewhere between Chengdu and the village.

After a few days with no water and then a big rainstorm, Josh decided that something needed to be done about the water system. He walked the whole system and then had the production team leader for the team who gets the water walk it with him. Then he went to town with Liz (1.5 hr drive away to the county seat where there are stores) and bought 35 m of pipe. Should be enough to at least keep it running until the new system goes in. He ran out in 1 afternoon and went back a day later (again with Liz) and bought over 100 m of pipe which he also used up. In the end there was no water in the tributary when we left and Josh had (with the help of a lot of villagers) fixed about ¾ of the system. The water pipe turned out to have been hugely degraded, so every time they pulled on it to get water flowing, it broke. Most needed to be replaced. Apparently the pipe had been buried but got pulled up by the manager to fix something and he never buried it again. The locals say they will bury it again because it won't fall apart that way and that they aren't going to bother with the position of water manager anymore because the guy was such a slacker. Easier to go with common maintenance than to deal with him.  It was raining when we left, so hopefully they have water by now. We were bummed to not fix the whole system, but we ran out of time and pipe.

Another interesting thing going on there was a reforestation project for the valley bottom.  Apparently there used to be trees lining the river but they are pretty much gone now. So people have been fencing off sections of the common grazing ground on the valley bottom and planting trees. Even though there has been the biggest drought in 100 years, areas with well maintained fences are growing beautiful tall grasses and even some reeds and some really nice poplar trees. The quality of the regrowth seems to be dependent on someone monitoring the area. In the best maintained area there is a grandpa (Apu in the local language) who patrols the fence daily. He has taken the fencing and vertically woven sticks through it so animals can't get through (this common, but his is the best done), then wired logs to the bottom of the fences and stacked rocks against those. He patrols the fence non-stop every day and repairs sections, chases out animals, and has really done a nice job of showing how the valley would look if there weren't so many animals in it.

After 9 days with no shower and eating approximately the same thing every day, we were ready to move on. We left 1 day early (which turned out to be a good idea due to bad roads on some driving days, making some days 2 full days of driving instead of 1) and started the drive to Zhongdian.

I hope you're all doing well.


Amanda :)