August 3rd, 2010
Lijiang, Yunnan Province, China

Lijiang is a maze of winding cobbled streets swarming with thousands upon thousands of Chinese tourists, dawdling and wandering all over the place taking photographs every three steps. I went for a walk up to Black Dragon Pool today (which would have offered a stunning view of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain had it not been miserably overcast and drizzly) and after arriving back in the Old Town it took me more than an hour to find our guesthouse. Walking around in this town when you’re not in the mood for a stroll is an immensely frustrating experience.


This photo depicts one of the widest streets in town. For the most part it’s alleyways.

Dali had a lot of tourists too, but not quite as many, and it had wide and straight streets. Lijiang may be slightly prettier, but it has twice the amount of shutterbug sightseers crammed into half the space. Even at our first guesthouse, everything was small and crowded, and our room had the tiniest bathroom we’ve yet encountered, about the size of a closet. Everything about this town is suffocating.

Our first guesthouse was Mama Naxi’s, popular amongst backpackers and Lonely Planet’s top pick. I have no idea why; maybe it was just coming from the Dali Hump, which was a fantastic place to stay, but Mama Naxi’s was cramped and crowded, the staff were indifferent to us and the rooms were poor value compared to what was on offer elsewhere. I’ve noticed that the best places we’ve come across – Steve’s Steakhouse in Phnom Penh, the Rusty Keyhole in Kampot, and the Dali Hump, to name a few – weren’t in the guidebook. We found them on Wikitravel or through word of mouth. From now on I’m making heavier use of Hostelworld and TripAdvisor.

Not a lot to report other than that. I wanted to rent a bike today and explore the ruined monasteries around here that were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, but it was raining nearly all day. We’ve booked bus tickets to Tiger Leaping Gorge tomorrow morning; hopefully we’ll have fairer skies there.

This was a fairly short post and Chris put a lot of effort into writing something up; enjoy this trip into his eternally restless and dissastisfied mind, and marvel at how similarly we think:

Sitting on the toilet staring at my reflection in the pool of water on the tiles. The showerhead is dripping slowly, sending ripples across my silhouette. It’s a good time to think when you’re on the can. We’re in Lijiang and it’s been raining for thirty six hours straight; confining us to either the cheap, paper-thin walled hostel rooms, or the ridiculously named restaurants and cafes. An example of such titles: “Whisper Restaurant” neighbour to “Indulgence Restaurant.” The other guests here at the Traveller’s Inn won’t stop stomping around up stairs. Pick a fucking direction and stick to it. “Oh no I forgot my purse.” “Oh no I forgot my sisters purse.” “Oh no I forgot my children… and their purses.” They are driving me insane.

As we determined earlier on in the trip, each day holds a cataclysmic shift in desire and opinion for me. If there is one thing I tease Mitch about most, it’s his lazy, floating “It’s alright” attitude towards almost everything. Including most meals:

“How was your hamburger man?”

To which he replies without fail: “Yeah, it was alright.”

In reality though, I admire this ability. I often wonder what it would be like to enjoy more things than not. Dali was the first place, I believe, that I enjoyed more than Mitch. Just yesterday, I was willing to sabotage the entirety of the trip to stay and live in Dali for a few months or so. Today… today I want to get out. I want to skip ahead to Mongolia. I don’t care for getting there, all I want is to be there. Tomorrow, I’m sure, will evoke yet another slip in the indecisive black hole that is my brain. This is why I haven’t left Mitch in the dust: because I know that, although my mind sloshes from side to side like a ship in a storm, my desire to travel and see new places and experience new things is stronger than the urge to not. Today is a low day I guess. I am very much a person of my environment.

Lijiang’s old town is a maze of trinket shop fronts swarming with thousands of umbrella-wielding Chinese tourists. Imagine a flock of sheep, all of which have an ear infection hindering their sense of balance and ability to hold a straight line, all sharing a symbiotic relationship with their cameras, stumbling through narrow alleyways, stopping every few seconds take photos of anything and everything unremarkable. A brick fucking wall would be less obstructive.

Alas, I have judged yet another book by its cover. One of these covers being the concrete ceiling of clouds concealing the sun and blue sky. I am stupidly comparing everything here to Dali, a place that does all the same things infinitely better. The roads are wider, the water is cleaner, the people were exceptionally helpful and the hostel was easily the greatest place we have stayed. I have had two of the greatest days on the trip in Dali. Here in Lijiang, I feel cornered like a mouse in a maze. It is suffocating. The clouds above, the constricting streets. There is nowhere I can go to be alone here. Even in this excuse for a room I can hear the messy conversations, the neighbours TV, the endless endless stomping of feet. STOP FUCKING MOVING FOR TEN SECONDS!

Tomorrow morning we leave for Tiger Leaping Gorge. We are both crossing our fingers for good weather. Clear skies, that’s all we ask. Just two days of clear skies.