First stop on our first full day in Dali was the weekly Shaping market, held on a hillside in a village about 30 minutes north of Dali, along the shore of Erhai Lake.
We saw a lot that looked familiar, with every imaginable household tool, edible item and farming implement on offer.
Other items were recognizable to us Westerners, but in unusual forms: like purple potatoes and pig still on the hoof.
Our noses led us to another familiar smell – at least, to Tom and me – bags and bags of round, fragrant seeds, surrounded by active purchasers.
Huang grinned: “It’s marijuana!” Apparently illegal, but widely grown – the lush soil and cool mountain air of southern Yunnan providing the perfect environment. Now we know why Dali has long been considered a backpackers’ paradise! Huang noted that a lot of his foreign guests buy a bag or two of seeds to grow at home. Not us, but we were intrigued when he told us that when he was a kid, his mother occasionally baked the seeds into cookies for the family! Tom and I exchanged a look – a little snack for the next time the kids get cranky?
In the absence of shopping bags, groceries are toted home in a wide range of backpacks.
Finally, we stumbled on the source, and an overheated Miranda reluctantly modeled one version.
We briefly considered a purchase until we realized that it might not be practical as an airplane carry-on.
Even more intriguing than the backpacks were these palm-bark raincapes.
Totally waterproof. With the six-month-long rainy season about to start in June, these booths were doing big business.
Sami tried one on and found they were extremely light despite the fact that they made her look like some kind of brown bear.
Each cape cost 30 yuan – less than $5 – takes half a day to make, and is said to last about five years before you need a replacement. Target purchasing agents, take note!
Because of the altitude, Yunnan’s sun is very strong, so of course we wore our sunhats.
Every time we put them on, we imagine people conceiving of us as American ethnic minorities wearing our “traditional” costume.
We saw lots of other tribal headgear at the market, but apart from the conical straw numbers worn by farmers in the rice paddies, we didn’t find any for sale.
Huang noted our interest and promised to find us some shopping sources later on the trip. As you’ll see later, he made good on his word!
One particularly outgoing saleswoman swept Miranda’s hat off her head, thrust her hands into Miranda’s hair and started making a ponytail. We weren’t sure what was up, but in a few seconds we saw: she had woven a small, hand-tooled silver hair ornament into the ponytail, turning it into a mini-bun. Presto! It looked neat, but when she asked for RMB 40 (about $5) for the ornament, we smiled and moved on. Another vendor rushed up with the exact same item, now asking RMB 15! We knew things were going in the right direction, and eventually bought it for RMB 8, complete with a slow-motion lesson on how to use it.