Edit Blog Post
Published: April 26th 2009
Tourists throng the streets of traditional wooden Chinese buildings, many of which have been converted into expensive pizza restaurants, curry houses, souvenir shops and backpacker hostels. I've been walking down this particular street for less than two minutes and already the third great-grandmother in the traditional dress of her ethnic minority is staggering up to me to say, "You want smoke ganja?"
Dali, along with Lijiang and the so-called Shangri-La, is one of Yunnan's tourist hotspots. The houses, the city walls, the towers, the pagodas, the temples, the fountains have all been exquisitely renovated and the place is aesthetically very pleasing. But I cannot escape the impression of being in an artificial bubble of Westerness with a hastily added coat of Chinese paintwork covering the exterior.
After I stop to take a picture of a building, yet another old, hunched, traditionally-dressed woman approaches me and the words of refusal of yet another drug offer ready themselves on my lips. But, to my surprise, this time she just points to my camera and indicates that she wants me to tke a photo of her. I do so and then smile and say thank you. She responds my rubbing her fingers
together to show that she wants money so I give her a tiny amount and she starts asking for more.
From the side, out of a bar where several groups of Western tourists are enjoying afternoon beers and snacks, the short, fat, ponytailed, Western owner yells at me in a cockney accent so strong that it has been years since I have heard anything similar: "Fuck's sake, don't give that old bitch anything mate, she's got a fucking car, I swear, I've seen her driving past in it." He stressed the word car as if this was the be all end all of wealth and was far more than the woman deserved. He then went on to yell at me how his place had the best pizzas, the best beer, the best pool tables and the best bar in the whole of Yunnan.
On another street whose pedestrians are all tourists and whose shop assistants are all locals dressed in an enormous variety of spotless, shiny traditional costumes I see a man next to a small carriage drawn by a ram of such snow white wool that it cannot possibly have ever really drawn the contraption to which
it is attached through the streets. The owner is charging a group of Chinese tourists quite a hefty sum of money to take it in turns to have their picture taken sitting in the carriage.
Dali was beautiful. The surrounding mountains, lake and villages must also have been beautiful. But we did not feel like we were in China, or like we could meet any Chinese people there who would view us as anything other than just another pair of tourists here to spend money, smoke dope and meet other tourists. We left the evening of the day we arrived.
Click this link for advice on independent travel in Yunnan Province
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