A cat waits in Cochin, Kerala, India. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006. There is a certain temptation with this photo to jump on the LOLcats meme that's buzzing around the Internet these days. But then, writing something like IM AT UR DOORZ WAITIN TO SCAREZ U in a san serif font all over the pic would utterly compromise the timeless quality of these photos, not to mention demeaning the serious tone of this blog, right? Right!
Pushing a water taxi in Kollam beats back-breaking farming, at least for this man in Kerala, India. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006. The Indian state of Kerala often seemed more like an Indian version of Southeast Asia than a uniquely Indian locale. The relaxed water-based culture on the coast made this one of the most unusual Indian communities I encountered. There's about a snowball's chance in Iraq that I'm the first to notice this. What others sometimes fail to comment on is that because of its unique climate, some of the best known Indian spices are grown by the villagers who spend their lives farming in the palm forests like those in the background of this photo. Although it's nice to discover this on a backwater tour by water taxi, the most obvious impact was in the Keralan food, which was as laden with flavor as the edibles in neighboring Tamil Nadu were bare.
A Naxi woman watches the Yangzi River in Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan Province, China. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006. The FMA and I heard this woman whooping, or singing, over the roar of the river. Even though we were several hundred feet above the Yangzi, the rapids here pounded like an unclogged freeway, so it took us a few moments to realize where the extra sound came from. Public singing was something that we rarely encountered on our trip, except with the Naxi of northwestern Yunnan.
View from the top of Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan Province, China. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006. Most of the hike through Tiger Leaping Gorge trudging past dense trees and foliage. Occasionally, the FMA and I would turn a corner and catch a glimpse, but with men on ponies harassing us incessantly to hire them to haul our asses up the switchbacks leading to the top, the moments of visual serenity were short-lived. Several times we thought we'd reached the top, and then with little warning, we were there. The entire valley opened beneath us, and even the pony-men stopped badgering us, mostly. That change in focus, though, was quite intense. After staring no more than a few feet ahead of us for so long, to abruptly have miles and miles to scan, painted with broad palettes of varying shades of green, and brown, and sky-gray made the hard work of the hike worth it. Knowing that all we saw could be flooded in a few years' time tinged the excitement of reaching the remote pinnacle with the harsh reality of modern China.
Waterfall in Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan Province, China. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006. Tiger Leaping Gorge wasn't the most difficult hike I'd ever been on, although I think it was for the FMA who was suffering from an unmedicated migraine at the time. It's hard to believe that in a few years the Gorge might not even be accessible, since the Chinese are planning on damming it like they dammed the Three Gorges section of the Yangzi. I don't the think the true consequences of the incredible economic expansion in China will be understood for decades, so if you're planning on visiting the country, I'd bump it to the top of your list.
An actor in a Tibetan foothills costume takes a break, Old Town, Lijiang, Yunnan Province, China. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006. To be honest, this man's English ability can't be any worse than my Mandarin, and so we had nothing to converse about. Still, he stood in the middle of the Old Town square in Lijiang with his pony, in clothes blatantly not modern Han nor traditional Naxi, the matriarchic natives of Lijiang. My Financial and Menu Adviser observed him for about 10 minutes, and noticed that Chinese tourists would pay him to take photos with them and to take their children on short pony rides around the cobblestone square. The costume looked like he was from the area of Yunnan Province between Lijiang and Tibet, and so I've slapped him with the label of "Tibetan foothill actor." Regardless of who he is or where he's from, the posture of a man at rest is unmistakable, taking a moment to himself before immersing himself in the accumulated stresses of the day.
Mahjong madness near Qianhai Lake, Beijing, China. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2006. While in China, I didn't see a single mah jong player under the age of 30. Then again, when you're older than 30 and you've got 1.3 (or is it 1.6 now?) billion neighbors, mah jong is no more or less frivolous than flying a kite, filling out a crossword puzzle or performing a fan dance.