Friday, July 31, 2009


On the way back from Shilin, we were taken to this massive complex where there are serious shopping to be done. All the tour buses bound for Shilin stops here and deposit their groups here and every one's buying everything in sight, tea, gold, jade, food and whatever else. I was more interested in the gardens. Here were huge pots of Dahlias and Hydrangeas. They were so beautiful, the Dahlia blossoms were so huge, they were as big as one's face.

Everyone came out of the mall with bags and bags of stuff. There are lots of things to buy, it is a shopping mecca. I hear a lot of Cantonese being spoken, these are probably tourists from Hong Kong and Southern China. When I left Kunming to come home at the end of my trip, I met 2 American couples, they had a lot of luggage between them, they bought a lot of stuff. The exchange rate is still so fantastic. US$1 = 6 Yuan. It is now very hard for me to go to England and Europe. I don't fancy paying about US$1.80 for 1 Pound or US$1.60 for 1 Euro. India is also my next destination where the exchange rate is US$1 = 49 rupees (roughly).

The 'garbage city' of Kunming. I saw recyclers in the outskirts of Kunming. Our driver was driving like a madman.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Shilin (Stone Forest) Part 2

There are these stones that jut out of the earth and form a 'forest' of stone. It covered a huge area and you pay an entry fee to go into the park. Here there are the 'Asima' minority of China that act a tour guides. We were asked to pay another 40 Yuan to ride in the golf carts to tour around the park. I didn't want to pay, not that 40 Yuan is a lot of money. I prefer to walk around on my own. They left me to do that and went in an anti clockwise direction around the park. I decided, to their protests, to walk in a clockwise direction. I said, there are no posted signs saying that one can only go in an anticlockwise direction. They gave up on me, but gave me instructions to meet at the entrance at 2 pm. I guess most of the time we do things just because it's been done that way for eons. Why?

It is not fantastic, it's OK. Kind of interesting.

I had hoped I'll see a lot more wild flowers. I did ask the locals, when was a good time to come, to see the famous wild flowers of Yunnan. It is from this area that most of the flowers in the west originated, the roses, the peonies, the rhododendrons, the azaleas, etc... Here is the ubiquitous yellow Azalea. I was told, late July to August. In the Spring time, the yellow Rapeseed forms a spectacular sight to behold, so I've seen in pictures.

Here we are on our way back to Kunming. Again I was more interested in the countryside.

I love the way they plant around the stones and rocks.

I saw some old farm houses on the way back which made me really happy.

I thought we were done with the trip and was on our way back to our hotels. Not so..... there was more shopping on the way back. I wouldn't recommend this kind of tour to Shilin. Find one that just take you out there and back, with no shopping. More shopping to come....The time spent in Shilin was only an hour and a half. We left at 8 am and didn't finish till 6pm. The rest of the group loved it, for 160 Yuan they get driven and taken to places all day long.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Shilin (Stone forest) Part 1

I signed up for a tour with a local company to go to Stone Forest. What is stone forest? It is a natural phenomenon where you have massive stones jutting out from the earth. It is really concentrated in some areas and forms a strange spectacle. It is 2 hours outside of Kunming and there are various ways of getting to it. There is a train or one can hire a taxi to go there. There are various tour companies that take people out there. The tours out there varies, some just take you there, spend a few hours and bring you back. Or they may take you to a bunch of places to shop as well as taking you to Stone Forest. That was the kind of tour I signed up for, some guide books warned about this which is something I will realise later on the tour. They came to my hotel at 8 am and we were on our way, everyone introduced themselves, there were some from other parts of China, there was a Chinese girl who is now an interpreter at the United Nations in Geneva who came with her Swiss diplomat. He was a quiet guy and they spoke German to each other. Sometimes she refers to him as 'Lou Wai' or 'old foreigner' which those of us who knew Mandarin would smile and snicker. He had no clue. That is the Chinese way, everyone else is a barbarian, only the Chinese are civilised.
The day started well enough, we were taken in a rather circuitous route because they need to take us shopping first. We passed some beautiful countryside. The amazing thing about China is its huge land mass and they have some gorgeous mountains and the most beautiful lakes. We passed a lake with a few villages and then there was this huge industrial installation, some power plant I think. We passed a lot of abandoned gas stations belonging to Sinopec and PetroChina. We had to get gas and me and some of the others needed to use the restrooms. We went to some shed and the toilets were some concrete drains where we dump our day's business on top of the other. There was no running water. It was pretty horrendous. Be warned, the restrooms in rural China are different and very primitive.

Then we stopped at this store where they sold gold and jade. Some of us bought some jade. I waited outside being more interested in the scenery outside than the contents of the stores inside. It had rained and the villagers were all about their own business. I began to train my camera on the rural scenes around me.

Almost every tour bus has to stop here. The cost of the trip was pretty cheap. I guess it's been subsidised by these and other merchants.

I love these rural scenes.

Then it was onward but not to Stone Forest. This time to a Buddhist temple. This was a rather commercial temple, they had professional tour guides. I guess this temple doesn't see much traffic because it is not in the city so they have to devise a way to get people to come. Being part of a tour operators itinerary would mean traffic. The guides took us all over, some of my group were serious students of Buddhism, so they were excited. They began to buy scarves and pray flags and dropped donations into the box. For me I was more interested in the architecture and the gardens. One of my group asked if I was not interested, I said, no, I'm a Christian.

I like how the old and the new blend and coexist in China.

The grounds were beautiful. This temple was set on a hill, and the pavilions goes all over the hill and the gardens too and is absolutely beautiful.

By this time the members of my group already know that I'm different from them even though we are all Chinese. I am the only overseas Chinese. As the day passed I would exhibit more of my independent streak. I refuse to 'goose step' to anybody's tune. We took our time at this temple, I guess, they were true believers and wanted to get the most out of the trip. Finally we were on our way again. This time we were really going to be in Stone Forest....