Taxi drivers will always lie to you about what time buses run.
A woman asked us in Chinese if we had a place to stay in Dali yet, saying she had a hotel nearby with rooms for 60 yuan. The shuttered buildings around us wouldn’t offer any options for at least an hour, so we followed the woman through the drizzle.
The Minority People Hotel is charming, set up inside a communal or clan-style building where at one time there would have been a handful of families living here, all looking in over the same courtyard. The cutest puppy in China was very happy to have new guests to play with, but very quickly, we were back in bed and snoozing until 11. Pudding would have to wait.
On a stroll later that afternoon, we stumbled upon a carbon copy of Old Town Dali, but completely deserted. Shop signs hung, but doors were locked, and only spiders took up residence inside. It was fantastically cute, with a charming, if slightly unkept, stream running through it. There was the potential to make a lot of money in that little ghost town, but maybe the demand wasn’t great enough for two charming old towns.
That night we picked vegetables out of a basket to have them fried up for dinner. We figured it was the healthiest meal we’d had since we could remember. Afterward we met our new friend Jim, from Milwakee, to watch the USA tie Slovenia.
Dali is really just a five-day blur of rain, sleeping in until 10, and discussing whether we should stay another day or not. We rented bikes one day, but it was a bit of a failure–though pedaling along the farmhand foot paths was very pleasant. We watched a lot of soccer.
One dinner sticks out. Jim invited us to join him and a French family he’d befriended that day. The couple had met in Dali, and the woman took us to a restaurant her friend owned on the main tourist drag. It was one of those restaurants that caters to foreigners–English menu with pictures, cute decor, TV playing the World Cup. The kicker was the utterly non-spicy kong pao chicken. Where are we? Give me questionably cured meat in front of bare walls and a wait staff scrambling for the English menu.
Our dinnermates were an interesting bunch. Terry, the French father, in Colin’s words “the alpha French male;” Dongmei, his lovely Chinese wife, who was the most down-to-earth of the bunch; their two prepubescent children; Gurey, a friend of theirs who we ran into on the street, who sighed when I asked him where he was from, who sighed when I asked him anything, but who otherwise directed the conversation; Jim, who has made the decision to quit his job and travel for two years–at least, who is a little awkward but who that night was quiet; and Colin and me, who are completely normal and well-rounded and never ask too many, or too personal, questions.