Breathing in the fresh air, I took notice of my surroundings. Dali is located between the Cangshan Mountains and Lake Erhai in the Yunnan Province. Bai and Yi minorities settled the area, which represents about 85 percent of the population (last estimate was $2 million). There are 55 ethnic groups in all of China and 26 reside in Yunnan alone. A relatively small Chinese Muslim population is also present in Yunnan. The interesting thing I found is that the Muslim groups actually speak Bai (similar to Mandarin) and not Arabic, however some of the signage contains Arabic in it. The Bai people practice Buddhism but others follow Taoism and Christianity. I noticed a church with a cross in Old Dali but it’s likely being transformed from a church to a community center. The Chinese classify the Muslims groups in this area as belonging to the Hui nationality or Bai Hui (Bai speaking Muslims). It’s estimated that the Hui people came to Yunnan as followers of the Mongolian army in the 14th Century. I could not differentiate the Bai Chinese from the Muslim Chinese or *Hui.
Now that I conquered the town of Old Dali, the time came to really branch out to other communities. My guidebook recommended the Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Temple. I surmised with lots of sign language that the front desk would store my luggage and some guy in a suit would take me to the Three Pagodas for $4. Donning a crown of flowers, a Bai symbol (I clearly needed to draw more attention to myself), I trusted this man to take me to my next destination. When we arrived, he motioned for me to stay put while he busied himself talking to what I understood to be guides. I forked over $20 and received a ticket as a woman escorted me to the front gate. I am still trying to figure out what I paid for since she only swiped my ticket, handed me an English map and pointed me to the pagodas. Truthfully, I gathered the whole group of them calculated some deal but with history to conquer I moved on quickly. To read all about the Pagodas, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Pagodas_of_Chongsheng_Temple_%28Dali%29
Admittedly, the Pagodas define beauty and longevity having sustained natural disasters and wars. The area encompasses ponds, greenery, flowers and several monasteries. What more can I tourist want? The weather in this area comprises two seasons: rainy and dry. Currently, this is the dry season and as such the mornings and evenings are cool (40s) but the days are picture perfect (65+) and make for great sightseeing conditions. I managed to survive the barrage of requests for photos and even snatched a few of my own. It’s really hard being me. With my crown of flowers, the sunshine, the celebrity photos and a warm day, it occurred to me it was time to try and eat local.
What I failed to mention earlier, is that the local delicatessen is rooster, pig hoofs, pig tail, livers, guts of pigs, the head cut off, quail eggs, chicken and chicken feet and a whole lot of disgusting. This is definitely the reason astute restaurants omit pictures but sneaky me snapped photos in the supermarket and asked the staff at my new and definitely improved accommodations in the village of Xizhou.
Nestled in a village with a population of about 6,500 people, Linden Center is home away from home. Americans own it and God Bless America the staff speaks English. It was time to get my questions answered.
What are the slabs with all the Chinese at every entrance? Well Kelly, Dali is well known for its marble and the name for marble is actually Dali marble and the Bai people use marble in modern architecture.
The thing that looks like a dragon foot with toe nails…what is that? Well Kelly, it’s a chicken’s foot. Me: Do people eat that? It doesn’t look like there is any meat on it. Answer: They like to chew on it especially the nails (no joking). I was not amused.
The response from my guide: What do you call the insides like the intestines? I respond, the intestines? He says, “no all of it?” I say, “oh the guts.” He pauses and without hesitation spurts out, “You have to have the guts to eat the guts.” He made a funny. I stood horrified. I later met two Israeli girls on a bike ride and told them of my findings and said I think the Jews got it right when they said pork isn’t kosher. ICK! They quickly agreed. I acquired a deep knowledge of Chinese food especially as it relates to Yunnan. It gives the vegetarian movement great momentum if you ask me.
Lastly, a question locals either fail to answer or are incapable of addressing from Africa to India to China pertains to the “toilets.” While the holes in the ground have been cleaner here than in other countries, I grow tired of pissing on my shoes and sprinkling on my pants and then nearly dropping my sunglasses as I bend to wipe. The experience is not pleasant and it’s probably why I am thankful I am constipated most of the time. Get rid of the rooster and the pig, bring me a porcelain god and we have a deal.