In order to make sure I was getting on the right bus or train, I quickly learned how to read and write a few Chinese characters, which was easier than I thought, since the characters are ideograms.
My next destination in Yunnan was Dali (大理) Old Town. I again boarded a train (火车; literally “fire car”) and in several hours arrived in the New Town of Dali, then took a local bus to the Old Town.
What is now known as the ancient or old city of Dali was built during the Ming Dynasty (14th century). However, the city’s origins can be traced several centuries earlier.
Esthetically, Dali Old Town was not very authentic. It was clear that most of the buildings had been extensively renovated, and it seemed that in many cases the style of the renovations was not true to that of the original structure. For example, I saw many buildings of poured concrete topped with a traditional style Chinese roof. I also noticed that the “slate tiles” often were not tiles at all but faux tiles that had been painted onto the concrete surface.
Throngs of tourists, almost all of them Chinese, packed the main streets which were lined with souvenir shops as far as the eye could see. It was a Disney version of what was once an ancient Chinese town. There were many tea (茶; pinyin Chá) stores selling various Yunnan teas: black (红茶), green (绿茶) and Pu’er (普洱茶). I wandered into a few of these shops but I thought that without speaking Chinese it would be difficult to negotiate a purchase.
After I had browsed several tea shops, finally at one shop the sales woman started speaking to me in English. It turned out her English was very limited but sufficient for the circumstances, and I was able to practice my limited Chinese tea vocabulary. I paid 2 Yuan to have a cup of Pu’er tea prior to purchasing fifty grams of loose tea. In the tea shops I noted that they brewed tea in the traditional Gong Fu style in which a good quantity of leaves is steeped for only a few seconds in boiling water, and then re-steeped several times thereafter.