Posts Tagged With: Opium growing


We take  a short sweet flight to Kunming, (koo-ming) a city of eight million people. Kunming, the old kingdom,  was named by Kubla Khan. At the airport, one member of our group, left the tour because his Chinese fiancé, who was supposed to meet him,  was having trouble with her visa.  In order to marry a Chinese woman now,  a foreigner  must prove his income, own a house, buy the marriage certificate, pay other fees and provide medical proof that he can father children. Mark’s  visit was part vacation and part business.  Vicki is upset by this and claims she has never had anyone leave her tour.

On the plane, I sat next to a Chinese man who had just come from vacationing in North Korea. He and his friend were young and spoke good English. He claimed it was frightening. The people on the streets avoid eye contact afraid to look at you, very repressed. He was not allowed to photograph buildings. The guards were always in evidence, like they were being followed. Then, at the airport the guards looked at every photo in his camera before letting them go. He said he had been tempted to take a forbidden picture and didn’t. At the airport he was glad he had obeyed.
We settle into our hotel and  head for the bird market past this unique curved building, called the Sister Building.  Kunming means eternal spring. This city is home to about 25 different ethnic groups with North Koreans, Arab Muslims from India, Burmese  many minority Chinese. The Burma (now Myanmar) border is near. Kumning was once an opium growing area, part of the Golden Triangle and also the base for the Flying Tigers.
As we hurry across the street, ( no pedestrian right of way),   I grab a quick shot of this vendor who is selling dog and cat pelts. Kids, unaccompanied, walk along the busy highway to schools and cross busy city streets independently.
The bird market is normally an interesting tour but because there is bird flu going around, Vicki makes this a very quick pass through and we agree with that. My memory disk is now full and I can not take any photos until I get back on the bus.  We saw birds in cages, bunnies and kittens in tight cages, not exactly what we like to see anyway. They had “white meat” snails with beautiful striped shells. Very large crickets and beautifully made cricket cages, which they race. Trained rats, too. The city is quite modern because it was rebuilt after the Japanese bombed it. The old town section looks like poor Mexico and gives us an idea of what the city looked like at one time. The old feudal walls were torn down in 1953.

Our next stop is a Green Lake Park.  Huge flocks of seagulls winter here, arriving mid to late November. They are messy and dirty and we are glad we’ve missed them.

I got a kick out of the blonde curls attached to this child’s hat. The park was full of cute kids; a lovely place to relax, play cards, have tea, do tai chi. Most Chinese socialize outside rather than in their small houses and apartments.
In China, you are never far from something ornate and beautiful. We guess at whether this huge vessel had a function of some type at one time.

At lunch we taste a local specialty, fish skin,  which is quite spicy and tasty. We had the usual meats and vegetables and condiments with a surprise, watermelon for dessert. A nice change. We have a couple of hours of  free time before dinner and a show;  a chance to rest, shop, or walk around  town on our own. There is much to see and do here, but as the saying goes, “You can’t see it all.”

Dinner is a western buffet in the hotel where everyone is dressed for Halloween. I preferred this beautiful jug over the carved pumpkins pandering to American tourism. During dinner the loudest,  awful television in the dining room told Halloween stories in Chinese. All the wait persons danced to incredibly loud music. It chased us out of the place. We return to our rooms to  dress for the Peacock Extravaganza that features 200 ethnic peoples, a tradition in this area from the time of Kubla Kahn.

No pictures were allowed, but I’m inclined to describe this impressive program anyway. The first dance features this famous woman peacock dancer with an enormous drum moving in very strenuous body movements. The dancers have painted bodies, the background is stormy suggesting how early people feared thunder and lightning and they made loud noises to scare off the evil spirits and wild animals that also fear storms.
The peacock dance was followed by the moon dance with  great costuming and beautiful sinuous moves.  The stage settings are rich and dramatic. In one scene dancers in bird costumes with iridescent wings flapping in the darkened theater gave the impression of birds flying away in a captivating beautiful way.
The Chinese use very shrill high pitched screeching instruments that do not set very well to the western ear.  I usually find it hard to tolerate but in this huge theater it was okay. They dance a ritual child sacrifice and a sensual birth of a baby. They danced the Muslim people coming into China through the mountains,  facing hardships and bringing Buddhism to China. And the last show brought back the great peacock dancer with balance, grace and beauty performing, with her fingers displayed in huge shadows on a screen, a peacock grooming, and strutting and eating.
This engaging, historical, world-class performance,  cost us a small $20 bill. The peacock show travels all over the world. We returned to our rooms entranced.

The main attraction in this area is the famous Stone Forest-tomorrow.

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In Thailand we are pushing north for Chaing Rai. We stop and visit this Indigo Dye Works, a family run enterprise that has lifted this old craft from obscurity. At one time everyone wore Indigo dyed work clothes and it became unpopular as a working class clothing. The woman below, Yellow, revived this old craft using the batik process for fancier items. She supports 3 families with her cottage industry.
Demonstrating, she mixes the leaves and stems of the indigo plant in water, then mixes in lime-ash, dips a piece of cloth in the mixture, and in a matter of minutes, the cloth hits the oxygen and turns from a pale green to a beautiful, deep blue.
We watched the workers dip iron molds into a vat of wax and stamp the cloth. Many beautiful patterns find their way onto table cloths, jackets, shirts, scarves, handbags and just about anything you can make with cloth. I might mention that these many stops in our travels are arranged to educate us and to provide a “Happy Room” stop since we don’t always have convenient roadside rests.
The batik process allows the dye to cover the cloth everywhere the wax is not. The wax is cooled and then chips off the material.
old stove-top iron was in her workshop and I photographed it. Several of us discussed among ourselves the marvelous antiques still in use in places we’ve visited, like the old sewing machines in the market. If they only knew how much someone in the states would pay for one of their old machines, they would sell them and we’d be poorer for the transaction.
Mason was interested in buying a sword to bring home. Panu stopped at this rudimentary roadside blacksmith shop.
Here is a sample of an amazing array of farm tools they produce. And, he did find a sword after the drivers pulled his luggage from the bottom of the bus to see what would fit in it.
Our next stop was a more glamorus place. This woman gave us a tea tasting. She cooled the little clay baby she is pouring the tea over and he peed on everyone within range much to our surprise as we howled with laughter. Here Panu bought a bamboo tray of deep fried worms to try. They were surprisingly good, a snack something like popcorn that you could munch by the handful. Not everyone tried them, but later on the bus, when Panu stopped and bought a cake and some fruit, Roberta and I agreed the worms were better tasting than the cake. They were grubs, not angle worms.
After lunch we loaded into songtaew (trucks) for a hillly drive to visit the indigenous Akha people who wear elaborate, colorful costumes for our visit. They wear their costumes for festivals and celebrations. This woman’s teeth are stained by the betel nut leaves they chew.

We wandered the village and watched them at work and leisure. Some men were making sticky rice in an outdoor tub, a very muscular task.  In front of another thatched hut, men were butchering what looked like a wild pig. Children run around with the chickens, dogs and cats and play happily as all children do. They are probably unaware that they are poor since their village is quite remote. Fruits and foodstuffs dry on the rooves, they have little gardens between huts and clothing hangs on the lines. Old men watch the village activities from their hammock or chair.

A simple life style, but it wasn’t always so. We are close to the Golden Triangle. Many of the hill tribes were induced by drug lords to grow opium. Not that they benefited much from the trade. The government established programs for them to benefit from legal crops and tourism, a safer alternative. The women danced for us with their children on their backs. Some of the mothers appeared to be 15 years old, children themselves.

OAT supports several indiginous tribes. Government efforts to halt the slash and burn of the jungle have been pretty successful. But, tourism has its problems too. The Karen tribe are called long necks because they begin putting brass rings on the necks which eventually stretches their neck, yes, but it breaks their shoulder bones and cripples these women. From this tribe of great beauty, children were often sold into prostitution. That has been halted but tourism is so popular that the tribe has begun putting brass rings on young girls to earn money from tourists. OAT has polled travellers such as we about supporting the people or not supporting the people because they are exploiting their children. Without exception all of us agreed we should not visit the Karen because it resulted in exploitation of children.
The history of these various peoples was explained to us in detail. The Lishu, we will meet later at the Elephant Camp.
Our hotel today is a couple kilometers from an Opium Museum as we are at a beautiful hotel in the Golden Triangle.
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