Bright and early at 8:30 this morning, we gathered as a group not in our usual classrooms at school, but piled into the conference room in our hotel for short introductions from Mr. Hodgson and Yan Laoshi about Li Jiang and Da Li. With only about a third of the students and teachers combined having been to these two spots before, there was much for us to learn about these two culturally significant destinations. “The Na Xi people work like ants but live like butterflies,” Mr. Hodgson said, before describing how the Na Xi lifestyle is closely intertwined with nature. He urged us to look beyond the colorful costumes, crowded shopping streets and obvious tourist attractions; the true beauty of the area, he said, lies in the ancient architecture, the mountains, the lakes, and the true nature of the people. Suitcases in hand and plastic Walmart bags (despite Mr. Hodgson’s opposition to “the worst store on the planet”) of snacks in hand, we boarded the bus for the long trip ahead of us.
After a few hours on the road, we arrived at our first stop of the day: “Dinosaur Valley”. Despite almost being like a theme park, with a zip-line and brightly colored plastic dinosaur statues throughout the park, the museum housed the largest collection of dinosaur bones I have ever seen. The bones were strung together to form completed skeletons in various poses that filled room after room, finally cumulating the original mountain wall, which was embedded with bones not yet excavated. The display was breathtakingly well-done and comprehensive, despite its rustic location.
In the next five hours on the bus, time was split between sleeping, looking out the windows at the famous Yunnan rice terraces contrasting with bustling towns, watching movies and playing card games. Finally, welcomed by the torrential rain that seems to be endemic to the area, we pulled into a tiny restaurant on the side of the road for dinner in Da Li. Food disappeared seconds after being placed on the table, and soon after we were dragging our bags through the rain into our quaint courtyard-style hotel. We were free to rest in our rooms or explore the pedestrian shopping street for the rest of the evening, and I enjoyed wandering the surprisingly lively streets full of the infamous Na Xi tie-dye, crafts, silver, and barbecue with both Andover and Chinese students and teachers.
I am exhausted; from hours cramped in a bus to struggling through the rain, I think our trip pushed limits for everyone. However, I think that it was a refreshing taste of a different side of China that even I, despite having lived here for seven years now, have not seen before. I look forward to learning more about the local culture, seeing how the tourism has affected this environment, and enjoying the rest of our trip with my friends.