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Running away from Home

The tightwad's guide to travel in the Yunnan

CHINA | Saturday, 1 May 2010 | Views [433]

One of my better shots of the Three Pagodas

One of my better shots of the Three Pagodas

I can see the famous three pagodas from the top of my guesthouse while I am doing T’ai Chi in the morning. I have taken photos of it from this distance and they are less than impressive. So this morning I decided to skip my exercises and head towards the famous monument before all of the festival crowds arrive and make getting around this area impossible. This plan would also spare me the heartache of seeing the dog chained up on the next roof. It’s a German Shepherd on a six-foot line, and he seems miserable. Sometimes I hear him crying at night or early in the morning. I want to go to the house and ask if I can take that poor thing for a walk.

I rushed past the festival grounds. Past the vendors in their morning set-up and all of the street sweepers dealing with the monumental task of cleaning up after the 20,000 festival attendees from the day before. I didn’t approach the Three Pagodas Park from the front because I couldn’t afford the ridiculously high entrance fee of 121CNY. I thought that I could get a decent picture from the side of the park, but the Chinese are too crafty. There is a big rail fence surrounding the park with big trees planted outside of it. As hard as I tried to find a good viewpoint, it was always obstructed by something. Finally, I found a side entrance that was opened for the employees of the park and the local entrepreneurs who sell trinkets. I followed them into the gate, but I still had to get past the security guard. I nonchalantly strolled into the park following two well-dressed women. I got about 20 feet past the checkpoint when the guard came out of his booth and started shouting at me in German…. I think. The look on my face must have betrayed my confusion and he switched to English. “Entrance, that way!” Well, I tried. I got the best photos that I could from the entryway and the side of the park. I even climbed on the rail fence, but I wasn’t going to shell out the 121CNY. That’s more than half of my daily budget.

On the subject of budgets, I have found that most of the restaurants in Dali are quite affordable. Especially at the guesthouse where I am staying. You can get a decent meal for around 10CNY. But today, my friend Sarah took me to the local Buddhist Center where you can get a good vegetarian meal for five Yuan. The catch is, if you take it, you have to finish it. You can return to the buffet as many times as you want, but you cannot leave food on your plate. For the price they charge, they can’t afford to waste food. I usually don’t have any difficulty with finishing what I take, and I especially didn’t have any difficulty today. The food was fresh and they had all sorts of cooked vegetables that could be combined with spicy pickled vegetables to add some heat. I enjoyed it thoroughly. In fact, it’s one of the best meals that I have had since coming to Dali. Imagine, if you were really on a tight budget in China, you could eat two really good meals a day for a total of 10CNY (about $1.50). If you got a bit bored with the buffet, you could get a bucket-o-noodles at the local supermarket for less than five Yuan. Not bad.

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