And now we are six… Kunming here we come

Well none of us slept much last night – the jet lag seems to have caught up with a vengeance.  It did mean we had no problems getting up and ready for the taxi to the airport at 7.30 am. That was a slow ride and the air pollution this morning seems worse than ever – even in the taxi you can feel it catching the back of your throat.  I don’t envy the traffic policemen directing traffic at the centre of major road junctions for many reasons, this being just one. All the scooters on the streets are electric and there are some pedal bikes on even the busiest dual carriageway but there are also lots of big cars and the traffic seemed to be queuing most of the way to the airport. Ed thinks cigarette smoking is an equally big part of the pollution problem – the tobacco companies are all owned by the state and cigarettes are still sold in colourful packets, without any kind of health warnings.

We arrived at the airport not long before Ed and, after a quick Starbucks coffee and muffins, headed off to the check in desks.  All was going swimmingly until, standing in the queue for security, we saw our flight number and Sophie’s name displayed in neon lights above us.  Ed understood just enough to work out that there was an issue with the bag Sophie had checked in and, after a stressful few minutes, she was able to retrieve her battery pack and put it in hand luggage and all was well.  We had a 700 meter walk to our gate and getting through security was slow so, by the time we arrived at the gate, it was time to board.  All of us at least cat-napped on the flight, which was late taking off but not much over an hour long; just time for them to serve us with a rather dubious hot dog sausage cooked in a bread bun. After the usual confusion, we met the two taxi drivers from the Lost Garden Guesthouse and headed into Kunming.  From the airport it looked nearly as smoggy as Chengdu.  There is plenty of industry and its concomitant pollution as we drive in but the air seems to clear towards the city centre.  Although Kunming is city of over six million people, it doesn’t feel as overpowering – more greenery and flowering trees and shrubs and more hills.  The guest house is tucked away from the main roads, though to say it was quiet might be overdoing it – there is a school nearby and at least one rowdy cockerel.  Both parts of the house have quiet roof terraces with gratis tea making facilities though – a real bonus.

After a quick tea break we regrouped and headed off to Green Lake park, for lunch and to get our bearings in a new city.  Cold, Dali-style noodles from the tea house proved surprisingly tasty and refreshing on a hot afternoon; no Sichuan peppers this time but enough chilli flakes to give the broth quite a kick.  The wide ribbon noodles come looking a bit like leeks but you have to unroll them for maximum exposure to the spicy broth.  We soon worked out that, if you don’t unroll the noodles, they are both easier to eat with chopsticks and less likely to blow the roof of your mouth off!

The area around the tea shop was particularly noisy, with what felt like dozens of different singing and dancing groups competing at volume, so we didn’t linger long.  Elsewhere things were more conducive to ambling.  The Green Lake is not much to write home about – very soupy looking with just a few wildfowl and herons or egrets plying their trade – but I suspect it will be covered with Lotus flowers in due course.  There are beautiful Jacaranda and cherry trees around the lake.

We were flagging by this time and decided a visit to the flower market would be better one morning, so headed back for a rest and to try some Tibetan craft beer.  This might have been a mistake, with six sleepy people but we just about stayed awake and headed out early for dinner. Poor Sophie got the full benefit of the Ed and Harry cabaret on route.  They wanted their photo taken with a water pipe in the background, for some reason….

We were aiming for a vegetarian restaurant on the other side of the lake but missed this and tried another nearby. The Orange Garden turned out to be a great find – Ed helped us order six dishes and rice to share from a picture menu – five, mostly vegetarian.  Apparently it’s unlucky to order an odd number of dishes…. We had aubergine, bean and cucumber-based dishes flavoured with chilli, garlic and soy sauce, potato and black bean, egg and chives and a minced meat and pepper dish.  All very tasty.  The vegetable dishes mostly contained a little meat as a flavouring so it would be difficult for a hard-core vegetarian but I can live with it. We were served warm water with the meal (supposedly good for the digestion) and it actually went surprisingly well with the spicy food.

We wound our way back to the guest house across paths over the lake – the park was more mellow by this time, with lots of people out for an evening stroll and plenty of people running round the lake.  We stopped to listen to an old lady playing a zither, with no idea whether or not you can pay people for busking; there was no sign of a hat. A policeman approached whilst we were there and Ed thought he’d come to move her on but it turned out he just wanted her to tune the zither better!  We were all very tired and headed off to bed before 9 pm hoping for a better night’s sleep.

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