Saturday, August 6, 2016

Dali, China: We Get Our Faces Painted Onto Shirts

I'm coming home. It's official. For anyone who might have been concerned that I was never coming home (valid concern) or losing sleep over this, I have my ticket in hand (a.k.a. in my email inbox). It's been slightly delayed, I know, but it had to be done.  Oh, the date btw, is August 27th. See you all then?

Anyways, back to the scheduled programming - onto the city of Dali!  Emma and I headed there together from Yuanyang, which took an entire day of travel.

What It's All About:
Dali is another city in the province of Yunnan -  it borders a beautiful lake and has nearby mountains to hike, and is also known to be one of those incredibly lovely backpacker hubs: the old city has more trendy cafes, wifi availability, massage parlors, and chillout spots than you know what to do with.  My Lonely P says that Dali is a great place to relax and while away a week - it just has one of those vibes.  I've noticed a trend that anytime somewhere is a "popular backpackers' hangout place", I tend to looooove it. Always. Against my will.  Dali was no exception.


It SHOULD have been an exception though, because it literally nonstop rained the entire two days we were there!  Despite the drizzly weather and constantly frizzy hair, however, Emma and I still managed to have a great time: we spent a day in the old city, and spend a day touring nearby Erhai Lake.

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Our transport from the Yuanyang terraces included: an hour-long ride on a minivan to the main city of Xinjie, a 2.5-hour minibus from Xinjie to Nansha, a 2-hour minibus from Nansha to Jianshui, a moto taxi from the bus station in Jianshui to the long-distance train station, then to cap it all off: a 12-hour overnight train from Jianshui to Dali.  To be fair, I think I could have just taken a 7-hour bus back to Kunming and then a 5-hour bus to Dali, which would have been maaaybe a little less involved, but it was already too late by that point. I also may have forgotten that I'd left my large backpack in Kunming at my hostel and had only brought a small daypack to Yuanyang - I realized too late that I'd have to make do with the contents of the daypack for the rest of the week, since I was bypassing Kunming. Oops.

Our overnight train to Dali! The one way you know you're not traveling with Parks anymore? We booked a cheaper bed (the hard sleeper), where the bunk beds are stacked in three's on top of each other. And some of the bunks don't have doors.

Our evening dinner of delicious ramen noodles. In China, ramen noodles are EVERYwhere - they're sold in all the shops, and there's hot water dispensers everywhere you can imagine: train stations, on the train, in airports, at transit stops, everywhere.  And they're super delicious. Not just Cup o'Noodles - but tons of flavors and tastes and types and included extras! Loveeeee.

And of course, Emma and I both got stuck with top bunks! Where you have to basically monkey-climb over the bottom two bunks and you can't sit up because there's not enough room between the bed and ceiling.  Living the dream.

  • We arrived in Dali in the early AM to a constant, steady drizzle of rain. After checking in at our hostel, Emma and I headed out to wander the Old City. We spent the day wandering in and out of the shops, cafes, and adorable sights of the center. 

How cute is the old town of Dali!

There were a lot of fancy tea shops (Yunnan is the home of Pu'er tea), and this man treated us to a tea tasting. It was crazy-involved, like there was a very specific number of steepings for each kind of tea, and lots of little silver hardware and tools and such. Tea can be so fancy!

Rainy-day ponchos in front of one of the city entrance gates

These guys are hammering patterns into metal bracelets with tiny nails

Assortment of lotus flowers and pods for sale

This area is well-known for its flowers - they collect roses and do everything with it: stick it into tea, infuse it in honey, sell it in bunches, etc. 

This lady is filling pastries with rose petals! 

Here are the little rose-stuffed pastry cakes! I bought a box. It was weird. Like eating mouthfuls of flowers. Which I guess it was.

We love Dali!

Sounds delicious

All the pedestrian walkways are filled with willow trees and leafy plants and rivers and adorable shops

Lotus flowers!

And in pink!

Dali has prettiness everywhere, seriously

A restaurant/bar that I liked the look of
A store that sells matching shirts for couples. THIS is where they come from!

Pretty decorative rivers

And then Emma and I found ourselves in one of those shops that can paint you, either as a caricature or in real life.  We were standing there wondering whose face you would get painted on a shirt which the worker misunderstood to mean that we were interested in having our faces painted onto shirts. He offered us a great deal and we looked at each other and were like  "Hey. Why don't we get shirts painted with our faces on them?"  And a genius idea was born.

The artists offered to paint us in real life (i.e. rainy hot messes with no makeup on), or work off a photo. We both chose a photo (the only one each of us had was our WeChat profile photos with our hair and makeup done), which the artists looked at, then looked back at us, as if not really believing they were the same people. THANKS GUYS

A scenic shot exiting the old town

  • The next day, Emma and I joined a tour to drive us around Erhai Lake, which borders Dali. There are tons of cute little minority villages and scenic views along the way (though most of them were pretty foggy the day we went, due to the rain).  

Our first stop was a minority Bai village market! 

So many veggies, including my fave, eggplants! LOOK HOW MASSIVE AND PURPLE THEY ARE HERE

This lady was selling tiny fishes in tiny pans

Walking through the village, there was a super interesting mix of old structures and new
This local tribe uses a head brace to carry their goods

Like this. This is a super-old house, which has been preserved over the centuries. But when we went inside, they'd filled the inside of it with souvenir stalls.  At least the architecture is still intact!


Uhhh how adorable are these boys - I think they were enthralled with the foreigners outside but too scared to come out

Our next stop was a local Bai textile factory - where they tie-dyed fabric.  The batik print they create is very well-known in this area.

These are the batik prints the local ladies dye! 

I also tried on a local hat. The lady tried very hard to sell it to me. Only afterwards did we find out this type of hat is a man's hat.  (uhhh that is NOT what the tassels say, people)

Finally, we made it to the lake! This is a pretty overlook of one of the towns next to the lake.

These were the people on our tour for the day - besides Emma, there was Sophie (from China), and Chen (from China, but studying abroad in Indiana at the moment)

I think the views of the lake are usually much more spectacular, when it's not constantly rainy and foggy

In fact, the entire lake is surrounded by these crazy fancy-new hotels with floor-to-ceiling windows for the rooms.

Tourism is growing SO FAST in this area that new mega-hotels under construction are literally every other building along the lake. There were dozens upon dozens of new hotels coming up (and they look so out-of-place, because there really aren't that many buildings yet).  I feel like the lake will look completely different in a couple years.

We stopped by a (very, very rainy) open-air restaurant for lunch

The lake is so huge and vast - it took us hours upon hours to drive around it

This is a tiny famous island with a temple on it that you have to take a boat out to, that I tried to eat

At least we have face shirts to look at, if the scenery isn't gonna do it for us

Group photo!

  • That evening, sopping wet and wearing shirts of our faces, Emma and I parted ways after two days in Dali - she was headed back to Kunming to fly home to the U.K., while I was on an evening bus farther into Yunnan to the ancient water town of Lijiang.  I loved Dali and would have loved to see it when it wasn't raining - I imagine it's probably a million times better when it's not raining 24/7.  I guess that just means I'll have to come back someday (oh god, along with a million other places!).

Moment of the Day:
On our way to Dali, we had to transfer in the city of Jianshui from the bus station to the train station - we asked around a couple taxis to see how much it'd be to get a ride to the train station. A moto taxi driver offered us a lower fare than the others - and was clearly enamored with the fact that Emma was a foreigner (no one's ever enamored with me in China, part 34).  He said he'd never had a foreigner on his moto taxi before.  We negotiated him down a little further, agreed on a price (he said he was giving us a discount because he was so excited about having us on his bike) - and then he eagerly took out his phone and had his moto taxi friends take photos of us on the back of his bike.

So. Cute.

On the 15-minute ride to the train station, he asked me so many questions about America - are there mountains? What are the people like? What is the weather like? How are the schools?  It was so endearing.  He literally knew nothing about the world outside China - just what he'd heard about in movies and on TV, and he was honestly just curious.

On our ride, I also asked him about his family: he has a son and a daughter, and his son was entering middle school - which is when there starts to be an incredibly stressful amount of work. He wanted his kids to learn to speak another language, like I could.  

"Do you think," he asked on the way, "that America and China are going to war?"  The question kind of took me aback, especially because he seemed genuinely concerned.  I responded that I didn't think so, or at least it's not a huge immediate concern given there are probably some other larger issues on the horizon for both the countries.  "Maybe just a war of money then," he said, laughing.  "Ha. Maybe. Probably," I said.

It was just such a great conversation. Such different worlds, just coming together and learning from each other, for a brief motorcycle ride.  He was so excited when he dropped us off - he said he was gonna tell his kids that day about the worldly foreign girls from the other side of the world that he'd met that day.  It was the sweetest. Love.  These are the moments I love the most.

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