Kunming, the start of the journey

Trip Start Aug 08, 2004
Trip End Aug 2005

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Monday, January 17, 2005

Day three of vacation. I left Liuyang on Friday, bolting from my last class like a newly freed prison inmate. After a 2 hour bus ride, which included an irritating breakdown and switch to another bus mid-ride, I arrived in ZhuZhou to find (surprise!) no electricity. Mellisa greeted me at the gate of her school looking like a Chinese peasant, carrying a candle and head wrapped in a scarf. She had just had quite an eventful day as well, hooked up to an IV for five hours in the local hospital. Not for anything too serious-just a nasty cold that she came down with the day before, but the Chinese are the most IV-happy people on earth and so she obligingly went in for her treatment. As it turned out, she ended up in a room with some of the elderly women from her apartment building; it sounded like a sort of social club, only everyone was attached to an IV drip.

Right before I arrived, she managed to set her kitchen on fire. The clever lighting contraption she had rigged up, which involved an overturned Styrofoam cake box lid with birthday candles stuck on top did not fare so well and had turned into a giant flaming torch in a matter of seconds. We spent the remainder of the night in her smoky, pitch black apartment trying to stay warm, finish up some last minute packing, and scrape charred plastic off of her kitchen counter.

The next morning we embarked on the journey. We fought the ever-present crowds and managed to board the train where we would spend the next 26 hours of our lives. The ride proved to be fairly uneventful. Just the usual leather-jacket-wearing, chain smoking Chinese man in the bunk across from us who stared at us for an entire day. Gorgeous scenery flashed by outside the window. I saw miles and miles of the stone formations that are so famous in Yunnan. They looked like grey barnacles encrusting the land.

Kunming has been a pleasant city, as far as big cities go. The weather feels like early spring. Still a chill in the air, but the skies are blue and the air is perceptibly cleaner. I can almost feel my body unclenching after months of constant cold misery. The hotel we are staying at appears to be waiguoren (foreigner) central. I have to consciously remind myself not to stare; while we were eating our continental breakfast in the lobby, I realized I haven't seen this many white people under one roof since I flew out of LAX in August. I also have to resist the urge to nudge Mellisa and point out the existence of every white person I see on the street.

We have decided to sample as much good food as possible while on this trip. We've recently discovered the wonders of one Yunnan specialty: goat cheese. Mellisa has ordered it at every meal...steamed, fried, with ham, you name it. If, at the end of a month I have to be carried back to Liuyang because I've gained so much weight, so be it.

The rest of our time in Kunming has been fairly business oriented, aside from a brief excursion to the bird and flower market (did the CDC mention something about avoiding large congregations of live chickens...?). Took care of the Vietnamese visa and bought tickets for the next leg of the journey. Forking over half a month's salary for the visa was actually physically painful. I hope that everything works out according to plan...
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