Chinese Characters

Human encounters while traveling are perhaps the greatest reward. Whether meeting another traveler in a cafe, hooking up with someone attractive, or taking a walk with a local, it is the human aspect of traveling which leave the most lasting memories.

Travel mate David in Dali.

The propensity to meet a few locals in China is pretty good. After all, there are 1.2 billion of them. Just about anywhere in the country, just the sight of a white person is enough reason for a crowd to form. Sometimes I'd bend down to tie my shoe only to look up a minute later and find myself in a group of 50 people. While I found all this attention rather humorous, other travelers didn't like it at all and stayed exclusively in the company of Westerners.

A wise old sage offers her menu advice.

I found the most interesting Chinese were those of the ethnic minorities. Clans of these non-Han Chinese people are scattered all over the country. Most especially, in the Bai Autonomous Region of Yunnan Province, there are many colorful minority cultures. A popular hangout is the small, walled kingdom city called Dali on the shores of Erhai Lake. In and around Dali are some of the most classic characters I met on my world tour.

Chairman Mao salutes you!

Every morning a fisherman would come around the Western-food restaurants in Dali. Captain Wang was his name, and he tried to recruit travelers to take a ride on his boat. "Why you not like boat ride, mister?" he asked me on the third morning. "Is very fun, maybe we find sea monster today, okay? Yes?" I agreed to go only under the pretense we would find the sea monsters he spoke of. "Yes, yes! Today we find. Come. Come!" Out on his rickety sailboat, Captain Wang was much more interested in asking me about America, and pretty girls, and smoking his cigarettes, than he was in finding my sea monster.

Captain Wang looks for sea monsters.

After an hour on the lake, we started back for Dali. I told Wang I was disappointed he didn't show me any sea monsters. "Ahhh, sea monster, yes we have!" "No Wang, you no give me sea monster." I told him sarcastically. He stuck his hand into a bait bucket, pulled out a crayfish, and tossed it on my lap. "There your sea monster !! Now you pay me!"

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