Six in Kunming

How lovely to be woken at nearly eight this morning by pleasant music and the sound of bird song and the sky is blue – I like this place!  We had all slept better – so well, in fact, that Martyn’s planned early morning run didn’t happen. We breakfasted in instalments, Harry on pot noodles (possibly the most authentic Chinese breakfast) and headed off around 10 am towards the flower market, or so we thought… We were half way across Green Lake before we realised we were heading for the wrong place on the map!  We wouldn’t have got to see these fan dancers, though, if we’d started off in the right direction!

An addendum to my blog on Park life in Chengdu – what we thought were missing persons posters were, apparently, adverts placed by parents keen to find a suitable match for their grown-up children!  I imagine the adverts are officially encouraged, as the ‘one child’ policy is definitely a thing of the past; the government are now offering subsidies to parents prepared to have more than one child, worrying about their ageing population.  Many young, professional parents work full time and there are a lot of grandparents in the parks with small children and collecting children at school gates, so I guess this may be something of an uphill struggle.

Once we turned round, it didn’t take long to get to the flower and pet market, located in the older streets a mile or so south of Green Lake.  The old streets are interesting, especially juxtaposed with the city’s modern skyscrapers.

Kunming old and new

Some of the buildings are rather too quaintly restored, or possibly copied; it took us a minute or two to spot that the spectacular Wisteria garlanding one was plastic!  One house, which had belonged to a family of famous musicians, was open as a ‘cultural monument’ – we couldn’t understand any of the text but it did look an appealing place to live, with balconied rooms surrounding a central courtyard, rather like some of the places we’ve stayed in Uzbekistan and in Bulgaria.  One block back, and away from the touristy market streets, some real houses are very basic and cramped.

Kunming backstreets

The less said about the pet market, the better.  The low point, for me, was a box full of chicks with their fluffy down died a range of pastel colours. The flower market also gave pause for thought.  The plants for sale were mostly succulents and orchids.  Whilst I don’t know anything about the succulents, the orchids mostly looked to have been collected from the wild rather than having been cultivated.

Disappointment over this was compensated for by cold fruit teas and smoothies and a chance to sit in the shade for a while – none of us are quite used to temperatures in the mid 20s yet.  From here we decided to head north again, towards Yuantong Temple and the university campus – only half an hour or so’s walk but uphill, in the full mid-day sun.  I’m not sure whether or not you could describe the topiary dragons as a highlight of the walk…

The temple is beautiful and, like the one in Chengdu, was an oasis of relative peace and quiet. It has the brightly painted woodwork of the Buddhist temples we saw in Ladakh but some of the panels are decorated in much more what we think of as Chinese watercolour style. No nails are used in the construction – just pieces of wood slotted together, which makes the structure flexible enough to cope with minor earthquakes.  There has been a temple here for more than 1000 years but much has been rebuilt and restored relatively recently. 

The whole complex is set around a murky looking pond, with resident red-eared terrapins. Two ancient caves lead into the limestone mountains from behind the buildings but the piece of Karst limestone in the pond looks rather like it’s been added as an afterthought!

As in Chengdu, as well as tourists there were plenty of people worshipping in front of the main temple halls, lighting red candles very much as Catholics would light votive candles.  

From the temple we walked on to the noodle shop we’d spotted yesterday at the edge of the lake.  Most of us had the ‘speciality de la maison’, tofu rice noodles, but Ed braved the beef intestine noodles which he said were very good – I’ll take his word for that! Just when I thought I could recognise the character for noodles, it turns out rice noodles are (sometimes) different. Mǐ fěn actually looks like it’s saying rice rice noodles to me…

After lunch, on Ed’s recommendation we wandered through the grounds of the old part of Yunnan University, above the lake.  The university itself was founded in 1923 but there have been buildings on the site since 1499 when candidates for the Imperial examinations lived and then sat their papers in the Hall of Supreme Justice, which still stands here.  The painted panels above the doors include more delicate watercolours – not a bad place to sit your exams!

We also rather liked the look of the elegant wooden building which was home to some university professors in the past.  Can you spot the other main difference from Durham university at this time of year? The lack of students sunbathing on the grass  whilst revising shows the ‘keep of the grass signs’ are taken rather more seriously here.  The man watering the grass seemed to enjoy his job, especially as the hose allowed him to make people jump out of the way.  I’m intrigued by the priority given to keeping grass green when there are warnings about conserving water everywhere….

As always, I was on the lookout for wild flowers and found one tiny Primula, much like our own Bird’s-eye primrose, growing amongst other ‘weeds’.

Ed reckoned that the streets below the campus would be a good place for interesting shops and a tea break and he was right – the narrow streets look quite Bohemian, by Chinese standards.  We visited an excellent English/Chinese bookshop and passed a tattoo parlour, a vegan sushi shop and a shop full of exotic mushrooms before reaching Salvador’s, where we had our tea. 

Anyone for mushrooms?

I’m intrigued by the shops selling ingredients for traditional Chinese medicine but struggled with the one we went into in Chengdu that sold velvet clad antlers obviously cut from a young sika dear and ‘flowers’ made of dried insect larvae of some sort. We left promptly, before finding anything more distressing.

By this time it was time for a break, so we walked back across the lake, enjoying the people posing for photos in hired traditional dress, much as we’d seen in Srinagar

Martyn went for his run and the rest of us chilled out, before heading out to dinner at the Dai restaurant we’d identified earlier.  The Dai are a minority ethnic group from the south of Yunnan, with links to groups in neighbouring Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar.  As last night, we ordered a range of dishes to share; pineapple rice, sesame chicken (with sichuan peppers), salt and pepper prawns, coriander and egg soup, water ferns, potato balls, aubergine and fried red beans with cauliflower – the last was particularly tasty.  The food was quite different to what we’ve eaten so far and equally delicious.  This veritable feast, our most expensive meal so far, cost 326 Yuan (under £40) for the six of us.

Dai feast for six

On our way back to the guest house, across the lake, we picked up some croissants for breakfast tomorrow as we’ll have an early start to get to the Stone Forest. 

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