my alarm went off at 5am but i was unable to wake up early to go take some empty street photos. i finally got out of bed around 8am, did some laundry, organized my stuff (trying to figure out what i should ship back to the US, my backpack is getting pretty heavy), then went online for free for an hour here at the guesthouse. finally i'm able to upload photos in relative peace and quiet!
close to lunchtime was when i went out for breakfast, had some local rice porridge with some local bread. it's the same place i went to yesterday. there are lots of little places to eat or drink here in lijiang: if you can find a few places you like, this place becomes like home almost.
after eating i headed north into the new city, the urbanized section of lijiang. i went to a china mobile office to check how many minutes i have left on my chongqing cellphone (about RMB$173 worth of minutes, enough for another month at least). then i went to the black dragon pool. i heard the admission was very high but i didn't realize how high: besides the admission fee of RMB$60, there's also a lijiang protection fee of RMB$40. it's pretty much bullshit and the attendant can choose whether or not to charge the extra amount. the guy at the front desk was pretty much an asshole and told me i had to pay RMB$100 (about US$12). since i came all the way out, i didn't want to just go back, so i paid the extortion.
the park itself is really nothing - you can walk around the whole pool in less than an hour including stops for phototaking. although pretty, it's not RMB$100 pretty. close to the entrance was a painting store where a chinese painter did landscapes with the sides of his hands. we chatted and became my new best friend when he found out my ancestors are from dongbei (northeast china) - he's from heilongjiang himself. he showed me the video of a news report they did about him - apparently he's very famous for his dragons. he sold me two small landscapes for RMB$80 each. he also said i could have one of his dragons for RMB$200 (usually they go for much more), but i didn't like it as much as the landscapes, so i didn't buy it.
wanting to really get my money's worth, i slowly walked around the pool. because the entrance fee is so expensive (for foreigners and chinese alike), the place was relatively empty compared to other spots in lijiang. at one of the first temples i met some young chinese kids who were working their as guides. i sat with them for over an hour, chatting about what it's like living and working in america and china. one of the girls was only 18 (she'd been working as a guide since she was 16). she had dreams of going to america, and told me they make RMB$400 a month (about US$50) and their boss provides them lodging and food.
it's warm enough here to find snakes
i continued walking, chatting up with various other people: some naxi men who were admiring my goatee (they too were similarly adorned with facial growth), a woman desperately tried to sell me something at her shop, and an old man was talking my ear off about how china is better than america (i just nodded and smiled for 30 minutes). i also met a pair of austrian girls vacationing in china for the very first time; we traded traveling stories.
with the sun setting, i made it back to the old town before it got too dark and too cold. i wandered the streets to find a place to have dinner. the restaurant gave me an all chinese menu and i asked the waiter if he could help me read it. "i can get the english menu for you," he said. i grabbed the chinese menu before he could take it. "are the prices more expensive on the english menu?" i asked. he grinned and sheepishly said "yes." i was surprised at his honesty! i just ended up getting the cheapest thing on the menu, a bowl of noodles for US$2. after i finished eating, i had a tasteless mango shake at the nearby prague cafe (where a lot of the foreigner tourists hang out).