A little shudder, then nothing. A second one, stronger – then nothing again. Yes, it is indeed spring, but this is not an earthquake. This is the sleeping car of the train from Kunming to Dali and its very smooth transition from old rails to even older rails. The gentle swaying and vibration do lull one into sleep, and the clean sheets helped, too. We slept in a cabin with a quiet, charming young Chinese man who didn’t make a sound the entire night. This was a second class sleeping car deep in the province of Yunnan.
The idyll came to an end, unfortunately, when we had to push through the other passengers to get off. The bathrooms had experienced overwhelming use during the night, and in the morning, like clockwork, everyone got up to brush their teeth… It is definitely quite important to have clean teeth, even when the stench of the toilet might just cause you to faint.
As a rule of thumb Chinese train stations are lively, if not cramped.
Even at six o’clock in the morning there was a waiting line for the exit of the quaint Dali train station and very soon we were in another lively place – the bazaar. Bazaars are typically very authentic, raw places – and this is true of any country – where you can learn some unspoken truths and meet some intensely interesting people indeed.
Most of all, however, they are best for getting to know the local food and customs. For example, we learned how rice noodles are made and witnessed a jaded tortoise advertise hand lotion. There were so overwhelmingly many peculiar things to see that we didn’t even know where to turn to, yet we must have seemed even more peculiar to the locals. Few missed a chance to inspect or greet us.
After the bazaar we wanted to see our fill of Dali architecture and learn what we could about the customs of the Bai people.
The streets were calmer – mayhaps people were busy tending to their duties and had no time to celebrate the first of May. We couldn’t even find a master tailor to show us how embroider different pictures on the opposite sides of the mural. We had to assume that it is very difficult indeed and takes many months and maybe even years. Persuasive as the merchants were, the prices were more dissuasive still. If these masterpieces are actually manufactured, then the inhabitants of this little village must be among the richest people on Earth.
In the differences between the houses in the village you could see the differences in people’s attitudes toward cleanliness in and upkeep of the garden. It seemed the number of imperial dynasties a house has seen change is irrelevant to the amount of waste it might accrue in its garden. The housetops disappointed only rarely, though. Some were fancy enough for even a temple. The streets, filled with dusty old vehicles, took us to Erhai Lake.
There we admired the mountain, the lake water and the docile cormorants. Even the dozen present boats, carrying Chinese tourists, who were enjoying the International Workers’ Day, kept the peace. Most rowers were female and worked hard to move boats with up to 20 people on them. We wanted to help, at least when we weren’t watching the tamed cormorants or the platform of dancers. After that little experience, we were sure the day could hardly impress us again.
We were wrong.
The temple with the three pagodas is the stand out local tourist attraction. It’s located at the base of the mountain and the numerous little lakes surrounding it offer abundant opportunities for a beautiful snapshot.
The old town in Dali was bursting at the seams with tourists.
Whether at three in the afternoon or ten o’clock at night, it was nigh on impossible to take a picture without at least ten people in the frame. That didn’t take away from the town’s old charm, though, what with its old castle walls, and we tried to really submerge ourselves in the atmosphere. For example, we got to experience what is probably the most professional tea ceremony in China in a rather ordinary tea shop. We would have just passed it by, had it not been for the recommendation of a local. This, by the way, happens often in China, so it is best to interact with as many locals as possible. Not only will they help you make the most of your time there, but it is really the only way to know the true China.
This article was brought to you in English by Nick Kotsev.