Monday, June 29, 2009

Old Kunming

China wants to make things for the whole world, it also wants to give tourists what they came to China for, a piece of the old world. I think they are preserving this old part of Kunming. It is so miniscule, this part of the city. They are building further and further out of the city, taking up huge chunks of farmland. To see the old villages, one has to go far out of town to do it. There is construction everywhere and all the time even on Sundays, they don't stop. I could swear I heard sounds of construction clear into the night when I went to bed. They are hurtling into modern times, making up for lost time.

There's shopping everywhere. Indeed the shopping is great, the minorities makes a lot of cute stuff. I didn't buy anything but I saw 2 American couples who had more luggage than anyone. Of all things they were from Bakersfield, California and we were on the same flights all the way from Kunming, China, Hong Kong and Los Angeles. They were on a tour group. I was the only independent traveler in town. I met with another group of Americans who were on a Globus tour.

Stop the destruction! Save the old and ancient, please! This part of old Kunming is so small and I think they are working to save it. They are laying electrical wiring and sewer. The color of the old woodwork is so beautiful. The carvings are so exquisite. These and many such treasures are fast disappearing in a world where we worship the new, the new and ugly concrete structures. Thank God that China is opening up to tourism and it is tourists like me who are demanding to see the old and ancient. If not these would have been replaced by a spanking new mall. More malls? Just what the world needs. I know for a fact they have demolished a lot of the old mosques in the Muslim quarter. There is a new mosque and it is the ugliest building in the world. Why do they do that?

I like the fact that they save the old building materials, the tiles and the old bricks. Imagine they are so sturdy that you can still reuse them. We do waste too much of the world's resources. We do live in a disposable society. It takes going to China to make me realise this. I do so appreciate traveling, especially to places that are so different from my current world. I'm Chinese but not from a Chinese country and now I live in the West. Who am I? Even the local Chinese can't figure it out, I'm Chinese but I speak bad Mandarin. The taxi driver wondered, 'how can you come back to your motherland, not knowing how to speak, write or read Mandarin? I said, I'm an overseas Chinese, that figures, he replied! China is not my motherland!

The old market still does a lively business. One thing about China, any part of China, is the presence of huge population.

An 'allee' of plane trees? How French! Indeed the French were here, when they were administering IndoChina (Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) they built a French gauge railway between Kunming and the Indochina border, it is still there, 'the French Gare' is still there. During WWII the British were administering Burma and they used Kunming as a base against the Japanese who occupied the rest of China. Even before this part became part of China, they had their own little Kingdoms and has a fascinating history. That explains the presence of huge and diverse minority populations that are not 'Han' Chinese. it is this history that makes this part of China so different and therefore the target of tourists. Money from tourism has brought incredible wealth to this area.

Look at this beautiful building, the old Chinese drugstore. It is still being occupied. These and all the buildings around it are so exquisite in architecture and decoration. They should be saved.

Look at the painted carvings, amazing!

The next day I hired a taxi to take me outside Kunming. I told the driver, I wanted to see the old and ancient, I wanted to see villages and villagers. The old way of life is still there in China though one has to travel a more considerable distance to get to them. I met some Westerners traveling in these parts, it is not the destination like Beijing or Shanghai and these intrepid travelers come away with memories that add a different value to their lives.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The old quarter, Kunming, Yunnan

Leading away from the living area is the food court where there's a variety of local delicacies can be tasted. It is not a big area but one can spend considerable time here and be entertained. Just pull up a little stool and order up all kinds of things even if you don't intend to eat them all. Take a bit and share with whoever is there. This was what I did and had a great time. I met this kid from England and we struck up a conversation. He teaches English in Beijing and was in Kunming checking out another job prospect. He told he's fallen with a lovely Chinese girl who speaks really good English and he desperately wants to stay in China. We shared my lychees, I ate some his noodles, I didn't want to order another bowl of noodles, I just ate some lamb kebabs and naan (flat bread) cooked by a Muslim couple. I was full. There was this guy selling some grilled pork knuckles, the English guy and I split one just to see how it tasted. It didn't taste good, kind of bland. We chatted and watched as people passed by. It was a lot of fun.
I think this is part of the sewer system.

I was surprised to see grapes so early in the season. They were really sweet. I bought some cherries from this vendor just so I could take this picture without being reprimanded.

Everyone had hot coals going and were grilling all kinds of things. I think this smoker was grilling potatoes and tofu.

The guy next to him is getting his charcoal started to grill his pork knuckles.

There's pickles of every kind every where.

This was the Muslim stall where I ate. This is a Chinese Muslim, 'hui' as they are known in Chinese. China is home to the largest Muslim population outside the regular Muslim world.

Except for pork, there's all kinds of kebabs. It's 2 yuan each.

I sat on a small stool inside and snacked on some lamb kebab and naan.

Naan, a flatbread.

My snacks that first afternoon.

The lady is weighing the lychees that I was buying.

The English kid's leftover noodles that I shared. I think these were Dan Dan noodles and not the 'crossing the bridge' noodles. I'll tell the story behind 'crossing the bridge' noodles later.

We were having beer and pork knuckles.

I think she is a minority, not a 'Han' Chinese. They tend to dress differently to distinguish themselves from the 'Han' Chinese.

I went back to my hotel room to finish off my lychees. That was a fun first day.