November 2010

Walking down the old street into the square the other night, I glanced up and saw a tiny light glide past the stars and away to the North. Not a week ago I had sat on a guest house balcony, open to the night sky, and watched as one satellite faded into the South, and four headed North – all in less than half an hour. It left me wondering how many satellites there are up there. And what they’re all doing…

It doesn’t seem like it was over a month ago I was in Hong Kong. And already I’ve been to Lijiang to extend my visa.

That was an interesting trip. I was given a lift by one of the partners of my hostel, Horse Pen 46, and we took what felt like a “short cut” over the mountain road – most of which was under construction and congested with huge trucks transporting aggregate. But once we started the descent through pine forests, we caught a glimpse of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, the backdrop to the once-ancient city of Lijiang.

I say “once-ancient” as it has a rich and varied past, well written up in Peter Goullart’s book Forgotten Kingdom. He spent eight years there, managing to escape during the final stages of the Chinese Civil War in 1949. The city was an important trading post on the Tea and Horse Caravan Trail – as was Shaxi – but has since been turned into a theme park, despite its designation by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

I have been to Lijiang several times before and always disliked its commercialisation, even while it can look attractive, with its maze of narrow streets and stone bridges crossing the network of streams that run through old town.

This time I warmed to it – partly because I chanced upon some old acquaintances, and made new ones, and partly because I hiked up over Elephant Hill and down into Black Dragon Pool Park: up through the forest, passing teams of horses carrying rocks for road-building, stumbling upon gentians, and discovering that nature was still very much in the raw, just a stone’s throw from the city.

I also met a French couple who have recently set up an Arts Centre on the edge of Lijiang, and run arts residencies.

I very much want to develop a new art-style, and was wondering what I would do after Shaxi!