As the train was arriving, the gold colors in the sky fainted into pink and blue tones. The train was arriving to Dali, my first destination. On arrival we had to scan and show our health QR code as always during these times. Once out of the station, I grabbed a taxi and headed to the B&B I booked. The room was nice, cozy by the lake. This satisfied the city man in me, still comfortable in a more rural setting. Experiencing the countryside with a beautifying glass.
Sunrise on Erhai lake
I woke up around 6am to watch the sunrise on the lake. After breakfast, I took a bike and cycled around. The landscape was certainly beautiful, mountains, water, birds... The path near the lake was neatly done, recently finished. This man-made beauty by the lake contrasted with the surrouding nature, it felt as if I was in a tourist attraction (which is the case). This tainted my experience of Dali. I was looking for something more, but not really knowing what it was myself.
Cycle path along Erhai lake
Around noon, I met with a friend and went to her house. She was living in a small village, 3 kilometers west of the lake. The house is 200 years old, it was built during the Qing dynasty and has a courtyard. There was no sound except birds, her cats and the breeze of the wind caressing the tree leaves.
200 years old house with courtyard and its cats
We took a walk in the village, many buildings were falling apart, many were hipster chich, selling yoga retreats. Many people could not bear living in large cities anymore and moved to the countryside, bringing their hipster-chic culture with them. B&Bs were popping up like candy bars, people hoping to make money this way. Soon it would be empty with only tourists left. I read an article reporting that co-working spaces were emerging in this place, a young entrepeneur thought it was a good idea, since many young people are coming to Dali. It made me laugh and angry at the same time.
Many questions started to emerge in my head, what about the local population and their needs ? What about respecting the area's history, creating a local life ? It was actually an urban setting we just changed the background.
Abandonned house in the village
As the locals probably leave to work in big cities, a new hipster generation is coming with their urban ways of living. Is this a new type of colonisation or just a natural turn-over ? What about the memory of the place, what about creating a new way of life that actually include the locals and their needs ?
A village path, the village is composed by a green street network Villagers resting
I went to the renovated city village, its beauty was ugly, the streets were perfectly neat, colorful flowers everywhere, shops selling the same products in different packaging, sadly I did not, could not take any pictures of this. This reminded me of the book The Franchised City, written by a French urbanist David Mangin. The author denounces a standardised approach to urban planning, the accumulation of planning regulations,car-oriented environments, commercial zoning. These elements have slowly killed singularity and innovation in cities. He took France as his case study, but it was still applicable in Dali. My main mean of transport was taking the taxi while there, because it was more practical than public transport. The old city felt like an open-air commercial centre, with the same brands, same type of cafes and restaurants than in other cities. It could have been an attraction park around Beijing, I would not have noticed the difference. This made me loose all interest in the area, I felt I was loosing precious time in a place that felt like an Instagram feed.
This is when I decided to pack and leave, I headed to the train station though I did not know where to go to...
If you want to see more about Dali, you can scroll throught the gallery