Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Joseph Rock and Lijiang

A few houses away from our guest house is Joseph Rock's former home, now a very modest, little-frequented museum of faded photographs and dusty artefacts. Rock was born in Austria but moved to America in 1905 to become a self-taught but brilliant botanist. He was then employed by the US Department of Agriculture to track down plants and seeds in south-west China, which is where he spent most of working life, branching out into ethnography (his study of the Naxi is still the standard), and good old fashioned exploration. It was a turbulent time (1922-49) to be in China, however remote. His National Geographic articles influenced everyone from James Hilton (Lost Horizons) and Herge (Tintin in Tibet), to Bruce Chatwin and Michael Palin. 

Afternoon in Lijiang: a beautifully (some might say, overly) preserved town with cobbled streets, cafes, crafts shops and criss-crossing mini-canals filled with surprisingly clear water. Yes, it's very touristy but it's still a great place to stroll, relax and soak up the picture-skew-ness of it all.

Sort of by accident, we meet our friends Fiona, Nick and children for lunch in a rooftop cafe. Incredibly lucky with the weather, though Fiona has just broken her arm in an accident too complicated to explain. I buy a tome on Joseph Rock in a nice little bookstore.   

There was a big earthquake here in 1996. Interestingly, most of the old Naxi houses survived, so the government rebuilt the town with traditional Naxi architecture. It's now a UNESCO heritage site. 

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