Snow covered peaks and a red pagoda reflect in the pool in front of us. We had only reunited the night before, barely catching an overnight train from one city to another. It’s colder than either of expected, but that’s okay; we’re adventuring. We’re in Yunnan, a southwestern province of China.
Daisy, my travel companion, is Chinese. We met last summer while I was studying abroad. With a one-way ticket to burn over winter break, I convinced her to meet me in Lijiang to see Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. After a bumpy bus ride from the train station, we shed our suitcases at a hotel and take off to explore Lijiang’s Old Town. While it’s a designated World Heritage Site, I’m quickly disappointed. The streets of Lijiang might as well have been those of Houhai, a popular tourist district in Beijing filled with bars, restaurants and shops.
In one of the shops we pass, burlap sacks with various shades of dried rose petals line the wall. The rose petals are turned into flour and baked into small, colorful cakes. I purchase a half dozen and we continue walking. We eventually wander out of the Old Town and pay a small fee to enter Jade Spring Park.
Ten yuan well spent. The park covets the Black Dragon Pool and a striking vista of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, with the latter reflecting in the former. We settle into a park bench to take in the view. Scanning for someone to take our picture, I notice a professional-looking camera hanging from the neck of a handsome man sitting at our right. In broken Chinese, I ask if he would take our picture.
He snaps a handful of photos and then sits down to make conversation. He’s Taiwanese but has traveled around Yunnan for his photography and knows the area well. He invites us to dinner; hot pot turns into coffee and late night conversation. He and Daisy speak rapidly, touching on politics and other topics I don’t have the vocabulary to follow.
I wanted to scale the mountain the next day, but our new friend insists that, between the costs of transportation, guides and oxygen masks, the hike will run us well over $100 USD each. He offers instead to take us to an Old Town nearby that has escaped the devastating touch of tourism.
We decide to meet him at the bus stop the next morning. In a village at the foot of the mountain, we walk down one dirt road after another and take in the traditional architecture and unspoiled landscape. What I found? It’s good to say yes, to meet new people. You never know where it might take you.