Between my last post and this one, I managed to do very little, but somehow that very little included getting one of the worst sunburns I’ve had in a very, very long time.
So, the last time you heard from me was around the Fourth of July. I promised I was going to write soon after that, but then I got extremely busy doing… I mean honestly, nothing.
After a very brief stopover in Chengdu (for food, cats, company, and, of course, laundry) I flew to Dali and made it there on about July 6th. I booked myself a private room at one of the Lonely Planet’s top recommended hostels for a few days, then booked a private room for two at Lonely Planet’s other top recommended hostel for a few nights, when a family friend came to stay with me.
In the few days before Stella came, it didn’t stop raining. I wandered the old city and found cafes where I would pull out my computer, do a bit of work, and stare at the rain. The staring at the rain was the greater part of what I did. It made work take a long time. Long enough that when the rain slowed to a drizzle, I would pack up and wander the old city until I found another cafe. Rinse and repeat.
The day after Stella came, it was finally sunny. We didn’t really know each other, so I thought it would be a fun idea to rent a moped and drive around the lake. I didn’t realize it was a six hour drive. I also didn’t realize that not all mopeds were made to drive around the lake. But that came later. (Stella was a True Trooper.)
I had read about a market in the Lonely Planet. It happened on Mondays. It was Monday. Stella mentioned wanting to buy some gifts, so I thought it would be a cool place to go to. We walked into the old city and rented a bike without much trouble. I put down a small deposit.
So off we went! If you want to ask about the helmets… don’t ask about the helmets.
We’d asked directions to the town with the Monday market from both the bike-rentals people, and some people on the street. The consensus was unanimous. You just kind of got out onto the road and went right until you reached the marketplace. I mean, it’s a lake. How can you get lost driving around a lake?
So we just kind of got out onto the road and went right. We looked for signs to the town with the market, but the highway was kind of unexciting. You could see the lake if you strained a little, but I was driving, so I didn’t. Responsibility. I have it.
Eventually, we decided to drive down to a road closer to the lake we saw. After crossing to that smaller two-lane road, we saw an even smaller bike path right up at the edge of the lake. We drove through a flower-park-in-the-making, parked the bike to walk through a small market, and then headed back off again. At this point, we still hadn’t reached the town (but we did go on a slight accidental detour partway up a mountain) and also hadn’t found any signs with directions to the town. So we continued to a shelly beach by the lake. At the side of the lake, Stella collected shells and I laid out in the sun and took a nap. I came to regret this later. If I shared the photo, you’d regret it too, but I don’t want to worry people about my chances at skin cancer. Instead, have a photo of the lake.
After packing up Stella’s shells, we headed out once more. This is about when I realized the battery meter was down quite a bit. Luckily, we had come across a town with touristy street, so we paid a guy to let us charge up in his parking lot, and headed down the street. It was lined with a lot of vendors of these potatoes cut into thin small strips then formed into pancakes and fried in woks full of oil — basically, the most tempting thing ever. Stella and I walked for a bit until we got to the lakeshore again, then walked along that and had cold noodles on the side of the street. It was around 1:30, I think.
Then we wandered over to a cafe so I could get my dose of caffeine in. Immediately, I saw a cat, so we sat down by it. I pet it. Then we started to notice how everything was subtly cat themed. Pictures of cats on the wall. I turned, and saw two cats sleeping in a basket.
We hung out there for a while, giving the bike more time to charge. At one point, when one of the owners saw me petting the cat, she said, “Xiaoxin, mao youshi yao ren.”
Caught off guard, I gave my signature Not Sure What You Just Said, but Allow Me to Process That Smile (TM). As I took the extra moment to register that she had specifically been speaking to me, the cat bit me.
Almost instantly, I realized what she’d said: “Careful, the cat sometimes bites people.”
When we had our fill of cafe relaxation, Stella and I headed back for our moped. We tried to ask the guy if he thought we’d charged long enough, but the battery meter said it was full and the guy said we could always stop to charge again if we ran out of batter. We also had until 6 PM to return the bike, so we paid the man for letting us use his outlet, then set off onto the road again.
The road was long. We had some more great views of the lakeside, passed a billion and a half brides out for their sunny, lakeside wedding photos, and finally, at around five in the evening, we saw that we were about an hour out from Dali’s old city, where we rented the bike from. The road that circled the lake had turned into a regular city highway by the lake. Unfortunately, the bike had also stopped going faster than 35km/h.
I checked the meter: it still said we had a full battery. Stella and I stopped on the side of the road to turn it off and back on. No luck — as we carried on, every car and bike on the highway sped by us, and we went at a tortoise’s 20-25km/h crawl. Worried, we went on like this for a few more minutes before the dirty lying battery meter dropped suddenly to empty.
Luckily, we had just slowly rolled past a hotel that happened to rent out bikes. The woman who ran those bikes let us charge ours.
“We already charged it,” I told her. “And the battery kept saying it was full, until just now.”
“Yes,” the lady agreed. “Those batteries lie. Also, I know you already charged the bike, you never would have made it here if you hadn’t. Also, this bike isn’t meant to go around the whole lake, we have higher-powered bikes with longer batteries for that.”
Well, this was all information that would’ve been nice to know before the day started. But now it was almost six in the evening, we had to wait at least an hour until we had enough charge to make it the last 45 minutes back into the city, my entire face was sunburnt, and I head a headache. Stella and I headed down to the waterfront to chill and wait out the hour. The hour crept by while I read some student essays on my phone to reply to later, and then we picked up the bike again. The dirty lying meter pretended we had full battery, but we knew better this time.
“Just follow this road back to the old city,” the woman said. “You should have just enough battery to make it.”
And you know, we probably had just enough battery to make it. But then I got lost, and took us up some really really steep hills that totally killed the battery again. We were still at least 20-30 kilometers outside of the city. I knew from previous experience that it takes like ALL FREAKING DAY to walk 20-30 km, plus we had a bike. So instead, Stella and I walked the bike back up to the highway. I figured the bike was only going to carry one of us at 15km/h (we were back to the crawl), and tried to find a cab or a bus for Stella. However, the section of highway we’d found was a little barren.
A woman in a bright red electric kart did pass by us.
“How do we get to the old city?” Stella asked.
“Can you take Stella to the old city?” I asked.
“It’s that way, and no, I don’t have enough battery in my kart,” the woman said.
“Yeah, me neither,” I replied.
But she did take Stella on her kart to the closest bus stop, which also conveniently happened to be downhill, which allowed me to take the bike just a little further (and a little closer to the old city). I had Stella take a bus back to the old city, while I soldiered on with the bike. At this point, I was walking it — it could only manage about 7km/h — until the road went downwards. The bike reached impressive speeds of 40-50km/h when rolling down a hill, but as soon as the downwards slope stopped and I had to go back up (or flat), it was back to the walking 7km/h. When I had about 8km to go, I gave up — it was around 8:30 PM, we were supposed to have the bike back by 6, and I felt like sad human, walking an ebike along the side of the highway.
I called the bike company. They were okay that I was late, offered to come and fetch the bike from me, and when they showed up, they even gave me my security deposit back. Well, okay. Sometimes, China does work well for you.
The next day rained, so Stella and I hung out separately (aka I went to a cafe, drank a lot of coffee, did some work, and drank a lot more coffee.) For dinner, we went to a 5rmb (that’s about 75 cents) vegetarian buffet dinner made by the local Buddhist temple. On Wednesday, the morning went more or less the same — by this time, I had determined which place had my favorite coffee, but which place had good coffee with an infinitely better atmosphere for work — and in the afternoon, Stella and I got back together to head out for a KAYAKING adventure! We went to a lake where they gave brief instruction on kayaking, and then we got into a double-kayak and got to paddle round a bit, both in the protected area and out in the more open lake.
At the end of our time in Dali, Stella and I took a bus together back to Kunming. She flew off to Qinghai, I whiled away a couple of days in Kunming in a really cool, small hipstery-cafe recommended by both Lonely Planet and Alena. Then I headed to Shenzhen, where I planned to meet up with the friends I was going to Amsterdam with.
The end! Until next time, which I’m going to stop making promises about since I’m clearly incapable of keeping to a schedule.