Thursday, February 5: After our rest in the hotel, we decide we’ll walk to the north end of town to explore. We have tickets to see the Naxi Orchestra tonight, and we’ve been told that the concert hall is at the north end of town. We’re at the south end. Merry, our helpful English-speaking receptionist at the hotel, is nowhere to be found, so we try to ask the other people in the hotel if they can mark on the map where the concert hall is. They manage to communicate that it’s too difficult to explain to us, so we should come back to the hotel a half-hour before the concert; someone from the hotel will escort us to the concert hall. It’s quite a distance to walk from the south to the north, so we head out, hoping we will stumble upon it on our own.
Dayan, Lijiang’s Old Town, is not an easy place to navigate. We have an artistic map that seems more about beauty than logistics. The roads of the town are not laid out on a grid pattern; they wind and meander all over the place, with multiple crossroads. Alex and I believe we are following the map to the north and finally, after a long walk, we stumble upon a gate. We approach a guard and point to the north gate on our map. He points to the south gate, but not our south gate. Apparently we have walked a long distance from our south gate to another south gate. We are still nowhere close to where we want to be.
We stop for a bit to study the map. We try to get our bearings and head off in what we think is a northerly direction. Finally we come to a large square. There is a tourist information booth, but of course no one speaks any English. We show the woman our tickets to the concert and our map, and she happily points out the concert hall just north of the square. We head up the street, looking carefully on both sides of the street, until we spot the hall. I take a picture so we’ll remember it later.
We continue to the north, where we aim to see Black Dragon Pool Park. Lonely Planet China claims that with Yulong Xue Shan, or Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, behind the pool, “the elegant mid-pool Deyue Pavilion is outrageously photogenic.”
The pool here is known as Yuquan (Jade Spring), after the clear, pale green water that flows from the base of the surrounding hills.
Sadly, the elegant mid-pool Deyue Pavilion, is wrapped tightly in dark green netting for renovation, so we miss our promised “outrageously photogenic” view. You can see the netted pavilion to the right in the photo below. There is a smaller pavilion in the pool, with a little boat anchored nearby, which still makes for a nice view.
We walk across the bridge and to the other side of the pool, where we continue to head to the northerly end of the pool.
A cluster of compounds around the shore comprise the Dongba Cultural Research Institute. According to Lonely Planet China, “dongba relates to the Naxi shamans, about 30 of whom are still alive and are kept busy here translating twenty thousand rolls of the old Naxi scriptures — dongba jing — for posterity.”
Near the top of the pool is a cluster of halls imported in the 1970s from the site of what was once Lijiang’s major temple, Fuguo Si.
Coming back along the east side of the pool, we spot one of these halls, the Five Phoenix Pavilion, also named Fayun Pavilion, built in the 29th year of Wanli Period of the Ming Dynasty (1601) as a villa and family temple of Chieftain Mu, whose home in town we’ll visit later during our stay. According to a placard in the park, “the roof of that pavilion is rich in change. It was so-called for the eave angles in the form of five flying phoenixes.”
We continue our lovely walk back to the south of the pool where we have more views of the small pavilion and the mountain behind.
At the south end, we find Green Bridge, established in the 3rd year of Guangxu Emperor of the Qing Dynasty (1877). It is a corridor bridge. The surface of the bridge is paved with colorful “slates” and the upper part is a tilt roof with upturned eaves.
There are three cascades under the bridge with clean water rushing out, thus it’s called Green Bridge, the best protected wind rain bridge in Lijiang. It’s the outlet of Black Dragon Pool from which the springs run to the ancient town.
By now our feet are pretty sore and we’re hungry for some dinner. We walk back into town, where, near the north gate, there is a row of Western-style restaurants, including KFC, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut. I’ve heard the Pizza Huts in China are pretty good, with extensive menus that include a lot of items other than pizza, but I’ve never yet tried one because they’re quite expensive by Chinese standards.
On the way to the restaurant, we find this girl in traditional costume talking on a mobile phone under a trellis of wishes.
We have an enjoyable meal in the Pizza Hut, with me ordering fried shrimp, one of my favorite things to eat since I was around 10 years old, and Alex ordering Kung Pao chicken pasta. He had such a struggle with the Naxi Chicken Salad this afternoon, filled with ultra-spicy chicken with bones, gristle and fat, that he’s relieved to find a not-so-spicy Kung Pao chicken with lean chicken meat, prepared more to Western tastes. We top off our meal with two Corona beers.
We head to the Naxi Concert Hall after getting a little lost. We settle into the dark and cold hall with a small crowd of other Westerners on a tour and a few Chinese people. The stage is very colorful and we enjoy watching as they set up and the group comes out to the stage.
The Naxi Orchestra uses antique instruments to perform Song Dynasty tunes derived from the Taoist Dong Jin scriptures. Banned from performing for many years, the orchestra regrouped under Xuan Ke‘s direction. The conductor, now 86 years old, has also conducted orchestras in European countries. Because of the deaths of many musicians, the group has dwindled from over 60 to around 20 over the years. Most of the performers are 70-90 years old. It is said the group is known for its ancient instruments, ancient songs, and ancient performers.
The music is a quite slow and haunting, and it’s interspersed with long explanations of musical history, first in Mandarin and then translated to English, by a woman narrator and by Xuan Ke himself.
The woman narrator introduces one musician: “He’s not the most handsome member of our orchestra, but he is the most romantic man.” He sings a love story about a girl he fell in love with when he was rich and famous. When he failed in business and lost all his money, his girlfriend left him. At the end of his song, he sticks out his tongue. 🙂 He calls the song “The Heartless Girlfriend.”
Other songs are called “The Bound-Foot Girl Song” and “The Song of a Water Dragon.” Many of the song lyrics are posted on an electronic screen at the corners of the stage; most are in Chinese but some are translated into English.
After the concert, which sadly was a little slow for Alex’s liking, we walk the long walk back from the north to the south of town, getting lost a few times along the way. The Chinese crowds come out in force at night, so we have to do a lot of dodging to get through the crowded streets. Alex is also pretty irritated by the hordes of people, even though I told him to expect crowds wherever we go in China. What else can one expect in a country of 1.3 billion people? Even though I gave him warning before he came, and Mike did too, I still don’t think he was prepared for the experience.
It feels good to get into my nice heated bed with the space heater blasting away. Tomorrow we have a trip planned to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, where the crowds will really test Alex’s patience. I however, really enjoy the outing because of the fabulous views. 🙂