Saturday, April 18, 2009

Cycling through the countryside of Dali

I spent two separate days cycling around the villages and lake Er' hai in Dali. On the first trip Stefan and I set out for Butterfly Springs and the Lakeview Hostel. It was a hot day and villagers were in the middle of harvesting wheat, beans and black sesame. Riding through the streets we'd ride over stalks of the plants that were laid out on the streets to dry. The villages around Dali are mainly Bai nationality people.

We cycled to a nearby village where we stopped for a bowl of spicy mi xian noodles prepared in the open market area. About four or five stalls were set up all run by different women.

We took a detour from the main road and came across a compound that I at first thought was for farmers working the fields. We discovered a group of women cooking a huge meal in a small house and they told me they were cooking for over 500 people. Outside the wall a few people came to set up stands selling watermelon, popcorn, drinks and toiletries. I believe that they told us that we could join people for lunch which was at 12pm. So, we took our bikes into the compound to wait the fifteen minutes and discovered some dorm rooms and soon enough we realized we were in a school. It was a middle school with kids from villages around Dali. They live on the campus six days a week and go home on Saturday afternoons.

When the bell rang kids came streaming out of their classrooms and were surprised to see two foreigners standing in the courtyard. We'd get triple takes as students came around corners. Some would stop dead in their tracks and then run to other friends. Traveling in packs a couple would have the courage to shout "Hello!" or "How are you?" then their group of friends would giggle and run. When we tried to respond they would laugh even harder. There was only one student brave enough to approach us. Yan is a sixteen year old from a village a couple hours from Dali. He was well above the average height for a Chinese boy and sauntered over to us as he ate his lunch from his rice bowl. He sat down and chatted with us about the school, his village, our travels and education in China for about twenty minutes. The other kids looked at him with envy but no one else participated in the conversation. At one point Stefan pulled out a map of the area and that lured the group of boys in even closer. Whenever I took out my camera the kids would run and hide behind one another. I entertained a group of the girls by showing them some photos on my camera.

On my second trip, I went with two travellers we met at our guesthouse. Brian, a native of Xi'an, China and Peter, a journalist from the states. We took a similar route but took more time actually riding on small foot paths through the fields.

We headed to the lake shore where we rented a boat with a Cormorant fisherman. The Bai villagers around Dali use the birds to fish in the lake. There is a thin piece of string sewn into the bird's neck which prevents it from swallowing the fish that they catch. We spent about an hour in the boat while twenty birds swam around in the water catching fish. When one would extend it's neck, the fisherman would know it had a fish and pluck it from the water by the neck. He'd then hold the bird by the neck until it would release the fish.

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