Yunnan, China Old Dali 2002.05.04 - 05.06

Facade without Heart

Dali is a city in the Autonomous Region of the Bai Tribe. Well known from ancient times for its marble, Dali was once the capital of the Dali Kingdom during the Tang Dynasty. Over the past few years, however, concrete blocks with "traditionally" painted facades have replaced the old buildings. Today the streets of Dali feel like a facade without a heart.

The one worthwhile activity we found in Dali was a trip organized by Jim of Jim' Guesthouse. Jim (not his birth name) is a Tibetan born and raised in the area. He selects villages and markets in areas where few tourists go. Jim has several itineraries. Tours depart with a minimum of 5 people. When we were in Dali, Jim led a group to a Hui (Muslim) market held once every 10 days. Combining the Hui market and a walk through a Yi Tribe village, Jim delivered an excellent tour. On the walk, Jim explained land allocation and taxation by the government, the household 10-star rating system developed by the Communist Party, communal farming practices, government control of satellite TV, and other aspects of daily village life.

Interesting note about TV reception in remote areas of China (doesn't apply to metropolises like Shanghai): the government installed satellite TV, probably to communicate Party propaganda, then realized it's also easier to teach the hill tribes Chinese by giving them a cheap satellite dish and color TV, rented for ¥6 (less than US$1) per year, than to invest solely in schools and stationed Chinese teachers. Moving the dish to receive non-Chinese channels like CNN results in imprisonment.

That night, Jim's mother prepared a 20-dish Tibetan meal at Jim's Guesthouse. The charge was a reasonable ¥20 (US$2.42) per person (minimum 10 people).

Although Jim's tours are good, his guesthouse room price is high. We preferred to lodge at MCA Hotel (see our Lodging Guide

Numerous daily buses depart all Yunnan urban centers (Kunming, Lijiang, Shangrila) for Xiaguan (also called Dali City), a large city 14km south of Old Dali. Local bus number 4 departs Xiaguan for Old Dali every 2 to 5 minutes from early morning to late evening. From Kunming, a few afternoon buses go directly to Old Dali. Note: the cheaper minibuses between Kunming and Xiaguan take 10 hours and the more expensive Yunnan Express bus uses the toll way and takes 4½ hours.

New large Ming Dynasty style gates arch across the roads in Old Dali. The numerous Chinese tour groups seem to love them.
A young Bai girl accompanies her mother to a vegetable market. This outing was part of Jim's Guesthouse tour. Our group of 10 foreigners was the only in town.
A resting man watches people as they shop at the market.
Tea vendors wait for thirsty customers at the market.
A Yi woman with her shopping basket inspects produce at the market.
Another Yi woman with a different style of dress makes a purchase at the market.
An older Yi woman in black turban sells fruit on the roadside at the market.

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