重游滇西北(一) / Northwest Yunnan Revisited (Part One)

重游滇西北(一)

虽然我在香港的家与海平面的高度几乎持平,但最近几次旅行却让我有机会到美国和中国的高海拔地区走上一走。上周我在博客里写过科罗拉多州的圆石城,那是一座非常迷人的“一尺高城”,上次去那里还是在三十多年前。这一周,我又要回忆一下新近完成的滇西北之行。这是我和夫人还有女儿十年来首次重游故地,愉悦之情溢于言表。

我们重游了丽江和香格里拉。上次去香格里拉的时候,那儿还叫“中甸”(2002年改为现名)。香格里拉位于西藏高原,海拔大约3,300米(约11,000英尺)。当地政府为其更名的根据是美国小说家詹姆斯•希尔顿(James Hilton)于1939年创作的小说《失去的地平线》(后被拍成电影)。在小说中,主人公居住在群山深处,生活宁静淡泊,人们健康长寿。

根据我对当地前后情况的观察,我认为这次改名实属明智之举。

出于某种原因,似乎每隔十年我都要造访一次云南。四月份我在《我们长得象日本人吗?》那篇博客中曾经提到,我第一次去云南是在1989年,陪同几位美国出版商。第二次是在1999年和家人同行。现在,又一个十年已经过去,我第三次来到了云南。

过去三十年我在中国常来常往,导致了一个无法避免的结果就是:即便面对翻天覆地的变化,我也会熟视无睹。个中原因不外乎无论身处何时何地,总能一次次看到这种持续的变化,从而产生了审美疲劳。这种变化在中国城市地区尤为突出,但在各个乡村也可谓风起云涌。由于外部的有形变化过于惹人注目,有时难免会有忽略细微变化的风险,比如人们的思想转变之类。

与十年前相比,此次我对云南西北部的第一印象可以说是沧海桑田,除了雪山、森林、梯田等著名的地貌景观外,那里已经面目全非,让人辨不出模样。

在过去十到十五年间,虽然北京、上海等中国大都市发生了有目共睹的巨大变化,但从某种意义上说,丽江的变迁更令人惊讶。与所有社会经济变革相同,这些变化同时也带来了机遇和挑战。

即使是在十年前,昆明的变化也已经算是神速,先是铺设了由机场到市区的六车道高速公路,继而如火如荼地展开了新建筑建设。老式木结构的商铺、传统的锯齿形挑檐很快就被水泥店面、金属卷帘门所取代。面对大幅上升的移动电话用户群,在付费电话年代曾经风光无两的荧光绿街头电话亭已化作明日黄花。

回想1999年,我和夫人还有女儿在晚饭后散步,被热情高涨的英语自学组织——“英语角”的成员团团围住。当年昆明有很多类似的组织,每周都会安排一晚在翠湖公园练习英语口语。一旦有讲英语母语的人从天而降,他们都会不遗余力地把他拉进圈子。

“你叫什么名字?”一个人问我。

“你是哪里人?”另一个人问我。

“先生,请告诉我,怎么才能去美国学习?”

“美国在计算机领域有多先进?”

“1997年以后的香港怎么样?”

“先生,你的英语说得真流利。”等等……

虽然目前全中国学习英语的热情依然高涨,但在很多地方,街头巧遇外国人的新奇价值已经不复存在。

现在的昆明机场要比过去大了许多,也更加繁忙,效率和管理都有所提高,各种设施整洁齐备,商铺餐厅美观实用,还有免费行李车可供使用(1999年并非如此)。而且他们似乎也下大力气整顿过以前出租车肆意揽客的现象。不远处,一个规模更大的新机场正在建设之中。

和1999年那次一样,我们从昆明坐飞机飞往丽江。第一次到丽江时,当地的第一座商用机场刚刚落成,距离市中心大约有15分钟的车程。机场规模虽然不大,但却为大量涌入的游客打开了方便之门。

那时,丽江还是座鲜为人知的小城。虽然也有些游客,但大多都是外国背包客。 老城区有几家网吧,还有一些老房子改建成的餐厅,供应麦片饼干、披萨和三明治之类的西餐。那时候,纳西族等少数民族还穿着鲜艳的民族服装,现在很多人仍是如此。但不少人都搬了家,把老房出租给汉人开设商店和餐馆。

Northwest Yunnan Revisited (Part One)

Although my home in Hong Kong is very near to sea level, recent travels have taken me to high altitudes in both the U.S. and China. Last week I wrote about my recent visit to Boulder, Colorado, a very attractive mile-high city I had not visited for some 30 years. This week I am reminiscing about my recent visit to the Northwest part of Yunnan Province, a very enjoyable return visit with my wife and daughter, for the first time in just over 10 years.

We went back to visit Lijiang and Shangrila. Shangrila is the new name (since 2002) of what was called Zhongdian when we last visited. It is located on the Tibetan plateau at an altitude of about 3,300 meters (almost 11,000 feet). The local authorities renamed it based on the Shangri-La of American novelist James Hilton’s creation in the 1939 novel (and subsequent film) “Lost Horizon”, describing a remote valley where people live in peace, health and harmony with extraordinary longevity.

Based on what I saw of the “before” and “after”, this was a very clever rebranding exercise.

For some reason, I seem to visit Yunnan once about every ten years. As I wrote in this blog in April (“Do We Look Japanese”), my first visit, with several fellow American publishers, was in 1989. My second visit, with family, was in 1999. So with another decade having passed, this was my third visit.

One of the inevitable results of frequent travel in China during these past 30 years is that you become blasé about dramatic change simply because you have become accustomed to seeing it again and again, constantly, consistently, almost everywhere you go. It’s especially obvious in urban China, but rural China has also undergone dramatic change. There is a risk of not noticing the subtler changes, like changes in peoples’ thinking, because the external, physical changes which catch the eye are so impactful.

My first impression of Northwest Yunnan this time is that compared to even ten years ago, it is virtually unrecognizable, with the exception of major geographic features like snow-capped mountains, forested hills, terraced agricultural fields, etc.

Beijing, Shanghai, and most large Chinese cities have undergone huge and highly visible changes in the past 10-15 years, but the changes in Lijiang are even more dramatic in some ways. Like all socio-economic change, they bring both opportunity and challenge.

Even ten years ago, Kunming was changing quickly, starting with a brand new 6-lane highway from the airport to the city, and new buildings under construction in every direction. The old style. wooden shop fronts and traditional style. crenellated tile roofs were quickly being replaced by concrete shop houses with metal shutters and doors. New fluorescent chartreuse plastic pay telephone booths dotted the streets, in that now seemingly ancient era when there was still plenty of demand for pay telephones, now effectively replaced by the massive surge in mobile phone usage.

Back in 1999, during an after dinner stroll, my wife and daughter and I were surrounded in a very friendly manner by a phalanx of members of an informal English self-study group called “English Corner”. This particular branch, one of many in Kunming at the time, gathered in Cui Hu Park certain nights each week to practice spoken English among themselves, eagerly drawing unsuspecting native speakers into their web as the opportunity arose.

“What is your name?” One asked me.

“Where are you from?” Asked another.

“Please tell me, sir, how can I study in America?”

“How developed is the field of computers in America?”

“How is Hong Kong since 1997?”

“Sir, you speak English very fluently.” And so on…

Although the phenomenal interest in studying English is still going strong all over China, the novelty value of seeing foreigners on the street is now a thing of the past in most places.

Kunming airport is a great deal larger, busier, more efficient and better-managed than it was, with good, clean facilities, well-designed and stocked shops and restaurants, and free baggage carts (not the case in 1999). They also seem to have done a fairly good job of cleaning up the aggressive taxi touts of days past. And a massive new airport is under construction not far from the existing one.

As was the case in our 1999 visit, we flew from Kunming to Lijiang. On that first visit, Lijiang’s first commercial airport was brand new, was located about 15 minutes from the center of town. It was diminutive in size, but it opened the door to a greatly increased flow of visitors.

Lijiang was then a tiny, quaint little town. There were tourists, although mainly foreign backpackers. In the old section of town, a handful of internet cafes had opened, and a few traditional looking restaurants offered some western fare like oatmeal cookies, pizza and sandwiches. Members of the Naxi minority tribe and other tribal folks wore their colorful garb then, as many still do; although quite a few have moved out of their old town premises and rented them to Han Chinese migrants for shops and restaurants.

丽江古城:比过去热闹多了,但美丽依旧 / Lijiang old town: more crowded, but still charming

最近这次去丽江,飞机从昆明起飞就晚了点,意味着我们抵达丽江时已近深夜。从空中看到广袤的街道、大厦和街灯,让我误以为飞机飞错了方向,到了一个比丽江大N倍的城市。

结果是我错了。丽江市中心现有10万人口,加上临近四县,总人口可达到128万。旅游业的迅猛发展已成为经济磁石,吸引了大批汉族和山区少数民族到这个风景如画的城市安家落户。

1996年,当地发生了一次严重的地震。那段时间,丽江每年接待的游客数量仅为3,000人,其中大多数是外国背包客。大约15年后的2009年——丽江的游客人数猛增到每年700万人,其中大部分都是中国人。不到15年,从3000人增长到700万人!这一增长速度令人震撼。

On my recent visit, a flight delay leaving Kunming meant that our approach to Lijiang’s airport was in darkness. The expanse of street, building, and city lights visible from the air made me think we must have made a wrong turn and were approaching a much, much bigger city than the Lijiang I recalled.

Wrong. Lijiang’s central area now boasts a population of some 100,000, and its total population, including the 4 adjacent counties, is 1.28 million. The explosive development of tourism has been an economic magnet resulting in enormous inbound migration to this picturesque town, of Han Chinese as well as minority people from country villages.

In 1996 there was a serious earthquake in the area. Around that time, Lijiang received about 3,000 tourist visitors a year, mostly foreign backpackers. By 2009 — not quite 15 years later — Lijiang’s tourist arrivals had soared to more than 7 million visitors per year, mostly domestic Chinese tourists. From 3 thousand to 7 million in less than 15 years! That is a staggering pace of growth.

丽江悦榕庄 / Banyan Tree Lijiang

从新机场乘车抵达下榻的丽江悦榕庄(共有122间客房),用时不到一个小时。现在的交通流量很大,其中包括大量充足的旅游巴士。

The drive from the new airport to our hotel, the lovely 122-room Banyan Tree Lijiang, was less than one hour. There’s quite a bit of traffic now, including a very healthy population of tour buses.


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