March 2. Waking in China at 7:30 has its advantages. I was able to watch the sunrise from my window. It was gorgeous to see the sun’s silhouette crawling up the peak of a distant mountain. When it reached the top, it seemed to pause for a few seconds in a triumphant stance. We didn’t need to get up at any particular time today, but I was wide awake and ready for another adventure, which I had become accustomed to last month. I walked out of the room and was surprised to see Anna on the balcony with 3 cups of green tea. She offered one to me with her motherly smile and brought one in for David, but set it by his bed. She exited the room and started giving me details about what not to do in China. For instance, you’re not supposed to touch someone’s head. It’s considered extremely rude. Don’t put your chopsticks into your bowl as you set them down. Always put them across the edges. Lastly, never accuse someone of staring at you because it is perfectly normal to stare at a foreigner here. She didn’t need to tell me this last rule, but I humored her all the same.
After I had talked with Anna some more about China, David had finally woken up. He was in a good mood and ready for a meal, as I was. 10am was checkout time here, and we doubted that we could make it back after breakfast in time. We checked out and put our belongings into Anna’s room (who would be staying another night), but I took my backpack. I’m not taking any chances here when there is plenty of thieving.
Old Dali is a beautiful city with plenty of activities to do during down time. There are massage parlors, horseback riding, hiking, and Taekwondo lessons. I wanted to do them all today, but Anna had different plans for us. We were shown the city and how to get to specific landmarks in case we ever got lost or separated. She also showed us where to buy snacks and any supplies we might need. I could tell she was doing it out of her good nature, but it was slightly unnecessary. I wondered if she was accustomed to high school students and my beliefs were confirmed as she told me she usually led the summer high school Rustic Pathways programs.
During this tour of the city, we picked up some dumplings along the way for breakfast. They were delicious and came in 2 varieties. One was skinny and longer, more like the dumplings seen in America. The other was fatter and much doughier. Anna showed us how to make the perfect sauce for dumplings, with 1/8 soy sauce, 7/8 vinegar, and a dash of chilies. I could have eaten them until I burst. I began to wonder how healthy they were and voiced my concern to Anna. She told me that the ingredients were locally harvested and grown so it would be much better than any Chinese food bought in the States. On that note, I ate them greedily.
We walked around town a bit more and saw many stray dogs and puppies. It was sad, but they seemed well fed. At noon we had to meet up with Erik, Leung, and Christen for lunch so we stayed in town and explored it thoroughly. I was excited to see Christen and to have someone close on this trip.
Café de Jack was the meeting place, and it was a western style food restaurant. We met the rest of our group and I was right in believing that my spirits would rise at the sight of my cousin. She was perfect for this situation. Someone I could talk too freely, but not someone who would latch onto me like a lifeline. She handled the situation perfectly. David introduced himself and everyone started talking to her about themselves. Immediately, I could see that she would be a great fit for this trip.
I ordered a burger because I missed the taste and scent of American beef. Yet, I was slightly disappointed. Something of the Chinese food lingered upon the burger’s taste and scent and the fries were soft and undercooked. I tried to enjoy the meal, but it was difficult. After lunch, we went back to the hotel to pick up our luggage. From there we took a taxi to Dali University. Oddly enough we didn’t go through the main entrance, but through a side street. We wound our way up to the top of the hill overlooking the University. The campus is enormous, with many modern buildings and dorms. There is little grass around the roads, but when we came to the place where we will be staying, we were awed to see miles of tea gardens stretched out before us.
The dorm rooms that we are staying at for the first 3 nights are very comfortable looking, much more so than the previous hotels at least. The beds are slightly more comfortable and the surrounding decorations are beautifully native to the culture here. We have all stretched out on our beds and are relaxing before we set out for dinner. Hopefully it will be better than lunch.