Monday, February 26, 2007

time to head home

My last day here in Dali. Tomorrow morning I'll take a bus to Kunming and hopefully buy a train ticket for the same night. You would think that you could buy train tickets easily, but no, you can only buy them from the train station you are departing, which is a real pain if you aren't in that city and don't want to spend an entire day or two there. Hopefully it works out - if not, I guess I'll hang out in Kunming for a day or two while I wait - it's a nice city, but admittedly I'd rather be here in the mountains than back in the city. It is going to be sad going back - I've enjoyed being outside, seeing new things and meeting new people. As such, I'm going to get out of this internet cafe now and head back out into the early afternoon sun, wearing sandals in February.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

back in Dali

Apparently the post I wrote on the 18th never made it to the blog - it must have been eaten by a grue or something. I, however, managed to avoid death and am still happily wandering around China.

Yesterday we made the long journey back from Lugu Hu on a couple of van-sized buses with a 1.5 hour layover in Lijiang, considered by many to be a beautiful city. Don't count me among them though - there's really only one word to describe that place: Disneyland. Wide cobblestone avenues (pedestrian-only, of course) with streams running along them (not big enough to be canals but it's the thought that counts) lined with "old" store selling cowboy hats and other Western (as in the Wild West) trinkets mixed with imitations of minority Chinese clothing and jewelry. From sun up to sun down it's flooded with tourists, but at night, everything is closed - even the streetlights get turned off before midnight, which certainly makes for an interesting stroll home, bearing in mind the threat of the canals and the maze-like design of the "Old Town."

Lugu Hu, fortunately, has yet to be cannibalized by the tourism industry, but it's close. Biking around the lake we realized that most of the villages on the shore are not propped up by tourism but rather agriculture or whatever else small villages do in this vast country. Once we were away from our tourist boulevard, the mountains and lake almost seems undiscovered, except for the honking cars full of helloing Chinese tourists passing by and the occasional dugout (tourist-laden as well) cutting across the rippled surface of the lake. Apparently in the summer there is no wind and the lake mirrors the mountains, but it being winter, we had to brave biting cold winds that occasionally made riding the 3-inch too small mountain bike down the cobblestone and gravel road a bit more challenging than we'd hoped. Regardless, the exercise was good for us and the views incredible.

Being back in Dali is nice - it's warmer, there are wonderful people who live here to hang out with, every cafe has good music, and the food is cheap but phenomenal. If I could live here for another month or two, I would, no doubt. Unfortunately, school starts the first week of March and my time here in China is not unlimited. I think I'll hang around here for the next few days and then head down to Xishuangbanna in the southern part of Yunnan Province, along China's border with Laos and Burma.

For now, I'm going to seek out another glass of fresh strawberry juice.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Happy new year!

Today is the first day of the Chinese new year, also known as the spring festival. I'm sitting in a cafe on the shore of Lugu Hu in the northeastern corner of Yunnan province, which as I already told you was in the southwest of China. This lake is a really amazing color of blue, and the sky above it somehow manages to complement it, and in between you have snow-covered forested hills with a mountain or two in the background. Amazing scenery.

I'm traveling now with a group of three people who I met in Dali, one of whom is from Minnesota, one from Japan, and the other from a different part of China. It's nice to be forced into speaking Chinese again since it's the common language we all share, if weakly. The day after tomorrow we'll be heading back to Dali, and I'm not sure what I'll do after that. There should be more internet connections there than there are here so I'll let you know where I'm headed before I leave.

Last night for the spring festival we went to a friend's family's house here near the lake and ate a wonderful dinner and stayed up snacking until midnight when of course we had to set off fireworks which looked amazing in the starry, moonless sky. It was mostly a peaceful night with the family, unlike new year's eve in the U.S., but it was very enjoyable and I did learn a little bit about the minority group that lives here. I'll write more about that when I get home. For now I'm going to go rent a bike and ride around in the hills surrounding the lake.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


I've been in Dali for 2 days now and it's quite a nice city. There are a lot of cafes and other small restaurants to peacefully spend time in and meet people, and there are mountains to climb around in. The atmosphere here is quite different from the rest of the places I have visited in China. The people here are less hurried, less pushy, and much more welcoming. That isn't to say that other parts of the country aren't nice, but here, after just a few hours, you feel almost at home. Unfortunately, the weather has been cloudy and rainy for the past few days, but like I said, there are plenty of great places to read or have a conversation.

I'll probably stay here for a few more days and then move on to Lijiang, an old town not too far from here that has some more mountains to wander around in. Now, though, I'm going to get back to my fresh strawberry juice. Yummy.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Train ride

Oops - I forgot to mention the train ride. It was much better than expected, and the time went by pretty quickly, all 37 hours of it. I probably slept for about 24 hours of it, leaving a mere 13 to find something to do. I talked a lot with the people in the berth next to mine, all in Chinese of course. There was a woman with her daughter who was about 7 and another woman with a 2 year old, which of course made for excellent entertainment, at least when the younger one wasn't crying. It was also nice to watch the scenery pass outside the window - it seems that railroads are closer to the surrounding country than highways. It was my first ever trip on a train, and I gladly take another, and no doubt will before I leave China.

Ok, now back to the hotel and some sleep, finally.


I've been in Kunming for a day and a half now - it's a pretty nice
city, with lots of trees and plenty of plazas, parks, and pedestrian
streets. It has a great feel to it and seems like it would be a nice
place to live. Yesterday I just wandered around the city and visited
the university which has buildings built in the 1920s which resemble
the ideal university in my mind, not the modern, impersonal
monstrosity where I teach. For those familiar with the U of I, think
Altgeld Hall, not the Foreign Language Building.

Today I went to the Western Hills, grandiosly called mountains in
Chinese. I spent 5 or 6 hours walking up and down them nonstop,
enjoying the views of a nearby lake and just generally being in the
forest. The dirt here is red, like in Georgia, so I'll have to wash
my shoes when I get back to the hotel. There are a number of Buddhist
and Taoist monastaries in the hills, but I only stopped at the one
started by a Chan (the Chinese version of Zen, which is Japanese) monk
in the fourteenth century. The gardens there were really peaceful,
and had it not been for the construction going on in other parts of
the monastary, I might have rested there for a while and read my book.

Tomorrow I plan to go to Shilin, the stone forest, which is, I'm told,
fields upon fields of limestone fingers formed during/after the area
was under the ocean. It's supposed to be one of the premier natural
wonders of this area, so I'm looking forward to it. If I can get a
bus ticket, I'll head out to Dali tomorrow night. If not, I'll stick
around here until I can.

Well now I'm going to get out of this internet bar and probably head
back to my hotel - my legs are tired from all that walking.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

time for a trip

This evening at 10:30 I'm going to take a 37 hour train from here to Kunming (pronounced Quinn ming (rhymes with king)), a city in the southwest of China where the weather is perpetually spring-like. There're also lots of other natural attractions in the region, which is why I'm going: to get away from this city for a bit. It's a nice place and all, but I'd like to see some trees and mountains, and maybe a blue sky that wasn't ringed by smog. I'll post again when I get there, maybe with some more details of the area and a few pictures from the train if I can manage it. For now, I need to finish packing.