Cities certainly have redeeming qualities, even after they’ve chewed you up and spit you back out again! Such was my first experience in Kunming, the capital of China’s Yunnan province, nearly 2 months ago, when I had an amazingly frustrating day trying to figure out how to get out of this place. Then, I did not linger in Kunming, as I momentarily despised the city after my 6 hour bus station search and I knew that I would be coming back.
Well the day has come and I am happy to report that Kunming, like every city I have ever visited, has some real redeeming qualities to it. Like its larger counterpart, Chengdu, the city feels amazingly calm, which is probably for the best as tonight I will be in Shanghai, the be all, end all when you talk about Chinese metropolises. Much like in other Chinese cities, the public is out in full force in the local parks, doing synchronized Tai Chi, jazzercising, giving impromptu singing performances and playing Mahjong (with actual tiles…not the computerized version you probably know!).
Like Chengdu, Kunming is easily walkable and I did my fair share of exploring, both on foot and by bike, the latter of which was a rather harrowing experience, despite the fact that bikes are quite popular in China! Between various parks, Buddhist temples, the seemingly obligatory pedestrian shopping street and even a few mosques, Kunming certainly has some charm to it. But it was less Kunming itself that has made my experience here so fantastic.
Kunming happens to boast one of the top two hostels I’ve stayed at in China (Cloudland Youth Hostel, the other being the superb Sim’s Cozy Garden Hostel in Chengdu). There’s something different about this place and the incredibly social atmosphere that’s been established here. Between the outdoor area, armed with a pool and ping pong table to a wonderful indoor TV room and restaurant and even to the shared bathrooms…if you can’t find folks to socialize with in a place like this, then there’s something wrong with you!
I’ve met some truly fascinating individuals…the fellow from Belgium who had been traveling for 19 months who tried to understand the Chinese language with me; the French fellow who in a completely bizarre feat used to date someone I know by association (and who is on my flight to Shanghai later today); the Burmese girl who spoke fluent Chinese and helped me put more money on my pre-paid SIM card; the Chinese fellow who shared breakfast with me yesterday; the Israeli girl and Spanish fellow who were planning a rather epic journey to China’s backwaters. This place has just been fantastic and rekindled my love for travel which had been sagging a bit after my illness.
Kunming has been a truly wonderful experience and I’m thrilled to have given this place the time it deserves. From here, the waning days of my trip will be spent in Shanghai, an awfully familiar urban environment, one which I hope will help me get readjusted to what life will be like back in New York City. Southwest China has been absolutely incredible for the past collective 2 months and I have no regrets about having spent all my time here rather than gone out of my way to see those oh-so-famous touristy places like the Great Wall or the Terracotta Warriors. After all, that gives me an excuse to come back!