We began our second day in Yunnan with a great breakfast at the Grand Hyatt Lijiang.
The breakfast buffet had a lot of well-prepared local specialties, including cornbread baked in corn husks (the two oblong yellow shapes below) and mixian.
Mixian means rice noodles and are an iconic dish of Yunnan. Unlike the rice noodles found in pho and pad thai, mixian are generally sold fresh, not dried.
Rice noodles don’t taste like anything on their own so the key is creating a spicy, sour broth. While whoever prepares your bowl will start it off for you, you often get to season your own broth from a condiments bar. I didn’t add anything to my bowl, which came with pickled vegetables, spicy ground pork, and chopped green onions. It was delicious and very comforting.
After breakfast we went to a live show we had heard a lot about, Impression Lijiang. Impression Lijiang was originally directed by Zhang Yimou, who also directed the explosively well-received Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Zhang Yimou’s main thing is being a film director, and he’s known for his cinematography style, which emphasizes visuals with stunning scale and detail. I think the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony was one of the only times traditional Chinese culture was presented to a mass international audience in a non-tacky manner (non-Chinese are not the only ones who inaccurately fetishize Chinese culture – Chinese people do it consciously and unconsciously as well) so I really liked the Opening Ceremony.
Well, Impression Lijiang sure wasn’t tacky, which was great. Was it worth the 345 RMB I paid to see it, though?
The tickets (general seating) were actually 280 RMB (around $40) but first we had to pay to get up the mountain where Impression Lijiang was performed, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. The price for adults is 130 RMB and the student price is 65 RMB. These prices are already unreasonably high, but it got worse. While we experienced many instances of people boldly and shamelessly ripping us off in Yunnan, this was worse.
First, me and Peace handed over our student IDs, expecting to get the student price. The park staff suddenly added a qualifier to the situation and demanded to see our passports. My mom had brought my passport with her but Peace had left hers in the hotel, because, like most Americans, she doesn’t carry her passport around with her everywhere in China and is clearly not of East Asian descent. The park staff then said they could not confirm that she was who her ID said she was (even though she was obviously the same person in the photo on the ID) and would not accept her ID, even though my ID, from the same university, was ok. I was disappointed with this experience because the employees were obviously trying to line their own pockets by making us jump through hoops they had created on the spot.
It is worth noting that while we saw thousands of tourists during our short time in Yunnan, less than 10 of them were visibly non-Asian, supporting Yunnan’s reputation as a domestic attraction.
Before we saw the show, we had time to explore Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is a super-prominent peak with amazing views, and is the southernmost glacier in the Northern Hemisphere. The air was clear and exhilarating.
As we walked around, we saw a number of abandoned, run-down houses. They were probably constructed with aspirations of becoming the next hot mountain resort like all those skiing destinations in the Alps, but that hasn’t happened.
Another unusable “feature” of the mountain:
The Impression Lijiang show itself had a good concept. The performers were locals, nonprofessional performers with other jobs, and showed us dancing, singing, drinking chants, and horse riding with a few tricks. There was narration romanticizing the lifestyle and history of the area and even some English subtitles. We got to see a variety of costumes.
The dances were not complicated and relied on repetition and formation but looked cool because there were many people moving together. The focus was on the energetic male performers but the women did sing a song about facing their labors with strength – in Naxi culture, women are expected to do all the hard work. Most dancers were Naxi and many men had long hair which they worse loose.
Impression Lijiang utilized the unique set well. The performers came from underground, from openings in the walls of the set, and from behind the audience. They danced to the top rim of the set or rode horses around it, making for a particularly spectacular scene with the craggy mountain peaks looming so close behind the tiny figures against a brilliant blue sky.
Tomorrow: more beautiful scenes from Jade Dragon Snow Mountain!