The first thing we noticed as we stepped out of the airport at Kunming was it was absolutely freezing and all the signs were in Chinese! In our panic we quickly jumped onto the airport shuttle bus to take us into town, failing to ask the destination. We stood nervously as the bus filled up with airport staff wearing fur lined jackets. Finally we departed, but rapidly realised this was a staff shuttle bus. After a thirty minute tour of the parking lots and airline offices of Kunming International Airport we sheepishly got off the bus exactly where we had embarked. We then got on the right shuttle bus and half an hour later were in Kunming city centre.
Kunming is the capital of the Yunnan province of China and home to over four million people. It is also 2000 metres above sea level on a massive plateau. The Chinese call it the city of eternal spring, we call it bloody cold! We checked into our lovely city centre hostel, it was in an old Chinese style building complete with beautifully tiled roofs, bright red woodwork and carved doors. In the room they had built a little faux Chinese building (with a tiled roof) for the bathroom. No door (to the bathroom) though, lack of bathroom privacy seems to be something we're going to have to get used to. All public bathrooms are squat toilets and many have no doors on the pretty non existent cubicles.
After layering up (our SE Asian wardrobe is a bit flimsy) we ventured out to explore the city. We went to the crazy weekend bird & antique market. It was bustling with people selling all sorts of animals, kittens and puppies in cages, piglets on strings, basins of terrapins and beetles (picked up en masse with chopsticks) and thousands of different types of birds. It was a bizarre sight and rather offended our very British sensibilities about how animals should be treated. We braved the Chinese shopping mall and bought Jo a cardigan in Uniqlo. Jo didn't like the shop assistants all armed with loud speakers and who are constantly shouting about the latest offer (we presume).
Later we went to the rather down-at-heel Yunnan Provincial Museum and saw a fantastic photograph exhibition by the French photographer Bruno Barbey, who visited China with Pompidou in the early 1970s, his Kodachrome photos captured the slogans and pageantry of China at the time perfectly. Upstairs was an amazing exhibition about bronze age settlements in the Yunnan. About sixty years ago many bronze age graves where discover just outside Dali in the Yunnan and this revealed that a highly sophisticated culture had been living here as far back as 475 BC. The bronzes that were on display were intricate and beautiful, one table, composed of a ox, a calf and a tiger, would have been a highlight in any modern art museum.
Other things we noticed about Kunming; electric motorbikes are de rigueur and seem to not have to follow any normal traffic rules (sneaking up speedily but silently on every pavement), construction sites everywhere (obviously a city on the way up), mostly very friendly people (especially anyone who can speak English and wants to practise), delicious food (cumin beef with deep fried mint leaves, pork buns and pork dumplings, garlic duck, stir fried leeks, scallions and mint - delicious!).
Overall arriving in China has been a bit of a shock to the system, it's colder, the altitude has made us very tired, and it is challenging because so few people speak English. We've been turned out of a restaurant and we don't know why and it is very difficult to explain to taxi drivers where we want to go. However, with perseverance and our trusty phrase book we are getting there, next stop Tengchong.