Ken, Ellen and Bei in China

Ken, Ellen and Bei spent a year in Lijiang, Yunnan teaching English. This is a place where we kept in touch with everyone while we were away. If you'd like to comment we'd love to hear from you on e-mail. Send to You can view more photos on Flickr at

Location: Laramie, Wyoming, United States

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Adoption in China - Revising Life Stories

27 October 2005

Bei (then Gan Feng Jie) at the Social Welfare Institute in Feng Cheng City in late 2001 or early 2002 (photo taken by the SWI).

Bei (back right in pink shirt) with other kids at the Social Welfare Institute (photo taken by the SWI).

Part of our motivation for coming to China this year was, of course, that China is our daughter Bei’s home country. The Chinese are immensely curious about Bei and they are surprisingly confused when they see her with us—two obviously white parents. There is little shyness in China about staring, and people stand on the street looking back and forth from Bei to Ellen to me in confusion. If it is just one of us with Bei they may ask if the absent parent is Chinese. The relief of understanding a mystery leaps onto their faces when we tell them that Bei is adopted (“Ta shi shou yang de.” – “She is adopted.”) and the reaction is always a thumbs-up or an expression of how lucky Bei is, to which we reply that we are the lucky ones.

Curious kids crowd around Bei in Feng Cheng after her adoption to inspect a Chinese girl with obviously foreign parents.

During our train ride from Shanghai to Kunming we passed directly through Bei’s hometown just after dawn on a dreary Sunday morning. Feng Cheng is a small, nondescript, typical southeastern Chinese city, with concrete apartment buildings and stores surrounded by rice paddies and, in this part of the Jiangxi Province, coal mines. Evenly spaced trees line the highway that follows the railroad tracks, and a few trucks and bicycles moved along it in the early morning. I snapped some blurry photos through the train window to save for Bei, who was still sleeping.

Feng Cheng City at dawn on a rainy day, viewed through the train window.

In one field I saw a man with a little girl about Bei’s age and, as we passed, he hoisted her onto his shoulders for the walk back into town, much as we often carry Bei when she is too tired to walk. I couldn’t help but think about how easily Bei could have been that girl, living an utterly different life in China, instead of sleeping through the dawn in a soft sleeper train bed with two American parents. And I couldn’t help but imagine that somewhere in that town, maybe even within sight of the rail line, Bei’s birth mother was busy making breakfast, unaware that the one-day old girl she had left at a Feng Cheng school gate in 2001 was passing through town and dreaming four year old dreams in English.

It is not just foreigners who adopt children in China, and it has been interesting to learn that adoption here is viewed quite differently than it is in the U.S. One of the most surprising things that we have discovered, initially through conversations with our friend Wei Hong in Shanghai (the wife of our American instructor there), is that in China adoption is often a huge secret kept from the adoptive child for as long as possible. In fact, it isn’t a stretch to imagine adopted people living their entire lives here without ever knowing that they were adopted. And remarkably, according to Wei Hong, who has an adopted cousin, everyone else in the family and in the family’s social circle except the adopted child knows the truth.

Of course our philosophy in the U.S. about sharing the adoption story (domestic or foreign) is quite the opposite—we start talking about adoption and birth parents from the earliest opportunity so that it isn't a big surprise for the child. Our thinking is that if the child is aware of adoption from the beginning, they integrate this identity as they grow up with their adoptive parents and they avoid dealing with an unanticipated sea change in the context of their lives upon discovery of their history. And of course there is an implicit understanding by us that adoption is not shameful or something to be hidden away.

So why do the Chinese take the opposite approach—hiding this enormous truth, a huge elephant in the closet?? I can speculate based on a few conversations, some reading and the results of an assignment that I gave my second year writing students here in Lijiang.

An obvious hypothesis is that there is a sense of shame in China about adoption—aren’t big secrets often related to a need to hide something shameful? But if this were the case, why would everyone except the child be let in on the secret? This suggests that perhaps the parents are not themselves ashamed, but feel that the child’s very history might be shameful for the child. To them, keeping the truth a secret may be a design to protect the child.

One could imagine that protecting the child from shame by keeping the secret may have something to do with trying to save “face” for the adopted child. The concept of face in China is more important than it is for us in the U.S. (though we have it), and perhaps there is a belief here that an adopted child would experience a loss of face upon finding out about her history. This does not seem a huge stretch. In the book, “Encountering the Chinese – A Guide for Americans,” the authors (Hu and Grove, 1999) put it this way:

As people grow into adulthood, they gradually adopt certain claims regarding their own characteristics and traits, and they learn to make these claims, implicitly and sometimes explicitly, to others. People also learn to recognize other individuals’ implicit claims about themselves and to accept (or in some cases to appear to accept) those claims…This set of claims, or line, of each person is his or her face.
Face is important in China because of the nature of society here (according to Hu and Grove). In contrast to the relatively transient social relationships in the U.S. and some other western countries, the Chinese are strongly tied to their families and social groups for their entire lives, with relatively less mobility than us. As a result, it is critical to maintain these relationships, which means maintaining a stable self image – “face.” In a sense, losing face means losing status in your entire social support group – almost like being exiled.

But does this really apply to the dilemma of whether to tell a child about adoption or to keep it a secret? It seems to me that if a child’s identity includes early knowledge of adoption, then there is no issue of “face” since there would be no catastrophic change of self image (loss of face) for the child within the child’s family and social group upon revelation of her story. So maybe this concept doesn’t explain the issue after all.

An explanation offered by Wei Hong for the secrecy in her family was that the parents feared that if a child knew she was adopted, she might love her parents less. This viewpoint is supported by at least some of the students in my classes who, aside from representing the relatively rare slice of the Chinese population that goes to college, come from all over the China and offer a geographic cross-section of Chinese thinking among their generation.

Ying Zhou Na, a writing student, explains it like this (unedited):

If I adopt a child, I won’t tell her that she is adopted. I think it is not necessary to tell her who are her birth parents. I also can give her a warm family, as good as her birth parents could do. I’m afraid that she will be sad at hearing the news that she is adopted. She may keep silent to us later. To keep secret to her is better than to tell her the truth, I believe. Personally speaking, I don’t want to tell her the truth either. As I consider that it may affect our close relationship.
The writing is a little clumsy, but you get the idea. And this sentiment was expressed by many students in my classes. But other students refute this and suggest another reason for keeping secrets that seems to come closer to the heart of the issue for the Chinese I’ve talked with.

Wang Hai Lian writes (again, unedited):

By tradition, Chinese parents always not tell their adopted children who are adopted. It is not because they are afraid the adopted children loved them less, but it will be hurt the children’s heart and do harmful of children’s growth. In my opinion, if the family have several children who are birth children and adopted children, the parents should not have to tell the child who are adopted. If the family have only adopted child, maybe they have lots of adopted child, the parents should have had to tell the children. Even if the children and parents were become close friends maybe child could keep touch with birth parent but they always loved and close with their adoptive parents. I known my uncle have two daughter. So he give his little daughter to other people who haven’t child. After fourteen years, my uncle went to her home and wanted her called him father. I don’t know when her adopted parents told her that she were a adopted child, but her only told my uncle: “I only have one family and one parents. I never know you and never wants to know you.”
Many students shared this opinion. To tell a young child the truth about adoption would break the child’s spirit and taint their view of the world. All children should see their world as a beautiful and happy place with no lurking shadows to darken their days. To these students the illusion of a perfect world for a child is the most important thing. This central philosophy of a sacred happy childhood was repeated in paper after paper as well as in class discussions. When a child is young, their ability to cope is low and adoption truth could be catastrophic.

This, of course, implies that the truth about adoption, while fundamentally devastating, can perhaps be swallowed when a person grows to maturity with the strength built upon the foundation of an idyllic childhood. The majority of students felt that eventually, an adoptee should be told the truth. When pressed, they surmised that “eventually” meant when they were fully mature adults.

Sui Shanru summed this view up like this:
I think adoptive parents should tell their child that she is adopted when she is old enough. After all, the adoption is a fact that they must face. So, we must tell them. But we must choose a suitable time at the same time. Because, in my opinion, they are pure when they are young. They should live happily. We should make them believe that the world is wonderful. The persons around them are kind and love them. I also think a little child don’t have the ability to distinguish right and wrong. They are easy to do something wrong. If they know the fact early, they may be self-abased. And they will think, “Why my birth parents abandoned me?” So they will give up themselves. They can’t understand even though their birth parents had some difficulties that they are reluctant to discuss or mention. So, as for this question, I think the adoptive parents should tell their child that she is adopted when they grow old enough to think deeply.
Hou Jun Ping from the Gansu Province agrees:

For my part, I think adoptive parents should tell their child the truth. The child has the right to know everything about himself. If I were a adoptive mother, I would tell my child he is adopted. I won’t tell him when he is young. One of my aunt’s daughters was adopted at 2 years old by another aunt. My aunt is kind to her and kept the secret for a long time. At last, my aunt told my adopted cousin the truth. My cousin said, “Mum, I knew I’m not your birth daughter early, then I was unhappy. Now I understand you. I’m your birth daughter and you are my birth mother.” Now my cousin has two [sets of] parents. She lives a happy life. The adoptive parents should tell their child that she is adopted.
But an adopted girl, Peng Yan, from one of my writing classes, refuted many of the arguments of her peers:

In my opinion, adoptive parents should tell their children that they are adopted. Because when they grow up to be a teen, they must think lots of things that making them very sad. But if they told their children the truth when they were a small child, it might be a habit: [become internalized] they know they are adopted but they don’t care.
It is just my opinion, because I am a adopted child, too. I was very young. I learned the truth by my mother. Although sometimes I am sad that I was adopted, I knew that my adoptive parents love me very much, especially my mother. She makes me very happy and I don’t feel different with others. I appreciate her of course. I love them as if they are my birth parents.
Zhang Lu Yan supports this idea but describes a more ambitious course of moral and political development for her future adopted child, a “brave boy”:

If I had an adopted child, I would tell him that he was adopted. I said “he” because I had a wish that one day I could adopt an African boy. I want to adopt an African boy because there are many kids homeless and ill or starve to death everyday in Africa. I want to adopt a boy because I think boys are more brave than girls. I will teach him everything when he is young. I want him to be tough-minded. I want him to be responsible. I want him to have strong self-respect. So I teach him at his youth. When he grows up he should be prepared to face himself, to face his country and to devote to his country. Thus, I will tell him that he is adopted with no hesitation. It’s my choice to adopt him, but it’s his choice to decide what he can do to the world when he can rely on his own effort.

As westerners steeped in individualism we have confidence in the strength of our children and in their ability to grow strong in the shelter of our love, with full knowledge of their adoption histories. Life books, adoption stories, heritage camps and early musings about birth mothers are part of our roadmap. And of course for us, this system feels like the right path. And I think it is. But as I glimpsed the little girl and her father, walking home between rice paddies outside of Feng Cheng in southeastern China, how could I to know what her life might be like? For me and Ellen and Bei, the train left Feng Cheng on it’s way west to a different life.

Bei in Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

October Holiday 3 -- Zhongdian (Shangri La)

22 October 2005

In the Tibetan language our third holiday destination is called Gyelthang. In Chinese it is Zhongdian and, in the language of capitalist tourist-mongers, it has been crowned Shangri La because of it’s alleged proximity to the setting of James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon. In fact, Shangri La (or Shangri Li La as the locals call it) seems to be migrating south. The Lonely Planet travel guidebook pins the name on the smaller town of Deqin further north and closer to the Tibetan border, but everyone else we’ve talked to both in Lijiang and in Zhongdian itself, affixes the name firmly and officially to Zhongdian.

In any case, Zhongdian (as I’ll call it) has characteristics of all three names. It offers a first taste of Tibet for those of us who have not yet traveled closer to the “autonomous region”: yak carcasses litter the sidewalks and large Buddhist temples occupy the surrounding hills and villages. Zhongdian also has a bustling and nondescript Han Chinese “new town” where concrete and tile buildings line wide, busy streets. Finally, a significant investment in tourism (Shangri La) is evident in the renovated but still small and attractive “old town,” and in new hotels and roads in and around Zhongdian.

Overall, Zhongdian feels more like a frontier town than other places we've been. Sprawl is limited (for now) and there is high, open country all around. Tourism, though certainly significant, has not yet overwhelmed Zhongdian, and as soon as you are outside of the town proper, you are among herders moving yaks and goats through beautiful green valleys and pastures.

We spent a couple of days here and visited a large monastery complex just outside of town (Ganden Sumtseling Gampa), a smaller but older temple (Dabao Si) near a Tibetan village, and a third temple a short walk from our old town guesthouse. And we enjoyed the best chocolate brownies with ice cream that we’ve had since Shanghai. Maybe this really is Shangri La.

The driver collecting bus fare on the ride from Baishuitai to Zhongdian. The cigarette is standard. Bus drivers smoke while they drive, doctors smoke while they examine you, and basketball referees smoke while they run up and down the court, removing their cigarettes only to swerve, make injections or blow their whistles, respectively.

A yak boneyard on a sidewalk in Zhongdian. As one gets closer to Tibet, yaks become a more common menu item and restaurants serving yak pile up the unused parts out front. Some of the displays are much more impressive than this one, but I neglected to get a shot until we were on our way out of town, so I had to settle for a couple of skulls and a backbone. Yak meat is delicious, by the way. And boiled, sweetened yak milk is good in coffee.

The biggest monastery in Zhongdian is just outside of town and apparently resembles the Potala in Llasa. This monastery is called the Ganden Sumtseling Gompa and is occupied by 500 - 600 monks (and overrun by about 6000 tourists, including us). It's a beautiful place (despite the tourists) and it's possible to find hidden corners and stupa courtyards where there are no people. One is left longing to go to Tibet.

A building at the monastery. The grass roofs serve three purposes. First, they symbolize closeness to nature and life; second, they keep animals from climbing into the interior walls and third, they protect the adobe walls from eroding. I'm not entirely sure how a grass roof accomplishes all these things, but that is what we were told.

A scene near the living quarters of some monks.

More cooking paraphernalia near the monk's quarters. For monks, as for many of us men, cleaning the dishes after meals is apparently less important than creating aesthetically interesting piles of debris.

The monasteries are rich in altars as one would predict. Some, like this one, are simple, while others feature elaborate and complex collections of offerings, carvings, textiles and photographs.

This scene was inside a portion of the Ganden Sumtseling Gompa where no women are allowed. That must be because the monks don't want the women to see where all of the golden ladles went. The room was dark and sooty and focused around a wood stove where the monks could relax, secure in the knowledge that if anyone offered them soup, they'd be able to serve it right up.

Noodles are apparently another big part of a monk's diet. These were stacked at Dabao Si, the old monastery further outside of Zhongdian than Ganden Sumtseling Gompa. Are monks typical bachelors? In my youth I ate noodles for hundreds of consecutive meals despite no strong religious affiliation.

I awoke early one morning and walked up a hill behind old town Zhongdian where I discovered a small monastery. I was lucky to be there for the sunrise, and although prayer flag pictures have become trite, the morning light was too pretty to resist. In fact, it was perhaps my nicest experience in Zhongdian--sitting quietly high above town as locals walked up the hill to worship in the morning chill. From below, the sounds of the new city waking up seemed far away and the mountains leading to Tibet on the skyline seemed close.

A worshipper hikes up the hill from new town Zhongdian.

These prayer flags at the Dabao Si (temple) covered a hillside so thickly that one had to stoop and crawl for hundreds of yards to pass beneath them.

Bei makes friends easily. While several of us milled around near Dabao Si talking about lunch options, Bei befriended this kind soul who seemed pleased, if slightly self concious, to have been selected by her.

Tibetan houses feature huge wooden posts and beams. Where they come from is a mystery, since large trees in China seem to have been thoroughly removed. Apparently some can still be found. There was a lot of construction around Zhongdian using posts and beams that were up to a couple of feet in diameter. Bei took a rest on this pile near Dabao Si before we went across the field to see some goats and feed them peanuts.

This little girl was sitting with a crowd of adults near Dabao Si during a lunchtime meeting.

And these three came to see us off as we left in our hired mini-van.

Though evocative of Tibet, the enormous prayer wheel in the center of old town Zhongdian is really just a gaudy tourist attraction. But apparently local Buddhists also like it and climb the hill to spin it using big cables that dangle from the wheel to the ground. Prayer wheels are always spun clockwise (at least here in the northern hemisphere).

Crop drying racks on the outskirts of old town Zhongdian at dawn. It's autumn and these racks are everywhere loaded with root vegetables, corn, and other crops that we can't identify.

Monday, October 17, 2005

October Holiday 2 -- Baishuitai and Haba

17 October 2005

Between the northern end of Tiger Leaping Gorge where the Yangze emerges into a broad valley and the Tibetan-esque city of Zhongdian (a.k.a. Shangri La), a road wriggles relentlessly through steep mountains and valleys as it climbs onto the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. A five-hour bus ride takes one past small villages, terraced fields, pine forested ridges and finally, across high rolling plains into Zhongdian. We traversed the road twice after finishing our Gorge hike. On the way north en route to Zhongdian we spent a night in the small village of Baishuitai (White Water Village), famous for its travertine terraces. On the way south, returning to Lijiang at the end of the holiday, we stayed in a guesthouse above Haba, south of the slightly smaller Baishuitai.

Both villages cling to the eastern flanks of the Haba Snow Mountain, the high, glaciated peak whose southern slopes plunge into the Tiger Leaping Gorge. By appearance, neither village is prosperous, with run-down adobe buildings, a few hotels lining the highway and local men shooting pool, cigarettes dangling, on tables huddled beneath tarps rigged to keep out the drizzle. On both sides of the road, where steep mountain terrain has been carved into terraces, cornfields lush with mature stalks rattle in the fall breeze. Farmers worked the fields to extract corn between the rain showers (some of the corn is ground in water-driven mills and the rest stored in the stone and wood barns forming part of each courtyard home in the villages).

We stayed in Baishuitai for one night and in Haba for two. Baishuitai, though not without redeeming qualities (the old village below the highway is nice), is an example of how tourism can destroy the very thing that drew the tourists in the first place. Locals on the highway gesture frantically as you pull into town, desperate to lure you to their guest house or restaurant. The travertine terraces (the main attraction) above town are guarded by a ticket booth where alert employees watch hawkishly for dishonest customers, and crowds of people, selling everything from walnuts to photo opportunities, surround you as you fight your way towards the entrance. From the ridge above town local enforcers scan the hills with binoculars and communicate by radio with roving guards to prevent anyone from (God forbid) sneaking around the ticket booth and dodging the 30 yuan entry fee.

Once you’ve paid and begun your walk up to the slightly trashed, Yellowstone-like flowstone, you are accosted by 1) men offering to take you up the short trail on their horses, 2) men offering to carry you (king-like) up the path on wicker chairs crudely bound to stout carrying poles, 3) outhouses requiring additional payment should you be so unlucky as to have to pee, 4) women dressed in traditional clothing asking for money to photograph them posing unnaturally and 5) “Buddhist” shrines where one is asked to purchase incense sticks as offerings (to the God of capitalism??). After a night in a guesthouse where a narrow, dark and slippery path led to the only bathroom, a filthy wooden outhouse, we gratefully boarded the bus north the next day.

Haba, on the other hand, was considerably nicer than Baishuitai, even in the rain, probably because it was not blessed with anything so unusual as travertine flowstone. At the recommendation of Jacqueline, who had stayed there before, Ellen, Bei, Susanna, Ned and I lodged at a guesthouse above town at the edge of the forest. There is a significant population of the Hui minority—a group of Chinese Muslims that are scattered across Yunnan—living in Haba and the guest house itself was run by a Hui family. Really for us it was like staying in a farmer’s bed and breakfast, and aside from a half-day hike partway up Haba Snow Mountain before the clouds dropped, we occupied ourselves by huddling around the cook fire (the weather was cold and damp) in the kitchen and exploring around the farm. Ellen’s Chinese allowed her talk quite a lot with Assamei, the woman who ran the guest house. They exchanged English and Chinese lessons and learned about family trees and the details of daily living. In the background megaphones on the roof of the nearby schoolhouse blasted out Muslim prayers perhaps with higher frequency than typical since it was Ramadan.

The bus from Baishuitai to Zhongdian. We traversed this route twice staying first at Baishuitai on the way north and then at Haba on the way south. Bei's behavior on buses is variable--sometimes she is relatively calm, other times she struggles mightily against some unknown foe (us?) in her boredom. It's funny how adults can be fully entertained looking out of a bus window and kids have no interest.

Finally freed from the bus Bei helps out by hauling my camera bag to our guesthouse in Baishuitai.

Baishuitai's claim to fame: travertine terraces perched on a hillside above town. One has to contort oneself to find a photograph free of touts, signs and fences at this tourist destination.

Another view with the valley in the background. The valley was beautiful with terraced fields extending down steep terrain towards the Yangze River to the south.

A brave wildflower that has survived the feet of passing tourists.

Terracing in the valley below.

The village of Baishuitai was nicer than the tourist area by far. Here tobacco dries in a barn.

The ubiquitous eave decorations on a house in the village.

A detail from the entryway to a courtyard home.

From Baishuitai we headed north to Zhongdian for several days (I'll post pictures from that part of the trip soon) and then returned south to Haba on our way home. Here Bei helps Assamei, the guesthouse manager, with some work in one of the food storage buildings.

The uncle with his bull. Earlier in the trip at Baishuitai, we saw a large bull tethered along the trail to the terraces. Bei asked, "Is that a boy cow or a girl cow?" "That's a boy cow," we replied. "What is that thing hanging down?" Bei asked. Ellen and I looked at each other as we formulated our response to a classic parenting moment. "Well Bei," replied Ellen bravely, those are called testicles and all boys have them." "All boys have those things in their noses??" Bei responded with concern.

The uncle watching from the barn where the bull spends the night. Ellen reported that each time she was alone with the uncle around the fire in the kitchen he would launch into a pantomine of a violent interaction he had with a bull that Ellen thinks left him without his hearing.

I hiked partway up Haba Snow Mountain behind the guesthouse hoping to achieve treeline. Before too long I was stopped by rain, fog and a diffuse trail that faded into thick cloud forest. But the hike was nice. This area had been logged off and supported grazing yaks and woodcutters. Most of this part of China it seems has been logged--big trees are nearly nonexistent.

A man carries a load through the rain to his cabin high above Haba.

A basket and harvested corn in the barn at the guesthouse.

This guy lived in a tiny stone hut near the guesthouse with his wife. As I walked by exploring he emerged and let me take his photo.

We spent a lot of time in the family kitchen/dining room. The room was focused on an iron hearth and cook fire and was otherwise dark but for light that came in through a dirty window or the roof vents that allowed smoke to escape. Here the grandmother works preparing breakfast.

Baskets on the kitchen wall lit by morning light from the window.

Assamei's son warms up by the fire before heading off to school for the day. We spent a lot of time sitting on low stools around this fire as it rained outside.

This is the local Muslim schoolhouse. Assamei gave us a little tour of the Hui settlement and we got to poke our heads into the school.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

October Holiday 1 -- Tiger Leaping Gorge

9 October 2005

If the legendary namesake of Tiger Leaping Gorge (Hutiao Xia) were to make its impossible leap across the raging Yangze River (Jinsha Jiang) now rather than in times of old, it would be to escape the hundreds of tourists pouring from noisy buses above the leap point, rather than from hunters in chase. The recent addition of a road, cut into the steep southern flanks of the Gorge, provides access for tour groups that disgorge, march to the river, snap a photograph, and then slog back to their buses to be whisked to the next point of interest.

Luckily for us and for other moderately ambitious tourists, the upper trail through the Gorge, while popular, remains far above the masses, noise and exhaust. We set out for Qiatou, the start point, on the first day of our October Holiday and spent 3 days walking across steep slopes and relaxing in the comfortable guest houses that are scattered along the route. The hike could be done in a day, but why hurry when there are such nice places to sleep and eat? It’s hard to beat sitting on a deck perched high above the river, sipping a cold Dali beer and trying to pick out an imaginary route up the complex north face of Yulung Snow Mountain as bits of it are revealed through the swirling fog.

Tiger Leaping Gorge is a 16 km long canyon pinched between the Yulong Xueshan on the south and the Haba Xueshan on the north. Between the Yangze River raging through rockslide debris in the canyon bottom and the glaciated summits of the two peaks are 3900 vertical meters of complex limestone and marble buttresses, crashing waterfalls, thickly forested slopes, talus fields and bamboo stands. There are probably many other places in Yunnan that are as spectacular, but few that are as logistically easy to enjoy.

Our trip is probably best described with photos. We are at the tail end of the rainy season and clouds still obscure the views and dull the light, but these pictures may give a taste of the trip.

The trip started at the bustling little town of Qiaotou (chow-toe) up a small tributary to the Yangze at the western end of the hike. Our first order of business, after fighting our way to the trailhead through the tangle of tour buses, was to hire a ride for Bei, since long walks are not yet part of her repertoire. The going price for a day -- 100 yuan ($12.50 U.S.) and we quickly tapped into a group of donkey drivers who were eager for the money. So eager that they fought among themselves until we threatened to just leave. Somehow that solved the problem and we set off.

The trail is popular, especially at holiday time when all of China is on vacation, but it is not SO popular as to be unpleasant. Things were a little busy near the start of the gorge but soon the hikers spread out and one could enjoy the walking. This shot was taken near Qiaotou as we entered the canyon. Bei is on the second to the last donkey.

We stopped for a late lunch at the "Naxi Family Guest House" where we enjoyed a good meal and a break from the rain. Jacqueline (New Zealand) has her back to the camera. Susanna and her son Ned (Wales) are on the left, Tony (Australia) is to the right of them and Ellen and Bei are on the far right. Later in the trip we met up with some of our friends from Shanghai (Charlie and Skye were with our group there in August) but here it was just the Lijiang crowd.

The fall harvest is in full swing and corn drying in lofts and on wooden racks is common. There are lots of beautiful red chilis drying in the valleys along the roads, but we saw less of them in the Gorge.

Bei contemplates life in the saddle. She rode happily for two days and on the third, in the absence of a donkey, she walked was carried the short distance to the road at the end of the trip. She's absolutely comfortable riding through exciting terrain--a far cry from the timid pony rides she took at the children's park in Fort Collins only a year ago.

The Yangze settles into the Gorge before being stirred into a frenzy by landslide debris further downstream.

Bei at our lunch stop on the first day. People enjoy decorating her hair with flowers and she enjoys being decorated.

These Chinese hikers from Kunming (Yunnan's capital) followed us all through the route. This is early morning, just after crawling out of bed after an active evening of beer swilling. The guy in the foreground was smoking his morning cigarette through the bong, though he was no stranger to the other smokables that grow in abundance along the route. His group was funny and friendly though and we enjoyed their company.

Here he is setting out for a days walk, obviously well-provisioned for the trip. Bei loved these guys and had fun dancing with them in the evenings: "Do you disco?" they asked us. We declined ("We don't disco") but Bei was enthusiastic.

Bei on her donkey along the trail. The cliffs in the background are the lower flanks of Yulong Snow Mountain. From our apartment in Lijiang we contemplate the other side of the same mountain.

A goat herder minding his herd of goats that graze on the steep slopes below.

The vegetation was lush and diverse all through the gorge. Spring is reported to be beautiful here when the flowers are all blooming. Even in fall there are lots of flowers.

Ellen and Jacqueline on the deck in front of our rooms at the Halfway Guest House (2nd night). On the second day we hiked only a short distance since this guest house was so appealing.

A flower along the trail.

Morning coffee on the deck of the Halfway Guest House.

The rest of these photos are shots of Yulong Snow Mountain from different vantage points along the trail. It's spectacular to view nearly 12,000 feet of complex vertical terrain in any weather, and though the clouds prevented alpenglow and nice sunsets, they swirled around the peaks and added to the immensity.

At the end of the hike we caught a bus north to Zhongdian via Baishuitai. I'll describe those places in separate posts to follow.