Friday, September 21, 2012

The People of China

In the mid 1980's I was growing unusually obsessed with China. Everything seemed in one way or another to be related to China. I was reading about the country's modern history, stories about the criminal thug Mao and his (then) questionable place in China's history. Also, the plant explorers fascinated me; I was energetic then and imagined I followed George Forrest into the field with his black lab dog (I won't mention the dog's name--you can google George Forrest plant explorer.) With my help he introduced over 1200 plant species, but never did he name one after me. Well, I was many years too late, but fantasies develop in their own time.

I was primed, in other words, and instantly accepted an invitation to join a group of plant geeks in a 1988 trip to northwest Yunnan, one of the very areas that George Forrest found productive. We flew from Beijing to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan, the "City of Eternal Spring." We grumbled when the Chinese authorities announced at the last minuet that we could not depart to the mountains as planned, and the lame reason was that there was a big celebration in town, and no one could travel.

With negative thoughts at first, we learned that the hoopla was due to an "ethnic" event, that a big parade was scheduled the next day to celebrate China's 55 minorities. So relax and enjoy it. Actually Yunnan is home to many of these tribes, and they can dress quite colorfully. And an added bonus is that many of the minority women are deliciously beautiful.

Kunming ethnic parade

We in our plant group were considered honored guests, and each of us was issued a dirty pink ribbon to pin to our chests, an emblem that caused the mob of spectators to step back so we could get prime viewing location. The Han police looked ready to kill anyone who got out of line, and it was clear that our pink ribbons were for the privileged few. I noticed that a couple of media photographers would actually stand in the middle of the parade to get the best photos, so eventually I did too. And what a parade it was!

An unbelievable spectacle was a young woman with the greatest grace and poise, and certainly she was the most beautiful of any creature on earth. She did not flaunt her beauty, she simply radiated it. Her smile was demure like Mona Lisa. My god, where did she come from? From which minority group? I never did find out, but I couldn't get her out of my mind. I had a strong urge to rescue her, to get her out of the spotlight of the gawking men. Everyone wanted their picture taken with her, which was disgusting. I just wanted her, and I could promise to treat her right.

Miss Eternal Spring

Alas, my Chinese princess was probably the property of the state, and an overweight chain-smoking Party bigshot got to wake up next to her. But she thinks about me every day, and imagines how wonderful it could have been. And I see her every day, as the photo above hangs on my private office wall. Ah, Miss Eternal Spring.

The parade continued with floats, marching bands and cute kids from all of China. The symbol of the celebration was a peacock, with each fanned feather representing a minority, all happily co-existing under the benevolent leadership of the Han Chinese government.

My camera was sizzling hot. WOW, what a parade!


Two days later we were on the road north to Dali, originally called Talifu, where George Forrest was saved by the local indigenous people, the Lissa, from warring lamas who were currently torturing and killing all foreigners. Forrest barely escaped, and fortunately recovered from the ordeal and continued to collect until his death, in China, in 1932.

The Jade Dragon mountains in the Likiang region was our high elevation destination, but on the way we enjoyed the villages and countryside. Markets were lively affairs, and we visited two of them. Some people were in their native dress, while others wore simple peasant outfits. As the photos attest, the rustics were often beautiful people, both the men and women, and for those who were not so beautiful, at least they were very interesting.

Certainly I would return to this wonderful Yunnan, I assumed, but after 24 years I never have. I have been away long enough that everything has changed dramatically, as recent visitors report, and "you wouldn't believe it--amazing" is the unanimous conclusion. My one and only trip apparently satisfied my China obsession, and although I continue to read about the country, I have no plans to return. I'm very happily married now, and Miss Eternal Spring has been replaced with another Oriental dream.

Saya, Haruko and Harumi Buchholz


  1. Amazing photos. You have the 'eye'. Exposures were excellent. What kind of camera did you use? Film? Or digital?

  2. Great job as always Talon, thought a likiagensis would pop up