Time to go south. The province of Yunnan offers plenty for travelers. Kunming it its capital, a city far less populous than Beijing or Shanghai – it has only about six million inhabitants. The immediate comparison between the three is Kunming’s more spacious quality as well as its cleaner air. We merrily relish a pomelo for lunch before we head off to the nearby mountain, a.k.a. The Sleeping Beauty. Thankfully it isn’t foggy, and we can see how truly big the city is, how the skyscrapers sprout here and there, how large the largest lake in the province is- Dianchi. Kunming in general takes care of the environment; its airport emits comparatively small amounts of exhaust. The lake provides clean water and a natural smell of pine and mangoes wafts about The Sleeping Beauty forests
However, we didn’t just come for sunshine and flora – we came to see a whole row of temples and ruins, all the way to Dragon’s Gate – an almost vertical cliff containing many hidden passages and stairs in dark caves and terraces with a view of the huge city and the huge lake. Our guide told us a story about every painting and altar – you’ll never want for a story in China. Most notable, however, was our duty to touch the Dragon’s Gate: “Once you pass the Dragon’s Gate, your fortune will be made.” Perhaps our fortune will rather be our next few days in China?
Speaking of touching, it is, in fact, important to feel the different stones and statues about. They grant happiness, luck, longevity, love, bountiful crops, immortality – and this is just the tip of the iceberg. On that day and the next we touched all kinds of things, because in China you just do like the Chinese. Some of the more exotic items bestowed luck in a very specific game in China, namely finding a significant other with the right Zodiac sign according to the Chinese calendar.
In the evening we took a walk around our hotel. The student part of town and a park were nearby. We even almost found English speakers who could give us some directions. Still, we managed to find our way around the park so well that we decided to award ourselves a beer before dinner. Didn’t happen – in none of the bars we found could we communicate effectively, even by hand signing or any of the other ten languages we speak. I was reminded of that one joke where a policeman says to his colleague: “So what if he speaks five languages, did that help him in Bulgaria?”. We couldn’t manage well in Kunming, either, despite the effort on both sides of the “conversation”. Granted, bing translate was available, but we only wanted to use it in the most extreme of cases.
Anyway, we were hungry for barbecue so we ordered some to go. We tried to ask for non-spicy food but we got the opposite; we thought we had recognized the type of meat we ordered, but alas, that wasn’t the case either. At least we some good cold beer! We ate our dinner back in the hotel room – spicy squashes, grilled potatoes and an unidentifiable type of meat coupled with cold beer and raisin cake, which we originally thought was bread.
On the next day we left Kunming for a bit to visit a famous natural phenomenon – the Stone Forest. You’d think pieces of rock would become boring after a while, but this proved impossible in the Stone Forest. Everything about it was surreal.
After that we visited the Golden Temple. For enduring the climb it takes to reach it, visitors are rewarded with the opportunity to sound its bell, or simply enjoy the city of Kunming from a higher vantage point. The forest permeated the place with its smells and the weather was beautiful – we were accompanied by both sunshine and pleasant breezes the entire time.
After that we had to board the night train to Dali – apparently the highway was under construction, but we’re adventurers anyway. The train station itself is far from charming, as we had to fight just about 100,000 people for space in the waiting hall and the security had been tightened because of the accidents of last year. It was the evening of the first of May, an official holiday, and people obviously wanted to make use of it and travel. In the true spirit of the locals, we snacked on seeds as we bargained with other travelers so we could all sleep in the same cabin. This attracted even more looks – not only do we have large noses and speak a strange language, but we also peel seeds and laugh loudly, two typically Chinese qualities…
Surprisingly, we slept rather well in the sleeping car. The cabin was clean and we took up three of four beds. The only thing that could hurt and disturb our sleep from time to time was the train’s transition from old to even older tracks, but we got used to it. Shortly before six in the morning, we were politely awoken and lined up to leave the train. Like clockwork, all passengers had already lined up themselves to brush their teeth in the already misused bathroom. We’ll never understand how someone could brush their teeth wrapped in a stench that’d make you faint… But we survived and got off at the the train station in Dali.
This article was brought to you in English by Nick Kotsev.
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