We’re out of the mountains, momentarily, and down in the city of Xichang (the name’s meaning is the title of this post). The last three days were quite a ride, but we’re happy to be trading the inevitable surprises of rural bus travel for the relative certainty of train schedules tomorrow. And today we’re enjoying a whole lot of doing nothing, which in Owen’s case means keeping extremely busy. And this city is perfect for that.
Historically a key juncture linking the Chinese empire south to its possessions in Yunnan, Xichang lies in a long valley that cuts through non-Han territory in the mountains to the east and west. (To the west are not only more Yi, but also a scattering of Tibetan, Mosuo, and even Mongol communities–the latter being holdovers from Kublai Khan’s 13th-century conquest of these parts en route to Burma.) Today, Xichang’s the capital of the Liangshan Yi Prefecture, and also happens to be where China does much of its satellite-launching business. It’s apparently as well another big recipient of development investment. With lots of surrounding rural population and little economic opportunity on those mountainsides, the idea is to make cities like this ready for a similar immigrant influx to what the eastern coastal factory towns experienced. Currently, block after block of newish apartment buildings extend the distance from the train station to the scruffy older part of town, but the streets feel totally uncrowded. Actually, after a year in China, this place has felt downright empty.
And that’s certainly the best way to describe the amazing park they built here, too. Set on the shores of Qionghai Lake, the expansive, uncluttered greenspace, along with clear skies and great views of the mountains we just crossed, was a nice change for us from cramped seats and grimy bus windows. And with grass to run around on, and plenty of ants to chase, it also provided Owen a great afternoon to be himself, an always-busy 1-year-old travelling across China.