The two hour trip from Dali to Fengyu Market Town (凤羽镇) eases senses overstimulated by tourist crowds, let alone Shenzhen’s urban crush. Nestled within extensive rice paddies and surrounded by mountains, Fengyu stands in provocative contrast with Shenzhen’s industrial parks and reclaimed housing estates. The town’s crumbling architecture evokes past elegance and stately lifestyles, while elderly women dressed in traditional Bai costumes maintain local religious traditions, setting up small altars at the entrance to the town. Here, at the periphery of urban China’s periphery, I slip into forms of rural nostalgia — once upon a time, a stately, elegant society of noble warriors, rural scholars and happy peasants resisted both Tibetan and Han incursions.
And yet. Where Shenzhen streets bustle with young migrant workers, Fengyu’s main street and side alleys shimmer silently. Whatever remains of the Nanzhao and Dali Kingdoms, today, young Bai must choose between agricultural labor and life elsewhere, in Shenzhen, for example, where one of my favorite restaurants serves Yunnan delicacies that are flown in daily to tempted jaded palates. A walk through Fengyu, below: