Freedom, and traveling

I stepped off the plane in Kunming, waiting to feel the familiar blast of searing heat that fills China’s air in the summer.

The air was cool. Crisp.

What?

I’d had no idea that Kunming was called the Land of Eternal Spring, that its setting in the mountains gives it an even climate, that even in the thick of July, the temperature hung in the cool 70s. But it made me very, very happy.

The next morning, I left for Dali with my small tour group. Long-distance public bus, about a 5-hour ride. Now, I know drivers in China like to honk, but this guy was the champion. Someone holding up the left lane? HONK. Passing dangerously? HONK. Someone in the neighboring lane minding his own business? HONK. Curve in the road? HONK. Another car, moped, or anything else anywhere on the road? HONK HONK HONK.

I was sitting next to an older woman. My guide (who conveniently is Chinese and can therefore hold conversations with people) said she and her family were tourists from Taiwan. She offered me a Werther’s butterscotch candy. Later she offered me some wheat crackers. When I coughed, she said something about needing Vitamin C. So sweet.

Dali is a small but growing city. People visit it for the old city, the small area within the historic city walls. Apparently most of it’s been reconstructed, so it’s not as genuinely old as it looks, but it’s lovely. I was happiest just wandering around the old city with my camera, looking at the narrow alleyways, the moss-covered tile roofs, the Bai architecture, the enormous baskets people carry on their backs, the little canals running at the edge of the cobblestone streets. Restaurants that display all their fresh food – colorful produce, wriggling snails, things I don’t want to think about eating – out front. People wheeling bicycles or wearing traditional dress. It’s a peaceful place.

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