My Trip to Yunnan, China

I am spending 6 weeks in Yunnan, China, from early May to mid-June, 2008. I plan to visit Zhongdian (renamed Shangrila) and the villages nearby, to meet with the various local ethnic minority groups and live among the local people. The goals of my trip are to:

  1. learn about their history, culture and values, especially their views on economic development;
  2. determine the infrastructure needs (e.g. clean water, electricity, sewage, medical clinics, schools), if any, of these communities;
  3. examine feasibility of local involvement in building the infrastructure and operating business enterprises;
  4. learn about the traditional building methods, historic, cultural relics and natural environment that must be preserved;
  5. enable open communications between various stakeholders to jointly solve problems together.

I will report my findings to the Yunnan Mountain Heritage Foundation (, to help the Foundation build relations with the local communities, and to enable it better understand the needs of the nearby communities as it tries to improve their standard of living and economic well-being.

I hope to put photos and my travel journal on this site to share my experience with you all. Come back often to find the latest news.

New Photos of My Trip to Yunnan and Hong Kong

Dear all,

I arrived back in Santa Fe, NM the evening of July 1, 2008. The plane had to circle over Albuquerque for a while due to a rare thunderstorm. Other than that, the flights from HK to SFO to Las Vegas to ABQ went smoothly.

I am still trying to recover from jet-lag, sleeping from about 6 pm to 11 pm.

The link below leads you to my China trip photo album, some taken while in Hong Kong.

Have a nice summer,

Shangrila update – 12 June 2008?

See latest photos at:

Hello everyone,

I can’t believe I only have three more days here. I am running out of time to shop for souvenirs and pack them with my winter clothes and mail them by sea.

Yesterday almost the entire town shut down to watch and celebrate the Olympic Torch coming through town. I did not see it but I saw lots of people holding China national and Olympic flags, and shouting in support of China and the Olympics. The last few photos in this link were taken the night before, 10 June. They show the town’s people excitement in anticipation of the Torch’s arrival.

All the best,

Shangrila Update #3

Hello everyone,

It’s been a while since I last wrote. Things have been quite busy around here although 2 Sundays ago, I did manage to visit Bai Shui Tai (White Water Terrace), a limestone formation about 3 hours from here each way. The ride goes through narrow and curvy mountainous roads. Just the ride to/from there was quite exciting. The White Water Terrace was OK, may be if the whether has been sunnier, it would have been more impressive. Last Friday (30 May), I tied my weekly visit of the bee colonies at Hamugu with a hike behind the village, with PiChu the village leader as my guide. The day was sunny and bright, the wild flowers were in full blooms, and there were so many varieties I could not take photos of all of them. The bees should be happy with so many wild flowers to feast on. They seem to be doing well.

This latest additions to my photo album, ( include a photo of the baby kittens at the Shangrila Handicraft Centre. They were about 2 weeks old when this photo was taken.

The towns people are excitedly awaiting both the traditional horse racing day and festivities, as well as the arrival of the Olympic Torch. I have heard rumors that the horse racing day activities have been cancelled because it is too close to the date of the Olympic Torch coming through but I have also heard the locals would hold their own anyway. The date of the Torch arrival is also unclear, I have heard June 8/9/11/12. The people are so friendly and kind here I can’t imagine any problems arising from either event. I want to witness both events.

So long for now,

Shangrila Update #2

Hello from Shangrila,

This week was just as busy as last, but the weather improved a bit. Sunshine in the morning, rain in the afternoon, slightly warmer. I have never appreciated my 2nd Street Brewery hooded sweatshirt and Jerry’s Land’s End down jacket so much.

The highlight of this week was the addition of new baby kittens to the Handicraft’s Centre house cat Lily. The German intern Berit and I acted like new parents and went on the internet to learn about how to care for baby kittens. Lily is eating like a horse. Yesterday she decided my yogurt was much better than her cat food (dog food since we were not able to find cat food the last time we went to the store). Strange cat – we tried to feed her milk since it’s much cheaper than cat food but she won’t eat milk, yet she ate my yogurt. The attached photo showed Lily with her kittens, two black & white and one tan & white. There was a fourth, the first one to come out. She took very long to come out, Lily abandoned her so she did not make it.

The bee project is going well. The Hamugu villagers are very excited about starting the beekeeping project. Only 19 of the 20 bee colonies ordered survived the journey as one box tipped over while the van went through a flooded area. The sunny warmer weather is going to help quite a bit. The village is full of wild flowers right now. We hope to start collecting honey in a month.

I started teaching English to a 16-yr old Tibetan girl who runs a Tibetan weaving store with her mother and grandmother. She in turn is teaching me a little Shangrila Tibetan. I learned that the Tibetan language is not one language, it varies even just among the nearby towns.

Berit and I stay busy updating the Handicraft Centre’s store inventory and adding photos to it, and we continue to work on putting together a booklet on Yunnan herbal medicine in English, with photos, brief background description, indications and dosage.

We continue to do translations for local business owners, including one for a shop that sells grilled yak meat and mutton. We made a sign for them in English with the various meat offerings and prices.

Haven’t had a day off yet. Hope the weather cooperates tomorrow (Sunday) so I can do some hiking.

So long for now,


Shangrila Update #1

Dear friends & family,

I am starting my second volunteering for the Yunnan Mountain Heritage Foundation.

The first part of this week will be spend attending bee keeping training. A bee keeping expert is here helping Hamugu Village to raise bees for honey and other medicinal purpose as an enterprise. It should be fun as I like to learn stuff like this.

Thank you for all those who inquire about helping with school supplies. I hope to buy what I can afford this week. I continue to talk to people here and plan to visit mountain villages in the next few weeks. I have been told that the schools in the mountain villages are much greater.

I hope to identify a sustainable project plan to help the schools after my visits and doing more research.

Best regards,

p.s. It’s been cold and rainy all week. I am so glad I have my winter clothes and down jacket. The day I visited Hamugu village was the only day of sunshine all week. The bee expert is afraid the current weather is too cold to start the bee keeping project.

Day 3 at the Shangrila Arts & Craft Centre?

Hello again family & friends,

I started doing volunteer work for the Yunnan Mountain Heritage Foundation Monday 12 May 2008.

The first two days was spent doing translation for a local herbal store and a local hotel.

Yesterday I visited a nearby village. You will see new photos from this visit at the following link.

After yesterday’s visit, my immediate task is to translate from Chinese to English the description of this village for the village leader, to help him attract foreign visitors to his village. My near-term task is to help find labor and resources to install a donated solar hot water system and have a bathroom constructed at the village school house. Another near-term task, once I return to Hong Kong, is to solicit financial support for school supplies, including a DVD and a computer, for the village school house. My long-term task is to help the village leader write a business plan and solicit financial support to expand the village farms to grow expensive flowers for export.

As you see, I have been keeping myself quite busy and meeting people everyday. My Putonghua seems to be getting better, or at least I am able to communicate. I most enjoy joining in the traditional Tibetan dance at the town plaza in the evening. Santa Fe’s free music at the Plaza bandstand is good, but this is even better in uniting people. I will try to send a video later on, when I am not so busy dancing (more like stomping & hopping) myself.

More later,

Yunna Travels 2008

Dear Family & Friends:

I wish to thank everyone who emailed with concerns about my safety. The Great Power Above has been watching over me. Even though the epicenter is nearby, we at Zhongdian did not feel the earthquake at all. Typical of my usual oblivious self, I did not know anything until I started receiving messages to see if I was OK. Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart with your concerns and prayers for my safety. Oops, I run out of character limit. Bye.

More photos:

Day 2 in Kunming

Well, I was not able to find the guide-book advertised hot spring, not even swimming pool. That is the second time I have personally experienced (and getting fooled by) a Chinese hotel advertising in its hotel website a non-existent hotel swimming pool – most annoying.

Last night, I wandered into a Muslim neighborhood near the hotel and enjoyed a wonderful dish of bitter melon with pork – best bitter melon I ever had. It came with tea and rice, all for a mere 13 Yuan.

Today I got a even better deal – a whole bamboo tray of steaming meat & vegetable buns (Shiu Loang Bao) for 4 Yuan only! This may be the start of a new book – Eating well on the cheap and on the road.

I spent about 3 hours walking in the areas of CiuHu (Green Lake) and Yunnan University. I wanted to walk on the grounds of the Yunnan University but the guards would not not let me in, apparently not open to visitors.

I have to get up at 4 am to get to the airport in time for a 7 am flight to Zhongdian. If I miss it, the next flight is at 7 pm. It’s now almost 9:30 pm and I’ve got stuff lying all over my room. Hmm, I better start packing.

Attached is a sample of photos I took today. It was taken from my hotel room looking north, I think. I will upload my photos to a website later.


Arrived Safely in Kunming?

Dear friends & family,

Hello from Kunming, China. It has been a long trip but I finally got here.

I had a 12-hr layover in San Francisco in order to use a roundtrip freebie between Albuqurque & SFO, then had another 5.5 hr in Hong Kong. My total flight time of 15.5 hr (13+ hr SFO-HKG, & 2.5 hr HKG-KMG) was less than my layover time! Unless I am totally desperate, I don’t think I will ever choose a 12-hr layover. I was near nuts with boredom. Since I was by myself and had to lug my backpack, carryon & purse everywhere, I could not walk around much, other than the necessary biological relief.

The layover in Hong Kong was great. The highly efficient public transportation in HK allowed me to get from the airport to the City Center in less than 45 minutes, where I was able to meet my friend Miguel for breakfast, then went to my sister Caroline’s house for a much needed shower. Caroline was kind enough to accompany me back to the airport, just in time to catch my flight.

Once I reached Kunming, for a while, I was in a jam as I did not know the Chinese name of New Era Hotel. (Eventually I learned that it’s called Shen Tse Yuan). After getting through of where I needed to go, then it was trying to find the right price to the hotel. I had wanted to take the bus but was told that I would need a transfer. Again, given my heavy load, I decided not to try my luck. In spite of my poor Putonghua, I was able to bargain a little for a ride to the hotel. Hey 10 yuan is 10 yuan when you’re on a budget.

This hotel is supposed to have a hotspring so I will have to try it out. Tomorrow I will just walk around town, may be even be a little adventurous and try to get around by bus. I thought about joining a tour but decided to save my RMB’s.

So long for now. Will write again when there is interesting news to report and I have access to the internet.