Supreme Dr. Ho Shi Xiu held court in Baisha Village near Lijiang
Lijiang is a small city in the northwest area of the Yunnan Province of China. The largest minority population in the area is the Naxi people. And many of them live and work in a small village called Baisha, about 5 miles north of Lijiang’s old town (which is an UNESCO World Heritage site by the way). Dr. Ho Shi Xiu, a legendary herbalist, welcomed visitors there until he passed away in late 2018. He was in his late 90s.
The Baisha Village was the cultural, political and economic center of the year dating back prior to the Ming Dynasty of 1368 to 1644. But it dates back many centuries prior to that. This is a real village, not a tourist trap. Granted, many Naxi people do get assistance to live there and the residents know that travelers will show up. Part of the deal is to be there doing Naxi things. But despite this, there are not that many travelers since the village is not that easy to get to.
We had the privilege of going to the Baisha Village on a beautiful mid-week spring day. Since the others on our trip were either still sick from an intestinal bout we all got to some degree, or were recovering from it, Michael and I had a private tour and the freedom to wander wherever we wanted. Our tour guide seemed resigned to her fate of simply following wherever our curiosity led. And it eventually led to Dr. Ho.
The subject: Dr. Ho Shi Xiu had turned himself into a destination in the center of Baisha Village. Until his death in 2018, he still worked as a medicine man and herbalist. Talking to him and taking photos was free. And Dr. Ho did love to talk in his rather broken English. He had risen to “fame” and became a local attraction when he was the subject of an article in the late ‘80s.
The inspiration: His two-room “office” was a dark cave with only narrow beams of sunlight filtering in between papers, articles and certificates he had papered all over the walls. The office in the back was piled so high that papers and books spilled off in random waterfalls. You could not walk into it without tiptoeing through, on and around papers. Dr. Ho Shi Xiu– or the Supreme Dr. Ho as I decided to call him – held court, ready to talk to anybody who came in. Mostly about himself. Mostly randomly. Then in his 90s, he wore a dirty lab coat pinned with an odd assortment of décor – the Canadian flag, something that resembled an award, and ragtag souvenirs that other curious visitors had likely given him.
I started snapping as he lectured and rambled during our 2016 visit. He paid no attention, jabbing his dirty fingernails into the air and at the surroundings. Since Dr. Ho liked his stature as a tourist attraction, I decided to give him a bit more and sunk lower to make him appear even larger.
Photographer’s tools: My Nikon D90 served me well for many an adventure, as did the 18-105mm lens f/3.5-5.6, both of which I got when I returned to photography after about 25 years! (I’m now shooting with a Sony a6600) What I like about this focal length on a lens is its ability to capture almost everything for me without fiddling with changing lens or being draped with several cameras with different lenses. Granted, it’s f-stop range made it a lot more difficult to capture Dr. Ho Shi Xiu in his barely lit surroundings. I was set at 1/20th of a second at f/3.5 with a wide focal length of just 18mm, pushing the edges of this lens in my struggle to capture enough light and keep Ho in focus. I also try to avoid over-processing so this has only the simplest of touches to tone down sharp swords of light that were distracting. This was taken in May 2016. To learn some basic travel photography tips, be sure to check out our story 9 essential travel photography tips for any photographer
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