Blue Skies, Part 1

As I was looking through my photographs of Kunming, Dali, and Lijiang China, I noticed again and again how blue the skies were, so I have entitled this portion of my travel blog "Blue Skies." Blue skies, sunshine, white clouds, mountains, and good friends were all to be found in these places in China.

When we arrived in Kunming, China, it was dark. I remember taking my fleece hoodie out of its zip pocket of my suitcase and putting it on, and then riding a bus from the airport to a stop near our hotel called the Nissi (as in Jehovah Nissi) Holiday Hotel. The check-in desk was just off the sidewalk outside in the windy, cold night air. Dawn was whisked away like Elijah in his chariot of fire by sisters from Kunming while Tain checked us in. Zinan was taken away by Chinese brothers like Enoch who walked with God and was not. I was suddenly alone in a dimly lit, two bedroom hotel room that smelled of cigarette smoke, a bit hungry, and missing my roommate for the past eleven days. We were reunited for a bit when Tain and I met some brothers at a restaurant to eat some noodle soup. First came a big plate of noodles and a plate with vegetables, a raw egg, and meats in compartments. So, where's the soup?

The soup arrived in a bowl the size of Lake Erie. It was humongous. I thought the one bowl was for the three of us who had ordered soup, but there was a bowl of steaming hot chicken broth for each of us. I just gaped at the bowl. It was big enough to mix a large batch of cookie dough, or to fill with spaghetti and meatballs enough to feed a family of six. The veteran Goliath noodle soup eaters shouted out instructions. Quick! Put it the noodles and the other stuff so it warms up! I didn't put everything in at the right time, but soon I had the equivalent of six large cans of Campbell's Chunky Soup steaming in front of me. 

I couldn't imagine what this was going to cost me or how I was supposed to eat it all. In the end, it was ridiculously inexpensive, and I had some guys in their twenties who scarfed down a good portion of it for me.

After this hearty fare, I was ready for a shower and some shuteye, and soon I was tucked into one of my two beds, trying not to smell the smoke residue. 

The next morning, I met Tain and we walked to a meeting with Mike Plunkett and his family nearby. We met some other people we knew from the Kunming area and Mike shared about this best selling book he's been reading a lot. We all enjoyed what he had to say and decided we'd all go out to eat and spend some more time together. There were enough of us that we had to reserve more than one table, and I got to ride on the back of Luke Scofield's electric motorbike across town to get to the restaurant that had a grandma's home cooking theme going for it.

After some good food and fellowship around the table - literally, since the table was a very large round one - I hopped on the back of Avril Plunkett's three-wheeled motor rickshaw-thingy and rode to her house as her son, Nick, pedalled his way there through the traffic.

At the Plunkett apartment, Avril made spaghetti from scratch, and I was entertained my Nick and his sister Corinna. 

Corinna's panda collection (one of the tidy places in her room)

Nick, Corinna, and the family dog in Nick's room.

Nick's room with a view
I ate a lot of Dum Dum lollipops and Danish butter cookies left over from the Christmas party they'd hosted for their friends while we chatted about their lives in China. After spaghetti, Avril, Corinna, and I took a taxi to the train station where I was to meet Tain, Dawn, and a couple of Tain's Chinese friends (he has friends everywhere, you know) for an overnight train trip to Lijiang, China. At the train station, we met this belligerent looking bull in the square.

I was waiting for Moses to come along and grind it to powder and mix it with water for the people of Kunming to drink. Our group boarded the train 

and found our sleeping compartments. 

Tain set about making more friends, and in the middle of the night when I got up to use the bathroom, I came back to find him showing some people photos on his phone in the compartment next door, grinning from ear to ear.

We arrived around 7 AM in Lijiang, but it was still dark at the station and would remain so for quite some time, since all of China is one time zone with Beijing being the standard. This means that while the sun may have risen long ago in Beijing at a normal hour, the cities in the west don't see the sun rise until 8 AM and even later. Why is it like this? Why not several time zones as in other larger countries like Canada, Russia, or the U.S.A.? Because it's China. (When you don't understand why some things are the way they are in China, the answer always turns out to be, "Because it's China.")

Well after 7 AM at the Lijiang train station
We hired ourselves a van and driver to get us to our first lodging place, but it was a while before we arrived, since our driver was a talker and a character who didn't seem to know where he was going some of the time. We got him to stop when the sun rose to take some pictures of the mountains.

And after a few phone calls and wrong turns, he found our guest house.

The courtyard

The dining room

It was time for breakfast, so he brought us to the Chinese equivalent of a greasy spoon to eat. Restaurants are graded on an A-B-C scale in China, and this was a C for sure. I ordered a bowl of rice soup (it arrived cold and had to be reheated), but the handmade dumplings were good. The food was cheap and filling, and the local color made it interesting.

After breakfast, our driver brought us to a horse farm 

where the employees practically yanked us out of our seats and began selling us their various trail packages. I was confused and wondering why we were there, since I hadn't heard we were going horseback riding, hadn't brought the kind of money these guys were asking for, and wasn't in the mood to be on the back of a smelly animal bumping up and down in a saddle. I told Tain I wasn't going to do it and stayed behind with Paul who also didn't want to go. Tain and three ladies took the trail and boat rides 

and enjoyed themselves as Paul and I amused ourselves with conversation, some walking, and amateur photography. The skies were blue, the mountains all around us, 

and everywhere we went, we saw people riding horses or horses grazing. 

I took this one picture of a horse galloping past Paul, trying to catch up with the other horses.

When our group got back together, everyone was happy with the choice he or she had made, and we were all hungry for lunch, so our driver dropped us off near Lijiang's Old Town to walk around looking for food. We passed this man selling honey out of a bucket that had a honeycomb and bees in it.

We walked up and down many streets looking for affordable, good food.

The Old Town was quaint and picture perfect that day.

How about this restaurant?

Well, then, what about this one?

In the end, it was this lady in the open air food court who made my fried rice for lunch. Somehow, Paul and I got separated from the group when lunch ended, so we looked around a bit before returning to our lunch spot to hope our group would return to find us. They did, and we followed them through the winding streets up a hill to another hotel where we thought we might spend our next night in Lijiang, even though we hadn't spent one in our first hotel yet. As we waited in the lobby for our Chinese speakers to check out room prices and availability, I found a hot water bottle hand warmer for Dawn, who was looking chilly, 

and then snapped a photo of Paul, who could always be counted on for a dramatic pose, as you will see.

We were impressed by the view from the deck on the second floor, 

so we booked rooms for the next evening. Back in the lobby, we found the hotel dog sniffing and nipping at Tain's backpack. Later that evening, he emptied his bag at the guesthouse and discovered a piece of chicken he'd bought back in Bangkok sitting at the bottom of his bag...

On our way back through the Old Town, we saw some interesting sights.

A leather suit of armor

We went home to see if our rooms were ready. Here's the front door,

and here's the guys' room. There was no heat except for an electric heating pad under the bottom sheet.

The chicken bag is on Tain's bed...
That night was cold, and I took this picture of the ice on the little koi pond in the guest house courtyard for proof.

Before we checked out, I discovered that we could sit in the hanging basket chair and take pictures with shadows on our faces like this, so we all did. 

Some of us missionaries are easily amused as you can see from our van ride back to the Old Town.

Tain bargained with a lady for fruit within a minute of getting out of the van.

And he was in rare form throughout the morning as we walked around the Old Town waiting for the next guest house to allow us to check in.

Everyone joined in on the fun.

I think maybe someone from my family came to China years ago and became Lijiang royalty...

We checked in (not at my palace, but at the place where we'd made a reservation the day before, since my servants and retainers weren't expecting me),

and relaxed a while under the blue, sunny sky and throughout the guesthouse. There was quite  bit of open air Bible reading going on in that place that morning.

Once spiritual hunger was satisfied with spiritual food, we set out to find what Paul liked to call "fleshly food" and we found something special on this street.

This Godsend of a woman was cutting fresh potatoes by hand and cooking small batches

 of French fries!

Dawn wasn't feeling so great, but these fries were good for health.
A shallow pan of oil, some potatoes, and a sprinkle of salt - SO GOOD!

This little guy was a character. He "helped" by dispensing napkins.

Further up the street, we came to a scenic view 

where we felt obliged to take pictures.

Paul takes a picture of...
...posing ladies...

...and then Paul posed dramatically with his camera case on his head

Later the ladies posed for Photographer Tain.

You can call this a "Before" picture, because shortly thereafter, the ladies went out shopping as we guys wandered around looking for snacks to eat. 

Fresh pulled ginger taffy
Paul with his "Get your own. This is mine." face. He was a hungry young man.
The home-made bread and best burger pizza sounded good, but we didn't venture up these stairs.

When we rejoined them later, the ladies had this "After" picture.

Did you notice that they looked a little but different? That they had done something to their hair?





Wrong picture.

Here's the right one.

Hey, anyone could make that mistake. (Please don't kill me, Dawn.)

(Dawn looks like she's going to kill me.)

Anyway... the sun was getting ready to set, so we got a ride to a hot pot restaurant where we ate this:


No, sorry, I meant this:

Paul ate lots of meat, but we made him eat lots of greens too. I loved the broccoli and the broth especially. On the sidewalk after dinner, we saw these women doing some traditional dancing to drum up business (for the restaurant).

A curious bystander

We returned to our guesthouse to sleep in our gloriously heated rooms until we had to get up early to catch the train to our next destination - Dali.

Sunrise over the Lijiand Old Town square

A last bus ride with Paul, who looks like he's posing dramatically again
In Dali, Tain, Dawn, and I were to meet up with a friend from Baltimore and have some meetings together. More of that in the next entry...


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