Two weeks ago, WildChina tour leader Nancy accompanied a group of high school students from Yew Chung International School of Beijing on a journey to Yunnan. Here are a few reflections from the road:
Yunnan, the province in southwest China that we rave about so much, won me over almost as soon as I stepped off the plane. We were greeted with breezy, spring weather, and the sky was filled with patches of blue that I miss so much living in Beijing.
Like Aila Malik mentioned in a previous post, Yunnan just doesn’t really feel like a part of China one typically imagines. I Don’t know why this popped into my mind, but I felt like I had been transported back to the days of Laura Ingalls Wilder except all the characters had changed: The open prairies were replaced with mountains that shot up into the sky; mud homes were replaced with villages of white-washed houses in green valleys; bonnets and calico were replaced by hot pink hair-wraps and plain brown vests of the Tibetan people. Yet the visible pride of the people and their satisfaction in the hard work of their daily routines seemed the same.
One lady that stood out, in particular, was the owner of a home that had been a special project for The Nature Conservancy. The lady, or Ayi as we called her (Ayi literally means “Auntie,” a respectful term in Chinese), graciously invited us in to see how she used biogas to fuel her home. She explained that tanks underneath her home gathered and routed bio-gas from the fields to her kitchen stove.
Setting this up has saved her and her family countless hours of traveling out of the valley, up the mountain, and into the forest to gather wood for fuel. With the extra time, Ayi is able to tend to her gardens thereby creating another source of income. “Look at all of our grapes!” she exclaimed with a big grin on her face, “I think they’re the best in the market – much better than the expensive ones that are imported.”
I smiled back and walked away thinking, “This is the real China.” In the media and in the city where cranes line the skies as skyscrapers are being built left and right, it’s easy to buy into the idea that China is a global superpower. Looking back at the modest garden and thinking about all of Ayi & her family’s hard work of creating it reminded me of how far the country still has to go before that’s true. I guess one could say that China is still living in its Laura Ingalls Wilder days…
Photos by Alex & Cherry, WildChina student travelers