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Spring Break in the Colored Sand Forest of ChinaLuliang

Love it or hate it, Spring Break 2001 is bearing down on us like the proverbial freight train. Smart locals either get rich during March or get outta Dodge. And then some of us trust to dumb luck to get us off this sand bar for the worst of it and I guess that is the category I would fall into.

I will be breaking my spring in Luliang, China -- as in "People's Republic of." Located in the Yunnan Province, just about midway between Viet Nam and Tibet, Luliang's famed "Colored Sand Forest" is not a place with trees. The name refers to an area of stunning rock formations way up high at 6500 feet. The sand there reportedly comes in 12 naturally occurring colors, making it a most excellent location for a sand sculpting contest, despite its lack of proximity to a beach. (The photo shows event organizers in what I assume is the general vicinity of where we will be building.)

By some strange twist of fate, I have been invited to represent SPI,. Texas and the USA in this event and as you may imagine I am pretty darn excited about it. This is a rather rural area of this vast country, pretty far off the beaten path if the limited amount of information I am able to find on the web is any indication. What I have found, however, is quite tantalizing:

YUNNAN is the sixth largest of China's 23 provinces. Its towering, ice mountains adjoin Tibet and Burma in the northwest and lush jungles bordering Laos and Vietnam in the south. Half of all China's animals and plant species can be found somewhere in Yunnan, and its nearly 40 million people include members of 25 different ethnic groups - a third of its total population.

In western Yunnan mighty ranges fan south from Tibet's border, channeling some of Asia's greatest rivers through immensely deep canyons. The Salween, the Mekong and the Yangzi race side by side far below the snow capped peaks, barely 80 kilometres (50 miles) apart. Movements in the earth's unstable crust continue to thrust the mountains upwards and subject Yunnan to periodic earthquakes. Attractions include the Pagoda of 1000 Buddhas, the tiered Fall of Nine Dragons, the Wind and Rain bridge -- (etc. etc.)

Of course, I have no idea if I will get to see any of this cool stuff. Sometimes the organizers of these events arrange for the sculptors to see some of the surrounding area; other times all we see is the stretch of countryside between the accommodations and the sand pile. Something one can usually count on is lots of opportunities to party with good friends in strange and beautiful surroundings -- which certainly would describe a typical spring break experience. Most sculptors I know can drink beer with the best of them, and PARTYcarvePARTY is the unofficial motto at most masters' level contests. For the China event however, we have been warned that the authorities frown on this sort of thing, and we shouldn't be seen imbibing if we want to be invited back. Bummer. I hear the beer in China is most excellent.

I will be competing against 7 other sculptors for some $26,000 in prize money. I have been told I will have a crew of nine Chinese sculptors working with me - at least one of whom will be sufficiently fluent in English to serve as translator. This is way different than other contests I have been invited to as there will be less emphasis on my carving skills and more emphasis on my people skills. The theme is "Fantasies of the Millennium" and we have 52 hours over a week's time to translate my fantasy into reality.

As usual, I will be traveling with my laptop and digital camera, and if there is any way at all to connect to the net, you will be able to follow along on my China adventure by surfing over to sandyfeet.com/trips. In the meantime, have fun, help others have fun and make lots of spring break bucks -- I'll see you in April!

There are five (5) ways to submit your questions/comments for future Ask Sandy columns: In person; by phone (761-6222) or fax (761-8930); the US Postal System (box 2694,spi,78597) and E-mail: (sandyfeet@unlitter.com). Visit my web-site (http://spionline.com/) for tips on sandcastling, contest info, recent Ask Sandy columns, and my reviews of local businesses.

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