Sunday, February 08, 2009

China Triposeyo: Dali

Before we get into Dali, two random things.

1. Jay-Z plus Radiohead, remixed, makes Jaydiohead. These are some really, really cool mash-ups. (Mash-ups are songs which take the music of one song and the vocal tracks of another, and edit them together. Like this: Nirvana vs. Beach Boys: Smells Like Sloop John B. or this one, which has bad words and stuff in it, but which is also an incredibly inventive and catchy mash: Beatles vs. Nine Inch Nails: Come "Closer" Together [warning: "Closer" was probably Nine Inch Nails' most controversial song])

So here is Jaydiohead. It's awesome.

2. This was a song I first found on Amanda Takes Off, a repatriated Korea blogger.

The Elephant Song by Eric Herman
Too cute.

And now, China Triposeyo, part Four: Dali

Dali was the prettiest, and most relaxing part of the trip. We started off with a pretty massive move, starting at noon one day, and finally finishing our journey in the early evening the day after. We had intended to go to Kunming and stay there for a few days, but after a very unfavorable first impression of the city, involving hawkers, hawkers, toats, more hawkers, and more toats, we decided to turn right around and head back to the bus station, which was next to the train station where we'd arrived. We had to choose between Lijiang and Dali for our destination, and chose Dali on blind chance, because it was closer, so we would arrive there at a more reasonable time to find a guest house.

Dali was a pretty town.

Things like this ran right through the middle of town.

And even along the sides of the streets, there were channels with water flowing through them.
It gave the city a really peaceful, clean atmosphere, having water running through it at every turn.

(here's the bad part, so we can get back to the great stuff:)
The one drawback of Dali was that none of the buildings were heated, and the weather was. . . April at best. Plus, because of the sides of the building where the sun shone, my guest house room was, I swear, the coldest place in the entire darn town, and there was nothing I could do about it. Dressing in the morning, and leaving the guest house, was the worst part of the day, and I kept overdressing for the cold, on the logic of, "If it's THIS cold in here, it'll be even colder outside" (the way things work in Canada or Korea) only to step outside and be WARMER in the great outdoors than I was in my flipping guest house room.

Good thing I shelled out for a top-notch sleeping bag, or I'd've gotten sick or something.

Gripe two: a few really gross bathrooms. This one took the cake, probably for the whole trip, which was saying something. I was saying, "I'm glad I'm a guy, and I don't have to touch anything."And a pissing trough.

Other than those two gripes, Dali was amazing.

Dali was the capital of an ancient kingdom, the last kingdom to join the Chinese empire, and as such, it maintains more of its unique character than some of the provinces that have been part of China for, you know, three thousand years. Yunnan province in China is both the most biodiverse, and the most ethnically diverse province in China, and honestly, that was one of the things that blew my mind about this trip: see, from the outside, the way China presents itself to the world, and especially the way The World Outside China presents China to The World Outside China is way different than China looks from the inside. Saying "China is . . . " or "Chinese are . . . " is just as ignorant as saying "Westerners are . . . " or "The West is. . . " -- I mean, Danes are different from French are different from Californians are different from Saskatonians are different from Greeks, so to say "The west is . . ." or "Westerners never. . . " is dangerously ignorant. It's the same for China: the difference between China's leadership and PR/Propaganda department, and the average men and women on the street is huge, and China just kept amazing me with all the diversity in that one (granted, huge) country.

Here are some Bai people (the main ethnic group in the town of Dali), dressed in their traditional garb.
These ones were in town, dressed that way to try and get me to come in their shop and buy stuff...but an hour's walk outside town, we saw people wearing their traditional tribal clothing while working in the fields. Not to separate tourists from their money, but because that's what we wear in these parts, silly!

I didn't take pictures of them without asking. I felt like it would have been disrespectful. These folks didn't mind, though.

One way Dali's changed since tourist dollars started rolling in... the layout of the shop was the same as the farmer's produce shops and such, but the product on the shelves. . .
Dali is a walled city, with beautiful gates at the north, south, east, and west, and pagodas and old-style gates here and there throughout the old city.

The town is sandwiched between a mountain and a lake (an embarrassment of beauty, really). I walked to the lake with Matt and Heyjin and took this panorama, including ladies washing vegetables in the lake.

It's also a very photogenic town, countryside, and wall. One morning, I woke up extra early, just to take pictures.

It was one of the best ideas I had all trip.

In this clip, you can hear kids doing some kind of drill -- I'm pretty sure it was a schoolbuilding -- and you can also see the way the Bai people all decorated all their buildings, with paintings, white walls, and grey roofs and trim.

I saw this old guy doing Tai-chi by the wall in the cool morning.

And these people doing sword, and then fan dance/exercises not far away.

That same day, I rented a bike and biked down to Erhai Lake, and met God. We talked for a while, in way that was more sincere and real than I can remember. I can't explain how or why, but in dreams, in moments of heightened awareness or awestruck beauty, I can tell you without a doubt that God, and my late mother were accompanying me on this trip. One night I even had a dream where I was showing mom the trip photo album, and explaining it all to her. Out by the lake in Dali, once things finally got quiet enough, I was startled to discover God sitting down beside me, going, "Look at those birds over the lake. Beautiful, ain't they? What? You didn't notice I was here until just now? Then pay more attention, silly."

Pay more attention.

I took these pictures and video panoramas, and I biked around with my hands off the handlebars, spread out as wide as I could, as if I could give the whole beautiful world a hug. I also biked a ton and wiped myself out...only to meet an awesome Chinese university graduate who was out with his friends; we had a really neat conversation about travel, about China, about life plans, and life in general.

And I met a Belgian lady who told me about living in China as a French teacher: she related an unfortunate experience that some teachers in small-town Korea might be able to understand, when she joined a fitness club, and gave out her phone number to the club, only to have every member of the club phone her and ask if they could meet her to practice their English, over the next week.

I was thinking about several uncomfortable conversations I've had in Korea, where some of my Korean friends bring up the hot topic of the day, not because they really want to hear a foreigner's view on an issue like Dokdo, but because they want to hear the Korean position coming out of a foreigner's mouth, as if that validates it. I said something like, "And your Chinese friends probably all want you to trash CNN or BBC, don't they?"

She answered, "No. Actually not. In my experience, Chinese almost never talk politics with foreigners. It's considered rude and inappropriate."

And for a few seconds, I was ready to walk away from my job in Korea, and try to convince Girlfriendoseyo to move with me to China.
(also because of pictures like this)

Anyway, we met an awesome guy named Lee, with the most comfortable bar/lounge/hangout I've seen in ages. He was an awesome, cool, hippy-ish guy with a pony tail, a really easy voice, and a manner that took you straight on, exactly as you were, and found something to like about it. He and his place were great, and we ended up there just about every evening of our time in Dali.

At night, and all day long, in some places around the town, were projectors playing movies for anybody to sit down and watch.
One outdoor theater was at the side of this gate, in a little culture pavillion.

Sunsets were nice, too.

We took a little horseback trek up the side of one of the mountains, and looked around there for a while.
The Bai food was also delicious, and in town there was a German bakery where the heavy cakes tasted like Christmas at home (good gracious I needed that).

We ate breakfast every day at a place called "Kaiyi's Kitchen" which I highly recommend if you go there,

and the Korean restaurant was pretty good, too, but the best food I had there (and it was a tough call) is between the Bai Feast I had on Sunday night at Marley's Cafe, where they offer the Bai feast only once a week, on Sunday nights, and stuff you silly with light, tasty, perfectly prepared dishes full of fresh vegetables and gentle flavours, well-balanced between spice, sauce, and main ingredients, or the pizza at a place called "Stella's Pizzeria" which you MUST find, if you go there. Because of my milk allergy, they just prepared the pizza with no cheese, and dear readers, any time you walk into a restaurant and you see one of these:
skip what you'd planned to order before you entered the restaurant, and get a pizza. Period.

Le box.

Le pizza.
And dear readers, I can't even tell you how great this pizza was. The crust was crisp and hot but not too crisp, and not too chewy, the toppings were perfectly balanced between the tart olives, the deep oregano in the sauce, the sharp onions, just enough hot pepper kick, and the substantial, but not overpowering crust laying a deep grounding for all the other colours.

Go to Dali. Eat a Stella's pizza. I had it on my last morning, and skipped out on breakfast with Matt and Heyjin just so I could try it, and it was another brilliant decision.

We'd planned to move from Dali on to Lijiang during that week, but we dropped Lijiang from the itinerary, because we just loved Dali so darn much. Great decision. Really great. It was the relaxation I needed.

Yay Dali.
More Dali pictures by OTHER people here. You can see the rich blues of the traditional clothes in these pictures.

Whew! Next stop: Beijing, and then, we'll finish off Triposeyo 2008-09 with Hanoi. We're more than halfway there now, folks.


Whitey said...

Nice report.

I, too, went to Kunming. It was about five years ago. It is the hometown of two Chinese sisters that I knew in California.

They were busy with work, so sent me off to Lijiang for a few days. It was great. The same water channels as you report in Dali.

Next time I'll have to go to Dali, and you should try Lijiang.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Those are some awesome pictures.

What type of camera did you use?

John from Daejeon

Roboseyo said...

Thanks, John. The pictures and video were both done on a Nikon Coolpix p5100: it's the perfect camera for me, because it's powerful enough to do anything I can think of with my limited photography skills, but it's small enough and simple enough to let my friends use it, or stick it in a pocket.

Anonymous said...

Great report from Dali.

There's more info about Dali and other places in Yunnan, including why to avoid those old grannies selling you ganja on the Dali old town streets, at