I love being in China, and I LOVE Yunnan! It is definitely one of my favorite provinces. It is a magical place – one where the skies are blue, the clouds a glowing white, the mountains reach for the sky, the water flows clean and clear, and the temples shine with their bright colors, undulating prayer flags and chanting monks. The villages hum with the daily life of tending to gardens and pigs, harvesting corn and barley, and a general full feeling of harmony, wellbeing and good living. I love being here and I definitely feel at home in this land.
And I just love the small 1,000 year old town of Shuhe 束河古镇 that is nestled on the high plateau valley under the majestic 20,000ft Jade Dragon Snowy Mountain - Yu Long Xue Shan 玉龍雪山. Shuhe is our “base camp” for this trip – our landing and jumping off point for other magical lands in Yunnan (such as Lugu Lake and Liming) – and it a town I lived in for 1 month in 2012. It has small cobble-stoned streets with flowing water-ways, yummy restaurants, and local Naxi people selling walnuts, fruits, vegetables. While in Shuhe we’re staying at our friend, Yanzi’s wonderful inn called Sui Yue Feng Jing 岁月风景. Yanzi owns the inn and is a delightful generous, jolly, and very witty woman who loves tea and sharing stories and laughter with others.
The inn is beautiful and built in old traditional Naxi architecture. The wooden walls with carved wooden windows aren’t insulated, as the climate here is mild. Yet the winter the nights are chilly…so each bed has an electric blanket! :) My first night here, I had jet lag. Exhausted I turned on the electric blanket, crawled into bed with my clothes on and promptly fell asleep only to wake up a couple hours later super hot!!! I took off some layers and fumbled to turn off the electric blanket but mistakenly turned it on high! Alas, I fell asleep again and woke up this time covered in sweat! I had to get up and air everything out…and well, then with jet lag I was just up :-) – but when used right, these heating pads are warm, cozy and the nights are quiet and restful for a good sleep!
A Vision of Two Friends is Born ~ True Connection to China & the Wilderness
When Szu-ting and I met 8 years ago, we quickly became good friends. We also soon birthed a dream to share our passions of China and the wilderness with others. And one of our ways of doing this is creating these Qigong & Wilderness trips to Western China to bring people to the heart and beauty of a land and culture we both love.
China’s West & People of the Land
When people come to China, so many people only experience the busy, crowded bustling cities. But China is so much more. On our trips we head West. There are vast ranges of mountains, plateaus, gorges, rivers and many small villages nestled amongst the land. They blend into the terrain. They blend into the landscape and the people are a people of the land – not separate from it. It is so refreshing to have no Walmarts, stoplights, suburban neighborhoods, strip malls, Starbucks, etc. Instead there are handmade homes with their hanging/drying red peppers and corn in the inner courtyards, their fields of fresh organic vegetables and grains, wandering pigs, happy pecking chickens and geese – there is a rhythm and naturalness to their way of life.
The Chinese people have suffered through many hardships and hard times, and have always rebuilt. While modern growth is swift, fast and has also led to much destruction (similar as in the U.S.), many of the people of the countryside are connected to the Earth/Nature in simple, mundane yet profound ways. They steward the land. They grow their own vegetables, grains, tea, animals in beautiful thriving farms and gardens. They gather daily or weekly for markets under the open air and blue skies, carrying baskets on their backs to buy and sell spices, clothes, meats, nuts, tofu, medicinal herbs, shoes, vegetables, fruits, and even chickpea crepes and pancakes (we had these in a little town, Shigu, on our way to Liming – so delicious and so healthy!! :)). There are even dentists that come and set up stands at these street markets! :-D These elders and families live in a way of connection and leave a small and more natural footprint on the earth.
Qigong & Sinking into the Rhythm of Life
On our trips we sink into this rhythm of life – life that pulses through the villages, the rivers, mountains, cuisines, cultural dances, clouds, vistas and vast blue skies. One way we do this is through Qigong. Qigong is an ancient form of Chinese breathing, meditation and movement. It is a powerful way to cultivate our own health and vitality, and develop our spirit and soul. It offers tools to receive Qi - both energy and information - from our environment. As China is home to many healing and mystical arts, such as Chinese Medicine, Qigong, Daoism, all of which have been born from its Lands and channeled through its people, Qigong offers a profound way to tap into these teachings from its very source.
On this trip, we practice qigong each morning, be it by the water’s edge of Lugu Lake, the blazing red rocks of Liming, beneath the towering Jade Dragon Snowy Mountain, or even amongst the village gardens rich with the sounds of oinking pigs, crowing roosters and tweeting wag tail birds. :-) In the afternoons we also practice, sinking into place, into the land we’re at, absorbing, gathering qi and information. It is a profound, non-thinking and transformational way of learning.
Qigong deepens our presence and awareness – in this way it also helps us digest and ground in our own experience. Practicing qigong also gives back to the life and vitality of the lands we visit. As we increase the health and harmony within our body, our being, our inner landscape, this radiates out into our outer landscapes.
Red Rocks, Fox Tracks & Mountain Winds ~ Power of Sit Spot
In my first travel update, I started with referencing a sit spot meditation I did one late afternoon on our visit to Liming’s Lao Jun Mountain’s park. This is another powerful practice we do on these trips. It is one I’ve been intuitively doing since childhood, yet I learned it as a powerful nature connection practice and awareness training from my husband, Nate Summers and the teachings through Wilderness Awareness School. This practice involves finding a spot to sit outside, whether it is in your backyard, a city park, in a forest or mountain top and sitting for 20 minutes to 1 hour or more.
When sitting, we tap into our senses – “What am I seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling? What do I hear to the north, south, east and/or west? What way is the wind blowing? What are the birds doing? What are the smells of the stone I’m sitting on?” We go into “owl eyes” where we are present with our peripheral vision. This is a wonderful way to soak in our surroundings, clear our thinking and develop our awareness to any movement, and signs of life, wind, and wildlife. In sitting in this way, I feel a profound peace and joy of presence. It’s like I get to finally be still and say a beautiful hello to the trees, the sparkling waters of the river, the swirling winds, the still, tall and majestic mountains, and I finally get to listen.
This is similar to qigong and is a wonderful practice to do after qigong. On one of our outings, we visited Yu Hu Cun 玉湖村 – Jade Lake Village the first Naxi village and the one highest up and closest to the base of Jade Dragon Mountain. All the houses are built of stone, with beautiful gateways “men” 門 to enter into each family’s home/courtyard. After being invited into one Naxi family’s home, and sweet courtyard and garden to chat, I continued winding my way up the narrow stone streets to where the village ended and the fields leading up to the first granite peak spires of this majestic mountain began. I wandered through a field on some of the local women’s footpaths that head up to collect herbs. It was here I found a most magical place for my afternoon sit spot. I gazed with great love and awe up into the jagged peaks of this mountain – gazing and listening, feeling the sun on my back, the sweet scent of dried grass in my nostrils. The wind whipped and swirled with intensity through the granite stones above and the clanking bells and clopping huffs of the horses rang their own cadence in the village streets below. (see pics right below in this section on Yu Hu village and this sit spot :))
These moments are when the beauty and teachings of place, of the land, of Nature come rushing in. It’s also after such practice that I feel filled with aliveness, awareness and connection to our Earth and web of Life. Another day after sit spot, after climbing down the giant red sandstone boulder in Liming’s Luo Jun Mountain park, I started moving slowly through the dried out, wind-swaying corn stalks on the hillside when something caught my eye. There were little tracks in the mud…and they were everywhere! I looked closely, started following them and then also found a scat. It was fox scat and fox tracks!!! How cool!! :)
1,000 Turtles Face the Sun
Liming and Lao Jun Mountain park were one of our destinations. Up at about 8,000 ft, Liming is a small village of Lisu people (the whole village is one street that takes less than 10 mins to walk down :) – you’ll also notice in the pictures that most Lisu homes have the painted symbol of a cross bow – as their heritage is that of hunters). And the towering red sand stone rocks are referred to as the “Zion” of China. Climbing up to the top of one of the mountains are several beautiful rock nature “sculptures” – of a sleeping Buddha, a lovers’ embrace, dragon scales, and even what’s called “Qian Gui Chao Yang 千 龜朝陽” – “1,000 Turtles Facing the Sun”. It’s the top ridge of a mountain with a series of weathered red sand stone rocks that all look like many turtles’ backs – all lined up, and facing the rising sun. So beautiful!
Golden Sands and the Story of the Long River
And the drive to Liming is also spectacular, with views of Jade Dragon Mountain in the distance, and then coming upon the first magnificent bend in the Yangzi River (長江第一灣). This place calls for some pause in explanation on this river. This river is actually called “Chang Jiang 長江” “Long River”. Yet the part of the Long River most Westerners are familiar with is the part referred to as the Yangzi River. Here, close to Liming, this same river is known as “Jin Sha Jiang 金沙江” “Golden Sands River” – as the sand bars glow gold in the sunlight. Two of the biggest rivers in China, the Long River and Yellow River (Chang Jiang 長江and Huang He 黃河) both start close to each other in China’s Qinghai Province, a province that is all over 10,000ft in elevation. While this spot isn’t super spectacular, as the rivers are both small at that place, they each grow to be enormous rivers covering 1,000s of miles and traversing all kinds of terrain.
This place where the Long River has its first bend is remarkable. The river is flowing due south and then at this bend goes due north and then eventually heads east across the country. It is also a watershed of 3 rivers running parallel to each other from north to south – the Nu River, Lancang River and Long River. This area of the 3 rivers watershed is now protected by the Chinese government, in large part due to the conservation efforts and passions of a local Naxi woman. :) (that’s a whole other story for another time…as this is already quite long! :-D)
Nourishment & Chinese Food! Yum!
I know in each trip I share about the delicious food! And the food, tea, our meal times are all also a wonderful and nourishing part of our adventure experience! :-) Each meal is a time to discover new delicious local dishes, share with each other and learn about the culture, people and land through our taste buds. :) One of our participants, Matthew shared that his way of learning of cultures is reading cookbooks from cultures around the world and trying their recipes. In fact he estimates he’s tried 1,200-1,500 recipes so far. And when he tries a recipe, it’s not just once. Sometimes, he explained, he tries it 9-10 times before getting it right. He and his wife, Lea, are on this trip as part of their honeymoon :-) and the 2 of them are some of the most adventurous eaters I’ve met yet. (For example in the span of a couple days, I saw Lea eat a fish eye, goose blood and chicken feet!)
I love how the food is super fresh here. When staying in Lugu Lake, our Mosuo family cooked us veggies from their garden, chicken and pork from their farm. We also noticed that when serving meat, it is an art of chopping the meat so there is at least one bone in each piece. :-) Many Americans prefer plain muscle or in the case of chicken, chicken breast. Yet I find eating meat with the skin, bone, tendons is much more delicious and nourishing for the body. In Chinese medicine, the skin is said to nourish our skin, the bones our bones, the tendons our own tendons, and same is true with organ meat. Below I’ve pasted some pics of some of the delicious foods.
Tea Qi, Chanting Monks & Local Dances & Karaoke Night! :-D
Our trip is wrapping up for this journey to Western China. There is always so much more to share! – Such as our visit with a local Tibetan nun at Zhi Yun monastery and observing the Tibetan monks in chanting prayers, and our several evenings sipping tea with Xiao Lan at his elegant tea shop, learning and listening to his stories about tea, and how the study of tea is another form of self cultivation, an art form just like Qigong. There’s also the dancing with the local Lisu people at Liming, and Moreah, our awesome 75-years young participant who claims to be 75 going on 50, who playfully danced with and chased the little Lisu children during the community gathering :). (Moreah is so adventurous!!! She’s been in China 35 days and came before our trip to do another tour – and 10 days of couch surfing in Beijing! She’s also been sharing pdf versions of her book, “From Nun to Nudist to Now” with her new Chinese friends! :-D) And there’s also the funny story of attending what we thought was going to be a local Mosuo dance gathering – that really turned out to be town karaoke night! :-P And the morning mini garbage truck that always plays the local ethnic dance music in the morning as it bumbles by…and gets us all laughing and busting out in a jig on our saunter through town.
YAY!!! Thank you all once again for receiving my shares and for joining me on another magical CHINA adventure!! :) Below are a silly "pose" pic all the women did after qigong practice in Liming one day, some fun pics of food, a pic of our superman, and some more of Lugu lake and our canoe ride on Lugu Lake (you can see our Mosuo "father" host too :). He was our driver for our trip and a very friendly man. :))
So much Love to you all! And for those of you in the States, Happy Happy Thanksgiving!!