Thursday, 22 November 2012

Kunming clubbing & delightful Dali

A dystopian fog descended on Chengdu the day I left for Kunming. I said goodbye to the friends I'd made in the hostel and walked ten minutes across the chilly city to the subway to head to the train station. I had the top bunk on the train and hardly left it for 18 hours until I arrived in Kunming the following lunchtime. I ended up taking a taxi to the hostel as I had no directions or information for the bus this time. That afternoon I did nothing of note, except wrestle with the wifi so I could waste time online. 

Arriving in Kunming, part of the train is double decker - my carriage wasn't.
In front of Kunming station.
The following day I went to apply for my Vietnamese visa; this was my only reason for coming to Kunming as it was the closest place on my path with a consulate. I decided to walk to the office block, so at least I would see some of the city, but I didn't really see anything much of note. It seemed to be the typical huge Chinese modern city, which I had seen so many times already. I managed to find the consulate relatively easily, thanks to a description someone had written online. I arrived at 12.05, and as luck would have it they close from 12 til 2, so I wandered back to get some lunch and wait for them to reopen. Two o'clock came and I handed my documents and money over, and was told to return in three hours; I'd paid an extra £15 for same day service. With time to kill I decided to go and find somewhere to get my haircut, and five minutes later I was having it washed in a sink before being trimmed and washed again, all for about £2.50. I'd spotted a young backpacker sat outside the consulate building earlier on, so decided to wander back and see if he was still there. He was, and was also waiting for his visa so I sat there with him until they were ready. He was a German called Jo who had just finished school, though he looked older and was taking a year out before university, and we said we'd swap details as our paths may be crossing in Vietnam. 

That evening I was about to take an early night and watch a few episodes on my laptop in bed, when I decided to take one last sweep of the hostel and see if there was anyone to drink a beer with; it had only been populated by Chinese travellers whilst I was having dinner. I eyed a couple of Westerners and invited myself to join them. They were Isaac, a young lad from Somerset and Akke a Dutch girl, both backpacking in China and had met in the hostel the previous day. I helped Isaac drink his cheap brandy and it soon became late. A middle aged Chinese man who was loud and drunk was asked to leave by the girl working in the hostel, he became very aggressive towards her and the situation became a little nasty. Myself and a French guy grabbed one arm each and took him down the stairs away from her, we sat him down and told him to behave. It wasn't over though and he was still being a prick, when another older Chinese chap got involved; they started squaring up to one another and the second man grabbed an empty brandy bottle off our table and pulled his arm back to swing it over his head. As he did I grabbed his arm and pulled it back and he dropped the bottle. The police arrived at this moment who did nothing, except film the angry men on a camera. They don't even have YouTube to upload it to, it's blocked. Seeing the police the angry man decided his night was over, and left the hostel. I was now in a group of five Westerners; the two I'd started drinking with and now a French couple from Paris. 

We decided to head to a night club, so much for my early night, but I hadn't been out in a while and I had to remind myself of my policy of not saying no to opportunities when I was wavering on a decision. We got a round of beers in for the table, and after a load of Chinese had come over to cheers us we hit the dance floor. Within two minutes I was being led by the hand by a pretty Chinese girl over to a table where her friends were sat. I was plied with alcohol, and didn't buy another drink all night. We played the dice game that I had played before in China, and before long one hot girl was getting rather frisky and liberal with her hands. I hadn't been in the club 20 minutes. I felt like a piece of meat and it was great. I ploughed through their supply of booze, and they constantly topped up my glass. After a while I was so bloated of fizzy weak lager that I weaved through the crowd to the toilet and threw it all up. I rejoined my hostel friends on the dance floor and enjoyed the attention from the locals. Everybody wanted to dance with us, everybody was watching us, going out in England will never measure up. Later on in the night I was chatting with some other girls who invited us back to their place. Continuing with the philosophy of not declining opportunities, and thinking there might be a story in it, I told Isaac who grinned in agreement and we left in a taxi with the two girls heading who knows where. A while later we found ourselves in a dark and quiet, litter strewn street. The girls headed over to a barbecue stall and ordered themselves a load of food. Neither of us Brits were hungry, or fancied eating skewered chicken hearts at 4 in the morning, and generally declined to eat. They kept ordering more food, and then when the bill came expected us to pay for it. I said we haven't eaten, you ordered, you should pay for at least some of it, at which point her English seemed to disappear and the look in their eyes change. Well as their verbal English vanished, so did their physical English. Isaac and I muttered to each other, and on the count of three we sprang from the table and legged it off down the bitumen black streets into the pin-prick dark. I ran 100 metres or so, turned around to see Isaac hunched over halfway in the dark emptying his stomach onto the pavement one more time. We wandered through the neighbourhood until we came to a main road to try and flag down a taxi. Eventually we did, I gave the address and we drove off through the city. The taxi pulled up on some street, which was the wrong one, but reading the street sign I could see how it sounded similar to the one I had tried to say earlier on. I played it safe and told him 'Beijing Lu', I knew how to walk from here as I'd been there earlier in the day sorting my Vietnamese visa. We were dropped off here with a 40 minute walk ahead, just as it started to rain. I rolled into bed at about 6.30am, damp through and cold. 

The following morning Isaac and Akke called for me as I was packing my things to check out, as the three of us had decided to travel to Dali together. We took the bus across town to the west bus station, before boarding the next bus to Dali. The journey took all afternoon, and I dozed for much of it not having had a lot of sleep. We arrived in the dusty new Dali and took another public bus to the old town, which is much more picturesque and geared up for tourists. It was dark by the time we arrived, and we managed to navigate across the town with the most basic of maps to check in at our chosen hostel. Old Dali smelt of wood smoke and cannabis which grows naturally in the hills around, and it felt like a nice place, even if the central streets were a little touristy. The hostel was really nice with a pretty courtyard, a good menu, free pool table and smart rooms. 

Looking over Old Dali.
The next day Akke and I decided to go on a horse trek up in the hills above the town. Within two minutes of being sat on the horse, the beast in front which looked agitated sprung it's hind legs out catching me square on the wrist and in the stomach. I'd never been kicked by a horse before, and maybe it didn't catch me properly because it wasn't too bad; just a small cut on the heel of my hand and a red crescent on my stomach, which was gone the following day. It was fortunate my camera was slung over my back rather than draped around my front, or it would've taken the full force of the hoof on the glass of the lens. The guide then decided to untie the horses from their chain-gang, and I had the reigns to make sure my horse wasn't too close to the mental one. We rode off up the hills, crossing streams and through scrub, the horses navigating up and down some fairly steep gullies, and after an hours ride we dismounted to continue on foot. I don't know what it was we went to. It was a kind of farm I suppose, and the surrounding land was terraced with mostly tea being grown. We heard music and singing as we approached the buildings, and a group of Chinese were performing to themselves. It didn't feel like a show for us, just something they were doing anyway. Some women sang the most high-pitched, nasal, cliched Chinese singing imaginable, that it pretty much sounded like something from South Park. It was entertaining nonetheless, and we sat down on a patio and were fed tea and fruits, whilst they watched us and we watched them. Afterwards we walked up through the tea plantation which gave good views over Dali and the lake beyond, and then up to a waterfall. On the way back I eyed a cannabis plant growing in the open, so helped myself to a sample.

Heading up hill on horseback
Akke on her horse.
Crossing a stream.
A girl on the farm.
Having a cup of tea.
A boy with his grandparents.
Smoking farmer.
The open air concert.
Bono? More like Oh no. She warbled awfully. 
Gutting fish for dinner.

Pagodas in the town below.
Women in the tea fields.
Tea farmer.
Later that afternoon Akke and I went for an explore around town on foot, and it was full of little shops aimed at tourists, and had a bit of that traveller hippy vibe with those bright hippy/ethnic clothes, bongos and bracelets; all that shit. That evening Isaac and I sampled the local organic produce and played some terrible pool before watching Skyfall, the latest Bond movie, which I wasn't overwhelmed by. The following day I didn't do much except practice my pool shots on the free table and plan my next move, which seemed to be heading along with Akke to Tiger Leaping Gorge, as Isaac had ordered an iPod and so needed to hang around in Dali a few days for it to arrive. 

One of the gates to the old town.
A boy with some fashionable glasses.
These characters adorn a lot of the doors.
School girls carry their dinner home.
A rickshaw driver takes a break.
Girl sat at a food stall.
Construction in the street, something you don't see at home - women labouring like the men. 
A man smokes out of Dali hospital window.

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