April 11, 2016

transit, the flu, and Dali

Because of the near-disaster (read about it here), our trip required a very short overnight stay in Kunming to go from the Guanxi province part of our trip (Guilin and Yangshuo) to the Yunnan part of our trip (Dali, Xizhou, Shaxi, and Lijiang). It was a late afternoon flight, so we had the bulk of the day to spend biking or walking around Yangshuo, which we'd been enjoying doing.

Except I woke up with the flu, and it rained pretty heavily the whole day. I stayed in bed, curled up and wishing it would just all go away, and in the brief respites between rain showers or storms, Marc took short walks. It was a long, long morning and afternoon. Erica, the woman who managed the hotel, kept inviting us to have tea with her, and I'd kind of kept that as a "last day we're here" kind of thing, so the end result of that was no tea with Erica, and I still feel bad about that. She held an umbrella over me as we walked to the car, and we took the 1.5-hour drive back to Guilin, to the airport.

Oh I felt bad. Terrible. Leaned over and rested on my suitcase whenever we had to pause for any reason. I slept in the gate area while we waited for our flight, and Marc walked around. I slept on the plane. I slept in the van that took us to the hotel right near the airport. I crawled into bed and went immediately to sleep when we got to the hotel. Poor Marc had no dinner and just went to sleep, too. The hotel was super cheap ($26, including airport transportation in both directions!) but oh so fancy--although it reeked of cigarette smoke, which was disgusting, and the bathroom held a sink, a toilet, and a shower head that wasn't enclosed in any way, nor was there a drain in the floor. Maybe the point was to aim it toward the toilet and just stand in between. Super bizarre.

But it was fine -- we slept, the van took us back to the airport early the next morning, and my flu was 85% gone. The flight to Dali was easy as could be, so our transit went as well as it could go, especially considering that I was sick.

The hotel was supposed to send a driver to the airport but Marc didn't have a lot of faith that it would happen -- and in fact, there was no one waiting for us. Plenty of signs held up for Novartis, so there must have been a big meeting or something. The main reason we especially wanted the hotel driver this time was that the hotel was supposed to be tricky to find, tucked away by the north gate inside the walls of Old Dali and then also down a long alley. As always, Marc was completely prepared, with directions to the hotel printed out in Chinese, and a detailed map showing the hotel's location. Still, the cab driver had a bit of a tough time, and finally just parked at the end of the alley and left us to walk. By the time we were finally settled in our room, I was famished and feeling almost frantic from needing to eat something. So we dumped our suitcases and headed out to find food.

So here's the thing. We do not read Chinese. At all. When a noodle shop or restaurant has pictures on the wall or the menu, we have options and can just point to usually hard-to-identify dishes -- otherwise, it's all Chinese to us. :) So we walked and looked in little stalls and shops, hoping to find pictures of food we could point to, and we stopped in the first one we found.

See the pictures on the door to the left -- we pointed and took our seats. I took this picture after I finished
eating my noodles -- there's Marc still enjoying his. 
This woman owns the place, we guess -- she made our food. Pay NO attention
to the grease on the wall above the woks behind her. I tried not to.
Marc's dish, which was hot and greasy and SO yummy, he said. And spicy -- which was not the case for the
food in Guanxi. Yunnan food does seem to be spicier as a default.
Mine turned out to be a cold noodle dish, which was WONDERFUL. And very spicy -- see all those
chilis? I was a little worried about my still-slightly-flu-y tummy, but it was fine. Happy.
So we walked around town a lot, rested, bought water, walked some more, figured out the lay of the place, and started thinking about dinner. Marc had seen a guy hand pulling noodles in one of his wanderings so we headed there.

This is our hotel, the Yinfeng, which we absolutely LOVED. It was tucked away in a very quiet corner, and we were
upgraded to a larger room (ostensibly because the driver wasn't there waiting for us at the airport,
but Marc had read on TripAdvisor that people are always being upgraded). We were up on the third floor,
not much fun carrying our bags up those stairs, but the views were so beautiful.
Right next to our hotel was a large park, quite pretty and filled with poinsettias.
Old Dali is known for its Bai architecture, which is quite distinctive and quite beautiful.

And the city streets are lined with trees, and nice stone sidewalks. Lots of kids running
around, and babies cradled equally by mamas, daddies, and grandparents.
Here's where we stopped for dinner -- like so many shops, this one was owned by a Muslim family. He pulled the
noodles which were quickly turned into.....
my mushroom noodles and....
Marc's beef noodles, though he said the beef was mostly symbolic. :) He loved the green vegetable,
we aren't sure what it was exactly except delicious. So many vegetables and mushrooms to try.
When Marc was paying for our dinner, he accidentally gave the guy a 50CNY bill instead of a 10, and the guy
was so great he kind of got a horrified look on his face and handed it to Marc and gestured for the
correct amount.
The sky was looming thick and dark, but we felt like walking some more, so we kept wandering.

very traditional architecture over the door
No idea at all what this gorgeous building is -- it was just on one of the main streets.
Christian church in Dali -- and a side door marked
"Church of Christ." Hmmm.
I took this picture just because the sky was always so dramatic in Dali. Look at that!
This is the Research Dept of Dali University. WOW.
Through the giant front door, you can see the dramatic sky behind. Marc took this great picture.
What a stunning building. Just, wow.
Sigh. We pretend we are Canadians. American 'culture' abroad.
Almost back at our hotel -- the looming gray sky over the gray tiled roofs just killed me.
We had a few hours the next morning before the car was to pick us up to take us to Xizhou, just 20km north of Dali, so we headed out to wander the streets and see what we could see, never once dreaming we would find the magnificent Saturday morning market.

But first -- look at that light! We stepped out of our room and there it was. The light in Dali was
frequently extraordinary.
there it is, shining on the faces of the buildings.
Different minorities around town -- this woman wasn't Bai, but I don't know
which she belonged to. I loved their clothing.
We got out so early, all the shops were closed but we passed this guy, not knowing he was probably going
to the market!
So anyway. We love markets. When we travel, we have three missions: walk as much as we can, eat as much as we can in places local people eat if at all possible, and find the market. We hit the jackpot.

look at those cabbages!!
Lots and LOTS of chickens, and some ducks. Apparently you buy your chicken, and if you want you can take it
to another part of the market where it will be killed, de-feathered, and butchered for you. I wasn't expecting that,
and rounded the corner to see a chicken hanging upside down, bleeding out. People waiting. As upsetting as it was,
it felt very humane compared to US factory farming; I once worked as an OSHA consultant and had to be on
the kill floor of Tyson foods, sounds and images I'll never forget. And a very funny thing about this market
was that women kept trying to get me to buy a LIVE chicken. Me! An obviously western tourist, the only one
like me in the whole place. What would I do with a chicken?!
SUPER busy, Saturday market day. Traffic jams all around.
eggs and chicken feet -- plain or pickled.
I'm really not sure what the deal is with these eggs.
Some kind of fungus, I gathered, since it was in a giant bag next to another giant bag of a fungus I recognized as such.
SO many vegetables, all so beautiful.
Hairy tofu, fermented. In a word: NO.
This fabulous vegetable seller had it all going on: black leather(ette) pants, a big old floppy hat with an
organza bow that would be the pride of any 1970s southern bridesmaid, and gorgeous vegetables
that she kept misting with water to make them look even fresher and more beautiful.
The hat thing is SO common here. 
Such an abundance, my eyes were dazzled.
This was one of the couple of meat rows, and the symphony of pounding cleavers was remarkable. All
kinds of meat, any cut, any organ, any part, just for you.
Oh! And the mushrooms! So many kinds. And garlic, which we haven't really found
in the food. It is often chopped in oil, in a condiment bowl for spooning into you
food, and it must be featured heavily in the pickled vegetables too.
Nuts? Seeds? Grain? They've got it.
We're going home with intense cravings for pickled vegetables, after the tremendous variety and abundance
we've seen in the markets, and in the little food stalls. Makes my mouth water just seeing this picture.
yes please. All of them.
Roots? Tubers? Melons? I also love this picture because of the secondary colors -- orange and purple and green.
oh, and plenty of seafood from the lake -- crawdads and fish, snails, eels, and
the fish ranged from really pretty huge to tiny little minnow-sized.
so many kinds of tofu, from giant creamy slabs to these tiles.
these are unbelievably delicious.
I'm always so proud when we (by which I mean Marc) navigate a purchase. There are zero words in common between vendor and vendee, and thank heavens either they have a calculator to show us a number, or we have one on our phone. In the market, Marc bought a cabbage bun and a Xizhou baba, which is fried bread with either pork or red bean paste inside.

Point and open the wallet and it works out.
Look at that stack!
isn't that cabbage bun pretty?
and super yummy inside.
Xizhou baba -- really pretty greasy fried bread, but Marc said the pork filling was good.
After that fabulous coup, we felt happy and satisfied and ready to head back to the hotel to leave for Xizhou. Dali, Xizhou, and Lijiang are all situated on the western side of Lake Erhai, so the rest of our trip -- the China part anyway -- will be connected to that landscape. And the mountains, which belong to the Cangshan range, and I just never ever get enough of a beautiful mountain. So off we go to Xizhou....

Cangshan Mountains

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