To start our first full day of X-phase in Dali, (the part of this trip that is being completely planned and orchestrated by the students), we visited the old town of Xizhou. This trip/tour was planned specifically by Jackson and Arman, who booked us a tour guide and many activities. The morning consisted of a roughly 3 hour tour around Xizhou– we admired and were taught about the numerous houses and beautiful architecture around the town. Every building we saw had its own story and history that was related to us by the tour guide to the many dynasties we have learned about in our history classes back home.
Halfway through the tour, we were led to the Xizhou food market. We visited the sugar stands (where we sampled sugar candy cubes), the meat stands (where we were offered- but did not eat- raw pig skin), and a building where rice noodles are created (where we sampled freshly kneaded rice ‘dough’). Continuing our adventure, we then visited a clothing store in a courtyard that also made their own homemade Chinese cheese. We witnessed an 阿姨 (aunt) creating some, and sampled both the dried and fresh versions of the cheese paired with rose jam and sugar. We all watched and cheered as Joey even tried his own hand at making the stuff.
For lunch, we headed to one of the Linden foundation’s buildings. The Linden foundation focuses on international education, being a very nice hotel, and preserving the history of China. After stepping into the building’s courtyard, which has ancient trees, art, and brightly-colored flowers, we were greeted by Brian Linden and his wife Jeanie (the founders of the organization). He was landscaping his hedges with shears– as soon as caught sight of us, he invited us over to eat. There, we made our own baba, which is a commonly eaten Chinese stuffed bread that is sold by many street vendors. We kneaded our dough and made two babas each; one pork-scallion baba, and one red bean paste-brown sugar baba. While they were baking, Brian sat down with us and told us his life story– a tale of both luck and very hard work. He talked about how he – a community college student who cleaned carpets for a living – came to own a famous hotel/organization in China and also be friends with Chinese/American government members, graduate from Stanford with a PhD, and a be an overall world-recognized figure. After eating and thanking him for his time, our group split up to explore the town by ourselves for a couple of hours.
Near the end of the day, we headed to a carefully decorated/designed coffee shop to hear the story of a new-immigrant-to-Dali: Max. The interview was organized by Carlos. Max owns coffee shop, and we sat and talked with him there for two hours. He told us his reasons for coming to Dali and explained how success has had different meanings for him throughout his life. He told us his views on different types of jobs and how different places lead to different lifestyles. Dali, he explained, is very slow-paced, but is also a hub for artistry. As a thank you and also as a way to get to know him better, we invited him to dinner with us back at our hotel, which only serves vegan food.
At the end of the day, we had an adventure trying to catch a bus on the packed and dangerous Dali roads. When we arrived back at our hotel, which is a beautiful place situated among many fields and traditionally built houses, we were greeted with (to our surprise) a huge, vegan, spaghetti dinner. There were several exclamations of joy– I can say in confidence that everyone had seconds. It was a great way to end a day of eating and exploration and we all can’t wait for what the rest of X-phase has in store.
P.S: accompanying photos will be posted seperately