Sunday 20 June

Well, I don’t quite know what happened there, but before I knew it over two weeks had passed and nothing on my blog!

I have been resting in Dali, just letting life settle, doing some thinking and spending time with some very interesting people. I have done a little painting – I attempted a rhododendron but am not happy with it. I will finish it later when I have figured out what’s wrong with it. That way I will learn how to solve these problems before I attempt another one like it.

I’m still hoping that someone can identify the terrestrial orchid for me…

On Friday I travelled up to Lijian with a new friend, Sarah, who has now flown to Chengdu. When I checked into the Garden Inn was surprised to meet up with a couple of girls I’d met in Dali a week or so ago – it’s easy to get stuck in these places. But not for me this time.

For I have just heard that the funding for a project I have been hoping to start in Shaxi has finally come through. So I’m going up to Zhongdian for a week to renew my contacts there, and see if I can get interest again in the Field Guide project I proposed when I was there last year. Then I’ll head down to Shaxi at the end June, where I will meet up with the Swiss ethno-botanists to find out more about the botanical illustrations for their medicinal herb growing community garden project.

Really looking forward to finally working on something I love doing.

In the meantime I have wandered the streets of Lijiang and remember how much I disliked it last year. It was once a beautiful, historic town which has now been turned into a theme park.

Lijiang at night

All the boutique/kiosk shops sell the same things, throughout the old town, and it reminds me very much of Glastonbury Festival when you’re having a bad day. During the main season, Lijiang Old Town has the highest concentration of tourists per square kilometer of any tourist destination in the world. It’s intensely crowded. It’s intensely noise, especially at night when Bar Street comes alive, each venue trying to out-compete its neighbour with brighter lights, a more dazzling show and louder music.

I did find a small shop where there was a modicum of peace – a Naxi paper-making workshop, encouraged by the authorities as a means of supporting cultural traditions. They make high-quality paper from the Wikstroemia lichiangensis plant, which only grows in forests at an altitude of between 2600 and 3500m in SW Sichuan and NW Yunnan.

When I arrived one of the people there was preparing what appeared to be a daily ritual of blessing. He put on his tribal hat, took coals from the fire and placed this in a bowl over some sweet smelling tinder.

Naxi paper-making ritual

Then he placed a sprig of the plant on top, with what appeared to be a sprinkling of salt, and with his prayer beads, or mala, chanted from the small book of script as the smoke from the fire billowed up around him and the sheets of paper, still stuck to their boards, dried by the heat of the fire.

It was enthralling.

Then a Chinese woman, talking very loudly, dragged her child through the shop to where he was gently performing his ritual and stood right beside him while her husband composed a photo. This, despite the incredulous look on my face and the protestations of the devotee who, while motioning her away, was making great efforts not to lose his rhythmic chanting.