Getting lost on the roads less traveled

Sometimes getting lost is the best means of finding your way.

We’re six weeks in to our Great Asian adventure, and with some successes and failure (plus a ton of laughs) under our belts we’ve learned a thing or two about perpetual travel in new places.

Don’t stay in a place where it takes more than two days for your hand-washed underwear to dry.

If the food’s not hot or you haven’t peeled it yourself, best not to eat it.

A couple crossing a bridge in a Dali park are reflected in the pond's waters.

A couple crossing a bridge in a Dali park are reflected in the pond’s waters.

It’s perfectly fine to walk into a Chinese-only restaurant with no English menus and expect to figure out a way to eat.

Cars will not stop for you while crossing the street in India or China. Ever.

Most people will go out of their way to be nice to you and help you, if you just smile and give them a chance.

A smartphone and Chinese translation app are as vital as immodium and three layers of clothes while traveling China.

And the most important: The best experiences come from putting yourself in strange places, awkward situations and extremely foreign environments.

We’ve had more enriching experiences, made more substantial human contact with people with whom we have had little in common, and enjoyed more laughs by doing what we did earlier today.

Walking along a side road through Dali’s Ancient City, we passed an entrance to what appeared to be a fairly big public park. We continued along and came upon a second entrance, stopped, grinned at each other and plunged into what turned out to be a fascinating cultural experience.

The lush green vegetation of the park was divided into sections, offering a maze of seating area in one part, a children’s play area (complete with enormous enclosed jungle gym) in another, and countless small rooms and outdoor seating areas where elderly Chinese played mahjong and other tile and card games.

We came upon a group of men sitting around a stone table playing Chinese instruments and entertaining a small crowd of listeners. We sat down and an elderly woman caught our eyes as we settled into listen. She smiled, eyes glistening with appreciation and gave us a nod of acceptance. I shot a video, thanked the men when they finished, and we walked away under the glow of thankful grins and appreciative smiles.

Not far away, three elderly men did battle on a perfectly swept clay croquet ground in the cool of an enclosed area. They displayed impressive aim and competence in a chess game of skill and accuracy.

As we walked on, we heard a loud cover of “Doe, A Deer” playing on a radio, and came upon another group of elderly sitting on a bench in the sun. One of the men had a portable radio or CD player tethered around his neck which was blasting music into the sunny park.

Ponds, gardens and more public areas for exercising, playing games and walking created an urban escape from the buzz of the Ancient City’s tourist-dominated vibe. And people were taking full advantage of it.

As we strode to the exit a small group of middle-aged women had gathered to practice Tai Chi. We left the park looking over our shoulders at the graceful movements and artistic balance that comprises one of the world’s oldest and most respected forms of mind and body exercise.

We are reminded: Had we stuck to the main road, we never would have found this magical place. And, like the lives we have chosen, we are once again reminded how grateful we are to have taken the road less traveled.