Friday, 6 May 2011

It was supposed to be so easy

Friday 6th May 2011

25 days left traveling the world.

MP3 track of the day: It was supposed to be so easy – The Streets

Weather: Cold within the mornings and evenings, but very hot during the day.

I found myself roaming the empty streets of Dali at 8am; well, when I say empty, there were only a handful of people around - to spoil my photos - which made me think about getting up earlier within the coming days. Dali is an extremely pretty town with it's ancient walls, Chinese gates, stone streets and beautiful old buildings; this, however, means that it attracts many tourists though the mornings seem untouched by their presence. I realised, as I looked up at another ancient Chinese roof, that this was the China I had come to see.

As I walked, aimlessly around, I wandered into book shops looking for the final 'Emperor novel'. I was almost back at my hostel when, down a small alley, I saw a café called 'The Black Dragon'; the sign outside stated 'coffee, tea, books to read and books for sale'. I went through the wooden door to find a very happy looking Chinese lady, who spoke English perfectly, behind a very high marble counter. I immediately turned right, ignoring the counter, towards a rack of books that hid the back wall. I couldn't believe it, 'Emperor: The gates of Rome' was sitting there in the far corner of the middle row of books; I quickly picked it up, my eyes full of excitement, as I looked for a price tag. It took a little while to realise that this book was within the café's 'reading and borrowing' section … it therefore wasn't or sale. My heart sank however I wasn't prepared to give up; I spoke to the lady asking if I could purchase it. No was her answer – as getting hold of English novels, within China, is very difficult – however I said that, as I only had one chapter of my 'Emperor' book left could I exchange ... one 'Emperor' for another. It was at this point that I realised that she wasn't the owner of the store; she phoned her husband explaining my request. Once off the phone she said that she needed time to think about it; I too needed time to finish my book and so I said that I would return the following morning.

I got back to my hostel at 9am to get my visa sorted. It all sounded so easy; my passport details had been sent the previous evening – to the main visa office within 'Dali new town' – and, whilst they were being vetted, I had to go to the visa offices, within 'Dali old town', to get a 'certificate'. This certificate would show that I had accommodation within Dali; I was lead to believe that retrieving said certificate took seconds and, with it, I could go to the offices in 'Dali new town' where, hopefully, my details would have been vetted and I could swap my certificate for a shiny new thirty day Chinese visa … oh if only it was that easy.

I left my hostel full of hope; with the directions from the receptionist I made my way east taking photos as I went. The visa office was located within 'Dali old towns' main police station; I walked in cautiously, fully aware that the building reminded me of the school used, by the Khmer Rouge, as Toul Seng prison. I went up to the first officer I could find and presented him with a piece of paper – written on it, in Chinese, was what I wanted – and he told me to walk up to level three. I thanked him as I started to climb. Toul Seng was fully within my mind as I walked, gingerly, up the concrete steps; the structure was made out of concrete and it looked like an old residential block marked for demolition. Once at level three I approached an office with an officer, and another person, peering at a computer screen. I waited outside making my presence obvious; I didn't want to walk in on some confidential business. It took them a while to invite me in; as I walked to the officer I handed him my piece of paper. He looked at me blankly and shouted something in Chinese; I returned the blank stare and, only when the guy next to him wrote 'Monday', on my piece of paper, did I realise that I would leave empty handed. I thanked the officer for nothing and started the forty-five minute walk back to my hostel.

As I walked through my hostels front door the receptionist smiled at me asking for the certificate that she was sure I would have; I swung my head slowly from side to side and told her that I had to go back on Monday. Not happy with this she immediately phoned the offices within 'New town Dali'; once off the phone she said that the officers there were as mystified as we were as to why I wasn't given a certificate. Given that the time was nearing lunch -and that offices would be closed shortly – there was little we could do until the afternoon. I thanked the receptionist for all of her work as I turned to head into the old town once more.

Tour groups had appeared without warning and the streets were becoming busy; the time was around 11am therefore 'elevenses' beckoned. I found a café called 'sweet tooth' (how fitting) where I ordered a slice of carrot cake and a coke; the cake was nice enough and I thought that I might have found a place for future breakfasts. As I was eating another mouthful I flicked through my guidebook forming a plan for the next three hours; I decided to stay within the old walls of Dali for today, I would head to a church, not too far from the café, before climbing up the south gate for a view of the town. After there was another church to see and, if I still had time, I would form a new plan over lunch. I snapped my book closed, paid my bill and walked out.

After taking the wrong turn I eventually found one of the most bizarre looking Christian churches that I've seen. Designed as an ancient Chinese temple the only Christian symbol, on the building, was a cross stuck to the top of the roof; I took many photos as I liked the fact that, with it's ancient roof, the church blended in with the rest of Dali however you could easily tell its function. Afterwards I moved through the many tour groups towards the southern gate. Costing two Yuan (20p) to climb meant that only a few tourists were manning the walls. The view around was staggering; within the foreground were many, grey, old roofs which looked as thought they were piling on top of one another. A line of mountains loomed in the background and, with a blue sky above, the whole scene became very photogenic.

After a few photos I found myself on the cobbled streets of Dali once more. I found the northern church with ease however it wasn't as pretty as the other one. It was getting close to 1:30pm; I had to be back at my hostel within an hour and I hadn't had any lunch. As I walked towards the main street – where most of the restaurants were – I bumped into the French family I met yesterday. They were already taking lunch and so I kept the conversation brief; I chatted to the student about my visa problems and he replied saying that they were off tomorrow. I wished them all the best and hoped to meet up later. Not far from where the French family were dining I found a small travellers café; I sat inside as far away from the door as possible. The reason behind this was, unfortunately, it's seems that Dali holds similarities with South East Asia in that the locals come up to you and ask if you would like to purchase something. Yet again I've been reminded that my shoes are dirty, yet again I've been told that a whistle, the seller was holding, was lucky and yet again it's become annoying. As I tucked into my meal, within the dark corner I'd found, I still wasn't safe; during a mouthful of noodles I heard a female voice ask me if I wanted gangea. Not only was I eating but this was the fifth time, this morning, that this woman had asked me; I gave her a stern no before I watched her leave. I then returned to my meal.

I was back at my hostel early; I surfed the internet waiting for the correct time. Once the clock struck 2:30 I went to reception where I found the receptionist already calling the visa office; it would appear that an inquiry had been made at 'old Dali town's' offices and that their reply was that the officer I needed to see had been called out on an emergency. It would also appear that my details hadn't been received by 'new Dali towns' office either; with this result that there was little I could do until Monday. As my visa doesn't expire until next Friday (going into Hong Kong reset my visa; If I'd known this then I would have entered Hong Kong at a much later date). I thanked the receptionist, once again, for her work. With an F1 race weekend looming I inquired into whether Dali – being a major tourist destination – had a sports bar. The receptionist looked puzzled but then gave me the details of a bar close by; once there the owner said that they were unable to show the F1 but gave me another bar to try. I decided, given that this other bar was much further into town, I would investigate later. For now I went back to my hostel to chill for the afternoon.

The afternoon moved into the early evening where I eventually got up and head into town. The internet at my hostel is slow at best therefore I paid three yuan (30p) to visit an internet café where I managed to upload thirty photos, from the day, within thirty minutes. Once completed I checked the other bar to see if F1 races are shown, alas they aren't. I came back to the hostel where I ate, finished my book (it's taken me nine days to read this book) and went for an early night. So it's been a painful day; my visa extension sounded so promising last night and, here I am, having to wait until Monday. Tomorrow I'll head back to the book store before investigating four pagodas that surround Dali. Sunday I'll hike up 'Zonghe Peak' for “...views of the lake and the mountains which are stupendous...” or so my guidebook states, before reading the F1 race highlights. For now another early night beckons; I want to be up before the tour groups arrive.

Toodle Pip!

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