Cooking school in Dali

Trip Start Jul 07, 2011
Trip End Jul 20, 2011

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What I did
Rice and Friends Cooking School

Flag of China  , Yunnan,
Monday, July 11, 2011

This morning we woke up a little later than usual thanks to the margarita shopping adventure the night before. We had to meet our cooking class teacher in the old city out the front of a well known bar. 
We had breakfast and packed our bags - the plan was when we finish the cooking school at 3pm, we would rush back to the hostel, grab our backpacks that were left behind the front desk, head down the road to get the number 8 bus which should take us half an hour to the train station to the new part of the city. Here we would have to rush to get tickets (hopefully there would still be some available) and get on the once a day train to Lijiang.

After some crazy packing and rushing down to the old town, we approached the bar to see our cooking teacher sitting in the sunshine on one of the seats out the front. She greeted us warmly and introduced herself as Luxi (pronounced Looshi). She handed us three small hand held wicker baskets and lead us down the busy cobbled streets. We turned right down a smaller street that was swarming with people and lined with farmers selling fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, fish and flowers. We walked through the crowds examining the strange new items with great interest. Luxi stopped to explain many of the things to us, where they come from and how the local people use them, occasionally buying things for our class. Some things we had seen in the markets in Yantai, but many were new and local and very different. Lots of produce comes from the lake, lily flowers and bulbs, many different kinds of seaweed, small silver fish of many varieties, tiny crabs like the ones you find in the rocks at the beach and tiny crayfish that are the most vibrant shade of red. The mushrooms were amazing and came in a staggering variety of shape and colours. The central area of the market was covered and filled with people standing at tables, hacking away at animal carcasses in various stages of dismemberment. After a few years in China, it came as no surprise to us to see meat left out in the open air for sale, but apparently this had been an issue for previous people in the class and so Luxi made a point of telling us that all the meat she buys comes fresh from the local supermarket. 

We left the market and began walking slowly with Luxi who told us she was taking us to her home which was also in the old town. We wandered through the streets, passing Chinese people going about their daily business and chatting to Luxi who told us about herself. She is from Sichuan provence and moved to Dali where she now lives with her German boyfriend. Her English was excellent and we all got along really well.

After a casual ten minute walk, we turned off the main street and into an smaller concrete alley where she stopped at a gate and let us into her beautiful home. Her house was lovely and in the courtyard, she had a professional looking cooking area set up with four burners, woks, bowls, and ingredients ready for our class. We went inside first and she talked to us about the basics of the style of cooking we would be doing and introduced us to the fundamental ingredients of Chinese cooking - spices and sauces. 

We then went outside into the courtyard and spent the next few hours laughing and (trying to) copy Luxi as she created an array of traditional Chinese dishes (see photos).

We finished the class at three and said goodbye to Luxi and her boyfriend Martin and headed back to the hostel, where the plan was to grab our bags, head back out to catch the bus to the train station and (hopefully) be on the only train to Lijiang. The train service to Lijiang is new and cuts hours of the bus journey by slicing straight through the mountains. The train only runs once a day and the alternative if we miss the hour and a half train is a four hour bus trip on windy mountain roads - or another night in Dali. Both would be ok but we had already bought the tickets (Luxi and Martin had helped us earlier) and we were meant to meet a man at the station to pick them up. 

Things went smoothly - walking back to the hostel, loading up with our bags, heading back out to catch the bus in the very hot sun, getting on the bus. It wasn't until we were on the bus and about 20 minutes into what we had been told was a 30 minute journey, that we realised we were cutting it very fine. When we reached the station, we had to head to the front of the ticket office, call a number and get tickets from the man who's phone we had run. We had been told that the station was small and we would have no trouble finding him. The train was expected to leave at 4.20 and as time went on we began to get the fear. It was at around 4.20 that Frankie asked the driver how long to the station and he told us 8 minutes that worry set in. Another girl on the bus heard us and spoke in English to us. She also had a word to the bus driver who began driving considerably faster through the city, slamming on the brakes to pick up unsuspecting passengers and charging off again.

We reached the bus station with about 2 minutes spare and began running around frantically, trying to find the ticket guy. Frankie called him and he tried to explain his position to us. Unfortunately, we couldn't understand a word he was saying, and he was getting angry. By this stage, we were racing around crazily to no avail - the apparently small station seemed large and typically unclear! It was extremely hot and we were carrying all our heavy bags. In desperation, Frankie thrust the phone to a random stranger and asked the man to explain where we were to the ticket guy. Sure enough, he appeared out of the crowd a few minutes later and stormed towards us with the tickets. We hastily appologised and flew through train station ticketing and security section only to get to the waiting room to be greeted with a sea of Chinese people waiting patiently for a late trail. Out of the sea, at the front of crowd, a hand raised in a greeting - it was Charles who had been smart enough to get there early.

We waited for quite some time before the train arrived and we were ushered (crammed) on. The train was set up like a sleeper train, with little rooms with bunk beds in them. All were packed full of Chinese people and their luggage, so we resigned ourselves to spending the journey sitting in the aisle. We were getting ready to pull out of the station when a young Chinese guy stuck his head out of a little cabin and ushered us in. He was going to give up his seat for us. We managed to rearrange everyone and we all got to sit on a bottom bunk with our bags on the top one.

The journey was fast - the train spending more time in tunnels than out. When we did emerge, the view was spectacular - flashing glimpses of deep valleys and mountain peaks stretching off into the distance...
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