Dali, China's Cusco
Trip Start Aug 29, 2008
22Trip End Ongoing
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With all of this the same, one would expect the cities to be similar. However, the differences in their respective countries means that the experience of the two cities is totally different. China, as I have witnessed firsthand this week, is rapidly modernizing. Heck, it's already mostly finished the task. Thus Dali, despite being somewhat smaller than Cusco, is much more of a city. Tall buildings, nice apartment complexes, personally owned vehicles, and even a Walmart make Dali seem much more advanced and efficient. The city is clean with impressive stores and efficient mass transit. The quality of life for the average inhabitant in Dali must be much higher than that of any city in Peru. The wealth that is spreading in China is evident everywhere, even in the town that we visited on Wednesday. What is interesting is that this wealth will be passed on to a generation that is, if anything, smaller than the previous one. China will only be getting wealthier (per capita anyway). As with everywhere in today's world, Western and American influence abound (to wit, Walmart), but China maintains its own culture much more strongly than other places I have visited. Overall, Dali has been an interesting place to get a first taste of China.
The program itself is quite well done. We live in an apartment in a nice location in the city. Each day we take the bus for both lunch and dinner to the wonderful apartment home of a local family (very few Chinese city dwellers live in anything but fairly small apartments, even in smaller cities, however the countryside is different). The mother of the family cooks meals for us and tries to give us a variety of the flavors of Chinese food. Being southern China, spicy food is prevalent, something we are all enjoying. Tonight's meal, to give an example, was a "hot pot". A simmering pot is placed on a burner on the table and filled with a spicy soup. Vegetables, meat, and other ingredients are added as you like. You then put into your own bowl what you like as it cooks in the soup. When you're finished, each person drinks the spicy soup left in their bowl. It's a wonderful family-style meal (by the way, I know that a few Chinese restaurants now offer hot pots, and I strongly recommend trying one as a family meal).
The program also includes excurions to local places of interest (including Chickenfoot Mountain, Jizu Shan, which we will climb), and some serious volunteer work teaching English and planting trees in a nearby village. I am somewhat doubtful that we will have internet in Shangxi Village, so there may eventually be a week long break in my blog. We have also learned a little Chinese, which has been fascinating in itself. Chinese is more conceptual than English. For example, there is a phrase (bu) that means that the meaning of the sentence is in the negative, rather than having separate words like not, no, never, etc. It's an interesting insight into why Chinese and English do not translate well (speaking of which, the number of amusing translations that we see on a daily basis is prodigal). Tomorrow we learn about Chinese cooking, and we have a trip and work this weekend.