Kunming to Dali

June 7, 2009 at 3:16 pm Leave a comment

I arrived in Kunming early enough, although what time it was exactly I didn’t know because my watch broke 4 months ago. I had thorough instructions in my notebook on how to get to my host’s house and I was looking forward to an easy 20 minute journey.

But no one could tell me where to find the bus or the street I needed. Stopping pedestrians, policemen and bus station employees and pointing at my map got me no where. For the first time in my travels I felt the absurdity of being a foreigner who cannot speak the language. Which way was I to go when the individuals trying to help me told me to go one way and (15 seconds later when I pointed to my map again to confirm) told me to go in the opposite direction with the same confident enthusiasm?

The easiest thing would have been to take a taxi of course, but I hardly had any Yuan and no idea when I’d have more. After an hour of bus chasing I finally did take a taxi, only to have the charlatan take me back to where my predicament had begun.

There are two train stations in Kunming. I had arrived somewhere close to the southern one and my host lives near the northern one. I had shown my map to the driver and pointed to the word “north” — but no matter, he still drove me south.

A bull statue in the southern train station. Notice his penis?

By the time I got to my host’s I was no longer overwhelmed. Three hours of journeying back and force had exhausted my emotions. I had thought I would arrive at his place and collapse, maybe even cry, from fatigue and worry about my money situation, but not at all! I stepped into his 11th floor apartment more chipper than a satiated monkey.

Kunming is a vibrant city. Despite all the traffic, tall buildings and developments it retains the feeling of a small town. It stands at an elevation of almost 2000 meters so it’s warm during the day and chilly at night. My host introduced me to some of the foreign residents of Kunming. Unlike most of the other foreigners I’ve met living in Southeast Asia, many of these expats were involved with the locals beyond the acquaintance stage. Since I spent most of my travel time in Phnom Penh, I often use it as a reference. In PP, I don’t recall any expat who was good friends with a local. The only exceptions were relationships and marriages between expats and locals of opposite genders. Nor did Cambodian expats speak Khmer as fluently as I witnessed Kunming’s expats speaking Chinese.


Inside a 1200 year old temple…

Music and dancing in the park…

I spent two nights going out with my host who manages one of the clubs on club row and I had a really good time with his friends! Unlike western clubs where everyone buys his alcohol independently and dances in the middle, it is customary in Chinese clubs to get a table with drinks for everyone and spend the night dancing and playing games around this table.

Even residential buildings are lit up in China…

My money situation is still not sorted. I did manage to withdraw a small amount using my amex and decided to take my chances and live on this meager sum (about $87) for a week. In the worst case I won’t have enough for the bus ride back to Kunming in which case I’ll have to hitchhike. I’m tired of counting and I miss shopping for nonsensical items and plopping inside café for a glass of $2 orange juice. Hopefully, by the time I return to Kunming next week my new ATM card will have arrived.

With my host’s dogs…

So last night I took an overnight train to Dali. There was a Canadian in my compartment. He was a writer and had spent the last 12 years in Taiwan. Through sign language and his help, I managed to communicate with the others, resulting in much jest =)

I arrived in Dali around 6am and met an American missionary with 9 kids of his own plus numerous foster kids on the bus-ride into the city. He and his wife began as hippies and students of the Chinese language 20+ years ago, progressed to English teachers, and later joined the missionaries to do development work in China. He is very fond of the Old Testament and most of his children have Jewish names.

It will probably rain every day that I’ll be here because it’s now wet season in Asia. I put my sneakers on for the first time since Sapa, Vietnam over 8 months ago.

A gloomy wet morning in Dali…



Entry filed under: travel. Tags: , , , .

No money, no cry Lijiang

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