China, as the most populous country, the oldest continuous civilization, and one of the largest and most varied land in the world, is in itself a world. For my first trip to China, in May 2002 ( travel notes
), I chose to sample only the South-West. I found a surprisingly colorful region. The landscape included strange geological formations such as the Stone Forest, the beautiful Lake Erhai, and cool forested slopes and cliffs at Emei Shan. The old streets kept getting more interesting from Kunming to Dali, and then Lijiang, which I found to be a real gem, and there were plenty of old temples and monestaries, including the tallest buddha statue in the world, set in a beautiful riverside cliff at Leshan. But what struck me the most were the people. Where I expected uniformity, I found an array of ethnic minorities still continuing their traditional life. While I expected the trip to be difficult because of the language barrier, I found plenty of helpful and welcoming people. I subsequently returned to China on two other trips, during which I visited some of China's large cities.