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Daily Life Humans of Xizhou

Warm Winter in Dali: What Are the Locals Up To?

January 19, 2018

On his way to Dali to begin his internship at the Linden Centre, Michael Chen was questioned thoroughly by a Chinese customs officer. The officer asked him: “what’s your purpose in Dali?” Michael replied honestly: “to study Chinese and intern.” With a straight face, the officer said: “No. I know why you’re here.” Before Michael could respond, the officer elaborated: “you’re here to find a girlfriend in Dalifornia!!!”



(Pictures taken by Bryce Linden on a hike to the snowy peaks of Canghsan, and Yuqi Zhao from a car window)

So what exactly is this idea of “Dalifornia?”

It’s all about the environment. Dali is home to a gorgeous landscape consisting of the vast 洱海 Er Hai lake and the majestic 苍山 Cang Shan mountain range which dominates the entire Dali skyline. Then there’s the weather. Kunming has earned the nickname “City of Eternal Spring,” but really it’s Dali that is most deserving of the moniker. In the winter, the sun shines strong, making it very comfortable during the day. The sky is just as clear and blue as ever, and the only obvious sign that winter has come is the snow dusted peaks of the Cang mountains. Finally, there’s the relaxed atmosphere; the pace of life is slow, which lends itself to a greater appreciation for the small beautiful things to be found in rural China and for life itself.

We took the time to interview some Xizhou locals to see how they spend their Dalifornia winters:

wang1Interviewee No. 1:  Ms. Wang 

Sign: Cancer

Hometown: Jiangsu 

Occupation: Used to work in Beijing in the high-tech industry. Now she singlehandedly runs a small upscale eatery in Xizhou that serves up delicious Western and Chinese food.

Q: How long have you lived in Dali?
A: I came to dali on February 17, 2015, that was the day I left Beijing, I remember it very clearly.
Q: Describe your typical day in Dali 
A: Working, working, working. Everyday from 9:30 to 10 I wake up, then I’m here [indicating her restaurant] for the whole day; I usually go to sleep around 12 AM. Everyday it’s a similar workday.

Q: What do you like/dislike most about Dali?

A: I love the blue skies and white clouds. The thing I hate the most is the inconvenience of travel; there is no direct means of transportation.
Q: What is your latest obsession?
A: Making croissants! Before I didn’t know how, but now I make them really well. [She makes them from scratch]. I like making bread, and I really like flour, the texture of it and the feeling on your hands.wang2wang3(In response to the question Ms. Wang’s boyfriend interjects humorously: “It’s drinking! within two days she can drink an entire create of Dali V8 beer, she drinks it like water”)
Q: What’s your goal or wish for this year?
A: I want to go to Thailand to attend a cooking program at Le Cordon Bleu. This is my only goal.
Q: This winter, what have you been up to?

A: Everyday I cook…recently I spent two weeks traveling, I went to Chongqing, Chengdu, and Shaxi for a few days to take a break.wang4Q: How did you spend your past winters in Beijing?
A: In Beijing in the winter we have heating, it’s very warm, no need to wear a lot of layers, Beijing is actually pretty comfortable during the winter.
Q: What’s the biggest difference between your life then and now?
A: Back then it was easy to give up and jump ship. Now, the goal of life is very obvious, and I won’t give up as easily.
Q: If a friend was to come to Dali in the winter, what would you suggest they do?
A: Wear a hat, sunglasses, and a down jacket. The wind and the sun are both strong. You can go hiking or take the cable car up to Cangshan and see Tongsi Temple and Siying nunnery. It’s not that cold during the day. You could also take a horse carriage ride to the surrounding villages, it’s lovely. 

m1Interviewee No. 2: Michael Chen (Chinese Nicknames: Little Wheat Chen, Little Chubby Chen)

Sign: Virgo, Born in 1995
Hometown: Richmond, Virginia, USA (Michael is Asian American)
Occupation: Princeton in Asia fellow, Travel Curator for the Linden Centre, recently graduated from Wheaton College with a degree in Sociology
Q: How long have you lived in Dali?
A: I came to Dali in August of last year, so about 4 months and a little more.
Q: Describe your typical day in Dali.
A: I wake up at 8:45, get to the Linden Centre at 9:30, and then I lead activities for customers; sometimes it’s a cooking class! I eat lunch at 12, then I usually video chat my girlfriend [in America], then I go exercise outside. At 1 pm I get back and start working, then I work, work, work, and then at 6 I eat dinner.
At night, for relaxation, I like to read and have a little beer; Dali beer is my favorite because the alcohol content is super low, and you don’t really get drunk. Or I like to drink the local fruit wines like peach wine and sour papaya wine. Sometimes I stay at the Centre and hang out with guests, and I end up getting back to my dorm around 9 or 10pm. I then like to write my daily journal, watch a little bit of a TV show, sometimes I video chat friends back home, and then I sleep.
Q: What do you like/dislike most about Dali?
A: The thing I like the most is that the environment is really great, which influences my lifestyle. Every season has new, fresh veggies. You can also literally go out and exercise in any of the seasons; I like to bike through the villages that border Erhai, the people there are all really nice and they always say “hi” to me. There are also a lot of “New Dali People,” a.k.a young people who live in Dali, so I like hanging out with them as well.What I dislike…very little, sometimes work is tiring, I’m so busy, if I don’t take a rest day for an entire week I’ll feel a little restless.m2Michael took this picture of Xizhou while biking. 
Q: What is your latest obsession? 
A: Lately I’ve been super interested in cooking. I’ve realized Yunnan cuisine, and Bai minority cuisine, is pretty different from cuisine in the rest of China. Recently I’ve been helping the Linden Centre design a cooking school, making a menu, and designing some new dishes. I’ve also been watching a lot of “Chef’s Table,” so I want to do some exciting dishes, and be a little experimental and take some culinary risks.I also really like hiking, and picking wildflowers while hiking. Did you know Yunnan makes up less than 5% of China’s total land, but it hosts 50% of the country’s plant species? It’s crazy! In my dorm I’ve hung up over 100 wildflowers that I picked while hiking and then dried. Every time I go hiking I pick more.m3Here are some of the wildflowers Michael picked while hiking. 
Q: What have you been up to this winter?
A: I go biking twice a week, usually for 20km or more at a time. Sometimes I wear a pretty thin coat, but most of the time I wear short sleeves because it’s hot! I usually read during the winter in the evening, and I’ve been reading a lot of novels recently.
Q: How did you spend your winters in the midwest? 
A: It’s super cold in the winter, minus 20-30 degrees celsius, and it snows nonstop for 3-4 months, but it’s very warm inside, so life isn’t too different. But, in Dali, I feel like life still follows the seasons. In the winter it gets dark out pretty early, so people go to sleep earlier. It’s cold in the morning, so people get up a bit later. Like animals. People are basically animals.
Q: What is your goal/desire for this year?
A: I want to understand and become more of a part of society; both Chinese society and Dali Bai society. I want to more fully understand modern Chinese culture, and Bai minority culture. When I was young, my parents always talked about how China used to be, but China has changed so much from when they were young. I’ve also come to the realization that every part of China is different.
I also want to research a sociological topic, for now I journal everyday, to record my time in Dali. Xizhou is so special. Xizhou has a lot of locals who grew up here, then went to Kunming or other big cities, and then after a few years returned to Xizhou. This is a pretty rare phenomenon, but there seems to be this attractive power. I don’t know if it’s because tourism industry opportunities here are growing or if it’s because Bai culture has an inherent attractive power.m5Q: If you were to have a friend come to Dali, what would you suggest they do?
A: I would suggest they find a place, a quiet place, and just relax and appreciate the slow pace of life. You know what? When you travel, it’s actually a lot more fast paced than normal life, you see a ton in a day and go to a lot of places, it’s too exhausting.

mumuInterviewee No. 3: Mu Mu
Sign: Born in 1992 (she says ’82 also works because she looks older than she is)
Hometown: Dalian
Occupation: Owner of “The Dimple,” a shop that sells fruit and flower wines, and a Yogurt shop called “Xiao Bai Jia” in Xizhou. She also does handmade craftwork (leatherwork, carpentry, prints). Before she came to Dali she was a designer.
Q: How long have you lived in Dali?

A: A little over two years.
Q: Describe your typical day in Dali?(Mumu’s boyfriend Xiao Bai helps her manage the two stores)
A: Wake up, feed the pets (3 cats and 2 dogs), make breakfast, walk the dogs, go to the market and buy food for the day, go to “Xiao Bai Jia” to get things in order.Lunch, bring Wang Xiao Er (a golden retriever) to “The Dimple,” during the slow season we normally close around 5.For dinner we eat a relatively more substantial meal. During the day Xiao Bai will make soup, so at night we also make 3 other dishes. After dinner we watch a movie or do our own handiwork, like leatherwork or woodwork, it’s based on our moods. At 8 we take the dogs out, then we go home feed the cats and watch TV or read a book.
In the past, every week we’d go once or twice to Erhai with the two dogs.  (Can you fit them both on the electric scooter?)Yeah! Look, this is when they were little, they could both face the same direction, but since they’ve gotten bigger they have to face opposite directions.
(4/5 of their pets are adopted for different reasons)mumu2Q: What do you like/dislike most about Dali?
A: Lately I’ve really been appreciating Dali’s always beautiful sky, even when it rains. Of course I also love that you can always meet really cool people.The thing I dislike the most…the people who step on Wang Xiao Er’s feet, I really don’t know what they’re thinking!!

Q: What is your latest obsession?
A: A book called “Kinfolk,” I really like the book’s subject matter, it’s all about passion for life.
Q: What’s your goal/desire for this year?
A: To take my cats and dogs on a road trip, no matter how close or how far.
Q: What have you been up to this winter?
A: (Wearing a proud expression) Creating an original design for our packaging. I always wanted to design my own packaging (she motions at the boxes bought on Taobao). So far the design is finished, I’m just waiting for the printing equipment; there will be a special design for New Years and a normal one for everyday.
Q: How did you spend your winters in Dalian?
A: Spend the winter? With a heater! Dalian isn’t as cold as most people think it is, the coldest is only a few degrees below freezing. Usually I’d go shopping, go to coffee shops, to friends’ homes, and to small friend gatherings.
Q: If a friend was to come to Dali in the winter, what would you suggest they do
A: Don’t do anything. I tell people who come in any season: find a small courtyard, stay for a day, and watch the sky. The reason I came here was to find some peace. If you have more time to stay, then come to my store and chat.

What are you doing this winter? Who are you spending it with? What are you watching? Listening to? Wherever you are, the most important thing is you’re living your life fully.
If you find yourself restless and in the need of relaxation, come join us! Come see Xizhou’s gorgeous fields, stroll along the lakeside, take a long bike ride; or, as Michael says, do nothing and live quietly for a few days, like an animal, and just watch the sun rise and the sun set.
There’s snow on the mountains, but down here there’s tons of sun and it’s quite warm.
(Photo taken by Michael on a sunset bike ride) Want to join us at the Linden Centre for a warm winter?Call the Linden Centre front desk at 0872-2452988 and give the code “Warm Winter” for a surprise.Or, reach out to us by email at: with the code “Warm Winter”


1 Comment
  1. Reply

    matty always awesome

    January 28, 2018

    gooood job!

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