After spending a week in Kunming where I celebrated the Chinese New Year with Molly, read some articles for my approaching fieldwork trip, and hung out with friends…we finally took our leave to travel to northern Yunnan. The Fulbright gave all China researchers the option to take a week break during the Spring Festival, since it’s hard to get anything done during this slow time. I took advantage of this opportunity to take a break from reading and unwind before beginning fieldwork the next week and preparing for the Mid-Year Conference in March.
Molly and I took the overnight train to Dali, a Bai ethnic town north of Kunming. It is famous for its ancient city and large lake. We arrived early in the morning and took a public bus to the ancient city. We walked around for a bit looking for a hostel where our friends were staying. We found it, dropped our bags off, and explored the city.
Making Hard Syrup Zodiac Animals for the Kids
In the Middle of Dali Ancient City
Bai Designed Tapestries
Pretty Molly Smiling in One of the Alleyways
The streets were crowded with tourists who were traveling for the New Year. Molly and I quickly got out of the mess of tour guide flags and expensive cameras and escaped into alleyways where we admired New Years decorations on local residents doors and old architecture.
Afterwards, we met up for lunch with some friends from Kunming (Erin, Wayne, and Zan) and then split ways again. Wayne and Zan went on a bike ride to Erhai, Erin left to meet with another friend, and Molly and I continued walking around the ancient city. We discovered a Catholic church in one of the many alleyways we explored that really caught our attention:
It appeared more as a Buddhist temple with its intricate pagoda structure and colorful reds, blues, and greens that was meticulously painted on its outside. But the golden cross shined above it distinguishing it from any temple I have ever seen. We went inside where a Chinese volunteer (or priest?) gave us informational packets and then went on his way to the housing quarters to do some errands. It was strange to find such a beautiful place that was completely silent from the hustle and bustle of tourists who were only 50 meters away on the main streets. We took a bathroom break and visited the living quarters, which was also quite barren. Maybe the residents were visiting home in another town? There was a lone old Chinese woman who was cleaning sheets in one of the two courtyards.
From the church, we went back on the main road where we started to hear the sound of Chinese horns and the pounding of drums. We soon found ourselves in the middle of a parade where the streets were filled with Bai Chinese dressed in demon outfits, a hero costume, young kids doing aerobatics, and black and yellow cloth dragons. Molly and I were enthralled and couldn’t keep our eyes off the colorful performance.
Fire Demon Terrorizing the Street
Fearsome Dragon Dance
Golden Dragon Catching Up
We noticed the performance was being filmed and thus being performed multiple times for best quality. So, the two of us watched the dancers and dragon carriers twirl the dragon head and spin the colorful cloth a couple more takes before there wasn’t sufficient light. The sun set behind the towering mountains West of the town. We then took our leave and met Erin and her friend for pizza in the foreigner district. After dinner, the group met up for drinks at the Bad Monkey while I explored the night markets for potential gifts. The stalls were covered in beautiful tapestries and scarves. After a good 45 minutes of searching, I met everybody at the bar where we then took our leave to the hostel for the night. Molly and I planned to wake up early-ish the next morning where we would bike through Bai towns to Erhai Lake before catching a bus to Lijiang.
Check out Molly’s perspective on our trip to Dali here.