Dali–Monsters in the Dark
I had this brilliant plan to sleep in the seated area of the train and arrive in Dali, just in time to see the sunrise. It would be romantic, me standing there on what I assumed would be a tall surface with the wind sweeping my not-matted-down-by-the-train hair as the orange cracked the sky open. I had it planned, which of course meant that I’d pictured it a lot, but hadn’t actually plotted logistics. As it turned out, the train arrived in Dali at 4:50 AM, and everything was as dark as the back of my eyelids. The moon was cookie-cutter perfect in the sky, and I could see stars, but I was also blurry from sleep, and had to wait about 1 1/2 hours before the bus to the Old Town showed up. Could I have taken a taxi? Of course. Am I willing to spend 40 RMB on this taxi? Take a moment to picture how many plates of dumplings or noodles, or fever-dreams of Sichuan cuisine that could be. That’s my answer.
On the bus, I watched the moon trail behind us like a paper kite. I think I used to watch it do this as a kid, so it was like dreaming almost when I saw these looming black knuckle-like shapes blot out the bottom of the moon. I looked around wildly for the sun to make an appearance, but that wasn’t it. There was something in the dark.
I got off of the bus, and proceeded to blunder around with my backpack which I\d already determined to be too heavy, when the town started to turn grey, rather than pitch-dark. We were cold, me and the other blundering passengers, and I think this added to the chilling effect of seeing the first fingertips of golden-red tip into the sky, like a swimmer cresting up from the water. It started at the top, this gold-red, and it was then that I beheld the behemoths–these walls of rock shielding the town of Dali all around, and as the sun blinked and staggered its way out of bed, I saw the second wave of light touch the tips of them until they were red now, and the rest jutted out in crevices and fingers of ridges planting into the earth. I turned back around and there was the sun, pinking the sky, and on the other, the rising, rising bedrocks of the wild.
I hadn’t spent a lot of time looking at pictures of Dali before coming, because I didn’t want to raise expectations. So it was downright shocking to say the least to watch this shroud of pink-grey lift and reveal a sprawling expanse of mountain-scape that was at once beautiful and terrible to behold, like the end of a sentence. I was so in awe that I neglected to take pictures, instead getting smug about my sleep-deprived, but altogether more aesthetically-pleasing entrance into Dali. An end of a long jangling night on a train, the mountain the crux of the next moment beginning.
And the sun just let it hang there, like a phoenix drenched in flame.