Battle for Kunming (and Stone Forest)

Trip Start Aug 04, 2011
Trip End Jan 04, 2012

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Green Lake, Stone Forest

Flag of China  , Yunnan,
Wednesday, August 31, 2011

This will be a long entry, but only because I have been so very lazy over the last 3-4 days that I have decided to sum up the little we have done in one fell swoop - then I realised we have done quite a lot.

We awoke after settling in and I think we hit a little bit of a stumbling block in that all of a sudden we hit lazy-town, population 2. Kunming is a lovely place, but it just isn't as easy to do things as everywhere else as there just isn't as much to do here. We decided that over our stay here we would recuperate, visit the local people's park and then go to the Stone Forest in Shilin, which is the thing to do in this locality.

Day 2 - Green Lake park. Nice. We walked past some blind massage places. Very odd. Got to the park and Kate insisted on going into the worlds smallest museum devoted to the worlds most boring subject 'Water supply in Kunming Museum'. You have to be kidding me. After 3 minutes in there we were back out, strolling around the park taking in some of the Chinese oddities. We spent a long while looking at a group of Chinese toddlers being forced into uncomfortable positions by their parents in what appeared to be an outside gymnastics class. The kids were just sprawled on the floor doing the splits, while there parents pushed the young limbs in slightly more unbearable positions while the children just put up with it as kids do. Talk about living your life through your children's eyes. These people were trying to do it physically too. I guess, having a child that can break into the ever competitive gymnastics team would be a route to success, but for what?, years of bad posture and a career over before it starts.
We moved on as I was being a little listless and groggy - It was as if we were coming to the end of a holiday and feeling the blues. We visited the provincial museum which told you all things Yunnan, and it was beautifully quiet and well presented. A lovely collection of bits and pieces and plenty of things to read in English. Best of all.... it was free! More tired, more lazy, we headed back to the hotel and I began my long journey with Bilbo through the misty mountains to the end of 'The Hobbit' (more than just the scene with Gollum it seems - that occurred after only a third of the book!).

Day 3 - The 29th. We placed a little note on the noticeboard before leaving for Green Lake asking if anyone wanted to visit the Stone Forest. Replies were sought as the minibus cost about 55 pounds and the intention was to share the cost. We received some replies, and got on with the booking. 6 of us were to head off to the Forest in the crazy taxi from hell, a couple of girls from the UK that we discussed Lijiang with as it was their next stop and a couple from a country we couldn't identify. On arriving, we had to pay nearly 17.50 each for the privilege of walking around some stones, which would be our most expensive outing to date. It doesn't sound a lot, but when you consider that you don't get to ride on a golden escalator, or stroke a unicorn it seems a little steep. From the outside, the forest looks a bit like a few stones spread amongst some grass and shrubs - but this is merely a visual effect.
When you actually pay your money you are transported to the middle kingdom and the views it offers.............. with a thousand other people. Annoyingly the people were everywhere... every route full of people taking photos. There was a pagoda with views over the site, and with so many people streaming through, mere numbers of tour groups, you had a matter of seconds to get a good photo taken. 

I am not a number. We are not part of the crowd. We did not pay to be led by some little local person in a costume with a flag - thankfully. That means we are not stuck to 'the route'. Very quickly, we realised all we had to do when the crowd followed off along the larger path, was to slink along a little passage and we were lost between the rock formations. The paths were everywhere and it took us a matter of minutes to be away from the crowds that had formed along what must be the tour group route. We managed to stay away from people and in amongst these amazing limestone formations for about an hour until ironically, the people we bumped into were the two English girls from our minibus- Great British minds think alike. This place was an amazing find. The girls said it wasn't even labeled in the lonely planet which I find hard to believe. What a bonus.

The place revitalised me and gave me a fresh kick to take in all that was around us. I realised that the problem that had been engulfing us in the past couple of days when we had become a little lethargic was that we are coming to the end of our time in China. And with that, we are seeing much of the same stuff over and over again, temple after temple. Not saying they are all the same, they are clearly not - but most of the information isn't available to those who can't read mandarin, so a lot of the time we are merely looking - scraping the surface in the temples and the museums. However, places like this, like the Pandas and the Terracotta Warriors, are true marvels of sight. You don't need a history to understand how fantastic it all is. At these prices there are hundreds of millions of Chinese that will never see the Stone Forest, and here we were complaining at the price.

We are looking forward to moving on from China, a few days left here but mainly in traveling through- but at the same time we have seen and been to some amazing places. We would return to most of them. China is growing, fast. This sleeping giant (and it has been sleeping although it is a mega-power) is soon to become the biggest influence on world decisions and it is learning fast. With the Chinese work ethic, and the ability to make the most of everything they have, there is a strong future here. But to live here, even for a short time as a tourist is overwhelmingly tiring.

This is why, Kate finding a Cockroach in her bed (twin beds, all that was left) after a long day did not go down well. I asked why she felt the need to strip her bed down and look under the paper thin mattress onto the plywood bed - and she had no adequate answer. So late in the evening, minutes after I realised I had been sleeping on a proper broken bed for 3 nights (the slats were broken and so I had been sleeping on a bit of cracked plywood spanning about a metre between unbroken slats), Kate was shuffling around trying to find something to kill the poor, unknowing creature that had probably slept quite well for the previous months in a nook in the bed. She made a rudimentary weapon from a clothes hanger and thrust it towards the hard protective shell which just infuriated the beast and brought it out into the open. It sat on the plywood, taunting Kate, threatening her with cockroach banter "I could survive a nuclear war, what good is a coat-hanger going to do you!", until Kate brought out reinforcements in the form of 'Deet'. Kevin (I've decided to name him, for the sake of this story) then distracted by the musk ran around confused as Kate grabbed my shoe ("Not my shoe, use your own bloody shoe if you are going to kill one of Buddhas creatures in one of his countries"), and then grabbed her own shoe to slay Kevin.
Kevin has survived a long time, and is a wise creature so he scuttled off under the bed out of sight making the hunt more difficult. I was called in against my wishes, to aid in the pursuit, and I used the rudimentary coat hanger dismantling tool to break the plywood mattress from its slats to try and expose the cockroach fortress. Kevin had retreated to shores unknown. Un-nerved by the whole situation, I got into my sleeping sack for the first time on this trip to protect me from any confrontations with any of Kevin's insect brothers to allow me to sleep - although boiled to death, I would not be eaten. Kate sat perched in the middle of her unbroken bed, awaiting the return of Kevin armed with her shoe and the Deet, clearly the deterrent Kevin feared the most. Late into the night... it must have been past midnight I was awoken by a shrill cry. "I've got him, he has fallen!, the mighty Kevin is defeated (I might have elaborated for effect).".
Kevin had been watching from on high. After the battle of the Nook and the oncoming clouds of  Deet he had scuttled under the bed the full length, to the other end and was sitting watching his territory from the bedpost, amused by the goings on at the other end of the bed. He sat plotting, awaiting a moment for Kate to sleep so he could in her words "climb into my ear or something". He waited, but Kate caught him in the corner of her eye, crept up to him (sneakily in his blind-spot), swept him to the floor and thwacked him with the mighty flip-flop. She left him on the floor as a sign to any other cockroaches that might wish to act in future.

OK. Story over. Hope you enjoyed it.
We got some hard sleeper train tickets for our return back across China from Hong Kong which is our next stop (We are flying over there this evening), and we plan to get to Vietnam for about the 7th of September (it will be about 2 nights on the trains to get there). Very much looking forward to Hong Kong - we've heard some good things. We spent our last full day in Kunming watching 127 hours on DVD (very enjoyable), I finished "The Hobbit" and "About a Boy (which I have read before but I like)" and Kate finally deleted all but 300 books on her Kindle. It is now working much faster. 
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