There was a light drizzle on the day I landed in Yunnan, and the air was so soft walking in it was like being gently wrapped in a cool velvet blanket. It was unlike Chengdu, my home city. Chengdu was damp, but to spend a winter in Chengdu is like staying in a small, fully air-conditioned room with moisturiser on. So, a curious seven-year-old as I was, I immediately decided that I liked the place.
There were stone-paved streets all over the town of Lijiang. They might have been specially made that way, or they might have been like that forever. They weren’t the kind of cobbles on which horses go clip-clop-clip-clop pulling a lady in a carriage; they were big, flat, irregular stones that would have only matched Chinese buildings, especially on a day with ‘smokey rain’ and Naxi girls in their colourful traditional clothes and fancy silver ornaments. We walked down a street like this to our hotel. I was excited about all this travel and this new place, and made it my mission to look at every different detail and so the journey took twice as long as planned. We eventually arrived at a small wooden Chinese house with a yard. It was almost past check-in time and the rain had stopped and the sun was setting. Our room faced the yard, and when I pushed open the door, a warm red ray of sunlight beamed onto my face. I gave a little shriek of excitement, and threw myself onto the soft, newly-changed bed.
Soon enough, I fell asleep.
When I woke up, it was well into the night, and stars started to creep up into the edges of darkness. My mum and dad took me to the night fair. There were night fairs everywhere in China, but this one was different. This one sold fried cockroaches. And there was a river running through the stalls, singers in every corner, bars with doors open and red, green, purple, blue, yellow lights reflected gently in the water. I got a flower pastry to eat. It was freshly baked and absolutely delicious. I could still remember the warm, crumbly crust, the sweet rose filling, and how I wailed for another one after I finished. We walked a bit further on into town, and the noise left us.
We found a shop selling flower-flavoured jelly candies. Flowers can be found everywhere in Yunnan. I found the jellies delicious, and the shop owner, a kind woman, said that I could have some more for free. As her four-year-old daughter was busy bomb-raiding the shop, she told us that she was also from Chengdu, but preferred to live a quieter life here. We passed shops selling silver—Miao people, one of the ethnic groups in the area, where known to craft beautiful silver. I was reading fiction novels then, and I truly believed that some kinds of silver were magic, and rumour has it that the Miao knew a special kind of witchcraft. So I searched the whole area for strange-looking jewellery that could be my potential talisman, and was very disappointed when the shopkeeper and my parents finally got annoyed and asked me to leave.
That night, while I lay in bed, I was still thinking about magic and flower pastries and creepy deep-fried insects. The moon was round and bright, and I could still hear faint music drifting across the river. That what Lijiang meant actually, ‘beautiful river’. And Yunnan ‘the south of the clouds’.
Now, sitting here, I think of Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty, who was said to have dreamt of chasing rainbow-coloured clouds. He chased and chased after them in his sleep, but they still vanished at the borders of Yunnan. And that was how Yunnan got its name. In his elder years, like all mortal kings, Emperor Wu pursued immortality just like he once ran after the mythical clouds. Just like how I once believed that a silver bracelet would protect me from shadowy spirits.
My name is Li Qingxiao, which looks like 李青筱in Chinese and means green bamboos. I was born in the October of 2008 in Chengdu, an interesting place to live in with really good restaurants everywhere. I keep a very special rabbit who seems to have seen too much of the world to like it anymore. I’m in year nine and I study in Chengdu Shishi Union middle school.