Last Build Date: Mon, 27 Mar 2017 07:59:18 +0800
Fri, 24 Mar 2017 15:10:00 +0800Erik Prince, the founder of private military contractor Blackwater, is bringing a new security and logistics outfit to western China. Although few details have been made public, in a recent interview with media outlet Global Times, Prince said the company he now chairs will soon expand its services to "include the northwest and southwest corridors of the One Belt and One Road initiative" — meaning Xinjiang and Yunnan.
Thu, 23 Mar 2017 11:50:00 +0800Reports of gun violence in Yunnan are extraordinarily rare, the result of stringent laws and a general lack of availability. However, some police in Kunming are allowed to carry sidearms, and yesterday an officer fired his weapon once at an intersection often packed with pedestrians and hectic traffic. The shot found its mark, injuring and subduing a man armed with an axe.
Wed, 22 Mar 2017 17:20:00 +0800Urban planners have spent the past year looking to identify the defining essence of Kunming, the intangible stuff that sets it apart from other provincial capitals. A local scholar believes he has found at least a partial answer, one that involves some serious historical understanding and a new name for an old urban landmark.
Tue, 21 Mar 2017 15:35:00 +0800Apparently happiness is not, as the Beatles sang, a warm gun. Instead, it involves a number of factors that are difficult to quantify and vary from country to country and person to person. Nevertheless, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network ranks this elusive frame of mind each year. The 2017 World Happiness Report placed China squarely in the middle of countries surveyed.
Fri, 17 Mar 2017 15:00:00 +0800My buddy Pete is technically a PhD research scientist with an important role at the Kunming branch of the World Agroforestry Centre. He is also a loving husband and father. Outside of these responsibilities he seems to spend most of his time thinking about rock climbing. As part of this passion for climbing, he spends a lot of time developing new sport climbing routes. This involves installing the steel bolts into which climbers attach their ropes in order to protect themselves from falls as they ascend. I've been doing a fair amount of climbing in Kunming and other places over the past few years, often under Pete's tutelage. Much of this practice has come in the lovely rural areas surrounding Kunming. I've found the sport to be a rewarding one that provides a good excuse to visit beautiful natural places with friends, whilst simultaneously challenging myself to improve physically and psychologically. So, while I did hesitate for a moment at the audacity of the proposal Pete made for a Spring Festival climbing expedition last year, I quickly agreed to join in and provide some nutritional sponsorship from my company, Dali Bar Natural Energy Foods. The goal was to further explore and then bolt a multi-pitch climbing route from the bottom to the top of a little-known, more than 200-meter deep sinkhole nearby Getu (格凸) in Guizhou province, which Peter had previously walked across on a slackline. It was to be an arduous trip that would involve a lot of hauling heavy gear on steep trails, not to mention through descents and grueling ascents along vertical fixed-rope lines. In the end, there we were, a team of five, including Dave — aka Strong Dave, aka Dirty Dave — an experienced American climber who joined us on the tail end a business trip to China, replete with a rolling suitcase, a single pair of shoes and only one pair of pink pants. A few days before the official Spring Festival holiday began we set forth for Guizhou, two of us by train and three people in Pete's SUV, which was burdened with an enormous load of gear, including: • 24-volt cordless hammer drill with 8mm carbine masonry bit • Portable generator to charge batteries for aforementioned drill • 200 stainless steel expansion bolts with hangers • Seven bottles of whisky and whiskey • One five-liter boxed Merlot wine • Two bottles of wine that actually taste ok • 43 bottles of American craft beer (would have been 44 but I dropped one in the Metro parking lot) • Meat: raw, air-dried, salted, smoked, sausaged, and baconed • Enough tarps and tents to build a small refugee camp (the weather in Guizhou is wet) • Enough Dali Bar energy bars to feed said refugee camp • A bunch of other unessential crap like sleeping bags, clothes, non-meat-based food, water, etc. We spent the next ten days climbing, camping in the mud, cooking over the fire, lugging water from a mountain spring, hiking through the enormous base of the sinkhole, and hauling supplies up and down the nearly shear rock face. Pete sank bolt after bolt into the limestone and eventually completed an eight-pitch, 200-meter beast of a rock climbing route. During the downtime, we played some stickball. On the final day, Dave and Pete had a go at 'opening' the route — climbing the whole thing in one day without falling or using bolts or other equipment to pull oneself upward. Even though they are both strong climbers, the route turned out to be harder than expected and they failed. Ah well, there's a goal for the next trip. Upon returning to Kunming, I was incredibly thankful I had opted to spend the holiday exploring a unique and beautiful place rather than camping out on the couch and plowing through some television series. We live in a pretty cool part of the world and there are doubtless many other hidden treasures like the sinkhole out there. So get out there, and get exploring! Below are several more shots of the expedition. Fo[...]
Thu, 16 Mar 2017 16:45:00 +0800Growing from a micro-brewery into a well-known Chinese craft beer brand with a few international awards in under two years is a hectic business. Selling all over China and signing contracts for export abroad, well that's difficult too. Swiss-born founder of Shangri-la Highland Craft Brewery, Songtsen 'Sonny' Gyalzur, is a man with an interesting life story that has affected much of what he does and how he does it. He speaks proudly about his mother, and how a trip to visit her in Tibet — where she was operating two orphanages — changed his life. The impetus for starting Shangri-la Beer involved a plan to help his mother with her life work. GoKunming first caught up with Sonny in 2015 at a point when his brewery in the mountains of northwest Yunnan had just opened. It's pretty amazing how things have changed in such a short time. This time around, we talked more about what drives Sonny and the philosophy behind his business. He also let us in on some secrets, which we're happy to share here. GoKunming: When you started Shangri-la, how did you envision growing the company knowing China historically lacked a 'beer culture'? Sonny Gyalzur: When we started with the brewery, the intention was maybe a bit different. I didn't start Shangri-la Beer because I thought I could create a revolution in the Chinese market. It was just because I didn't like to drink Chinese beers. That was in Shangri-la — where we're based — there was no chance to find other beers, only Chinese local beers, and I didn't like to drink those. Out of this problem, I said to myself, "Ok, if I can't find the good beer, than I'll have to do it by myself". So that was the reason, the motivation to start the brewery, and we did it with local ingredients — the water and highland barley. GK: You opened in 2015 with a very large operation but were an unknown entity. How has it been building the brand? Sonny: At first, we had a micro-brewery, and then the local government came to me and said I wasn't allowed to bottle beer because my operation was too small. If we wanted to continue, we would have to do it according to government regulations. In China, that means your company cannot actually grow organically. You have to have this certain volume of production, which is quite big. At this point it wasn't a hobby anymore and became a business project. The funny thing with the government is, when I started the brewery project, I was totally naive, and thought they would help me with money and credit and whatever, but I ended up financing everything myself. Their lüdeng — you know, the green light — just meant I had permission to go forward. Only after a ton of hard work — taking government officials to Switzerland to establish a sister-city cooperation and us actually building the brewery — were we able to show them our company was real. Relationships are very important in China, and it took a lot to get that green light. I still dream about that guy telling me we had the lüdeng. Anyway, we did our research and created a business plan, and we realized that the beer business is also a branding business. We asked ourselves, "Where is the market for us in China?" The big open space was real high-end premium brewing. That was the space where we could grow and define our brand — make a brand DNA. We focused on Tibetan culture, and this is the most important part of our brand, with a special focus on corporate social responsibility and supporting a local orphanage. GK: Do you think Shangri-la is helping change attitudes of what a good Chinese beer is? Sonny: We try our best. Really, what is a good beer? When we started, there was only this industrial lager beer. I come from Europe, from Switzerland, and we have a lot of these family-owned small breweries, and every town has it's own where you can drink so many specialties. I grew up in that culture, I think China deserves something similar. And it's hap[...]
Wed, 15 Mar 2017 14:05:00 +0800On the bright stage at annual meetings of the National People's Congress, Yunnan's governor vowed to clean up the province's tourism industry. Ruan Chengfa (阮成发) made the comments amid soaring expectations and the emergence of a series of reputation-damaging news stories from the province's premier travel destination — Lijiang — before, during and after China's Spring Festival holiday period. Speaking at a Yunnan-themed media day in Beijing, Ruan repeatedly characterized the provincial tourism market as "chaotic", "disappointing" and beset by "three major diseases". For an outsider from Hubei only appointed to the post of governor three months ago, these are harsh words indeed. This level of public criticism both frames Ruan as the inheritor of deep-rooted problems while also setting him up as perhaps the heavy-handed solution. In fact, Ruan pledged that "Yunnan will remediate its problems with an iron fist". While freely mixing metaphors during his speech, the governor explained the "three diseases" thusly: [quote]Firstly, the tourism market — despite repeated government oversight — is not standardized. There are unreasonably low-priced business models, fraud, monopolies, false propaganda, forced consumption and other issues. Secondly, the tourism industry is backwards, relying too much on ticket sales and unable to effectively meet diversified high-end tourism needs. Thirdly, management lags [behind national standards...] and is not standardized or properly organized. The ability to deal with emergencies is also weak.[/quote] To remedy the problems he said "tourists love to hate", the governor explained that within the month he will issue a series of new marketing and operational guidelines "stricter than any in the history of the province". The ultimate goal, according to Ruan, is to streamline the tourism business through standardization and the implementation of the province's burgeoning big data industry. Some sort of reform is certainly necessary, as Ruan and his government associates are under huge amounts of pressure from Beijing to transform Yunnan's economy. Tourism is often referred to as one of several provincial 'pillar industries'. Traditionally, these foundational sectors have also included agriculture, mining and hydropower, but a decreased focus on dams and mineral extraction has placed a new focus on attracting ever more visitors, both domestic and foreign. Expectations are extremely high. Last year, the Yunnan Tourism Development Committee issued a Beijing-sanctioned white paper outlining plans for the province's tourism economy through 2018. Two goals stand out, both for their ambition and audacity. Over the course of the three-year period, the average tourist in Yunnan, according to the plan, "will spend 1,250 yuan per visit", while the number of travel arrivals is expected to top 507 million. Simple math dictates industry revenue topping 634 billion yuan (US$ 97 billion) — a sum equal to roughly one half of the province's total 2016 gross domestic product. Such lofty expectations may have inspired Governor Ruan's strident comments on the sidelines of the National People's Congress. His is an uphill and unenviable battle, made even more difficult in light of national news and social media coverage of repeated acts of violence against tourists in Lijiang. Top image: Stanford Bottom image: Xinhua[...]
Tue, 14 Mar 2017 16:50:00 +0800Most visitors to Xishuangbanna spend their time in and around the main city and on day-trips to the Dai Park, the pagodas at Damenglong or various places west in Menghai County (勐海县). If they venture into Mengla County (勐腊县) at all, it will be to Menglun (勐仑镇), about 60 kilometers east, just inside the county boundary. The sprawling, fascinating Botanical Garden is just across the river and is certainly worth the excursion. The only other place in the county to see many travelers is Mengla City itself, and people coming through on the way to or from northern Laos often don't even stay long enough to look at anything. Thanks to the newish highway, the journey from Jinghong (景洪) to Mengla only takes about three hours, as it skirts around the highest hills or tunnels through them. Buses on the old road took nearly the whole day, having to climb a high mountain south of Mengxing (勐醒村), then up and down many hills before the descent to the Mengla plain. Of course, it was a far more scenic route, with views of the hills to the north and lots of forest along the way. The new route runs mainly through low hills full of rubber trees. As the view from the mountain pass just south of Mengxing indicates, the northern half of Mengla County is much hillier than the lower elevations of its southern districts. Of the northern towns, Manla (曼腊) is basically a Dai village turned into an administrative center. Xiangming (象明) — on a road branching west just south of Manla — is the prefecture's only Autonomous Yi District, mainly inhabited by the Lalu branch of the Yi people who migrated here from Jinggu County (景谷县) in Pu'er Prefecture in the last decades of the Qing Dynasty. They also have settlements near Yiwu (易武) and north of Manla. Some of them moved on into northern Laos, where they are known as the Lolo, the original name for the Yi. About 57,000 Yi live in Xishuangbanna, comprising nearly six percent of the population. The Yi Here the Yi clothing style — side-fastened tunic, usually blue, black trousers and turbans — and housing type — timber posts, brick walls and tiled roofs — resembles that of the rural Han in their original homeland. Yi are not as distinctly different as the Miao and the Yao settling in the county then as well, but coming into the area long before the Han had any significant presence, they probably impressed the Dai as a very different kind of people. Xishuangbanna's Yi do not share a couple of the most famous Yi characteristics common to bigger sub-groups in the province. They do not celebrate the summer Torch Festival. Villages also do not have a bimaw, the Yi spiritual specialist who keeps the traditional books written with the unique Yi alphabet covering myths, legends, pharmacopoeia, ritual rules, moral aphorisms and so forth. Like other Yi, though, they keep an ancestral altar in a corner of the dining and receiving room and make offerings at New Year and on other occasions. In Xiangming the local government last decade revived the Baishijia Festival (百诗佳节), honoring Jin Xian (进贤), an ancient martial hero. When drafted into the army to fight a foreign invasion, he promised his village he would return by the next Lunar New Year. As it turned out, Jin Xian didn't show up until the eighth day of the second moon. He was, however, laden with decorations in recognition of his valor in combat. So the festival is held on that day to celebrate his return. The revival was a typical government-sponsored event, dominated by songs and dances, but for once the traditional Yi costume was the fashion of the day. From 2011, this festival has also been staged in Yiwu. In the mountains west of Xiangming, aside from a few stray Miao settlements, the villages are mostly Jinuo, a mountain-dwelling people who only reside in three areas of Xishuangbanna — [...]
Mon, 13 Mar 2017 15:55:00 +0800Fighting in northeastern Myanmar once again spilled over the border last week, leaving one Chinese man dead and several others injured. More than a week of intensified mortar and small arms exchanges near the Yunnan town of Nansan (南伞) have also sent tens of thousands of Burmese refugees into makeshift camps maintained by the People's Liberation Army and staffed by villagers from both sides of the border.
Fri, 10 Mar 2017 17:30:00 +0800Pu'er Prefecture in southwest China's Yunnan province is known by connoisseurs around the world for its eponymous teas. Yet even one of the county's most famous luxury drinks must take a back seat each May, when the sleepy town of Mojiang bursts onto the national stage with a unique festival. This year, bolstered by nationally known performers and an enlarged scale, the thirteenth annual China-Mojiang Tropic of Cancer International Twins Festival (第十三届中国•墨江北回归线国际双胞胎节) looks to be larger and better than ever before. Just the festival name contains much to unpack. Mojiang straddles the Tropic of Cancer, demarcating a region where Yunnan's more arid north gives way to rolling mountains covered in lush rainforest. Explaining the twins aspect of Mojiang's yearly extravaganza takes a bit more explanation. The draw of Mojiang for many Chinese is its incredible twin birthrate — festival organizers say couples living in and around the town are 25 percent more likely to have twins than the world average. There is even a local legend surrounding the nearby village of Hexi (河西村), where 100 families have given birth to ten sets of twins. Locals believe this is a result of the magic of Hexi's twin wells, and local folklore recounts a tale of supernatural fornication, the intervention of a jealous and shifty wizard, and twins transforming into two magic wells — one representing men and the other women. This fable has led to the recent advent of mass marriages conducted at the ancient wells. Over the dozen years of the twins festival has been held, 11,436 pairs of twins have attended from dozens of countries. They have in turn attracted 3.35 million attendees who have spent a combined 2.35 billion yuan (US$340 million). The enhanced publicity and massive influx of tourists provide Mojiang with an annual financial boon unheard of in a region dependent almost entirely on agriculture. The local government is looking to capitalize further on the festival's past success, and in 2017 has increased its partnership with Yunnan Satellite Television (YST) — which broadcasts to a national audience across China. The two entities have had a cooperative agreement dating back to the first twins festival in 2005. However, at a press conference in Kunming held March 10, the two sides stated their commitment to transform "Mojiang's festival into one of the largest annual minority events in Yunnan province". This will be accomplished, according to Minister of the Mojiang Propaganda Department, Zhang Linqun (张林群), by "highlighting Mojiang's bountiful natural resources and unique agricultural products, while also utilizing YST's multi-platform wisdom and experience to bring increased exposure and business opportunities to the region." In the past the Mojiang International Twins Festival has arranged multiple events each day. Some involving twins, while others focus on the indigenous Hani people, a minority group making up 62 percent of the local population. They are most famous, especially inside China, for terracing entire mountains with rice paddies in central Yunnan. Each year, the International Twins Festival looks to showcase many aspects of traditional Hani culture. In the past, events have included a kilometer-long communal dinner called the Hani Long Table Feast, a miniature version of the Moheilian Festival (抹黑脸节), as well as traditional games, drinking customs and musical recitals. The 2017 version will include all of these, while also adding performances of a traditional opera explaining how the Hani migrated from the Himalaya into Yunnan. Yunnan's most famous musical act, Shanren (山人), put on a free concert in Mojiang's Sunshine Square to open last year's festival. It attracted more than 15,000 spectators. In an aim to[...]