Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Chapter the Third: In Which Our Hero Denies the Chinese of His Humiliation and Takes in a Crazy Tea Dance

Waking up on a train, well, at least a sleeper train in China, falls far from the most relzxing morning one might imagine. Thus was the case upon pulling into the DaLi train station shortly after sunup. Once the locomotive reached a full and complete stop, the crowds herded out to find their local tour guide.

Immediately exiting the train station I found two long lines of Chinese adorned in the local minority garb of the "Bai" people. How cute, thought I, a welcoming committee to introduce us to their strange and savage ways. Nope. Just all the tour guides liined up looking for their fares. Turns out almost everyone in DaLi finds soome connection to the tourism biz, and the tourism biz is all about being the minority and wearing the dress.

And so we found our guide, our bus, and then yet another joyous Chinese breakfast. But no time to relax, as we had a schedule to keep!

First off was the Old City of DaLi. Well, at least one street worth of it. We only had about 30 minutes to poke around this area, frustrating to yours truly as this would be the most interesting stop of the day, and the briefest. Luckily, my craving for Ye Olde China would meet satisfaction in LiJiang, but on this day it was one street, a pagoda, some animal statues, and not even enough time to check out the market before we had to head out.

Stop number 2: a granite/marble emporeum. Yippee. I've mentioned this before, I'll mention it again: the Chinese love rocks. Absolutely love them. I don't get it.

Stop number 3: Something cultural! The 3 Pagodas, some of the oldest still standing structures in YunNan. I'm no specialist on backhouses (only the Donald could be), but apparently these are prime examples of Tang Dynasty architecture. I was more caught by the reflecting pool behind two of the towers and the subsequent GuanYin (one of the thousand Chinese Buddhas) temple behind it all. So enthralled that I was late and the last back to the bus, prompting screams of "sing a song!"

But no! Haha, silly Chinese! Anyone who knows knows that I will not sing under any pressure that does not directly affect the physiochemistry of my brain organ! (Unless on an ESCAPE venture, but thats besides the point.) My fellow tourists frowned that I would not provide the embarrassing serenade, but then one guy realized, and thusly screamed out for all to hear: "This foreigner speaks Chinese!" Yes, I do, and yes, this continues to surprise Chinese after Chinese, and yes, I still enjoy that surprise.

After the pagodas, which were the second largest element to DaLi tourism after the minority deal, we grabbed a quick lunch at the local bong market (no joke, see the pictures at when you got time to kill at work) and then hit a jade market before going to Butterfly Park.

Butterfly Park was totally lame, especially as I got duped into paying 10 RMB for a tram ride that only lasted about 100 yards. Now, there was an interesting song and dance thing going on, but most people were busy hanging cloth hearts on trees, trying on costumes, and gorging on pomegranate. I just hurried through the entire scene, stopping only to watch the real minority slave-laboring over crappy tourist merchandise and then to watch a sheep lick a man's crotch for longer than I found comfortable. I tried to get a picture of the would-be Chinese Scott Tennerman, but he deftly parried my camera and the shot was lost to all but my memory.

The last scheduled activity of the day centered around a cruise of ErHaiHu, or "Ear Lake." Every tourist in driving distance must have shown up, as the endless crowds took 30 minutes to load the boat. Once we set off, the cruise it self was pleasant, and I scrounged some hot coffee to keep my dozy head awake.

Eventually we got to a small island or jetty or whathaveyou, where a giant statue of GuanYin (that Buddha again) rested at the peak. We only had 25 minutes on the island, which lead to a hysterical scene of watching over a thousand Chinese pour off a boat, sprint around an island, and then attempt to get back on the boat in a rational manner.

I got back on a bit early and found a comfortable seat for the "3 Ways of Tea" show that was included in my ticket. Supposedly some sort of traditional tea ceremony including traditional dress, traditional music, and traditional dance; the first two characters appeared wearing traditional sunglasses and traditional fake moustaches. Whoever they were, they were totally apeshit about tea, as all they did for 5 minutes was scream "We love tea" while galavanting around the room and dry humping two stalks from a traditional plastic tea plant. I have not seen my friend Max Sung in years, but if he is lost somewhere in this world, I'd have no trouble believing he was one of these tea dogs.

The following dances were fun enough, actually quite entertaining, though at times a bit hokey. The accompanying tea was also pleasant. Soon enough I returned to the deck, kept watching water, and would eventually make it back to port.

Back on the bus, dinner, problems with the hotel and my room (I paid extra to have a private room each night) bt eventually settled in. The tour guide was worried I couldn't understand her last bit as we checked into the hotel, but I understood her, though I didnt. She kept screaming "Beware the broken cups! Be careful of the broken cups!" but I tried to simply shrug her off as I was certainly too tired to fear any sort of ceramic. Regardless, she sent the Americanized Chinese to explain to me the full meaning of her forewarning. I got to talking with this new friend and soon enough we were walking around with her parents trying to find a supermarket, as the hotel didnt have toothbrushes or toothpaste (standard in China, I forget back home) and I just wanted to stretch my legs before sleeping. I did get some iced coffee for the morning, as we were heading to LiJiang, the spot I was most excited for. And with that, I went to sleep.


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