1 Jan 2009
On New Year’s Day, we did a day trip to Li Jiang. It was a 3 hours drive down the narrow, winding mountainous road. The weather was fabulous and sunny.
We passed the Tiger Leaping Gorge along the way.
The drive was scenic and beautiful. Li Jiang is at a lower altitude of about 2,400m. Feels much warmer.
Li Jiang’s old town is much bigger and more commercialized than Shangri-La’s old town. The Naxi ethnic minority group 纳西族 lives here and they use a very interesting Dongba pictorial script writing 东巴文. Very cute characters. There’s so much to see and do here that 1 day isn’t enough. I would’ve loved to spend more time here.
The drive back, however, was a hair-raising experience as the sun was setting and the sky darkened. There were no streetlights on these mountain roads and no guard rails along the mountain edge. It would be a steep drop down at 3000m. This was scary for me as I have a moderate fear of heights. You can only rely on the car’s headlights to illuminate the path ahead. Each time our driver turned a sharp bend, I clutched my seat tightly till my knuckles turned white. The road is so narrow that the two way lane seems to merge into one. Huge vehicles like trucks and lorries drive at incredibly fast speed, zooming past us. The vibrations would reverberate through our car and rattle my bones. The only CD we have in the car, playing music in an endless loop, like the sound of doom.
After a long drive in the dark, we finally turned into a small town for a rest just 5 minutes before we reached Shangri-La city. There was a small unassuming shop by the roadside selling Lanzhou noodles 兰州拉面. Lanzhou is the capital city in the northwest Gansu province of China. According to china.org.cn, based on the 2010 census, Hui people 回族 account for 78% of the total population in Lanzhou. They are descended from Han Chinese and may have genetics of Middle Eastern origin. Majority of Hui people are Chinese speaking and practise Islamic religion.
You can tell that the noodle stall owners and their family are Hui people from their attire. They were wearing the songkok or Hajj peci, a prayer cap worn by Muslims.
We ordered beef noodles and were rewarded with an amazingly skillful display of truly handmade noodles. Living in a city, our noodles are all machine made and pre-packaged in plastic wrappers which you purchase from supermarkets. It had never crossed my mind to think about how noodles were made. Here, I finally grasp the reason why we call it La Mian 拉面, literally translated as pulled noodles.
After we placed our orders, we watched in awe as the owner retreated to his humble kitchen and transformed a blob of dough into finely stretched noodles with each pull. It was like magic. Like a skillful craftsman, he banged the dough on the metallic table, quickly rolling it out to the appropriate length. Then with each swift pull, stretch and fold action, the strands would thin and multiply. The end result is a batch of fine springy noodles, which he added to the big pot of boiling beef soup to cook. Making La Mian noodles is definitely something that you can only pull off with much experience (pun intended).
We were served bowls of piping hot and spicy beef noodles. It was cold outside and the hot and spiciness of the soup warmed us up quickly. I was very hungry and gobbled it down in no time. I’m not someone who can take very spicy food, but this was a memorable bowl of beef noodles, which I will always recall as the best lanzhou beef noodles I have had thus far.