Questioned in Kunming

Trip Start Mar 06, 2005
Trip End ??? ??, 2006

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Thursday, April 28, 2005

April 26th - 2nd May
Kunming is known as the city of 'eternal spring' due to it's excellent climate. Situated at nearly 2000 meters the winters are mild, summer never reaches the highs of other more southerly cities and at least while we were there a gentle breeze cooled things down throughout the day. In fact people exiled here during the cultural revolution refused offers to return home to eastern China, preffering instead the friendlier people and relaxed lifestyle they had discovered in Kunming.
As the capital of Yunnan province (SW China) it is a large city (over 2 million inhabitants) and one with a history of making the most of its location on the ancient trading routes with nearby Burma,Thailand,and Vietnam . More recently it became a supply depot during the Vietnam war and the first leg of the infamous 'Burma Road' starts in Kunming.
Our stay was made all the more enjoyable due to the great Hostel we discovered. 'Cloudland'was another newly opened International youth hostel, rather a misleading title as it was as comfortable as many hotels we've stayed in. The clientele were mostly Chinese, in fact we were only the third western couple to have stayed there. Our double room cost only 70RMB per night (about 5GBP)including free internet access and on top of all this we were invited to dinner by the owner and his friends (a really friendly bunch).

The food in china has been fantastic, tasty and very cheap. Kunming was an excellent example...we found a streetside 'noodle cafe' packed with locals so we squeezed our way in and discovered why it was so popular. A DELICIOUS bowl of noodles in a spicy meat and vegetable soup with a plate of mutton dumplings cost us only 7RMB (about 42p) FOR BOTH OF US!It was so good that we ate breakfast there every day.

The bar attached to the hostel led us to meet 'Patricia' a young Chinese woman who taught English at the local primary school. We were surprised they started so early (4 years old) but, the chinese are making every effort to teach their population to speak English. Lessons start in nursery school and continue throughout their entire school life. Apparently The major problem is Oral English they have a severe shortage of people who can teach the kids how to pronounce the words they learn, correctly! Their grammar is excellent but they can't speak English. This explains the masses of 'English' teachers currently working in China, so far every third western person we have met has been working over here as an English teacher! This surprised us as frankly alot of them didn't speak English particularly clearly themselves. The nationalities ranged from French, Polish, Australian, American and we even met a Scottish guy with a broad Glaswegian accent!( we really wanted to meet some of his students, the idea of 10 year old Chinese children speaking with a Glasgow accent amused us!). Many of the Chinese students we spoke to said they found the American accent much more difficult to understand than an English one. We certainly heard English spoken by Chinese students with a decernable 'foreign' accent.

Patricia invited us to the weekly held 'English corner' at the side of Cuihu Park, we arranged to meet her at 8pm the following night. As we approached the 'English corner' we could see a large group of people milling around and as we got out of the taxi and in amongst them were mobbed.... both Jane and I had 30 - 40 people each, around us, all wanting to ask questions and keen to practice their English!

The range of ages represented and the variety of questions took us by surprise. There were people from as young as 9 upto people in their 70's and they all wanted to ask the same time! The questioning started with the usual "where are you from?" and "what do you like about China?", Jane was asked if she found Chinese men attractive? But as the evening progressed the questions became more sophisticated... we were quizzed about the current power of the UN and our opinion on the single child policy in China.(Our answers where literally Diplomacy in action as we didn't want to offend anyone, but they wouldnt 'let you off' without answering).
Once they discovered I had a business qualification (they all held english Universities in high regard) I was approached by a group of local businessmen from the crowd and asked how I would solve some of their current problems with regard to customer satisfaction, competitors and employee discipline. The whole session lasted over 3 hours of non stop 'grilling' but everyone involved enjoyed it greatly and we came away showered with email addresses and promises to stay in touch!

Having spent a few days in Kunming just mooching around, something that is very easy to do here as there are numerous parks and open spaces where you can just sit and watch...OAP's doing hip pivots and tai chi or just relaxing playing chess, cards and mahjong. A prime example is The Cuihu lake park which consists of lots of small islands within a large lake. When we visited there was an array of homespun bands playing traditional Chinese folk songs each situated on a separate island linked by a maze of small footbridges...very atmospheric and a superb way to idle away a sunny afternoon, strolling from island to island.

Central Kunming city is a very modern shopping and business centre with highrise shopping malls and department stores where designer branded goods, restaurants and fast food chains vie for prominence. At night it lights up like a mini Tokyo with whole sides of buildings pulsing with neon advertisements, brightly lit fountains situated in massive pedestrianised areas scanned by coloured searchlights attached to the sides of the surrounding towerblocks. Thousands of families can be seen late night shopping which creates a great bustling atmosphere. It is easy to see why Yunan University is atop the list of the most popular with 'Foreigners' wanting to teach English in China, considering the diversity of attractions on offer.
Jane took advantage of one of the more unusual offerings in the city centre and had a massage by one of the dozen or so blind practitioners. She sat on a small stool and had her head shoulders and arms pummeled, stretched, pulled, and manipulated in every direction for 45 minutes...the verdict... frightening (especially when they made her neck crack loudly) but fantastic, for days afterwards she kept saying just how relaxed she felt!
One of the more unexpected sights we saw in Kunming was a Walmart not unusual in itself but the fresh produce department held a few surprises...a variety of fish swimming in tanks ready for consumption with people walking between the tanks plastic bag and fishing net in hand... a kind of aquatic 'pic n mix'. But the most unusual was a large basket containing string bags full of live frogs, they were jet black and about the size of a fist...Mmmmm yummy!

Having recharged our batteries, before moving on, we decided to visit the celebrated 'Stone Forest'or Shilin the natural wonder (and world heritage site) located 130K east of Kunming near the town of Lunan. We caught the train from Kunming which dropped us off near Lunan station (Literally), about 300 yards from the station the train stopped and we had to jump off onto the tracks and walk back to the station to then catch a pony cart (the only transport available)to the park itself.
Shilin consists of thousands of massive limestone spires the size of houses. These intriguing natural sculptures were formed by weathering over thousands of years. The whole area has been turned into a park and if you can see past the 'theme park' atmosphere and avoid the tour groups it is a worthwhile place to visit. The Knarled limestone is covered by vines and surrounded by clumps of trees and open countryside which adds a magical air to the 'forest' it reminded us of a 'Star Trek' film set!(the surface of some distant planet). The lowest point in the Park is a massive sump or lake,called Sword Peak Pond which is amidst a large group of limestone pinnacles. The mirror like reflections make the lake seem bottomless. We were lucky and managed to wander around the park area for over two hours and only occasionally came across other visitors or tour groups in the main areas of interest. A source of amusement for us was the apparent need of the Chinese to name everything, if a rock formation vaguely resembled something they gave it a long fanciful / poetic name (for the most mundane lumps of rock)....'mother scalding son' rock, 'elephant sleeping in forest' rock etc. After two hours in the mid day sun and several thousand rock formations later we got a bit 'limestone weary' and started to make up our own names 'goat strangling chicken', rock etc etc.

One of the outstanding memories of china has been the driving we have witnessed as passengers and amazed onlookers. I feel I must appologise to the Russian drivers I previously insulted, as the Chinese are far worse....they drive the way that you would want to at home but if you did you know you would be arrested! Yet we saw no incidents of road rage or even slight annoyance at other drivers antics however crazy the only thing that made them mad was if someone wasn't going fast enough.

Having spent enough time in Kunming to feel thoroughly relaxed and ready to move on we prepared to leave via our last Chinese destination....Yangshuo.
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Inagiku on

any american school in kunming?

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