This is my longest absence from my blog since it began a little shy of four years ago. The first three weeks I was unable to access wordpress to post while I was in China on our SAIC summer Study Trip to Weishan, our wonderful Southern Silk Road town in Yunnan. The subsequent two weeks of inaction we can attribute to a combination of jet lag, illness and procrastination. But now, the wait is over, so a little about our trip to Yunnan and the excellent work of the 14 students who made the trip.
There they are – 3 teams of four students, including architecture grads Traci Wile, Racquel Davey and Rebekah Ison, working to develop plans to modernize a traditional courtyard house. This is not the first time this project has been attempted, but it is an important counterweight to the traditional tendency – in China as in the U.S. and Europe – to preserve buildings as museums. Buildings are only saved for long if they are used. In Lijiang, also in Yunnan, they kicked everyone out and made all the shops into tourist boutiques and all of the houses into museums and hotels. Consequently, the place has a Disney amusement park feel to it. Weishan, as yet less trammeled by tourism, is still a real place with real people doing non-tourist things every day. If we can demonstrate ways to make traditional houses competitive with the new construction going up on the periphery, we have a chance to shake an old and unsustainable model.
This is the group talking to the residents at 66 Bei street, whose ancestors were Ming officials that were banished to the relatively remote Yunnan province at some point. Everyone in Weishan was incredibly nice to us – granting us interviews and serving us tea as we tried to assess what modern conveniences were most important to people. The answer wasn’t always what you would expect. We assumed indoor bathrooms would be highest on the list, but that wasn’t always the case.
The trip would be IMPOSSIBLE without our faculty member Yunxia “Jingjing” Gao who serves as chief translator, negotiator, problem-solver and logistical maven as our group of 16-18 boarded overnight trains, planes, and buses as we wandered from Beijing to Xi’an to Kunming, Dali, Weishan and a place called Jianchuan we hadn’t seen before. There is a wonderful restored temple at Shaxi and some pretty unusual grottos in Jianchuan – including one to the female sex organ, which looks pretty much exactly as it sounds. Pictures aren’t allowed of the grottos themselves, so here is the setting:
I can’t finish today everything I want to say about yet another trip to China and Weishan, but I do have to comment on the food, which is always the greatest joy in China. My wife said I looked fit when I came home. That was because I ATE AS MUCH AS I WANTED ALL THE TIME. How so? Simple. All the food is fresh in Weishan, and there is no milk, cheese or dessert. Try this experiment – go to a restaurant in the U.S. (or Sweden, where it is even creamier) and order everything on the menu that DOESN’T have milk or cheese in it. You won’t get much.