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Dali, Yunnan 21:45

We sat upstairs in a cafe after dropping our stuff at the Lily Pad Inn, run by Ben the gregarious Frenchman. The air did something to us as we looked up at the crags of the Cangshan mountains and as the rain broke out in front of our eyes. Dali is like Santa Barbara in that all of the rooftops are the same, sloping into more subtle points than the eagle talons of Thailand. These tiles are blue, and the linings of the houses are painted with the quintessential Chinese animal patterns–green and yellow birds (with the stray tiger or crab) and trees against white, white porcelein.

I’d found a book on the shelf of the bakery called “The Importance of Living” by Lin Yutang, a Chinese philosopher from the 1940s, from the beginning of some of the most tumultuous times here. He professed in the prologue to be making an offering, or a summary at least, of Chinese thoughts and attitudes toward life. If only, I thought, I’d found this before embarking on this crazy year.

There were passages relating to family loyalty, some interesting comments on how a wife is only a wife when she has children and only a mistress when she does not, but we all pick and choose from philosophy–the things we like and the things we ignore.

I chose the section on idleness, nearly out of necessity, but also because here–like many other places–no matter how many inordinate and confusing demands are made, there’s always time for a two hour nap after lunch. Mildly paraphrased, Lin said something along the lines of: a Westerner may have a strong work ethic, but isn’t it when he’s lying on his back in the middle of a grassy field on a spring day that he sighs, almost involuntarily, “life is beautiful”?

Megan and I have been having a hard time with this. We’ve gone on long walks during the few hours a day that the sun has been shining (warranting some really awkward necklace-sunburn-lines) out to Erhai Hu (a lake named for it’s shape like an ear). Then we’ve spent afternoons buzzing with the thin air of the altitude, drinking Pu’er green tea, and waving off the elderly women who repeat incessentally, “smoke-a the ganja?”

“This isn’t normally how I travel,” she said to me today. Apparently the norm is a nearly break-neck pace. She and her spring-festival travel buddy ripping through Cambodia, Laos, Vientnam and Thailand in a month. We are covering an immense amount of ground ourselves, but there is not a lot we can do in the rain–the cold rain. And as most of you already know, I am a lazy traveler. With the year we’ve had to process though, both in our respective social groups, watching ourselves change and coming to grips with some very grown up things, the idleness has been necessary. It hasn’t necessarily inspired “life is beautiful” sentiments–I hope those will come in time. It has, however, given us an opportunity for some entirely necessary reflection.

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