Thursday, September 3, 2009

Slow Times in Shangri-La

So I finally made it to the mythical Shangri-La. My first thought after riding into town on a 13-hour overnight bus was: "Holy crap my legs hurt." (The bus's beds are made for the Chinese build, which as you might have guessed isn't of the 6'1" type that my body is.) But my second thought was: "This is the most beautiful place I've ever been in China." I haven't yet been to Dali or Lijiang, for anyone who knows China. After a breakfast of Xiao Long Bao (miniature meat-filled steamed buns), I got settled in for four days and three nights in quite a cool town.

Yes the town did rename itself from Zhongdian, and yes it does thrive on tourism, but it's a pretty nice laid back town in a beautiful setting. Located at a nosebleed 9,800 feet, Shangri-La is surrounded by mountains and rolling hills. Pigs are the most common thing to see roaming the streets - and I'm talking tanks of pigs. The hairy ones could pass for small bears. And, as a nice change from the sweat-drenched-t-shirt-heat of Bangladesh, the temperature is much cooler here. The coolest (not literally) area of town is Old Town (古城), which is where all the cafes and traditional Tibetan handicrafts are found. The cheese shop, shown in the last post, is in Old Town.

During my time in Shangri-La I was able to establish shipping logistics for Yunnan province, survey customers for potential menu changes, inspect the shop for structural improvements to be made, and enjoy my fair share of cheese and wine. I stayed up late and got up early, with a local hostel serving as my home base. My pace, I realized, wasn't what this town was all about. Things move slower here, people walk slower. Cafes close at 11pm. I was mostly working with Zhou Ma, the manager of the cheese shop, and sometimes Zhang, another worker and her boyfriend. Zhou Ma is pictured picking out our chicken we would have for dinner that should have seen the bloody bag we were handed back after it was slaughtered.

Zhou Ma has been very helpful in accomplishing my and Mei Xiang's goals, giving a lot of input when it came to things like creating order forms or editing the company brochures. She knows her cheese and she knows her business. But there were times when I was ready to go, get it done, and check it off the list. She wanted to wait until later, or tomorrow. An argument would ensue, and most times I would concede, realizing that sometimes you just have to conform to the local way of life. Ultimately I have to pick my battles - I can't turn this young company upside down, so I have to pick my changes very carefully. After my short stint in Shangri-La, Zhou Ma and I saddled up for another sleepless, painful, and this time foul-smelling (some bad Chinese BO) 13-hour ride to Kunming to follow up on all the contacts I had established. Time to sell some cheese.

1 comment:

  1. It's hard to beat 'fresh' chicken! I've helped slaughter some live chickens in my day, and chased them around the yard...HEADless! Quite entertaining, as I recall, except for when they, being BLIND...since they HAD no HEAD...would run thru the vegetable garden and we HAD to run thru it, as well, in hot pursuit of the creature, spewing blood from its neck, in order to tackle it and throw it, feathers and all into a gunny sack and ultimately into the pot of hot wax, all the while our mouths watering in anticipation of eating the poor critter for supper! Having worked up quite an appetite we repeated this whole process over and over until we had a chicken for every pot and pot for every chicken. I am certain HAD they HAD a HEAD and HAD been able to see they HAD not have HEADED for the HEADS of lettuce and assorted veggies in the garden. We got in a lot of trouble for mangling the veggies. I guess we probably made chicken vegetable soup! I don't like getting in trouble.