North Yunnan in 10 Marvelous Moments

From “Circumcise” to “French hounds,” I present ten special moments from our recent trip to northern Yunnan, China.

1. The Meili Snowy Mountains.

One morning while staying outside of Deqin, we woke up to this:

Meili Xue Shan (Snowy Mountains) _

After staring at the mountains while brushing our teeth and staring at the mountains over breakfast, we journeyed to a closer viewpoint and stared at the mountains some more:

Meili Snowy Mountains _


Need I say more?

No, but I must share one interesting fact: none of the highest peaks in this range has been summited. Some teams attempted to climb these peaks in the late 1980s and 1990s. One team of 17 was completely wiped out by an avalanche and the other teams failed. This is fortunate for the local Tibetans who believe that setting foot on the highest peak, Kawagarbo, will cause an extremely important god, who dwells at the mountain, to depart. For the sake of safety and local spiritual beliefs, climbing attempts in the range have been banned since 2001. (via Wikipedia, here)

2. Lovable Translation Foibles.

There are many odd translations China, but this ticket to enter the Dongzhulin Monastery near Benzilan absolutely must be shared:

Dongzhulin Monastery admission ticket _

“Circumcise and Venerability: loud blatancy, romping and comments at will are NOT allowed.”

The more strange translations I encounter, the more I wonder if some twisted early China-hand wrote a Chinese-to-English dictionary rife with archaic word usage and sprinkled with blatant mistranslations (just to keep things fun!). If so, this dictionary, by all indications, continues to circulate widely in China.

3. Prayer flags.

Aren’t they much more lovely than the strangely similar, but completely different, plastic bunting that hung outside of every tire store in America during the 1980s?

Prayer flags near Mingyong Glacier _

4. Construction and Destruction.

North Yunnan is being crisscrossed with new roads. New roads on steep mountain edges. New roads on steep mountain edges with retaining methods that often fail. We drove around many, many roads half-covered with rocks and soil. This is but one example of a failed retention system:

Landslide outside of Deqin _

5. The Way-Back Machine.

Water mills were dotted along many small, slopped roads. Stepping into one mill in-action, we witnessed a marvel of old-school, water-power.

View of the mill from outside.

View of the mill from outside.

View of the mill's interior hard at work.

View of the mill’s interior hard at work. Note that the vibrations of the grinding stone are used to slowly, but steadily feed additional grain into the grinding stones.

Hollowed-out log diverting water from the stream to the mill.

Hollowed-out log diverting water from the stream to the mill.

6. Toilets.

Yeah, I know taking pictures of toilets in China has been passé since at least 1992, but I love this old-school squatter:

Rustic, squatting toilet _

7. Fellow tourists.

Do not worry, I did manage to sneak in a few pictures of other tourists in, “I’m the king of the world!,” poses:

Fellow-tourist in Yunnan _

(Yes, my children are hiding under the platform. My ruses to catch this pic.)

Fellow tourist in Yunnan _

8. Monkeys.

We saw lots of wild Snub-Nosed Monkeys near Tacheng, in the suitably named “Snub-Nosed Monkey National Park.”

Yunnan Snub-Nosed Monkeys _

9. French priest badasses.

In the village of Cizhong, which rests above to Mekong River, there sits a Catholic church built over 100 years ago by enterprising French priests. They chose the site as the next best thing to Tibet (which they could not enter at the time). More about the church can be read at Travel Cathay’s blog post, “A Catholic Church in Buddhist land.”

Cizhong Catholic church _

A side building of the church also includes a number of old photographs of the first enterprising priests. Rather interesting characters, who somehow brought massive dogs and French wine grapes to remote China:

French priest in Cizhong Yunnan _ expatlingo

French priest in Cizhong with dogs _ expatlingo

Caption with photo of French priest with dogs _

“Raising fowl and livestock, especially their beloved hounds, brings enormous joy to their life.”

10. Free Birth Control at the Airport.

Finally, if you need to stock up on prophylactics or birth control pills, please stop by this handy kiosk in the Shangri-La Airport.

Birth control at Shangri-La Airport _

 If you want actual travel tips, perhaps you could buy a Lonely Planet (I didn’t, but thank you for getting me round India and Nepal in 1997!) or contact Songtsam (I did).

Also, for those waiting with bated breath: My child with a sensitive stomach was not carsick on Yunnan’s twisty roads. No, she kindly waited for the taxi ride home from the airport in Hong Kong to succumb. 

26 responses to “North Yunnan in 10 Marvelous Moments

    • Ha! I hadn’t thought about it that way (perhaps my son had a narrow escape!).

      The morning view was stunning. The nighttime sky was also amazing. With no electric lights in sight we could see so many stars.

    • It was truly the best squat toilet ever. The little board meant there was no “splash back” problem (a problem I frequently face in the usual porcelain models). It was also awfully fun to pee 15 feet down, as the toilet was cantilevered from the second floor over a downward sloping side yard.

    • What ESL student do you think dreamed up the phrase “Circumcise and Venerability”? Fingers cross it was some sort of horrible Google translate knock-off and not a real person armed with the world’s worst Chinese to English dictionary!

  1. Great post! Love the pics of tourist with their ‘I am the king of the world’ pose. Hilarious. You got lucky to see a cloudless sunrise on Mt Khawakarpo. I am pleased to see that the church has not changed a bit. How was the mass?
    Nice pics of the snub-nosed monkey. You stayed in Tacheng on your way back to Zhongdian.
    This tour of north Yunnan is very familiar to me. Did you tour the region with the Wong’s CERS? 🙂

    • We felt very luck to see that beautiful sunrise! As for the church, we weren’t in Cizhong on Sunday so we didn’t get to see a service.

      Our route was Zhongdian, Tacheng, Cizhong, Meili/Deqin, Benzilan and then back to Zhongdian. CERS looks to be an awfully cool organization that I hadn’t heard of (thanks for the tip!). No, we arranged in with a Tibetan guide via Songtsam.

  2. I read “Benzilan” as Brazilian. Also, I bet those snub-nose monkeys cure various ailments that don’t exist yet, according to various mainland medical practitioners…

    Also, aren’t Lonely Planet China books banned in China, even if you rip out the pages about Xizang and the like?

    • I took a Lonely Planet to China in 2005. Simply hid it under a Taiwanese flag that I lit on fire as I passed through customs. (Lonely Planets must be way, way down on the list of things they give a shit about, right?)

  3. I have been failing to adequately explain water mills to my children for over a year now. At first I thought it’d be easy but somehow I keep getting it wrong. We keep seeing decommissioned mills without moving parts and it’s just suddenly occurred to me someone must have put up a video of one on youtube by now and I’m probably stupid for not thinking of that sooner.

    I love your pictures, though, and I’m a teensy bit jealous your kids got to see one in real life.

    That dictionary is a revelation. I bet it exists.

    • We got up to 3600 meters overnight and got up to something like 4200 meters during the day. We didn’t suffer any altitude sickness (me, husband and two kids), but I know others who only went to 3200 who did. Id’ say just go, but plan in a spare day to acclimatize in case you feel ill. It was truly awesome. One of our best trips ever.

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