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I have a vivid memory of Manchester an old lady cooking in a side yard over a simple stove fired by a single, cylindrical coal briquette. Outside kitchens are a good strategy to avoid the inexorable, Manchester progressive chronic obstructive pulmonary disease caused by constantly breathing particulate matter from open fires indoors, but it did make me think about the challenge Manchester (with 1.3 billion people) faces in limiting greenhouse gas emissions. The other recollection I have is of looking down on a continuity of timber buildings Manchester and overlapping, tiled rooftops – these wooden towns are highly vulnerable to fire!

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That night we were treated to an intriguing concert of ancient Na’xi music. The members of the large orchestra of men and women, young and old, were dressed in brightly coloured traditional costumes and, while a few of the instruments were unfamiliar, it was easy to identify drum, flute and mandolin variants. Some of the players also sang, with the fascination being very much in the different registers and sounds that the Western ear associates with the Asian musical tradition. The following evening we viewed a more acrobatic and stagey Yunnan-Minorities entertainment, featuring both traditional and more contemporary Western performances. Both experiences were highly professional and memorable.

Our second day took us to Lashi Lake, with the coach ride showing us traditional villages and farms in Huangshan County, both as we drove by and made food and rest stops. The realities of small-scale agriculture in high country areas may not be that different to anywhere else. My memories of rural Yunnan coalesce into a set of mind pictures enhanced, in some cases, by photographs taken at the time. The old established farmhouses and fields looked much as they might have done for decades, even centuries. Other recollections are of old people playing Mahjong in the villages, of a welder repairing damaged wheels by a dusty roadside, of those two-wheel tractors with varied attachments, and of labourers placing what looked to be hand-cut stone borders to newly constructed highways. Fleets of ubiquitous blue trucks carried the road building materials, with some loading at supply depots extended to form primitive camps. Clothes drying on lines suggested that these were home to many of the workers and, perhaps, their families. Aggressive rural road building is emblematic of a nation that moves steadily forwards. Apart from transporting goods to and from the major centres, roads facilitate the spread of education, opportunity, national identity and political control.

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