Dad, August 26
China is turning out to be wonderful and fascinating, though it is
also turning out to be the most challenging country I’ve been to. Most
people don’t speak English. Not that I expected them to, but mandarin
is a difficult language to navigate. It’s not only that I don’t
understand what people are saying, but I’m butchering the language and
they have no idea what I’m saying either. the tone thing is turning
out to be a problem. At the same time, its a welcome challenge. It’s
only going to get more difficult the deeper into China I get.
Yesterday I took a bus from Dali to Lijiang, another old town with
stone pedestrian streets. Unlike Dali, an ancient walled city where
everything was set out in a nice grid, Lijiang is a maze of these
streets about 2 meters wide. It is very beautiful. Unfortunately, it’s
swamped with Chinese tourists. Most of the streets are lined with
trinket shops and restaurants. There are so many I don’t know how they
all stay in business. On the bus I met a Chinese man named Leo, or
that’s what he called himself. He is 26 and has been working for
Panasonic, but recently quit and is on vacation. He is from Tianjin,
near Beijing. He spoke great English and I had an amazing day with
him. It turns out his real name is Wang. He helped me with a little
Mandarin and guided me to a day of perhaps the best cuisine I’ve had
in these last two months.
He helped me get from the bus station to the old town, then helped me
find a hotel. We stayed at different hotels, I definitely got the
better deal. I walked in and the room was very nice, nicer than I am
used to staying. I asked how much and she said 80 yuan, around 12
dollars I think. I said no thank you and walked out. There must not be
much business because as soon as I turned around she said, ok 60. I
took the room.
After we checked in Wang and I went out to lunch. He picked a very
nice restaurants and ordered. Three dishes came out and all were
amazing. There was Over The Bridge Noodles, which is famous in Yunan,
as well as two pork and vegetable dishes. The pork was more like bacon
and it was very tasty. He also ordered a local famous beer. It was
very weak, pale, and tasteless. But I said it had a ‘clean’ flavor to
be polite. It was also more expensive than the other beers I’ve been
drinking, so I wasn’t a fan. It had a great name though. Directly
translated it is Wind Flower Snow Moon. When the bill came he refused
to let me pay. I was very insistent, but he had the upper hand on the
language and gave the waitress his money.
Afterwards we took a couple hours and walked around the city, not just
the old city, but the modern one surrounding it. He was a fast walker
and it was good exploring with him. For dinner, he took me to this
little local noodle restaurant tucked into this claustrophobic spot in
between two tourist trinket stores. He gave me a couple choices, and I
picked spicy, sticky noodle soup. Turned out to be a great choice. I
had it with pork. The noodles themselves were rice noodles and
wonderful. The stock was probably chicken stock, but very spicy and
red in color. Absolutely amazing. There was also a beautiful girl by
the door singing. She had a wonderful singing voice and I really
enjoyed hearing her throughout dinner. He asked the family running the
shop if they were from Sichuan, and they said yes. I asked how he knew
that and he said the menu clued him off. I’ve also spoken to some
people, and Sichuan is famous for the best and spiciest food in China.
This restaurant fit the bill. Also, Sichuan is famous for its
beautiful women. Can’t wait to get there.
After dinner we went to a nightclub/bar and had a few beers.
Apparently in China, you order 3-6 beers at a time and pay for them in
advance. The waitress brings them to your table and opens one for each
of you. It’s unusual to order one at a time. In fact, the first place
we went to didn’t allow you to order less than 12 beers at a time! This
nightclub was having some kind of show. There were men and women in
traditional Tibetan dress and they were singing and dancing. After the
singing show, there was a coyote ugly type show where a man and woman
bartender did juggling and mixing tricks with the liquor. There was
fire breathing and fire juggling and all that fun stuff. Wang turned
to the waitress and asked what they were celebrating. Last night was
apparently a double celebration. It was Chinese valentines day. Also,
it was the 50th anniversary of the ‘rescue’ of Tibet. No kidding. When
Wang told me this I couldn’t help but to laugh. I wasn’t laughing at
the Chinese audacity, as I told Wang, just the cultural differences
between our countries and how we each viewed the ‘rescue’ of Tibet
I was approached by 2 Hispanic looking guys who turned out to be from
the Bronx. They were brothers and were traveling with their parents.
Carlos was 19, and Javier was 21. Their mother was Bolivian, and their
father was Peruvian, though they were raised in Mexico. Interesting
guys. They left for a western owned bar recommended in the guide book
called Sexy Tractor. We told them we’d join them when we were done
with out beers. I’m glad we waited because after all the shows, they
opened the dance floor and I got the best entertainment of the night.
A bunch of middle aged, pot-bellied Chinese men trying to dance with
beautiful women who were obviously hired by the club. They were so
awkward dancing to techno and club music. And I thought white men were
bad at dancing. The best part, without a doubt, was when a techno
remix of ‘We Will Rock You’ came on and they all started to sing along
and dance to it. Oh boy, it was a mix of karaoke and bad dancing. I
was thoroughly entertained.
We left when it closed at midnight and got lost in the impossible maze
of streets. It was actually more pleasant and beautiful at night. All
the tourist shops and restaurants were closed. Each had a big, red,
Chinese door shut over the shops at night, so there was nothing
touristy about it anymore. It was pristine. It looked like how I
imagined ancient Chinese alleys looked.
My bus leaves for the Tiger Leaping Gorge in an hour or so. I’ll
probably write you from there. If not, I’ll write from Shangri-La.
That’s my next stop. After that, the road gets a little rougher, so I
don’t know about internet after that. Talk to you soon.