LIJIANG

I get to Lijiang, in the Yunnan province, by flight from Chengdu. Being my first (and last) internal flight in China, I try to figure out how flights work here. I was afraid I would find a small and possibly not in a good shape airport but that's not the case: it's large and new, more or less like Malpensa in Milan. The flight is also perfect so my overall impression is very good.

Lijiang Old Town is a gem: closed to the traffic, with cobbled alleys, canals, surrounded by pretty hills. Everything has been restored, so it belongs to what I have called New Old China. And very touristic. The native minority, the Naxi, still lives here, and you may happen to see them gathering in the Market Square:

or playing musical instruments in the square to the North:

The Old Town is chock-full with shops selling everything a tourist may desire. Many have been taken over by Hans who bought the business from Naxis. There are teahouses, shops of clothes:

bags and wood carving:

jewelries »:

I can imagine (but, alas, I wouldn't bet on it), that "The art room of the natural thing" means that the goods are made from natural gems. There's also plenty of bars/restaurants for tourists:

The ground floor of most buildings is for commercial use only, as can be seen in this video of a small square:

In the night the Old Town, well lit, is in its full swing:

My new digital camera, being 3 and a half years newer, has some new features with respect to the previous one. However, unlike the previous one, it lacks the swinging display. It's not a big problem, but taking night pictures with the mini-tripod causes such a stiff neck.....

I try a very basic tibetan restaurant. The atmosphere is relaxed and pleasant, the waiters are very kind and the food is great. The interior is in tibetan style:

I am not sure what the famous Che Guevara picture has to do with prayer wheels and tibetan lamps, but the whole is somehow charming. The restaurant lacks a toilet but it has an "agreement" to share the neighbouring shop's one, which works only to some extent, as this label authoritatively says:

The day after I am about to leave the hostel for sightseeing when I run across a bizarre, middle-aged guy with sandals, grown beard and a leather knapsack. Don't ask me how, he manages to buttonhole me. I find out he's a Canadian Catholic who's traveling in South-East Asia. He asks if I am a believer and I foolishly answer that I am. Ever since I have no escape: he quotes by heart passages from the Bible and goes on for one and a half hours with an abstract and soundless speech. When he mentions that a female colleague of his saw the Last Judgement while in trance, I decide that I have had enough: I say that a friend is waiting for me and I leave. And, once in a while, I value the lack of religiousness of the Chinese. Because, in my opinion, religious fundamentalism is worse than atheism, since it comes with an implicit arrogance: that your religion is better than the others and that this gives you the right to pester your neighbours with your erudite knowledge of the Holy Writings, so as to enlighten those poor beings living in the ignorance. While he was studying the Bible I was studying physics and mathematics (and other billions people were doing even more interesting things), but this does not entitle me to stop passers-by and instil the holy verb of differential equations and quantum physics into them.

Once back from the Tiger Leaping Gorge, the next day I rent a bicycle to visit the nearby places. »While I stop in a shop a old woman with all the shoe-cleaning paraphernalia approaches me and points to my feet. I have been traveling for more than one month, wearing those shoes all the time, with no chance to wash them (washing them means having nothing to wear). Add to it that I come from the 2-day trekking to the Tiger Leaping Gorge and you'll figure out that my shoes are not shining . When I wave her no, she looks down at me in disdain, unambigously meaning 'You tramp!'. There was something in her words, I have to admit.

Immediately out of the touristic area in the Old Town there are wonderful and authentic views:

The trip by bicycle brings me in unexplored territory. I see the nearby countryside:

and I wonder once more at the amazing fertility of the Chinese land, also thanks to the favourable climate.
And speaking about the climate, with reference to my travel to Russia in 2005: it's my belief that God, when creating the World, had to hate Russians and love Chinese, since he gave to the latter everything that he denied to the former: warmth, water (excluding ice ), mountains, an extremely fruitful land. Were He almond-eyed, I wouldn't be surprised .

The way is dotted with beautiful farms made from grey bricks, very often exhibiting maize hung to dry:

»Baisha is a very picturesque village:

and beyond, through a country road

you get to the "Jade Peak Monastery", a tibetan buddhist monastery whose best part is, without any doubt, its park with a huge magnolia:

and a famous age-long camellia:

Before leaving to Kunming I have to buy a wallet, since my own is broken. The problem is that very often, when buying something, I do not understand how much it is, or I am not quick enough to hand the correct amount of coins. As a consequence, I hand out a note of greater value and I receive back the change. This way, coins build up endlessly and, at some point, the exhausted wallet breaks down.
I go into one of the billions shops in Lijiang. The wallet I like has a button in place of the zip, is in Yak leather and it costs 40 Yuan. Not a high price (it's 4 Euros, give or take), but it suddenly comes to my mind what my travel book said: in China you are expected to bargain. Fair enough, I think, let's give it a try. I put on an irresolute air, as if I did not like the price, I look strictly at the saleswoman and I say, emphatically: "35". She looks at me as if to say "Your bargaining skills really suck", smiles and says "Fine". I'll learn later that serious bargaining in China can bring the price down to 50% of its initial value.

Let me finish off with a picture of the canal in the Market Square:

At first sight, the heads on the right of the canal seem dragon heads to me .