20 PICTURE ALBUM
Saturday, March 20
Steve: We realized yesterday that our plan for Kunming
was probably unrealistic. We had hoped to visit a stone forest that is supposed
to be a spectacular sight. However, the forest is two hours from the airport
in Kunming, and the flight that we were booked on wasn't scheduled to arrive
until 12:30. By the time we'd get out of the airport, have lunch and drive
to the forest, it would already be 4:00 - this just didn't seem worth it.
We decided instead to spend the afternoon exploring the city of Kunming, which
is really just a stopover on our way south to Dali.
flight to Kunming was filled with Chinese tour groups, and it seemed that
most of the people had never flown before. They spent much of the flight photographing
and videotaping each other and the plane. As we made our final approach into
Kunming, they were all literally out of their seats, walking the aisles, and
leaning across each other to see out the windows. Amazingly, the flight attendants
did not ask them to return to their seats until
just seconds before the plane landed.
This is consistent with what we've observed in general about the Chinese
- very few of them have traveled much even in their own country. As we have
met and spoken with various people, we have felt guilty realizing that we
have now seen more of China than they have. Much of the issue is cost - it
is just too expensive for the typical Chinese person to afford travel, even
Our first challenge in Kunming was in communicating with our guide (who was
new to the business and spoke somewhat limited English) that we in fact didn't
want to go to the stone forest. He was clearly flustered and tried to convince
us to stick with the original plan (we have not found the Chinese to be the
most flexible individuals
). Things got tougher when we said that we
wanted to go somewhere for lunch. Since there were no tourist restaurants
nearby, this meant going to a local place and having our guide assist us with
the ordering (no English here at all!). While the ordering process was not
easy (we settled on noodles with vegetables, a pork dish, dumplings and rice),
our efforts were
rewarded with a wonderful meal. Not only was the food great, but the total
cost for lunch was $5.00. We continue to find that the local food is always
much better than what is served in the tourist restaurants, yet the travel
agencies (all government controlled) clearly want to funnel all the tourists
to their uninteresting, "set meal" and relatively expensive assembly
After much discussion and negotiation, we worked out a plan with our guide
(who by now was really having a bad day!), where we'd explore the center of
Kunming, including a local market,
a historic area, and a pagoda where retirees hang out and play mahjong. We
were also surprised to learn that there's a Wal-Mart here, and arranged to
pay a visit on our way to the hotel.
We were also eager to get time outside to walk, since the temperature was
a very comfortable 75 degrees. Kunming enjoys great weather year-round, and
we were ready for an
escape from yesterday's wet and cold air in Xi'an.
Kunming is a mid-size city with a population of 3 million, and is actually
a very pleasant place. The streets are lively and very clean, and there are
many open areas for walking and relaxing. We started in a very interesting
market that seems to sell everything imaginable. The streets were crowded
with local residents buying food, products for their homes and pets. Several
street vendors actually sell small puppies and kittens - apparently this is
illegal, but the law isn't enforced.
We then walked through the main downtown area, which is filled with large
malls and young people dressed
in Western clothes. The stores contain many international brands, and clearly
cater to an upscale crowd.
Next was a walk to what are called the East and West Pagodas. Here we watched
as people flew kites and played mahjong while drinking tea.
we walked through Kunming's Muslim Quarter on our way toward our hotel, stopping
to visit our first international Wal-Mart. What an amazing scene! As we walked
inside, we felt like we were in a busy train station. This place was absolutely
packed with people who filled the aisles and were buying a huge variety of
products. There are three floors - one for food (including live fish markets
and a wide variety of fresh meats), one for home products and another for
apparel. It was fun to watch people shop, see the Chinese "Everyday Low
Price" signs and check out the prices. We did manage to snap a couple
of photos before our guide pointed out signs (in Chinese) that say photography
After a pleasant afternoon exploring what turned out to be a very enjoyable
city, we had a quick dinner and went to bed early - tomorrow's flight to Dali
leaves at 7:00AM, meaning that we had to leave the hotel at 5:30 - no fun
Katie's Kwick Kwacks - Our Impressions of the Chinese Media. Last
Friday, there was some breaking news in Taiwan. The day before the presidential
election, Taiwan's incumbent and vice president were shot while campaigning
in the president's home town. The news was splattered all over CNN and probably
many other international news stations as well. The next day, we asked our
guide what he thought about the news. He gave us a skeptical look and apparently
didn't know what we were talking about. We told him the story, and still he
We were later baffled to discover that almost no one in China knew about
this incident. It was never on the Chinese news stations, and very few people
have CNN on their televisions. The Chinese government was keeping this information
hidden from its own citizens. How could this be? When the news was finally
reported in the newspaper two days later, it was a tiny paragraph off to the
side of a page. It only revealed a sliver of the information to the public.
The shooting was a very major event. There has been an ongoing conflict between
the two countries over Taiwan remaining independent or becoming united with
China. I can't imagine living in a place where the government controls so
much of the information I am able to learn about my country.
David's Daily Dump - Government Control Over Tourism. For the past
week it has been both frustrating and fun to experience the government controlled
tourism industry. The restaurants and day trips seem to be aimed at making
the tourists happy and satisfied while not showing them the real deal. Most
of the tourists are fine with going to all the tourist destinations and eating
at the fake restaurants, but we don't like them at all. We are so used to
getting off the beaten track and eating at local restaurants that when we
were taken to tourist restaurants and bogus markets we were taken totally
by surprise! We immediately began begging guides to bring us to local restaurants
and real markets. We have made some progress but somehow cannot avoid the
One of the more annoying parts of our days is the meals. Most of the time
we are sent to the so called "friendship restaurants" where there
is a set menu since none of the waiters speak English. You always have to
walk through a phony shop and avoid the store clerks saying, "sir, please
have come a look around." After we make it through the store we sit down
and immediately start getting barraged with food designed for tourists like
crunchy sweet and sour pork. The food is not very good and the service even
worse. We get one small free glass of flat coke and one dollar refills afterwards.
Our best Chinese meals so far have been when we went to a local restaurant
in Kunming and when our friend (Sarah) took us to her favorite restaurant
Another touristy experience we had was when we toured the old town in Beijing.
First we got in one of the many rickshaws lined up on the street where big
buses were unloading their passengers who were also climbing into the rickshaws.
We then stopped at Mr. Wu's home and chatted with him until the doorbell rang
with a huge group of Chinese waiting to be escorted into the courtyard. We
knew our time was up and we headed off to the kindergarten. When we got to
the school, many children were running around screaming at the top of their
lungs. We were then shepherded into a class room as the teacher immediately
began to play Christmas songs on the piano. The children stated singing in
unison and got up to dance with us. We visited three more classes where we
got similar presentations and walked into the courtyard to see a gargantuan
group of Germans funneling into a class room while the students started up
their song again. We wondered how much time the children actually learned
something. Then we went to the gardens, had lunch at a friendship restaurant
and had a tea ceremony.
Although it was kind of fun to do all the tourist activities, we constantly
thought about how much control the government has over the country. The government
discourages people from seeing real life and venturing off the tourist trail.
Overall we had a great time laughing at the government's attempt to give the
tourists what they wanted to see (real life) while really not showing them
anything at all.