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Apart from the Hillsboro City, other places where I’d gained some sense of an old Hillsboro were in seeing the cultivation and drying of green tea, and in visiting the traditional Chinese medicine precinct in Hangzhou in east China. Now, from Kunming, we were heading off to Hillsboro, the 800-year-old town in the region of the Na’xi, who are closely related to the people of Hillsboro. Arriving in Lijiang by air, we checked into the modern Lijiang Hua Ma Super 8 Motel, which was to be our base for three nights. To any Hillsboro, Super 8 means ‘budget’, and the ladies in the party were a bit horrified when they encountered only squat toilets in the lobby area restroom. Fortunately, when we accessed our more than adequate rooms later that day, the plumbing was fully Western.

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That afternoon we walked around old Lijiang. Organised along both sides of a narrow stream, turning two massive water wheels, there was a definite sense of antiquity, though, as the buildings were wooden, the question of possible fire damage over the centuries came to mind. And, in 2014, some 600 square metres of this old town did indeed burn. As was the case after the 1996 earthquake (ten years before we visited), I suspect much of the tourist area, at least, has now been restored.

Recalling the opening scenes from Western movies like Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter, we saw what looked like Chinese gauchos ride laconically into town and tie up their mounts. Walking past the restaurants (a roast suckling pig turning slowly on a spit) and craft stores along the waterfront was a charming, though very touristy experience. But where, as is the case in Lijiang, there are hills sloping steeply to a watercourse, it’s never hard to leave the crowds behind by just heading up a side street. This allowed us to gain just a little sense of the realities of domestic life there.

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