JENNA here, writing this travel diary from beautiful Yunnan, China.
This place has long been a bucket list location for me, stemming from my college days pouring over books that described Asia’s art history objects, calligraphy scrolls and landscape paintings which captured my interest and resonated with me in a powerful way. If you aren’t familiar with the area, Yunnan is also known as South of the Clouds and is home to some of the most diverse cultures, ecology and landscape in China.
Since I arrived here, I have been wowed by the verdant, low-lying valleys carpeted with rich yellow canola fields ringed by white-capped mountains. The landscape is also dotted with rustic towns and villages of many vibrant ethnic minority communities which I’ve learned is a signature part of this region.
I am here participating in a photography retreat with Douglas Beasley and the past week has filled me with inspiration. A large portion of that is experiencing the warm hospitality of the LINDEN CENTRE located in Dali City, Xizhou Town which means “Happy Town” in Chinese.
I feel lucky to stay at the elegant LINDEN CENTRE which is a spacious 14-room Bai-style courtyard home, and a nationally protected heritage site. This boutique hotel has been carefully renovated by Brian and Jeanne Linden who founded the center and have received many accolades for their efforts in the community, including TripAdvisor naming the Linden Centre as the Best Small Hotel in China.
The rooms and grounds are truly an artist’s haven, with Bai-style antiques in both the public and private spaces, and original art and artifacts arranged to enhance the architecture around every corner. I’ve felt at home from the moment I checked in.
One of my favorite spots on the property is the wisteria laced terrace overlooking field and mountain views. This is where I enjoy a cup of tea at dawn while I write observation notes in my journal, and watch the sun come up.
The hotel’s restaurant chef is incredibly talented, serving delicious and fresh dishes daily for our group. It is extraordinary how he reinvents simple ingredients in unique ways, so we never have the same dish twice! Every meal has been literally heaven for me, because I so enjoy trying the flavors of this region.
Mornings are special with piping hot bowls of spicy and savory vegetarian noodles, paired with sweet fruit and coffee flavored with local honey from a nearby shop (thank you Doug!). There are also western breakfast items in case you feel like starting your day with the flavors of home.
I’ve also tried Xizhou Baba, which is a famous specialty snack in Xizhou that you can buy from a street vendor. Known as Chinese pizza, you can get it in two flavors, sweet or salty. I tried the salty version which cost me 10 renminbi, or approximately $1.50. It was smokey tasting and absolutely delicious.
ARTIST INSPIRATION IN XIZHOU
Stepping out of the Linden Centre brings you right into town, with the market square nearby. A simple map can get you anywhere on foot. Walking through the town, I’ve immediately noticed how happy the villagers are, with nearly every passersby greeting me with a smile. I practice my “ni hao “ greeting and enjoy sharing these simple exchanges that open so many doors when I’m traveling in a new country.
I happily wander the cobblestone streets lined with rustic shops and collect color and texture notes for my sketchbook. Some of the sweetest hours I’ve spent here are walking down alleys and discovering spontaneous moments of pure beauty – interactions with the villagers even though I don’t speak Chinese, admiring the gorgeous handmade wooden signs that adorn almost every establishment, or ordering a cup of something hot to drink in a coffee shop.
Experiencing these things are what allow my creativity to blossom in a new place.
Xizhou has been historically important as a trading post along the Tea Horse Road, and I feel honored to follow in the footsteps of traders long gone during my travels here.
My intention for this trip was to explore more of my signature self-portraits, and also experiment with double exposures. I plan to share more photography and notes about my time in China in future posts, as well as work of my fellow photographers who are such a unique and talented group.
THANK YOU Brian and Jeanne for being such incredible hosts for this journey, and a special thanks to Douglas Beasley who never fails to inspire me to think more deeply about my photography practice.
HELLO FRIEND! I’m JENNA ERICKSON
Founder & Lead Travel Ambassador for OPEN AIR PLACES.
If you know of anyone who would love to experience the gracious hospitality at the LINDEN CENTRE, stay tuned for room & booking details on our site! I can’t wait to help you experience this unique place, South of the Clouds.
I WILL BE SHARING MORE WITH YOU SOON ABOUT WHY I THINK TRAVEL & RETREATS ARE SUCH AN IMPORTANT PRACTICE FOR CREATIVE INDIVIDUALS.