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Lijiang Wheeling

It was once again 5 am in Dali and we were peeling ourselves out of the starchy comfort of our beds. By the time I had pulled open the curtains, Scott too was awake and hard at work assembling some Necafe packets of coffee into hot sticky drinks. At the Dali bus station, we found our assumptions about bus times had been quite wrong and we had awoken too early. Rather than waste time, we quickly set into intense negotiations with one of the many Cab drivers who were already hassling us. Within ten minutes, we were speeding along through the Yunnan countryside and listening to the same music which you, dear reader, were exposed to in the previous post.

Rice Paddys.JPG

As we drove and listened, our driver warmed quickly to the music, and in the end was singing along. Also, curiously, the more time we spent with the fellow, the more he grew to resemble Woody Allen. We’ll let you be the judge.

Hanging Out With Our Cab Driver.JPG

When we reached Lijiang, we gave the disc to our driver as a parting gift, and set out into the old city. Then we about faced and returned to the main road while the driver returned to bring the GPS device which Scott had left in the car (a vital component of AsiaWheeling). Again we set forth.

Tiled Rooftops.JPG

The Lijiang old city was quite striking, with sloping clay roofs and seemingly endless meandering streets. Our hotel was once again, alarmingly cheap and pleasant. This hotel, however, took the cake, with large shuttered windows, which could be opened wide, onto a little private courtyard, meticulously clean rooms, friendly staff, and dirt cheap laundry service.

Our Fine Hotel.JPG

First thing is, as always dear reader, first. Bicycles. We got our hands on a great pair, from a place which seemed to do a lot of business selling cans of oxygen. Among the uses prescribed on the can were sports, computer use, studying, pregnancy, and operation of an automobiles. Nice.

Our Steeds in Lijiang.JPG

We took off towards the so called “ancient city,” another maze of cobblestones and ancient chinese architecture. Here the wheel proved the reward, as mountains loomed around us, and the wide bike lanes invited the wheeler to meander and explore new housing developments, manicured hotels and giant construction projects.

Lijaing and Scott Raging Together.JPG

The entrance to the ancient city was a long cobble-stoned promenade, lined with trees and a series of somewhat Jurassic Park-esque entrance gates. Once in the city, we soon found the cobblestones so viscous that wheeling was rendered unpleasant and exceedingly vibrational. We started walking our bikes. All around us were endless tessellations of similar shops and restaurants. There were plenty of stands selling yak yogurt, and as we got deeper, and increasing number of horses, pulling carts full of grinning chinese tourists to and fro, and leaving steaming obstacles along the thoroughfare.

We locked the cycles and retired to a restaurant. We had no sooner ordered refreshments, when a fellow whom we had met and consulted regarding directions earlier on the wheel, appeared around the corner. We invited him to sit at the table and Jie taught him in chinese how to play. We proceeded to have a splendid time. He turned out to be a fellow wheeler, and Chinese software engineer, traversing that fine country atop a motor cycle. As we were preparing to leave, yet another wheeler appeared. This one was dressed in full neon yellow and blue regalia. He had stopped his bike outside an adjacent restaurant, and, without leaving the seat of his cycle, had ordered a pink milkshake. When the beverage came, still atop his cycle, he drained the glass in one giant slurp. Wiping his mouth on his brilliant sleeve, he turned to us. “Just landed from Beijing.” “Oh California.. used to live in Orange County.” “Ah, AsiaWheeling, yes of course… email… well keep in touch.” And then he was gone. Wheel safe brother, wheel safe.

Fellow Asiawheeler

Back on the cycles, under boiling clouds, we meandered our way back to the old town hotel. We were tired, hungry, and I had achieved a wicked sunburn. We paused only a moment, though, before bounding forth again. We ducked into a North Korean restaurant and massage parlor. For $4 each, we got hour long massages. Mine was transformative, in the way any excruciatingly painful experience should be. All the while, the gentleman operated on me like a mechanic would upon a junked car. From time to time, he would comment to his fellow massage technicians in Chinese. I believe he said something along the lines of, “I have never encountered a more de-aligned and misshapen specimen.” He would then perhaps swear a little and resume the assault.

Massaging Woody.JPG

I stumbled from the massage table, like the town drunk. We walked down to the lower floor and into the North Korean joint. Another feast. North Korean food seems to be not unlike the South Korean food that I have come to know and love in Providence. But I would say the jury is still out on whether this was real North Korean food.

Ancient City Lights.JPG

We strolled through the old town, digesting and chatting, and marveling at how well lit and well kept the compound was. It was, most certainly, a tourist town. Perhaps one could even compare it to a giant resort complex, or an endless shopping mall. But there was, at least for Scott and I, an integrity to it which is completely lost in western tourist spots that I’ve visited. It was after all, a genuine ancient Chinese city, built completely by hand out of of oddly shaped stones and tile. But it had been artfully retrofitted for operation in the present, with lighting tastefully placed around the town, clean running water, and widely available wireless internet. Also artfully lit were the many babbling streams which ran through the old town in little stone canals, over which stretched many ornate bridges in addition to the occasional wooden plank.

Hanging by the River.JPG

Back at the hotel, I took a hot shower and relaxed into my luscious bed. Once again, we visit a city in China to find it’s doing just fine: clean, prosperous, beautiful, safe, affordable, and perhaps more importantly, a great city for wheeling.


  1. Ian | July 8th, 2008 | 4:49 pm

    “Here the wheel proved the reward”. Well put, friend!

  2. AsiaWheeling » Blog Archive » Getting Closer to Haba | July 18th, 2010 | 4:08 pm

    […] After a rotten night of sleep, punctuated by intermittent screaming from some child in the next compartment, the AsiaWheeling mountaineering team peeled itself from somewhat sweaty sheets and walked out the door into the misty morning and cool mountain air of Lijiang. The train was, of course, perfectly on time. Scott and I had last visited Lijiang as part of the pilot study, but the city now seemed almost unrecognizable. For instance, the entire train line that serves the city had been built in the two years since we had last been there. […]

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