Monday, July 02, 2007

Kunming



We arrive midday in Kunming and the little bit of coolness and less humidity feels really good. We wander around the bird and fish market, which turns out has neither many birds nor any flowers. The stalls of souvenirs are somewhat interesting. We go to a tea shop and learn about Pu-er tea which this area is famous for. Pu-er is said to have many health benefits and there is young pu-er and older pu-er. The older tea has less caffeine, is aged longer and the longer it ages, the better it becomes. It should be stored where it can air. We also take a walk to a Muslim temple. The older part of Kunming is being destroyed and there is not much history to see. The newer city has been built around the the older area and resembles most any other city in China. We discovered that Fodors in China is not much use as far as restaurant recommendations are concerned. The highly rated restaurant did not answer their phone and none of the cab drivers had ever heard of it. The cab driver ended up taking us to a street that was a "restaurant row". We settled on a typical Yunnan place with low tables and Kindergarten size chairs. Food selection photos and ingredients were up at the front and Robert, the adventurous eater convinced me to order fried grubs among other local dishes. They came on a plate, heaped high with crispy larva skins, looking very much like larva! I ate them with lots of beer.

Getting to the Stone Forest was a mystery, since all the guide books had suggested taking the express train or bus. The hotel said there had not been a train for 2 years. Some boys in a local electronics store had told me to take the local bus but we could not figure out how and when they ran. We ended up reserving a minivan and driver to take us out there. It turned out to be a good choice since it was a long ride and we would have had trouble finding our way to the park. The stone forest was not as immense as I had imagined it would be, but quite an interesting sight all the same. There are paths that run in the forest and the maze of trails among the tall spires takes you up and down narrow staircases, fissures and caverns. We spend the next 3 hours winding our way around them. We do quite well until the very last 30 min. when we get hopelessly lost and keep coming back to the same signs no matter which way we go. After about 4 tries to get out, we finally run into an elderly worker who directs us to a dirt path that takes us immediately to the main road. What an adventure that was.

Our hotel recommends a very nice restaurant in a very old building that reminds us of mansions in the movies, with a wide courtyard and main gate. We have a terrific dinner and especially enjoy the assorted wild mushrooms. Walking back to the hotel, we detour through the large park and lake. It is full of local character- at one pagoda, a group of people are "jamming", playing an assortment of Chinese instruments. Further down the path, a small crowd is watching a woman singing Chinese opera while a man is dancing. A bit farther, a large group of people, young and old, are learning to do a line dance. The place is alive with ordinary people living a normal evening in Kunming and it is touching. I feel very much a part of the place, fully immersed in the hustle and bustle of life, and the calmness of the evening.

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