Not just your favourite surrealist painter!

Trip Start Jul 01, 2010
Trip End Aug 08, 2011

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Where I stayed
Sunny Guest House

Flag of China  , Yunnan,
Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Chinese guy in a van pulled over and offered a lift over the range that lay between me and Da Li. I politely declined and reached the top by pedal power about 90 minutes later. On rounding a corner, I saw the city stretched away below, between the great Er Hai lake and the Cang Shan mountains (4,200 m in altitude). I was excited to be about to see the place, have a few days’ rest and finally satisfy my cravings to know what the world was up to (via Internet) for the first time since entering China.

I made haste for the old city (Gu Cheng), leaving the busy new city of Xia Guan in all its shiny modernity behind. A ride of 12 km through a series of conjoined towns and villages brought me to Da Li’s famous golden pagodas, but I had difficulty in finding the old city. Eventually, I rambled into the small walled city, finding its traditional buildings, narrow cobbled streets and murals quite charming. I wondered where all the people were though - there seemed to very few others around.

I checked into Sunny Guest House, drank a celebratory beer with the owner and then went out to explore. A bit of aimless wandering brought me to the town’s hub of activity, in a quarter where tourists, mostly Chinese, flocked and patronised the small boutiques and rows of identical shops selling souvenirs, local foods and articles of clothing from local tribes. This was my first taste of the Chinese tourism industry, and quite different to anything I'd seen up to this point. Da Li has long been a popular destination for Western tourists, and has a small ex-pat community to show for it. A number of restaurants and bars cater to this market, but as Chinese domestic tourism increases this sector is declining in importance.

Each night I was invited to join the hotel staff and other guests in sharing local plum wine and other treats. I struggled to follow much of the conversation, but a few spoke enough English that I was able to join in and improve my Chinese a bit. It was also my first glimpse into the minds of younger middle-class Chinese. At one point some of the traditional Chinese superstitions came up, and I was surprised at how resolutely they all cleaved to notions of animism in this ostensibly atheist nation. In many other ways, particularly their aspirations, they were pretty much the same as anyone else in the emerging globalised culture. I was made to feel one of the gang, and I enjoyed their company very much.

I made the most of the opportunity for rest, and worked on the blog a bit. I also visited the Public Security Bureau with the intention of extending my visa another month, but the surly officer whose cigarette my entry interrupted could only offer me a turnaround of five working days, and at the cost of nullifying a couple of weeks remaining on my existing visa in the process. I opted to take care of it closer to the time.

Da Li’s climate was agreeable. Most days, clouds enveloped the peaks of the Cang Shan mountains; lightning flashing above as evening fell but the weather stayed up there and didn’t much trouble the town. I imagined that if I wasn’t cycling I’d have wanted to ride the chairlift, walk the trails and swim in the lake, but as it happened I didn’t make time for these activities in my lazy schedule. And after four nights it was time to head north again.
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