Dallying about Dali

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February 12th 2008
Published: February 13th 2008
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Is there nothing else to do?Is there nothing else to do?Is there nothing else to do?

This little boy was captive to a 45 minute tea drinking ceremony. He kept looking longingly out to the courtyard.

Escaping Teda Chinese New Year

We were warned - leave town - Chinese New Year in Teda is loud and loud, and not much else.

Ever the ideallists we decided to embrace the noise in order to have the proper Chinese experience. It was loud. Fireworks are all day, everyday, every place...it seems to be especially popular to light them in the alley that our bedroom faces. They get louder at dusk and at midnight, but really only quiet down from 2am - 4am. I think it must be some kind of desensitization training for living in a war zone.

Wednesday night was the actual lunar New Year so we decided to go out to celebrate...and make some noise ourselves. We bought some cheap fireworks from a street vendor. At midnight Craig sets his off, lights the fuse and turning to give himself some distance....he trips and falls...fracturing his wrist!!!

So Thursday and Friday were mostly spent at the Chinese Hospital where we received excellent and very cheap service. Craig is in a cast and has been prescribed Chinese meds to help his blood circulate including such reknowned medicinal ingredients as : ground up beetles and cucumber seeds.


Saturday we finally boarded our plane to Yunnan province for holiday. We have vowed to never waste time around Teda again, next time we will quickly escape to warmer and quieter places. And well...here we are and we are beginning to feel better about life again.

Where is Dali?

Yunnan province is in the west of China. It borders on Tibet and Laos. Its a large province with rainforests to the south and the Himalayas to the North. The Canadians in us have chosen to explore the North and its well worthwhile. Despite snowcapped mountains, the temperature is 15-20 degrees celcius during the day. The hostel doesn't have heating, but once snuggled under your thick blankets its quite a nice sleep actually.

Yunnan was fairly inaccessible until recently, so there are many minority people who have maintained their culture. Dali is mainly populated by the Bai people who wear colourful clothing and eat spicy food. They are known for beautiful embroidery and batik and well, I'm trying to hold back on the shopping...at least until right before I get on the airplane home.

When I first saw ladies
Buying OrangesBuying OrangesBuying Oranges

How can this be nothing less than perfect. Fresh picked oranges on the side of the street with beautiful Mt.Cangshan in the background
walking around "Old Dali" in their traditional costumes I figured it was for the tourists, and in "Old Dali" it certainly would help sell their wares. However, taking a trip through the countryside and visiting a local market selling underwear, food basics and well, life staples not tourist crap, I realized they just choose to continue wearing their colourful and beautiful outfits. Old ladies continue to carry large baskets by a strap across their foreheads, and young girls are likewise outfitted. Twenty somethings opt for the same handwoven baskets to transport their goods.

Our first night in Dali we ventured into the old walled city. The North and South gates are original, though obviously restored. The streets are full of shops selling everything from power tools, to batiks. There is a lot of marble as this is the mainstay of the Dali economy. In fact, Dali is the Chinese term for marble. As such our humble hostel serves breakfast on a huge solid marble dining table.

Dali is also reknowned to backpackers, so it offers a lot of Western cafes. We chose to eat at Mr. Li's cafe. Mr. Li teaches English at a school in town and
Fishing Village CourtyardFishing Village CourtyardFishing Village Courtyard

Ok, I snuck through this door to see the inside of a courtyard and came face to face with these two cows...I took a picture and stopped trespassing.
runs his cafe on the side. He and his wife are Bai, so we had a sampling of traditional Bai cuisine. Mrs. Li cooked and watched television, while Mr. Li sat with us and discussed Chinese geography. We had spicy chicken La Zi Ji, fried mashed potatoes, and deep fried Yunnan cheese. We finished the meal off with Mr.Li's own homemade plum wine, served out of nothing less than an old Jack Daniels bottle. One little bowl was certainly enough.

Deciding to do it all

Our hostel offered a "highly recommended trip" around ErHai lake. Craig and I, suckers for the bizarre mix of experiences that the tour offered decided to get on board.

Monday morning, 7 passengers and a driver boarded a 7 passenger mini van with parts held together by packing tape. My seat was a little wooden stool with a tiny pillow. Safety first is the rule of thumb in China.

Before I begin describing the myriad of activities in store for us, I think our favourite part of the trip was just touring about the countryside. Driving through little villages, watching old men play majong, children run about the streets, narrowly avoiding donkeys who have free reign in the roads. Its paradise here, and I'm not being sarcastic.

We first sampled Yunnan teas in a traditional Bai courtyard home. Everyone else on this little excursion was Chinese, we were fortunate as Lily, from Guanzhou spoke Mandarin, Cantonese and as she put it "Chinglish". Actually her English was amazing. Thanks to her, we had some idea of what our tea server was trying to convey. Yunnan has four teas to represent the four important elements: Wind, Flowers, Snow and the Moon. The rose petal tea was unbelievable. The last tea (don't know which) I drank but didn't enjoy as it tasted like potting soil (don't ask me how I know what potting soil tastes like). I found out later, that this is in fact how our server advertised it, it's medicinal, helps you sleep and tastes like mud. My taste buds still work.

We checked out a batik making workshop, and I was good, buying only one piece large enough to use as a bed cover. Next we hit the Shaping Market - Shaping being the name of the village but amusing Craig and I to no end as
Extracting the CatchExtracting the CatchExtracting the Catch

The cormorant brings his catch of fish back to the fisherman who makes him burp it back up for lack of a better term.
Shaping is pronounced shopping, and well...ok we are nerds and think this is funny.

The market was so colourful and we bought an embroidered band to use on Craig's sling, which causes local women to giggle when they see him. Its important to feel useful in life, if only to provide amusement to others.

In a fishing village we enjoyed tasty street fried potatoes (opting against fried fish on a stick). This little village boasts a mansion called the glass house. It's an architectural beauty and part of it can be rented as a hotel for a meager 700 american a night. By Chinese standards (especially rural China) this is just plain crazy. We walked around the complex, enjoying the view.

We all enjoyed lunch which was part of the tour. The restaurant reminded us strangely of the Dominican with its open front concept, and locals sitting about playing cards and smoking cigarettes. Most of the food was quite familiar. We were served little fish, with not a lot of meat but filled with eggs. Craig and I had our obligatory chopsticks full, but stuck to our much preferred eggs and tomatoes, pork and mushrooms etc.
Roof DetailRoof DetailRoof Detail

Instead of the usual dragon ornamentation, ErHai Lake roofs boasted fish details.

We were running behind, so we rushed to a temple which has not fared well. Asking Lily how old it was, she guessed maybe 100 years, it didn't look great. She was laughing pretty hard when she found the sign declaring it to have been built in 1990...still it offered beautiful mountain vistas.

We went to board a boat to take us across ErHai lake and back to Old Dali. We were supposed to board boat number 13 which cracked Craig and I up. As a testament to how good Lily's understanding of English and Western culture is, she said "oh yeah! You find that number unlucky". Yes, we said it would be equivalent to Chinese choosing boat no.4 (which to them sounds like death...thus the death boat). Interestingly, boat no. 13 never turned up, and we had to (ok our new Chinese friends had to) bargain our way onto another boat as our driver had already departed to finish the 1 hour drive back to Dali to pick us up on the other side. The boat, to quote my aussie friends was "worth a miss". We were tired...and should have been back at the hostel by 5:30 ...it was already later than that and we were all waning.

So we find our driver on the other side, thinking...good day, but glad to get back...but no!!!! There is more to do on this whirlwind of a trip. Cormorant fishing. I am still torn on what I think of this. So they tie a string around the trained cormorant's neck so it can't swallow big fish. The cormorants swim along the boat and dive for fish. When they get one, they willingly bring it to the fisherman who grabs the poor bird by the neck, opens its mouth and dumps out the content. Its both ingenius and seems a little nasty. However, as I do eat meat, I don't know where I stand on it. The birds were quite friendly and kept perching on the boat beside me, coyly giving me "the eye". It was bizarre, but they all happily lined up on their perch by the boat to be put on a leash for the night.

We were happy to return to the hostel, though we did get caught in a 4 car traffic jam in one of the little back alleys.

Choose Your Own

Mr.Li fixes his sign.Mr.Li fixes his sign.Mr.Li fixes his sign.

Here is Mr.Li himself adjusting his sign. This is the place to eat in Dali for great Bai food and great Bai company.

We have decided to catch a bus to Lijiang today which is higher up in the mountains. My understanding is the bus ride will be curvy and dizzying. I think I will take a few preemptive gravols and pass out. I figure ignorance is bliss.

Cheers everyone and HAPPY YEAR OF THE RAT!!!


Additional photos below
Photos: 17, Displayed: 17


Streets of DaliStreets of Dali
Streets of Dali

Mt.Cangshan in the background.
You can never escape NapaneeYou can never escape Napanee
You can never escape Napanee

In the middle of nowhere China, Avril still haunts us. No we don't know her, never met her...sorry.
A river runs through it.A river runs through it.
A river runs through it.

Streets of Old Dali.
Dali:City of MarbleDali:City of Marble
Dali:City of Marble

A bit heavy for souvenirs.
Bicycle BusinessBicycle Business
Bicycle Business

Cotton Candy Machine and main form of transportation.
Mr.Li's Homemade Plum WineMr.Li's Homemade Plum Wine
Mr.Li's Homemade Plum Wine

potent...very potent....

1st March 2008

Poor Craig
I'm so sorry to hear of Craig's misfortune, breaking his wrist. I hope it doesn't affect his playing music for the future. It wound like you two are adapting very well to the Chinese experience and way of life. Any possibility of staying. I'm sure you'll find Canada to be pretty 'white bread' upon your return. Regards and keep each other safe. RF

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