Grandma’s Hanging Basket

September 19th, 2020
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“Mellow Dragon Well Tea” is my memoir which draws on  the selected anecdotes from my life – looking at my Family and the World through my eyes. I have pushed with passion beyond the limit of my family, trying to grasp the social and economic background as a whole. Thanks for your reading! Daniel Li.

Grandma’s Hanging Basket

“Grandma, Grandma, let me have a look at the hanging basket! Let me have a look at the basket”, I almost cried out to my grandma when I raised my head, looking at the basket high well above my head attached to a rope hanging from a roof beam.

Me and my Grandma

“Little Grandson ( I’m the youngest of her three grandsons), nothing in the basket!” said my grandma.

I was born in 1962, following the aftermath of the widespread famine between the years 1959 and 1961 in China (known as “three years of great famine”). As a little kid, I often felt hungry looking for something to eat. 

My parents couldn’t feed our three children during these difficult years, all of us the boys resembling three tigers with our stomachs like bottomless pits, always wiping out their monthly food ration coupons well in advance. My parents often asked for or borrowed various monthly coupons from friends, relatives or colleagues.

“Lao Er” literally means “old two” which refers to my elder brother and “Lao San”, literally “old three”, and it’s me. And “Lao Da” means “old big”, referring to my eldest brother.

One day I overheard my grandma said to my father, “Laojia is better. I take Lao Er and Lao San to Laojia where people have more opportunities to get food than here in the urban areas”. Laojia in Chinese literally means “old home”, here in particular the countryside village where my father was born and our ancestors had settled.

After a few hours’ slow train and then the transfer for the local bus, Lao Er and me, escorted by my grandma, finally got to Zhou Village in Shuyang, Jiangsu Province. The village is located north of Yangtze River. Historically the Subei Area ( namely the area north of Yangtze River in Jiangsu Province) is regarded as poor and backward.

Though the village living conditions at that time were much worse than Jiaxing where we lived with our parents, a city only one hour’s train ride down south from Shanghai, we did find something to feed us in the shabby village. The most popular food was sweet potatoes.

Potatoes were one of the local staple food both for villagers and pigs. The villagers had plenty of ways to eat them. My favorite was dried potatoes. Peeled, sliced and dried, the dried potato slices were sweet, soft and stoking a kind of nice feeling for chewing.

But dehydrated potato slices were not just snacks, they were the source for main food in the daily two meals. Dried potato slices were often cooked with beans. So daily two meals? Yes, in Subei Area, still now, we only have two meals a day, a heritage handed down from the hungry and difficult years.

The traditional way of making dried potato slices is known as “Feng Gan”, literally dehydrated by wind. Put sliced potatoes in a basket and hang it up, letting natural wind to dry them. It is said that potatoes dried this way are sweet and flavorful.

But in the hard years, potatoes in our Lao Jia (the village home) were not plentiful, often in short supply. The villagers had to carefully plan their daily two meals.

Raising my head and looking at the baskets hanging high up was my daily joyful expectation. My grandma, pointing at the baskets, and often said to me, “Nothing inside now, wait until tomorrow.”

Grew up, I understood that my grandma made the white lie to balance daily food and live by expectation.

My grandma died of stomach cancer at the age 76. Her doctor said my grandma had damaged her stomach by eating dirt to beat hungry when she was a kid.

September 18, 2020

Jiayuguan Trip, Trip to Jiayuguan

September 17th, 2020
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After dinner, we went to Lanzhou Railaway Station for a 11-hour train trip from Lanzhou to Jiayuguan. Lanazhou Railway Station is the only passenger railway station in Lanzhou. It is located below the Gaolan Mountain in the south of Chengguan District of Lanzhou, Gansu Province.

We were arranged to take the overnight Train K9661 starting at 08:38pm and arriving at Jiayuguan at 7:46 the next morning covering the total railway length of 770km. Now it was the tourism peak season here in Gansu Province, there were over a dozen of through or passing by trains linking the two important cities on the ancient Silk Road.

The orange coloured train looked much safer and more reliable.

The orange coloured train looked much safer and more reliable

I was waked up by the early morning sunlight creeping into our cabin. What caught my eyes were the passing by Qilian Mountain with snow capped peaks. 
 
Yes, the famous mountain would accompany us throughout the trip paralleling the the whole Hexi Corridor.
 
Qilian Mountain with snow capped peaks

Qilian Mountain with snow capped peaks

 

We arrived at Jiayuguan on time. Jiayuguan Railway Station was located 5km south of the city center.
 
Jiayuguan Railway Station

Jiayuguan Railway Station

After disembarking at Jiayuguan Railway Station, going through the city center, we went directly to Jiayuguan Hotel (嘉峪关宾馆) for a familiarization trip. It is a 4 star hotel with 177 rooms modernly equipped and elegantly furnished.

Add: No.01 Xinhua Road, Jiayuguan Tel: 0937 – 6201588 Fax: 0937 – 6227174. We were transferred to Jiayuguan Hotel (嘉峪关宾馆) for a fam trip.

 

A huge painted Jiayuguan Tourism Map hanging on the wall in the lobby of the hotel aroused my interest. The map clearly showed the layout of Jiayuguan City with the mapping of its rich tourist attractions.

Jiayuguan Downtown – Jiayuguan Airport ( 13km )

                     Jiayuguan Railway Station ( 5km )
                     Long Distance Bus Station ( 1.5km )
                     Jiayuguan Pass ( 4km )
                     Overhanging Great Wall (Suspension Great Wall ) 12km
                     The First Beacon Tower of the Great Wall ( 15km )
                     Wei Jin Underground Brisk Murals ( 18km )

                     July First Glacier ( 120km )

The Tourist Map of Jiayuguan City

The Tourist Map of Jiayuguan City

 

The next activity was the highlight of our fam trip in Jiayuguan, visiting the Jiayuguan Pass. Jiayu Pass ( Jiayuguan Fort ) was the first pass at the west end of the Great Wall of China. Built 1372,  Jiayuguan Fort was was christened as the first and greatest Pass under the Heaven. The pass consisted of three defense lines – an inner city, an outer city and a moat.

The fort was located at the narrowest point of the western section in Hexi Corridor ( 15km wide ) bound by Qilian Mountains and Hei Shan ( Black Mountains ). The fort had a perimeter of 733 meters with an area of more than 33,500 square meters. The total length of the city wall was 733 meters and 11 meters high.

Jiayuguan pass had two gates – East side ( Gate of Enlightenment ) and West side ( Gate of Conciliation ). On each gate there was a building with an inscription of “Jiayuguan” in Chinese written. Each gate had 17 m-high towers with double gates that had been used to trapping invading  armies. The south and north sides of the pass were linked to the Great Wall. There was a turret on each corner of the fort.

The West Gate of Conciliation

The West Gate of Conciliation

 
The unrepaired turret of the fort.

The unrepaired turret of the fort

 
The city wall of the pass.

The city wall of the pass.

 
The horse course way up to the pass

The horse course way up to the pass

 

Outside the wall of the pass.

Outside the wall of the pass

 
After finishing the tour of Jianyuguan, we moved on to the south of the pass and got to the first beacon tower of Great Wall of China. The first beacon tower was built 1539 by an local military officer stationed in Hexi Corridor.
 

 

People were taking photos of the First Beacon.

 
Now we were driving along the highway from Jiayuguan to Dunhuang at the driving distance of 385km.

Any questions, just drop a line.

Langmusi Trip, My Trip to Langmusi

September 16th, 2020
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“Langmusi” in Chinese literally “Langmu Temple”. But actually it is the name of the small town bordering Gansu in the north and Sichuan in the south. “Langmu” in Tibetan means “Fairy”. The legend has it that once a fairy was discovered in a cave near the village.

With a population of over 3,000, the town is now mainly inhabited by Tibetans, Han and Hui people. The town of Langmusi is only composed of one main street with a stream known as “White Dragon River” passing along the street. The area of north of the stream belongs to Gansu Province while the south to Sichuan.

The rural town is nestled in a valley between the north and south hills along steep grassy meadows, evergreen forests and snow-capped peaks. Langmusi has two Tibetan Temples and one Muslim Mosque. They are:

Sertri Gompa – The temple is located on northern hill ( on Gansu side ).
Kirti Gompa – The temple is on the southern hill (Sichuan side)
Hui Mosque – located close to the Sichuan side temple near the entrance gate to Kirti Temple.

It is easy to spend a few days here exploring the numerous red and white monastery buildings and hiking around the green mountains. The surrounding mountains reminds people of the rural Austria or Bavaria and ideal for hiking and horsetrek.

We took the chartered coach and drove 230km directly from Xiahe, to Langmusi. We only had a few hours exploring the town of Langmusi. Because Langmusi is very close to the fringe of Rouergau Grasslands, we kindly requested our driver to pass by Langmusi itself and went to further to the grassland first. So we drove another 20km via Langmusi to the edge of Ruoergai Grassland.

Ruoergai Grassland is located in the north of Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan Province, and borders Maqu, Luqu of Gansu Province. It is on the east edge of Tibet-Qinghai Plateau with an altitude between 3000 and 3600 meters.

Ruoergai Grassland is said to be the fourth largest grasslands in China after Hulun Buir Grassland in Inner Mongolia, Yili Grassland in Xinjiang and Xilinguole Grassland in Inner Mongolia. Ruoergai Grassland belongs to the kind of alpine meadow, also one of the China’s three largest wetlands, covering 10436.58 square kilometers.

 
 
Ruoergai Grassland, a field of wildflowers

Ruoergai Grassland, a field of wildflowers

 
I’de been to some mesmerizing grasslands elsewhere in China, like Narat Grassland, Gegentala Grassland and  Mulan Weichang Grassland.
 
In comparison, Ruoergai Grassland is neither the greenest nor a fertile grassland, but what catches my eyes and makes my excited is its numerous wild flowers. I felt quite shamed to be unable to name most of the flowers, which I had to call them wildflowers of grassland.
 
Then we drove back to the Town of Langmusi for lunch.  Our lunch was arranged at the Chinese restaurant of Langmusi Binguan (Langmusi Hotel), the best hotel in the town (0941 – 6671086). The hotel is located in the middle section of the area between Gansu side and Sichuan side.
 

Langmusi Binguan ( Langmusi Hotel )

 
After lunch, I went out of the courtyard of Langmusi Binguan, and saw three monks sitting by the gate leisurely.
 
I approached them with a sudden idea of taking a photo with them, they were pleased to agree to my request, hence the only photo with my image during the day trip.
 
Posed with three monks by the gate to Langmusi Binguan

Posed with three monks by the gate to Langmusi Binguan

 
Just outside Langmusi Hotel, on my right side is the main street in the town teemed with restaurants, shops and crowds of tourists. On my left side is the bumpy road leading up to the Kirti Gompa  – the temple is on the southern hill  (Sichuan side).
 
Opposite Langmusi Hotel is the ticket office selling the tickets for the entry to the temple on Sichuan side. Not far from the ticket office is the only Muslim mosque in the town.
 
The ticket office at the crossroad, a little bit shabby. People inside the house would shout at the visitors and stop them for ticket buying since almost nobody would recognize it was a ticket office!

The ticket office at the crossroad

 
We had to skip Sertri Gompa  – the temple is located on northern hill ( on Gansu side ) due to our limited time in Langmusi. We decided first to visit Kirti Temple, then have a look at the mosque, lastly have a walk around the main street in the town.
 
By the side of the road, a row of prayer wheels housed for people to spin for peace and prosperity.
 
On the southern mountain, we saw a few people standing high on the hill with the backdrop of white clouds, green alpine meadows.

people standing high on the hill with the backdrop of white clouds, green alpine meadows.Kirti Gompa, built 1413 and home to about 700 monks. There are 4 major temples in the monastery.  \When we arrived at the monastery, we found a group monks debating in front of the main hall.

 
This scene reminded me of the debating at Sera Temple  in Lhasa, Debates are practiced by the lamas in the monastery every day. In a battle of words, they further their efforts by using a variety of gestures including clapping their hands, pushing their partners for an answer and more gestures.
 
A group of monks debating in front of the main temple in the monastery.

A group of monks debating in front of the main temple in the monastery.

In a battle of words, they further their efforts by using a variety of gestures

In a battle of words, they further their efforts by using a variety of gestures.

 
 
Inside the hall, we also found a group of monks sitting on the ground and debating. It is not easy to be a monk!

a group of monks sitting on the ground and debating

Three monks after debating

 
There are more temples of various sizes in the Kirti monastery.

More temples in the Kirti Gompa

 
 
One temple in Kirti Gompa

One temple in Kirti Gompa

 
Standing on the high place in the compound of the Kirti Gompa, we had a clear view of the Sertri Gompa in the northern hill on Gansu side. It was a pity that this time we had no time visiting the Gansu side temple in Langmusi.
 
Sertri Gompa  – the temple is located on northern hill ( on Gansu side ).

Sertri Gompa – the temple is located on northern hill ( on Gansu side ).

 
From Kirti Gompa here on the southern hill, we overlooked the narrow town bound by the hills in the north and south.
 
Langmusi Town is bound by the mountains in the north and south.

Langmusi Town is bound by the mountains in the north and south.

 
 
The green hills are a perfect place for hiking treks and horse riding. All these activities would be my next trip.

The green hills are a perfect place for hiking treks and horse riding

 
 
Below the monastery was the living quarters of Tibetans with simple and shabby houses.

the living quarters of Tibetans

 
the living quarters of Tibetans 1

the living quarters of Tibetans

 
the living quarters of Tibetans 2

the living quarters of Tibetans 2

 
A  young  monk

A young monk

A monk and his car

A monk and his car

 
 
The White Dragon River coming from the south hill and passing through the Tibetan living area down to the street in the town.
 
The White Dragon River coming from the south hill

The White Dragon River coming from the south hill

 
I walked along the White Dragon River on the bumpy road back to the main street in the town.
 
At the ticket office, I turned right for a glimpse of the only mosque in the town. The mosque was built 1943 by the descendants of ethic groups of Hui, Dongxiang who came here on business.
 
The mosque was built 1943

The mosque was built 1943.

 
The street of Langmusi Town was dusty.  The narrow street was riddled with stores, restaurants and inns.

The street of Langmusi Town was dusty

 
This was the famous Amdo Coffee on the main road in Langmusi.

Amdo Coffee

 
Leisha’s Reasturant ( 0941 – 6671179) is a wonderful place offering fresh apple pies, yak burgers and Yunnanese coffee.

Leisha’s Resturant

 
 
Any questions, just drop a line.