Saturday 7th May 2011
24 days left travelling the world.
MP3 track of the day: Winter - Vivaldi
Weather: T-shirt weather during the day, whereas a coat was required within the early morning and evening.
I found myself, pacing the streets of Dali, a little too early for it to be useful; before heading to the pagodas I wanted to have eaten breakfast and exchanged the book that I held within my hands however, due to the time being 7:30am, every store was shut. I held my coat tightly against my body and placed my hat upon my head; without the sun's influence this town had a chill, but the town was no less beautiful. I walked around waiting for things to open, annoyingly tour groups had already started to appear. At 7:45am the 'Sweet Tooth' cafe was starting to open; as I walked past the shutters were being pushed aside, a young man was mopping the floor and the 'closed' sign had been flipped to open. I decided to give them a little longer before I descended demanding food; I walked around the block once more.
My guidebook stated that 'Sweet Tooth's' cheesecake was 'especially good', and it wasn't wrong in it's judgment. As I took my first mouthful, of the 'chocolate chip cheesecake' that I'd ordered, it seemed to melt within my mouth leaving my taste buds delighted. I continued eating, either adding a little fresh cream to the cake or swilling it down with the warm hot chocolate that sat to my left. After the last mouthful I sat back satisfied; the cost had been worth the taste and I pre-booked my table for the same time tomorrow. I walked the short distance required to the book shop; I found it closed and it would remain that way for another thirty minutes. Again I decided to aimlessly walk around the town noticing that the number of tourists seem to rise with every passing minute. Eventually I arrived back at the book store to find it open; once inside I failed to see the lady that I'd spoken to yesterday and so I inquired into her whereabouts. After being told that she would be in later I left, still with my novel within my hands.
Back at the hostel I grabbed my camera, from my locker, and left my coat on my bed. As I'd mentioned yesterday the plan was to head north to the 'San Ta' pagodas before returning to town, for lunch, and then heading south to 'Yita Si' pagoda. My guidebook stated that the 'San Ta' pagodas were located within a twenty minutes walk of the cities northern walls and it didn't take long before I could see the tops of the three, sand coloured, pagodas within the distance. Just like clockwork I found myself, twenty minutes later, within a large car park; in front of me was a tall wall with the three pagodas, slightly hidden from view, behind it. I went into the ticket office and stopped before I got to the counter. 121 Yuan (£12) was the admission cost and I left, disgusted at the price. Instead I decided to walk the perimeter of the walls taking cheeky photos when the opportunity arose. As I walked up a cobbled pathway I thought about the cost of things within China. Accommodation is dirt cheap with the average night costing me £3; food isn't too bad either but attractions are astronomically high meaning that you have to choose carefully what you see.
The time was 10am and the sun was coming into it's strongest; after taking a couple of photos of the pagoda, and the Chinese village surrounding it, I headed back into Dali. As if by magic I arrived at my hostel precisely at 11am. I stopped there for 'elevenses' before moving onto 'Yita Si' temple. This one was a lot closer to Dali than the 'San Ta' temples and it only took five minutes of walking to find it closed for renovation work; I cautiously walked onto the site to take a couple of photos, which a local didn't like. I took two shots before leaving sharpish.
Once again I found myself within my hostels common area; however this time I'd completed what I'd set myself to see, for the day, and it was only noon. I grabbed a drink and read my guidebook; I decided to head into Dali once more and continue through the town until I reached the lake. This, I thought, would take up the rest of the day and so I closed my guidebook satisfied that no further planning was required. Once in town I went back to the book store to find that the lady still wasn't there; I left, promising to return later. Sticking to my plan I continued walking east however, it soon became apparent that the logical decision would be to have lunch before departing the town for the lake. The only snag was that I didn't feel that hungry. I therefore decided to walk around the old walls of Dali before returning to the centre for a quick lunch and off to the lake.
As most of Dali's walls have been destroyed walking on them wasn't a possibility; instead I tried to follow the original town boundary at street level. This presented problems as a lot of private developments had sprawled either side of the walls blocking my route; after trying to follow the walls numerous times I gave up. I was tired and fed up so I went for an early lunch.
I know what 'Sweet 'n' Sour' chicken is and, what was placed in front of me, certainly wasn't it. I found that in the middle of a small plate, surrounded by slices of cucumber, sat chicken within a very dark brown sauce. Mixed in with this sauce were sesame seeds and, as I picked up my chopsticks and bit into the first piece of chicken, I knew that I'd should have gone for the burger. As I ate a Chinese guy sat in the seat opposite; slight stunned I stopped eating wondering if he was about to tell me that I was in fact digesting dog. He did not; instead he asked if I would like to join him, and his four friends, on the table opposite as he wanted to chat in English. A little annoyed I said that I would join him after I'd ate the meal that he'd interrupted.
I paid my bill and thanked the waitress for a delightful meal. I was cautious in joining the group at first; as I walked to their table I asked myself what did they want. I sat down and was offered a cup of tea; I rejected as I had my own drink to finish and I didn't want to be landed a bill. At first I was quite defensive, making sure that I had one hand on my wallet at all times. However, over time, I realised that there request had been genuine. I started to relax and answered all the questions they threw at me; I was surprised to find that one of them was studying Japanese, one had worked within Japan and both liked the country … maybe the hatred wasn't as wide spread as I thought. I was asked all the usual questions and, in the end, they said that they were in awe of me as I had been to so many places. I replied by saying that they could too but they looked horrified at the idea; they said that they wanted too but that they had to have a good job, a nice house and a partner or else people would think that less of them. It was interesting to see that the same social pressures that face me within the UK also seem important so far away. I explained that travelling could help them in gaining a better job and, even though some liked the idea, I could see it in their faces that travelling would remain just an idea.
I stayed for over an hour before making my excuses to leave. I had my photo taken and then I was off, back to the book store. As I walked towards the store I thought about one particular question I'd been asked. “...Had I had anything stolen?...” No was the honest answer and they looked stunned. Within my mind I re-evaluated my reply; I had said that I'd always kept my stuff locked and that, if anyone approached me on the streets, I would have walked away not giving a second glance. I had enjoyed chatting to the Chinese group and I wondered if I'd missed opportunities by being over cautious of my own safety and personnel possessions. It would appear that the thought of dishonesty overshadows honesty and I wondered if it would have been worth loosing a couple of possessions to gain more communication with locals. As I went through the door of the book store I realised that it was too late worrying about that now.
The lady was there and it didn't take much persuasion for her to hand over the book. She flicked through my book, happy with it's condition, before asking me for an additional sixty-five Yuan (£6.50). Once the book was within my hands I couldn't stop a huge smile appearing upon my face; the lady too seemed to smile and we shared a few sentences about the qualities of a good book. Before I left she gave me one of her book marks for free; I thanked her one last time before departing.
Once I'd purchased supplies, for tomorrows hike up the mountains, I returned to my hostel. Balancing weight with the need for food and drink I purchased a large bottle of water and a few sweet items. I didn't stay long within my hostel, all of the messy haired, bare foot, weed smoking hippies were out doing 'hippy' things. Some were banging bongos, others were saying how they came into the world from an acorn and another was reading someone's palm guessing that they liked to have three meals a day. I couldn't stand it and so I went to the internet café to upload my photos and check on the F1 qualifying results. Afterwards I headed for another early night; I wanted to start my new Roman adventure, I wanted get away from the bare chested, acorn tea drinking, 'maan' saying hippies … plus I wanted to get up early tomorrow to tackle this mountain.