March 6 & 7. Today was our first weekend day, which meant sleeping in until 11am. The morning air was my only alarm and I enjoyed its touch as I blearily opened my eyes. The sound of the active town washed over me as I swung my feet out of bed. I showered with a happiness that I had not felt since Fiji and nearly jogged to breakfast with contentment.
We ate at a western style breakfast house. Surprisingly, it held its promise of “tasting like western food.” Most of the “western” restaurants we have been to either held a slight taste of local food or just served Chinese food with a western look. After a meal of eggs, bacon, bread, cheese, and chai tea, we discussed the plans for the day. We settled on biking out to the coast, which would hopefully provide us with a view of the suburbs.
The actual act of renting a bike took longer than I expected. Leung haggled with every dealer and was never satisfied with any price. After 5 different rental shops and at least 40 attempts to drop the price, Erik shoved money into Leung’s hand, obviously frustrated enough to surrender to the price. The bikes were of good quality, but I knew the small seats would hurt our butts given enough time.
The streets were hard to navigate through because the majority of locals seemed to disregard the fact that they might be run over. The cars didn’t help either. They honked constantly, even when we were clearly out of their way. They must have been thinking we would purposefully swerve into oncoming traffic, although that thought never crossed my mind. Finally, we hit the open road, where there were more horse drawn carriages than cars. The road went in a straight line for miles until it met the coast. We subconsciously raced each other as if there was some prize at the end of the road. Oddly enough, the view of the coast was reward enough for our efforts. The boats looked like floating Chinese temples and the lake looked vast and untouched. There were several street vendors nearby and we stopped for a snack of sundried tomatoes and fresh almonds. I have never liked tomatoes, but these were like candy and I was helpless to their sweet taste.
We rode on for several more miles, looping around the countryside until I could cover the entire campus of the university with one thumb. There were rice fields all around us as we pedaled. It was shocking to see that most of the villages surrounding Dali were so undeveloped. Dali’s modern influence didn’t stretch even a few miles in any given direction. It was like stepping back in time. The people harvested crops or groomed their horses. I even saw a few practicing archery.
Leung didn’t stop riding until it was sundown. We saw so much of the countryside in such a short time that it was hard to remember most of the gorgeous sites. 5 hours later, when we were hungry and exhausted, we arrived back at the hotel. I winced as I dismounted my bike. My butt and legs were sore to the bone. We didn’t delay in our movements, however. After showering quickly, we set out for dinner. Dumplings and noodles were tonight’s meal and I scarfed it down with animalistic vigor. Too comfortable to move our feet, we stayed at the restaurant and listened to the karaoke I had despised since tonight. They usually played late into the night and most of the singers, I’m assuming, had never been on the receiving end of their songs, for if they had they wouldn’t have sang at all. Later on, we dragged our feet back home and hit the bed, without even noticing that it was barely cushioned.
The following day was another weekend day. I didn’t have anything to do and nothing was planned. I spent most of the day resting or walking solo around town. I practiced my Mandarin here and there. Also, I bargained for many souvenirs. I had no intent to actually buy anything, but I mentally noted the given prices down for a later date. I also caught up on all the homework I had left for today. It wasn’t exactly fun, but the challenge was welcome. I hadn’t had to strain my brain to learn anything substantial in a long time. Other than that, it was an ordinary day in Old Dali.