Saturday, February 14: This morning, we decide to forgo the return bus to Kunming. Instead, we pay 500 yuan (~$80) to hire a driver to drive us back. It turns out our driver is a middle-aged Chinese woman accompanied by her husband or boyfriend; it seems they’re going on a day outing to Kunming. Lucky for them, we pay for their day trip, and even though it costs us a lot, it allows us to avoid the hassle of dealing with Chinese buses and the East Kunming bus station. A win-win situation.
It takes the couple quite a long time to find our hotel as they are relying on a GPS system, which they can’t seem to follow properly. Several arguments between them ensue when they can’t agree on a direction, and we try to signal to them which direction they should follow, which is clearly obvious on the GPS!
Our hotel is near Dianchi Lake, which is supposed to be quite nice, but we really never see the entire lake. The couple drops us at our hotel, The Dianchi Garden Hotel and Spa, which has lovely grounds. However, there is no heat in the room, making for a freezing last day in Kunming.
We have a Chinese lunch in the “Western” restaurant (there is no Western food on the menu) overlooking this atrium.
From our hotel, we walk 400 meters to the Yunnan Nationalities Museum. We have to walk through a touristy village before we enter the museum, which turns out to be a kind of theme park, much like Disneyland but with no rides. Alex is still looking for a miniature container to take back as a gift for a friend, and I buy yet another scarf, one of too many I’ve bought on this trip!
The first place we come to is a Tibetan Buddhist Lamasery. According to a sign at the park: “After propagating to the Tibetan-inhabited regions during the 7th century, Buddhism gradually established the Tibetan-language inherited religious system known as “Tibetan Buddhism,” which was passed down to later generations. Owing to dissimilar channels of inheritance, Tibetan Buddhism branched into different schools, which include the Ningma (Red Sect), the Geju (White Sect), the Gelu (Yellow Sect), and the Saga (Hua Sect). To integrate the cultural essence of different sects of Tibetan Buddhism, two “living Buddhas” were invited to preside over the construction, consecration and opening of the Buddhist shrine, which was bestowed with the name ‘Fusonglin Lamasery.’ Each year, two lamas are dispatched to the lamasery to host the Buddhist rites, making it a Tibetan Buddhist shrine in the true sense to help visitors learn about the religion and Buddhist culture of the Tibetan-inhabited areas.”
Sadly, we’re not allowed to take photographs inside this beautiful lamasery. However, when I notice a Chinese guy sneaking a photo, I take one sneakily too. Not only does it come out a total blur, but I get yelled at as well. 🙂
After leaving the lamasery, Alex finds a place where it’s possible to zip-line over the lake, which he is thrilled to experience.
At Sun and Moon Square, a sign tells us that the four totem poles on the square symbolize the “white stupa” in the Hani ancestors’ village “Reluopuchu,” which the Hani legends claim to be the ethnic origin of the Hani minority. The totem poles are depicted with patterns depicting the Hani history of birth, village construction, homeland-defending battles, tortuous migration, and creation of the terraced paddy field culture, whereas the patterns on the relief sculpture wall vividly portray the classical Hani legends and the Hani mythological system.
At the entrance to another village at the museum, we find this information: All De’ang Minority people worship Theravada Buddhism, which is commonly referred to as the “Little Vehicle Buddhism.” It is common practice for the De’ang people to build a Buddhist temple in every village they inhabit which is locally called “the scripture-reading house.”
According to the De’ang custom, any stranger entering the De’ang village must first go to the temple to pay tribute to the Buddha, by which the visitor shows esteem for the De’ang religion. The Buddhist hall normally consists of three terraces, the first of which is the seat of the top Buddhist disciple who has converted to Buddhism for years, the second terrace is the seat of married males, and the third, the seat of women and children.
After leaving the De’ang Village, we come across this poor elephant who looks very unhappy. Alex especially is upset by the elephant’s apparent mistreatment by his handlers.
According to information at the entrance to another village: “With a population numbering 130,000, the Jingpo minority people mainly inhabit areas in Yunnan’s Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture. The Jingpo people worship the primitive religion which claims “all things on earth have souls,” believes in the existence of ghosts and gods, and esteems the Jingpo ancestors. The most important annual celebration of the Jingpo people is the spectacular Munao Zongge Festival, which normally falls on the 15th day of the first lunar month. When this festival comes, the Jingpo folks form long queues to dance around the tall mascot boards known as the ‘Munao Shidong.’ The number of participants dancing the grandest Munao Zongge Dance even added up to tens of thousands, and for this reason the event has won the name of ‘dance of ten thousand dancers.'”
In Yunnan Nationalities Village, “the Jingpo Village occupies 15 mu of land, on which are constructed diversified kinds of spacious houses and the exquisite, magnificent ‘headman’s mansion.’ Architectures of the village are focused on portraying structural features and layout patterns of the Jingpo-style housing, which could be represented by the ganlan-style houses and the “inverted T-shaped houses.” The tall “Munao Shidong” boards erected in the center of the square are decorated with patterns and carvings, which symbolize Jingpo people’s will to keep united and forge ahead, as well as their brave and steadfast personalities.”
The Munao Shidong consists of “4 Shidong poles with which the Jingpo people worship the solar god. The top of the two poles in the middle are painted with sun-shaped patterns which embody males, whereas the tops of the two poles on both sides are painted with moon-shaped patterns which represent females. The sky-pointed lines painted on the top of the right “lunar Shidong pole” suggest the channels through which humans communicate with heaven and the crossed swords between the two “solar Shidong poles” signify the industrious and brave virtues of the Jingpo people. The S-shaped pattern formed by the Shidong poles represents the dancing steps by which the Jingpo ancestor Nenggong Kangjia led his followers to dance the Munao Zongge, and the hardships the Jingpo ancestors suffered in their southward migration.”
After all our walking, Alex and I are fizzling out. Like all Chinese parks, this one is huge and sprawling. Everything is always done on a grand scale in China, except the toilets.
We come upon a Yi Village and find this information at the entrance: Numbering 4.71 million, the Yi minority is Yunnan’s largest minority group in terms of population and areas of distribution. The Yi people mostly live in compact communities along the Jinsha River and Yuanjiang River reaches, or in the hinterland of the Ailao Mountain and Wuliang Mountain. A minority group keen on singing and dancing, the Yi people are extremely well-known for their dage, tiaoye, dasanxian (large 3-stringed guitar), and diejiao dances. Torch Festival is the Yi people’s biggest annual celebration that shows the most distinctive ethnic minority features.
Major parts of the Yi Village include the relief sculpture wall showing three tigers and the tiger-head figure representing the Neizushi or the founder of the Yi religion, all of which symbolize the “tiger- and eagle-worshiping” culture of the Yi minority people. The totem poles on the Solar Calendar Square are richly decorated with imageries of the sun, tiger, fire and the Eight Diagrams, around which are 10 moon-shaped sculptures that face different directions. On the outer circumference of the square are stone carvings of the 12 shengxiao (12 animals that represent the 12 Earthly Branches, used to symbolize the year in which a person is born).
I find a description of the Solar Calendar: The Solar Calendar divides a year into five seasons. Each season has two months; one is male and the other is female. Each month has 36 days; a year has 10 months. And in a year, there are 5-6 other “New Year celebrating days.” It is simple and easy to remember. In the Solar Calendar year there are carved stone statues for the twelve animals symbolizing the year in which a person is born and ten “solar-lunar balls” which symbolize the source of life. In the center is the totem pillar which the Yi minority people worship.
Since I was born in 1955 and Alex was born in 1991, we share the sheep symbol.
Inside of the Tiger Head sits Founder Bimo. According to a placard beside the sculpture: “‘Bimo’ is the transliteration of a Yi language term in which ‘bi’ means ‘chanting scriptures’ and ‘mo’ means an ‘elder with profound learning.’ For the Yi people, Bimos are priests who not only preside over ceremonies, prayer-saying and sacrifice-offering rites, but also sort out and teach the Yi language and author and hand-copy Yi language classics and literature. The Yi people believe Bimos have special talents to communicate with gods and ghosts, offer guidance to earthly things, command people’s souls and manage culture. Bimos play a vitally important role in the Yi people’s activities, including births, weddings, funerals, disease-treatment, festivals, hunting and farming.
“Legend has it that the Yi-minority language was invented by Founder Bimo. The Bimo statue enshrined here has shown Yi people’s folk customs such as esteeming knowledge and worshiping the eagle and tiger.”
We also wander around and find a village fashioned after buildings we saw in Dali, with paintings on the walls.
And we find a model of the Three Pagodas of Dali; we saw the real thing in Dali.
After this, we feel we can’t walk another step, except that we have to walk back to the entrance to the museum and then the 400 meters back to our hotel. Oh dear.
It’s a long haul, but we finally make it back to the hotel where we eat a dinner of egg rolls and a shrimp and pepper stir-fry. Then we take a little walk around the grounds.
Tomorrow at around noon, Alex will fly from Kunming via Beijing back to Virginia. At around the same time, I will fly onward to Mandalay, Myanmar. Since I don’t want to haul all my winter clothes around in the 90+ degree heat of Myanmar, I pack some of my winter stuff into a duffel I have brought along just for that purpose. Alex will take it to the U.S. with him tomorrow. Luckily, that will lighten my burden a little. It was tough packing for this holiday because I had to pack cold weather and hot weather clothing.
There’s nothing much to do at the hotel, and we’re both exhausted from all our walking, so we go to bed quite early, shivering under the comforters in our non-heated room.