I promised this post ages ago and have now been back in the US for over a week. Sorry.
Nearly 10 years ago, during my first year in graduate school, my mom and I went on a trip for her 50th birthday. We went to Kunming, Dali, Lijiang, and Tiger Leaping Gorge, all in Yunnan, China. It was my first trip to Yunnan. I told Mom she could only go with me if she promised to travel "my way". I had fantasized about backpacking around China and meeting cool people and I didn't want to be hampered by a mother insisting on staying in fancy hotels. So we each had a small backpack (you can see pictures of mine in our field work photos from January - it's the blue and black one) and took a flight from Shenzhen airport to Kunming. We stayed in a youth hostel and bought train tickets (only soft sleepers available, darn it). We bicycled around Kunming. We stayed in hotels where beds cost 10 RMB (about $1.25 at the time) and I refused to upgrade to rooms with beds for 15 RMB. I wouldn't let Mom hire a horse to carry her or her stuff on the hike, even though I now realize she was suffering from altitude sickness... we were at elevations close to 10,000 ft.
On this trip to China, Yue found us the fanciest hotel she could in most towns we stayed in (not Dali or Kunming, but everywhere else). We stayed in hotels with breakfast buffets that sometimes even had western food like cereal, a waffle bar, and an omelet bar. One hotel had rose petals in the toilet and a bathtub in the bathroom. I think hotels averaged about 250 RMB (about $45) a room. We would never dream of staying in rooms with shared bathrooms or in dorms.
How my standards have changed!
Another note I promised:
It's amazing how quickly I remember how to drive in China. Honking on every turn, passing whenever the corner is less blind, slamming on brakes when you see traffic cameras that will catch you speeding (but I did get a speeding ticket and a parking ticket anyway). I always worry that I'll forget how to drive in the US when I get back, but I seem to have done ok. The places we were driving in Yunnan, especially the main east-west highway from Kunming towards the Myanmar border, seem to be particularly prone to accidents, so there were graphic signs on the road about what happens at different driving speeds. Burned and crashed cars were on pedestals on the side of the road as a warning. One had inflatable feet and legs dangling out of it. I only had two close calls, one of them on my 3rd to last day of driving. But they still scare me. The last thing I need is to have me and possibly a student in a hospital in rural Yunnan. I have to admit that towards the end of my nearly 6000 km of driving (in under 3 weeks), I was starting to get a little wigged out. Colby needs a mom and the new baby needs to be born and to have a mom. I was happy to return the rental car. And I'm happy to report that I took a few cab rides in Chengdu and Shanghai and survived them fine, and, more importantly, I remembered that one can't pass on blind corners in the US and you shouldn't honk on every corner or each time you pass.