Kunming: Old & New
Just a bit north of Vietnam and Thailand the mountains change from jungles to more of forests, the cities get bigger and more organized, and the food takes on a bit more of Sichuan flavor and appearance: slick with chili oil and speckled with numbing peppercorns. The fixtures and structures are very large; city streets are the size of highways and this is not a big city by Chinese standards.
If you’re ever visiting Kunming, go here. It’s at the center of a massive shopping district. Almost like an outdoor mall, but the walkways could easily fit six lanes of traffic. There are all sorts of shops and stores many mimicking Western storefronts, and others offering fried duck heads and all sorts of offal. Also down the main thoroughfare of the mess there were a dozen men and women in white coats giving massages for a fee. They were all blind and apparently that is common here. It’s an interesting site to see nonetheless. I was tempted to get a massage, but without their ability to see and/or speak English paying them would prove difficult.
On one of the lakes there are a few islands on it that serve as a community center. People of all ages come and dance together and at times there are even very unique displays such as a man in his 80’s wearing neon green leopard print leggings and a woman’s blouse with a stuffed bra. He was dancing while his counterpart behind him waived the Chinese flag. I have no idea what this was about, but it looked politically charged.
There are some old temples here with older architecture particular to the area that have been there long enough to have grass growing from in between the tiled rooftops. and they are surrounded by massive skyscrapers and neon lights making for an interesting contrast. The landscape gives you a sense of the epic history of China and also the massively new growth that is occurring here.
There are a fair amount of art galleries in this city. There is even a small area with a few bars and art galleries that’s an interesting place to visit. Tea shops are everywhere. Most of them sell disks of compressed tea, particular to this part of China. The teas are aged and some up to 30 years. People here love their tea and a lot of traveling Chinese come here for specialty tea.
There are fewer English signs here than what I’ve seen in SE Asia. The people I’ve met actually love Americans. There are a lot of students here given the two universities in town. A few students I met, spoke broken English and took me out to a ballet of sorts that amongst drums, local songs and history featured the peacock dance; it mostly involves dancing with hands. It was called Dynamic Yunnan and apparently it has been going on for a long time and continues to sell out all over China. Well worth seeing and a good way to immerse yourself for a bit.