The Inner Mongolian China Brog

Monday, March 20, 2006

Spring Festivus for the Rest of Us, Part II

So, we arrived in Kunming several hours later than we'd planned, but in one piece. We stayed the night in the city, but didn't stick around the next day to sightsee (we consider ourselves fairly well-versed in generic-Chinese-big-city-ness). Instead, we hopped on a 5-hour busride to Dali, an itty-bitty ancient city nestled between mountains on one side and an "ear-shaped" lake on the other. A beautiful spot, needless to say. It's surrounded on all four sides by its original walls, more or less, and takes all of a half-hour to walk the length. We decided to stay slightly outside the city's walls in Jim's Tibetan Hotel, which was a great experience in itself. Jim is evidently an enterprising Tibetan who opened this hotel after finding his guesthouse within the city walls quite successful. So it's brand new with only 13 guestrooms, complete with hand-carved Tibetan furniture and painted walls - altogether a very authentic feeling site. We enjoyed our choice of accommodation thoroughly, including the yak goulash and Jim's No. 1 (a whiskey-based drink that's composed of visible stalks of herbs, rock sugar, and God-only-knows what else).

Dali and the surrounding area has plenty to offer in the way of great scenery, clear mountain air, delicious Yunnan coffee and banana pancakes. On our first afternoon in town, Emma and I sat down outside a cafe to enjoy the aforementioned qualities of Dali and were approached by no less than 3 or 4 old toothless Tibetan ladies proffering their handmade wares (embroidery, shoe insoles, etc.), all of which we turned down, at which point they would look around shiftily and then lean in and say "You wanna smoke?" Honestly, lady, what do we look like to you? Twenty-something backpackers?? Psh.

Among the attractions we took in during our short stay in Dali were the 3 Pagodas and Sha-ping Market (say that one out loud - it's punderful), which boasted everything from beautiful antiques to "beautiful antiques", spices, clothes, food, recently butchered livestock, and a roadside dentist displaying a decent selection of the "teeth" he would replace the problematic ones with. Emma and I didn't buy much of anything, but were happily taking it all in when one of the merchants plowed past us holding several chickens by the feet in each hand, basically colliding with Emma, much to our horror. They didn't mention that bird flu came free with a visit to the market.

Apart from that encounter, we enjoyed our time in Dali very much, and though the weather was fairly pleasant, you can see how it would be really spectacular there in the spring. We headed back to Kunming after 2 days to catch our train to Guilin. We had a couple of hours to kill first, though, so we went in search of a good meal before the long ride east. Well, a meal we found, but good it was not. Of course, I thought I was being a dutiful tourist by sampling the "across-the-bridge noodles," which is apparently one of Yunnan's local cuisines, and it tasted fine enough at the time, though 12 hours later it was distinctly less pleasant as it came back out of my mouth in the foul train lavatory amid excrement sloshing around the floor. Mama Fufu is definitely on my shit list.


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