What Happens After Midterms? Our Weekend in Dali

Written by Avia Kraft (University of Texas at Austin) Student Correspondent CET Kunming, Summer 2017

 
After a week of high-stress and constant memorization, midterm exams have finally ended and
the CET Kunming crew had the chance to visit Dali (大理)—a city near Kunming, about six hours away by bus. The long ride might normally be considered a hassle, but I couldn’t help but feel a sense of relief as my classmates and I finally relaxed after having spent so many hours learning grammar structures and tones in preparation for our exams. However, as we pulled into the Jade Emu hostel in downtown Dali, everyone’s mind was on the same thing—food. Dali’s reputation is based on a few crucial things—the large minority population of Bai people, beautiful scenery, and bread-based pastries called “Baba.” When we weren’t eating and sleeping, we were also given the option to explore the nearby downtown tourist district. Although this was made difficult in part due to the constant downpour of rain, on Friday night I was able to visit a “pedicure” shop, where for 30 I paid to put my feet into a tank and let tiny, gently carnivorousfish nibble on my toes. Following our break for the “pedicures” we elected to explore the rest of
downtown—checking out the markets selling hand-made jewelry and Bai attire. During our stay
we often saw Bai women wearing traditional attire throughout town, which I thought was not
only fascinating, but also illustrated Dali’s vibrant culture. Some of these beautiful outfits were
also for sale in local shops, which we explored for hours throughout the day on our adventures
downtown. Upon returning to the Jade Emu, we spent the rest of the night playing darts, pool,
and Chinese board games as we took refuge from the rain in preparation for the next day’s
adventures.
On Saturday, we were given the opportunity to learn how to make traditional Bai tie-dye, or take a 20km bike ride through the rural fields and muddy banks of the rural outskirts of town. I chose
the bike ride. We rode through probably half a dozen small villages, stopping occasionally for a picture in front of the lake, or to visit a particularly large temple. The view was stunning— the
mountains surrounding our valley were constantly peppered with storm clouds, which cast shadows over the large swaths of land that we passed on our ride and complimented the shockingly green contrast of the crop fields around us. We rode through the crowded streets of downtown and the flooded trails, weaving among the fields and shouting warnings in Chinese to each other when a car passed or a particularly muddy part of the trail appeared ahead.

When we finally reached our destination, a nationally protected heritage site and hotel called The
Linden Centre, we were given the chance to make our own Baba and learn about Dali’s history
and architecture. I was, again, impressed. At night we once again walked through downtown
Dali, passing clubs and bars next to shops that sold traditional clothes or musical instruments. At
one point, as we sat to play on a set of drums inside one such shop with some locals, an entire
crowd formed outside the door to catch a glimpse of our ensemble. By the time we headed home on Sunday, I felt like I had been immersed not only in the beautiful tourist attractions of Dali, but also learned to appreciate the Bai culture. Although our trip was short, I felt like I visited one of the most beautiful and culturally diverse places on earth.