Appreciating Dali's Sun

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Aug 21, Lisa's Cafe, Dali, China

Ahhh.... Much better.

I'm in one of Dali's numerous little backpacker-catering cafe's, drinking an icy (literally) Tsing-Tao beer. It's been a long day given last night's trip, but all in all, not bad at all.

Dali is known to be the escape from China in China. People seem to be more laid back. It has definitely been influenced by the West, by people like me, but I have the sense that this was always a tourist spot. I doubt to many backpackers lug marble home. And that seems to be one of the major things here. That and Batik, which you see numerous women selling on the streets and in shops here.

But I haven't really been feeling quilty for being here. For one thing, the sun was out! The proof of this is my sunburned ears upon which I swore I had put sunblock.

The bus ride was actually not so bad. It was 15 hours in total, but it was a sleeper so you could lay down and stretch out. I slept in one of the top bunks where there were only a single line of beds. Below were double beds, where a lot of people sat when they couldn't sleep.

I didn't get a lot of sleep, but it was much easier to nap, and it was nice just not having one's legs all scrunched up. As we climbed up into the mountains the sky cleared and I lay backed and just watched the stars whirling this way and that as we turned.

There was only one breakdown (flat tire) and one detour (more rain effects). I spoke for some time with an English couple who was on the same bus. They were doing a whole Asian circuit, they'd started in India, gone through Pakistan into Xinjiang, China, and from here will be down into SE Asia. They're Medics on holiday from Norfolk, somewhat formal and uppercrusty British accents. Nice though.

There was also a guy from Taiwan. He was the knowledgeable one on the bus, apparently living in Dali for some time, and he was explaining our detour to some other passengers. I though his voice sounded familiar in an odd sort of way, and when he said he w as from Taipei, I knew that it was his accent that I recognized.

He was a nice bloke, and was telling people what they should do in Dali, and where they could stay. He actually ran a little hotel with some Mainland friends. He seemed very calm and relaxed.

Upon arrival he showed me to the hostel that I'm staying at now, the Sunny Gardens. China has weird regulations about who can stay where and his hotel was not allowed to have foreigners.

The hotel is a couple of barrack like buildings facing a quite large and shady courtyard. They also have their own little bar and restaurant. The rooms are minimal and with many beds. My room has six, only mine and another two beds occupied. Plus it costs less than 2 dollars a night. Amazing.

One of my roommates was there, a Brit by the name of Chris, a University of Edinborough student with eyes like the Baldwin brothers. We went to get some breakfast together at Tibetan cafe: good porridge, bread and poached eggs.

The town is all stone it seems, there are cobbled streets and little alleys. The houses are mostly an older style of Chinese building with red tiled roofs. Much more homely than most of the buildings in Kunming.

The city itself if halfway between a range of mountains and Erhai lake which takes up most of the valley and butts up against more mountains directly across. Between the city and lake is all cultivated with rice fields, interspersed with various other sto ne villages, right down to shore.

The side between city and mountain is much less cultivated, only near the main road and some villages. Beyond that the land gets wilder and wilder until it is a pine forest which covers the whole range. Or most of it, in a number of places the hills are b eing mined for Marble- Dali's most famous export.

I set off after breakfast to try and get to a famous market, but as I was not in the mood for public transportation and the day was already past noon I just decided to walk down to some local pagodas.

I went to the "Three Pagodas", which sit on the mountain side of the city and bit further up the road. Some horse and carriage drivers try to get me to take their offers, but I keep walking.

The pagodas are not easily reached- not because they are far away, or in dense undergrowth or anything- but because one is forced to walk through a quite lengthy gauntlet of tourist stands, marble after marble after marble piece: balls, bookends, pen stan ds, necklaces, statues, etc...

They must have busier times of the year, because there were but 10-20 people in total their. There had to be a hundred or so stands.

The pagodas were a bit disappointing though- one could only stand outside them- no chance to climb up or anything.

I sat for a while in the shade, for the day was hot, drinking some water, when three little kids came upon me demanding my water bottle.

There was a girl dressed in traditional clothes of 9, a little boy of size and another girl also of 9 years, dressed all in white, who was not interested in my bottle at all.

They sat with me as I finished the water. Both the girl and boy demanded the bottle, so I said I would flip a coin to decide. The girl refused at first, but then I asked her "how am I to decide" and she relented. She won anyway and took the bottle.

They stuck around for a bit and I asked them their names, and ages. They had great fun in calling each other names and it turned into a little contest which the boy also lost. But only because he couldn't stop giggling long enough to reply.

Walking out of the pagoda compound I noticed that the pine trees had huge webs strung between them, and many huge spiders laying in wait. Never seen anything quite like it.

I wandered then down towards the lake. The Lonely Planet said it only took 40 minutes to walk there, but it took me two hours. There was a slight slope down from Dali, but after that it flattened out and seemed to go on forever.

Closer to town there was a lot of the marble industry, all sorts of little shops with displays of their marble products spread all over their courtyards.

There was one odd street which was sort of an avenue, broad sidewalks, trees; but totally or mostly empty; a chicken pecking around here, and one little boy were the only residents visible. Many of the buildings seemed to be shops, but all had closed door s, the only visible signs of life being the faded bits of red paper with spring couplets and new years greetings.

I passed through all sorts of little villages. More stone houses, and the streets here too were mostly empty, everyone out in the fields no doubt. One still had the chance to peek into little courtyards.

I walked and walked, past a reservoir, down through some fields, on top of huge irrigation pump works, past people spraying their fields, or distributing fertilizer.

It was hot when the sun was out, and huge thunderheads were sitting on the mountains on either side of the valley. Thunder rumbled occasionally from across the lake. But the sun only stayed hidden for a short while.

You could also here rock blasting. The explosions booms would echo back and forth between the mountains. Rocks seem to be a big thing here.

I finally reached the lake only to be a little disappointed. I'd been hoping for a nice spot to sit down and watch the world go by. But the lake had flooded the banks, so one could hardly approach it without getting stuck in mud. And in the end, there was no where just to sit and appreciate the water.

Instead I headed back a ways, directing some English towards the lake, and then finding a quiet little corner to sit down and write a letter. Well I tried at least, as soon as I sat down a bunch of kids found me. They and a carriage driver kept bugging me .

I gave into the driver though and let him drive me back up to Dali. The ride was bumpy, but at least the carriage was shaded. It could fit about six people, but there wasn't anyone else around.

Nearer town, we picked up a Belgian tour guide. She was here on vacation with her family. I ended up helping her pay her fee because she was 2 yuan short. So she said she would buy me a drink later.

For myself I headed back to the Sunny Gardens and had a much needed shower.

Now, I'm eating a good soup. Potato and garlic. Yum.

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