First Weekend in Kunming, China

After my first weekend alone in Kunming. I’m not sure what to think. It’s funny to be “alone” in a city teeming with people, the shopping streets and parks crowded with so many people you would think it was a national holiday or festival, but no it’s just China. I’m still sleeping odd hours and kind of fuzzy headed trying to get over the 12 hour time difference. It’s a bitch! But slowly I’m feeling better and able to cope with the crowds.

Kunming, with a population of over 6 million, is a large city by western standards but very average by Chinese standards. However, unlike most cities in China Kunming, a city of eternal spring, boasts pleasant summer temperatures and clear blue skies rather than the infamous hazy gray of other cities.  It is known as a more laid back, backpacker friendly town, gateway to Tiger Leaping Gorge and the Himalayan foothills in northern Yunnan province.

And although you see backpacker type restaurants here and there this is a big city with large western style pedestrian shopping streets, multilane thoroughfares, and a huge construction project smack in the middle of downtown – a new subway system I’m told. Off the main streets are pleasant tree lined neighborhoods of small shops and restaurants where you can escape the crowds and amble freely.

Green Lake Park

Green Lake Park in the northwest corner of the city with pathways winding through cool green areas and surrounded by a lake would be a great respite from the hectic downtown area, but on a Saturday afternoon it was wall to wall people. Really more of a party atmosphere than a restful day at the park, with large groups of people gathered around watching or participating in various forms of song and dance. Chinese opera and line dancing seem to be the most popular with young and old side by side practicing new steps. The scene would certainly dash any stereo types of the Chinese being quiet, reserved and not knowing how to have a good time.

Gold Fish Pond

My other favorite scene of the day was the gold fish pond in the middle of the downtown pedestrian area. More of a cement fountain than a pond, it’s circled with cement stools upon which fisherpersons of all ages sit and fish with tiny poles. The water couldn’t have been more than a foot deep, with tiny gold fish huddled together on the opposite side of the basin, completely disinterested in whatever it was on the line.

Dai Cuisine

For my first try at a Chinese restaurant I went to Déhóng Ruănjiā Dăiwèi Yuán listed in Lonely Planet and known for its authentic Dai cuisine from a region of northern Yunnan province.  The restaurant was pretty quiet on a Sunday afternoon. The menu was overwhelming with page after page of pictures and names I didn’t recognize. The waitress waited and watched while I’ll looked through the menu. And although I had great difficulty understanding what she was saying at first, she helped me pick out two dishes that I had no idea what they were.  I copied down the characters to look up later.

The first dish was just listed as cold noodles. Much better than the name, they were served in a ma or Sichuan pepper type of sauce topped with sweet crunchy peanuts and cilantro. The second dish, a taro type potato with pickled vegetable, was amazingly good considering the slimy consistency and sour veg. One of those addictive tastes you just can’t get enough of. I tried to order their house made rice wine, but wisely the waitress gave me a small glass to taste before I committed to a full glass. More like bai jiu or white liquor that wine, I stuck to beer. Not bad for a first try, but I still have a lot to learn.

For links to all the posts in this series see the Kunming page.