Saturday, October 18, 2014

Dali, Yunnan, October 16-18, 2014

We have had a whirlwind 3 days and faced unexpected challenges. First flying from Shanghai to Kunming:  We were the only westerners flying, and we had to go through some extra hoops and fill out a form in quadruplicate (all in Chinese, so they had to tell us line by line what was needed), of which only one part was ever taken.  But everyone was very nice.  When we arrived in Kunming at 3 p.m., there was no sign of Zhou, who had promised to meet us.  It was nearly an hour before she arrived, apologizing profusely -- she had taken a wrong bus.  As you can imagine, we had a few worries during that time. We went into the city by bus with Zhou, to a basic but clean Home Inn not far from the railway station.  To our amusement we received several cards at our door with pictures and phone numbers of pretty girls.  We didn't need to be able to read Chinese to get the message.  

Later that evening Zhou cooked a delicious meal that we shared in her tiny apartment with her elderly mother and 7 cats and four new kittens.  

On Friday morning Zhou came to the hotel and we walked to the train station.  It was certainly much easier having someone who knew the ropes and who knew Chinese getting us through multiple security points and to the right waiting room.  The train ride turned out to be very long, but also fascinating as Zhou is very outgoing and soon made friends with a couple who shared our compartment.  They turned out to have a very interesting background, the husband having risen from a poor orphan taking over the family farm and caring for his brothers and sisters, to becoming a successful businessman and putting four children through college.  They are still with us in Dali and will go with us to Lijiang tomorrow.

Upon arriving in Dali and finding this hotel -- not the one Zhou had originally booked-- and that has had significant problems, especially with plumbing--we went exploring.  Zhou's father was the provincial governor here at one time, and the family had a huge house just a block away from this hotel.  The story of Zhou's family could make a book, but since her father was a counter-revolutionary he lost his position and everything he had and apparently the whole family fell on hard times.  Her childhood home is no more, but down a dark alley she led us through doorways and corridors that opened into a large courtyard garden, run down now, but you could see it had once been a grand house.  There we met a cousin and Zhou's lively elderly aunt, who welcomed us warmly and showed us (by flashlight) around a neighboring courtyard house, too.  When we went out through the main entrance there was a plaque saying that this place had been the home of the illustrious Zhou family for 200 years.

After that we headed to the Foreigner Street, which was a mass of young people and souvenir shops, bars and restaurants-- a scene similar to what seen in  Beijing and Pingyao.  The old Dali of hippie backpackers really is no more.

I'm going to stop here.  Today we had a most frustrating day-long bus tour--a bad choice of how to spend our only day in Dali.  The guide talked nonstop (in Chinese), and we spent much more time waiting, riding in a hot bus, and visiting shops with scores of other tourists (all Chinese).  There were a few good moments, but....overall a miserable day.  Tomorrow early by bus and train to Lijiang, where we will hike through Tiger Leaping Gorge the following day.

Weather has been good with clear skies and some dramatic clouds.

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