Sunday, October 23, 2011

Oct. 1 – 7 Chinese National Holiday - Kunming

For the holiday, a few friends and I went down to Yunnan, a province south of Sichuan. And it was pretty amazing. First, the train ride. 20 hours of sheer awesome. And by awesome, I mean some awesome and a lot of exhaustion. We met a lot of really neat Chinese people who were traveling or going home for the holiday. It definitely forced me to speak my faltering Mandarin, but I did it and it was actually really cool that you could do so much with so few words (and hand gestures and some pictionary). That part was really great. But the worst part was just not being able to sleep. We bought our tickets a little late in the game, so instead of getting sleepers we got seats. Just about the worst seats that you can get before you only have standing room. No comfortable way to sleep on a twenty hour train ride. Sitting up, leaning against people’s shoulders, trying to curl into a tiny ball of misery. That was me. Good news though! No squatty potty for me on the moving train. That part was a complete and total success.

We arrived in Kunming (the capital of the province) and one of the first things we did was go and get food. Train food just wasn’t cutting it. It was just about the best fast food ever. Or at least pretty good. And then on to the hostel to put down our things and get on with our day so our adventures could really start! After getting transportation to the next city taken care of, we went to the Bamboo Temple in Kunming. To be honest, temples are starting to run together in my mind since we have seen so many. But this one in particular just had something a little special. (Other than being at the top of a mountain with winding roads that are faintly reminiscent of the winding roads in Yosemite.) We arrived towards the end of the day, so there actually weren’t too many tourists around. This particular temple felt like a sanctuary, not necessarily a tourist destination. After wandering around a bit, we saw some construction – a nice representation that everything moves forward – some really nice quiet spots, and got to catch the chanting of the monks at the end of our visit. Peaceful. Soothing.

Really neat stone cauldron, wishing well type thing. =)

Because it had this inside. Get a coin in the dragons mouth and you get good luck! Hopefully.

Courtyard in the temple.

Roof of temple through the trees.

From that to chaos of Wal-mart in China, but I think the pictures from my last post can pretty much speak for themselves.

While a few of our classmates went forward, four of us stayed behind and enjoyed Kunming for a little longer. It was worth it. The next day, after being properly rested from that train ride, we went to Shilin, the Stone Forest. It was probably one of the most unreal things I have ever seen in my life. It just didn’t seem possible that these stone formations exist. It also didn’t help that there are paved walkways winding through the forest, lending to the surreal feeling to the experience, like it was all manmade and we were in Disneyland (felt like Disneyland because of the tourists). Wandering among the stones, it is kind of cool, but you don’t really get a feel for how vast it is until you reach a viewing pagoda. And climbed up to one, and just seeing it all just took your breath away. We just had to sit there in silence and just overlook the park. It changes your perspective, seeing these enormous stones rising from the ground. Overwhelming. We only uncovered a very small portion of the Stone Forest that day.









So we head back to Kunming after a really good day and decide to go to one of the popular streets in Kunming. One of the first things we see is a bookstore. Where there is no possible way that we are walking out without buying books. And we get to know a nice Chinese girl with exceptional English. Meeting new people. Usually pretty rewarding! Ate locally, walked around looking at all the stores, people watched. It was a small lesson in Chinese nightlife in Kunming.

That night, we head out on a sleeper bus to Dali, a popular destination for many tourists. Sleeper buses. Wow. Like the train ride, just one of those modes of transportation that you will never forget. It is kind of hard to describe, but lying down while you are in a moving bus is completely disorienting. For that sleeper bus we were assigned 4 bunks in a row, and I kind of assumed it would be a double decker bus of Harry Potter proportions. Not the case. At all. =P There is 1 bed across the aisle, but literally 3 very narrow bunks are pressed together on the other side. It was lucky that 4 of us decided to travel together. Otherwise, any of us could have been sleeping next to a stranger. Which, I guess in the Chinese mentality is normal and just take it as it is moment…but for the Western mind it was really bizarre. I am Western enough to still think that I won’t be getting on a sleeper bus again unless I am assured that I have my own bunk. We left Kunming at 10 pm, reached Dali at 2 am. They let us sleep until 6. Not the most restful night we have all had, but like I keep on saying…it was an experience.

Top bunk of the sleeper bus. No head room, but decent!

So this is turning into a two post blog. I’ll split it up between cities. Next part will be Dali!


Ailene

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