Wednesday, September 14, 2005

everything, nothing...

i guess that it's been a while since my last update and i'm not too sure where i left things. so this may be some sort of combined update that covers a lot and where i forget most of what i wanted to say about each day... i'm quite sorry about that.

the last day in dali was wonderful. we rented bikes and biked around close to the lake, in between the rice fields to some smaller villages/residential areas. it was wonderful to see real people, not the ones after your money but the ones going about everyday things. people there were beautiful, with wonderful genuine smiles and an "hello" or "nihao" that really just meant hello. i think that seeing these people and how friendly they can be was the highlight of my trip here in china. and the children! i just love them. they laugh, smile, run around, love the camera. i always thaught that the chinese were more reserved but after that day i really saw another side of them. they seem to have such a contagious joie de vivre, it's simply incredible. we also went on a boat ride to nowhere in the end, but being on a boat on the 7th largest lake in china (as they love to point that out) was quite nice.

biking around though i caught an awful sunburn. i think i've really gotten used to the awful layers of smog around china and assumed this place would be the same and that like anywhere else the rays wouldn't get to me. the sun was out though, the sky was blue: i don't know where my head was.

the next day we grabbed a mini bus to lijiang, a city 4h away north of dali. this city was supposed to be even better than dali, a great place to relax in an old town with rivers, cobblestone streets and wodden house. well, i guess they didn't lie about the unesco site but really it all seems a little disney world to me. i can imagine that this place used to be genuine but now it all just seems like a social and physical construction by the chinese government to take in more tourists. we walked the streets - and granted, it is pretty - and all there was were stalls after stalls of the same tacky souvenirs. clothing, "jade", "silver", yak meat, tea, awful t-shirts, etc. and everything is a lot more expensive here... somehow it seems like the further away i get from beijing, the more i end up paying for things like food and beer. regardless, we had a good time walking around. and we grabbed a really cute private room that looked like a mixed-matched cottage (the double, which was really a tripple, was the same cost as us staying in the dorm bed combined, so we went for the luxery of not worrying about our stuff and privacy). the hostel also has this great rooftop patio, where you get an amazing view of the old city and of all the rooftops.

the next morning we had a long breakfast and then rented bikes to go to baisha, a small town 9km or so north of the city. we took some wrong turns though and ended up taking the longer route through small villages and corn fields. it was weird though, because you could see construction sites along the way where entire cities looking like old cities were being built. baisha was not super impressive though, it didn't have the feel i was expected. but at least there were less stalls and the place was quite small. we had some great noodles and then headed out to the dabaoji gong to check out the best fresco in the region. apparently most temples and frescos around here were destroyed or damaged during the revolution. anyhow, there were a lot of frescos in the small room and they were really beautiful and impressive. there was some damage, and at points it was hard to see but considering they were at least 850 years old, it's understandable. that night we went to a korean restaurant besside one of the rivers, a stretch of the old city that's really pretty with bridged and red lanters. people where signing everywhere, in the bars, restaurants and in the street. it was really great to see and listen to. chinese getting drunk are really funny!

yesterday we headed out to get our bus tickets to get back to kunming. we wanted the sleeper bus for that same night, but everything was sold out. so we had to book the tickets for the next day and check-in again at the hostel (where we got an even cuter room with some fake snoopy posters on the ceiling). the whole changing the date of return thing means that i'll be entering laos one day late, but it's alright. this is what traveling is all about!

after the ticket thing we went to the famous black dragon pool. there's a picture of the place in the front pages of the lonely planet, and i decided to come to this city solely based on that picture. what really won me over was the magestic snow-capped mountains in the background. unfortunately, this is not the good mountain viewing season in china. in dali as well, there were some very tall mountains but they were hidden away. this one here though is an impressive 5500m... i think we saw something that looked like the top of it for 5 minutes. otherwise, it's just a big cloud. without the mountains the view was not the same... but all was well when we ate some good dumplings, at Y2.5 each - the cheapest in china yet. and for dinner we got to witness more chinese drinking and chanting: there were even competitions between restaurants accross the river where they'd go back and forth for what seemed to be hours.

today we walked around the old city and the new city a bit. we went on little streets that go up the hill and it was nice to see less tourists. tonight we are catching the bus back to kunming and will arive early tomorrow morning. hopefully tomorrow i will be able to catch a sleeper bus to jinghong to start to make my way towards laos. if not, it will be another day less in laos!

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