The bee king of Baoshan

Many updates – a short bicycle trip, an encounter with a bee keeper, several art events, a Dutch community event, and meanwhile progress on the Heyang house continues at a steady pace. Health and energy levels seem to be back to normal after I upped my thyroid medication.

Back on the bike

Last week I took a short cycling break. I did the 250 kilometers – and a few thousand climbing meters – from Dali Old Town to Baoshan in two days, with one night of camping on a cold but beautiful 2100m high mountain top.

About halfway, after a huge descent from my lofty camping spot, I crossed the mighty Lancang (Mekong) River

I came through Qudong, a historical Muslim town on the Tea Horse Road or Southern Silk Road. The historical quarter was a bit overrestored but the mosque was very impressive, and the food delicious.

It was great to be on the road, clear my head, and spend the weekend with friends in Baoshan.

The bee king of Baoshan

In Baoshan, my friend Tom introduces me to bee keeper Yangjun and his bees. On a very bright Sunday morning we hike up to his beehives, carrying two baskets, each containing a buzzing swarm.

As we walk up the narrow valleys Yangjun shares his passion. He is obviously very proud of his beekeeping skills. When he wants to stress a particularly important point he opens his eyes wide and the corners of his month turn down, like an actor in Sichuan Opera. Because he is so expressive it is easy to understand everything he explains.

Most of his beehives sit at the end of a valley, with forests up to the crest of the hills, beyond a small meadow with some old buildings. Recently he has added a couple of terraces, and this is where the new swarms we have brought will be housed. The hives are simple wooden boxes. They have a large lid, a small entrance, honeycomb racks hanging on the inside. Because it’s winter they are covered in tarpaulin, to protect the bees from cold.

Yangjun gets to work straight away. He takes a honeycomb-in-progress from an inhabited hive, and moves it to an empty one. The honeycomb is a gorgeous work of engineering, smelling of wax and honey, and about half of the pods are occupied by larvae. This will be the starter kit for the new bee colony.

Then, he carefully lifts the cloth from one of the baskets. With a large ladle, he carefully captures the swarm that is inside and drips it into the hive. The swarm is like one organism, even if many bees are buzzing around us.

None of us are wearing any kind of protection, but the bees are not threatening. Tom tells me that the bees can turn on you, for instance, if you accidentally kill one. If that happens you have to run for it.

If a bee accidentally migrates from the old hive to the new one with the transplant of the honeycomb, he might fight with a bee from the new swarm. Yangjun shows me how to separate fighting bees: you sprinkle a bit of dust on them, they get disoriented and you can carefully pull them apart.

Apparently every hive has its own character, depending on the temperament of the queen bee. Some are lazy, some are industrious. Some are aggressive, some are laid back.

It’s mesmerizing to see Yangjun skillfully handling his bees. He is obviously enjoying his job. Apart from fun, it’s also good business – you can buy a swarm for 200 yuan, and it might make 20,000 yuan in honey sales in a year. Yangjun tells me he has 30 hives.

When it’s time for us to walk back to Baoshan, Yangjun stays behind. He is waiting for someone from a neighboring valley to come over the hill. One of his swarms left the hive and decamped to his neighbours land, and today he is going to buy back his swarm. Never a dull moment for the bee king of Baoshan.

It was incredibly inspiring to see someone so engrossed in his work. Yangjun is in flow, in sync with the bees and with the environment.

Cultural events

While I was away, an exhibition opened at the brand new Global Sunac Contemporary Art Center, about 60km away from central Kunming at the south shore of Dianchi Lake. Two Amsterdam artist friends participate in the exhibition which is curated by Gao Xiang, director of Yuan Ciao Cen Museum and the Lugu Lake artist in residency. In 2019 I met Christina Hallström when she was in Yunnan to participate in the Lugu Lake Artist in Residence, and hopefully next year Roosmarijn Pallandt will be an Artist in Residence at my place. This is her work in the exhibition:

Bertrille Snoeijer, vice consul of the Dutch consulate in Chongqing, shares a video message in support of the exhibition.

This weekend I’m back in Kunming, for the second edition of the Kunming International Situationist Society Microfest. Was the last edition an introduction to Situationist theory, this edition is all about practice.

And lastly, on Sunday I’m organizing a small gathering for the Dutch community in Kunming, where we will celebrate Sinterklaas.

Heyang house

The Heyang house of my dreams is fast becoming a reality. Much happened during my absence: I now have an upstairs bedroom, with a wall made of wood salvaged from the ground floor partitions. The stone walls have received a final layer of white plaster. A few more weeks, and I can move in.

Today I met up with my friends Jens and Min. Min gave me a striking portrait of Ding Ding that she painted, I will have to find a good place for it once the house is finished.

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