The Secret to Women's Black Hair

Trip Start Jul 22, 2011
Trip End Aug 12, 2011

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What I did

Flag of China  , Sichuan,
Sunday, July 31, 2011


As a traveler, our reactions to places and experiences can be like a mirror, reflecting and bringing to awareness insights and preferences that can affect choices of future journeys, where one lives or style of life. Walking in nature often brings a feeling of calmness and perspective to things for us both.  As we spoke at breakfast, certain preferences have certainly become even more clear to us: country versus city, sparsely populated versus densely populated areas, more natural parks versus those designed to accommodate large crowds of people.  In this park you travel by bus to scenic areas and then walk on boardwalks.  You can walk for hours.  But there is really no option for solitude.  Everyone walks the same paths and together.  No matter how well done a park designed for mass tourism is, with nostalgia we both recall the moist smell and soft spongy feeling of dirt under our boots walking forest paths, just us alone with the trees, mountains, lakes and streams in parks of the U.S., Canada, Argentina, and throughout Europe.  In these places, you can go hiking on a remote trail and get away from other people.

That being said, Jiuzhai has revealed another Chinese experience and for that we are grateful.  We walk past even more beautiful waterfalls today and stunning colorful lakes.  We pose with more young girls in costume.  When boarding a shuttle bus, a tour group of Koreans instruct the Chinese and us how to queue properly.  This got the Koreans to board the bus first and then after them, it was the normal pushing and shoving and we felt quite at home!  We stop in a Tibetan village because I wanted to capture some photos of the  "jing fan" or paintings on the walls that are colorful, and probably have some symbolism and seeing them from a distance I found intriguing. 

One of my favorite things to do is walk through an old growth, never-before-logged forest.  Here we are walking along the wood boardwalk in The Virgin Forest and gazing at a group of trees that have prayer flags draped around the area.  Some people walk up from behind us and we say “ni hao” or hello.  They want our photo and when Harvey starts to speak Chinese we get the usual surprised response.  We now continue walking together and learn that both men are math professors and each are here with their grandchild and one wife.  At some point I feel comfortable enough with the wife, with our guide Helen's help, to ask the secret to women’s black hair.  She tells me that women eat black foods, for example a particular fungus or perhaps beans or fruit.  Later in the day at the lunch buffet, I add the black fungus to my lunch plate.  It tastes rubbery, but now I know it’s good for me.  Towards the end of the day, I notice a Chinese woman with grey hair similar to mine.  I motion to her asking her if I could take her photo and when she nicely shakes her head “no”, our guide Helen repeats the request in Chinese and the woman’s daughters hear and push her towards me.  Now I have a photo of me with one of the rare women in China who has grey hair and who, like myself, hasn’t eaten enough black fungus in her life. 

We invite Helen to join us for our last dinner in Jiuzhaigou and she suggests a cozy café in walking distance of the Sheraton called the Star Café.  Here we try non-Chinese foods such as a potato pancake that turns out to be like hash browns and a vegetarian pizza accompanied by a local beer.  Helen loves the popcorn.  The ambience and food is very good, but it’s the conversation with Helen that is so special.  I have connected with Helen, a very special young women.  She has shared stories about her family and life, and as we have become acquainted I have grown to respect her efforts to improve herself, get an education, work away from home and her commitment to her mother.  At dinner she took out her notebook and wanted to write down some of the things that Harvey had said about not being able to change your destiny, but that you can change how you think, that you can’t truly understand something until you already know it, and that learning is like creating a sculpture – that you need to approach it from many sides.  That she wanted to remember these thoughts reveals something about Helen.  I’m glad that we had the opportunity to spend some time with her.

On the way back to our room, we stop in the store in the Sheraton lobby.  I have noticed these bright red embroidered shoes and try a pair on.  We did some negotiation, and although it is possible that we overpaid, we don’t know if we will have the opportunity again, so we take advantage of the opportunity and purchase them.

We’re off to Chengdu tomorrow morning, so after packing our bags once again, we nod off to sleep early.


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