We arrived in Dali Friday evening, tired from one of the longest stretches thus far, filled with fighting, crying and whining at the back seat. So when the first thing that greeted us was this architecturally awesome, luxurious modern guest house tucked nonchalantly into a nondescript location opening up wide into the lake, my mind spun a story of fear, “What the hell are we doing here? This is way out of our league!” But at least, the spiel got better in the morning as it said, “Calm down. Breathe in one day at a time. You’ll be okay.”
I got spooked by the self-imposed burden of expectation. Are we presumed to start and grow a business THIS successful? The hotel was owned by Jason’s friend who had moved from the north fifteen years ago and started a chain of boutique hotels and restaurants. He had gone back to Beijing a few days before our arrival but his wife, the artist and designer of the gorgeous guest house was there to welcome us.
No, we didn’t stay in that posh hotel which was already fully booked. We looked for a much humbler inn where we were able to do laundry the next day from a rooftop with a view. I felt I could watch twelve days worth of laundry dry because the clouds and sky justified the wait.
The restaurant where we had breakfast had a patch of garden with vegetables growing right by the sidewalk. It felt natural, like why doesn’t every restaurant have something like that?
We followed the trail of the burbling stream to the old town while weaving in and out of overly-photogenic guest houses all of which had one aim in mind: the guests’ total relaxation.
The old town was crowded with tourists gripping annoying selfie sticks and I was going to write it off as one of those places I can only visit once and that’s enough. But then we went down one lane where the artistry of the shops, cafes, guest houses and restaurants blew my mind.
We went for an afternoon nap and then walked back to the old town near dusk, this time using a different route. Parallel to one of the streets was a grassy mound that allowed one to have an elevated view of the mountains and the town while the cars below were separated by the green, natural knoll. On one side of the knoll, development proceeds, tearing down and rebuilding structures. On the other side is a field overrun by weeds, vines and unkempt vegetation. Let’s hope it remains wild.
Coolness overload dominated the daytime and more so in the evening, when indie, rock and ethnic music blared and blended and the mood and dramatic lights went on. It was a night-owl’s town more than anything else.
We’ve been dreaming of Dali for months. It’s exciting and disconcerting at the same time to come face to face with this “clean slate.” Nerve-wracking because of the unknowns but one can’t afford to be spooked for long. Need to hit the ground running.