This post is dedicated to my grandmother, Erna Bleck Hawkinson Collins. She made the footprints that I try to follow around the world. She traveled to places like Morocco, Afghanistan, and Australia…as well as moving to Europe for a year as a mother of 4! She introduced me to exotic travel as a way of life, rather than a dream for later…she encouraged me in my education and all my adventures…and, of course, Griffin and Sabine books.
33 hours is a lot of time on a train. Then again, I really enjoyed it again…partially because I was so sore from Huangshan that I could only walk a few meters at a time…but mostly because I love long haul travel on wheels. As a child, I was the backseat scion of the Hawkinson-LeDoux traveling clan. We would road trip from Minnesota to Texas, Florida, California, Washington, Massachusetts, Canada, etc, etc. It is a different experience than planes…you really feel the size of the country as it passes under the wheels. Staring out the window, I saw huge chunks of the country and how they were different and dramatic and comforting. So it was with the train in China. Huangshan (Tunxi) to Kunming cuts across the bottom half of the country, east to west. It is a serious distance, and there are several provinces in between, each with its own style of architecture, scenery, crops, and so on. All the stereotypes were there…bustling market towns, industrial complexes belching smoke, straw-hatted farmers wading in fields with baskets strapped to their backs. And surprises, like the miles upon miles of rapeseed blooming…in flat fields, in terraces, between houses, on mountains. We boarded the train on Friday night at 11pm and arrived Sunday morning just after 8am.
Kunming is called the Spring City with good reason. The weather is lovely, and March is no exception. We stumbled along tree lined avenues, flowers blooming everywhere. After getting our bearings, we first checked out the Flower and Bird Market, which was the top of Sangbyeong’s to-do list. Mostly, it has been taken over by trinket and souvenir sellers, but we did find plenty of fis, turtles and plants in our first side alley. Following the sound of birdsong, we finally came to the Bird Park…or that is what called it. The majority of bird sellers were set up in a little park around a fountain. Wooden cages filled with birds of all colors and shapes. Songbirds, mimic birds, fighting birds, and even a chicken on a perch. Many were tucked back into the foliage of the hedges, and their song carried across the city streets. Last, we found the street with puppies and kittens…sort of sad, but they were also obviously cared for by their handlers.
Next, we wound our way through the streets to Green Lake Park, where people of all ages and all ethnic groups (Yunnan has a high number of ethnic minority populations, like Naxi, Hui, Hani, and so on) were dancing and singing their Sunday away. It was packed, and the music and performers and participants were all close enough to clash, but it was never unpleasant. It felt like carnival time, but it was just Sunday business as usual for the cheery residents of Kunming.
Eventually, we left the park and wandered the back alleys, finding a fruit market and a cafe dedicated to hikes in China. As the rain threatened, we took refuge in the charming Upland Hostel near the park.
It served as our base of operations for the next day, which included a trek out to the long distance South Bus Station, to buy our tickets for the next destination. Back in town, we checked out the 1200 year old Yuantong Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in Yunnan, for a dollar (6 yuan). I loved the eccentric carvings…a monk riding a chicken stood on the four corners of the roof of one building! There was also a turtle grotto! Just outside, we sampled a tiny stall’s version of noodles and tofu for less than $3 (17 yuan)…for BOTH of us! Thus refreshed, we went back to Green Lake Park and searched the surrounding area. We found the lush, green campus of Yunnan University, and the hip area of Wenhua Jie that neighbors it. We went back to the fruit market to sample the mystery red berries and wandered around a very random yellow courtyard.
We only had a couple days in Kunming, but I enjoyed the lazy pace of this big city. I enjoyed the reminders of Lijiang that were all around (like spicy grilled tofu and women in Naxi dress), as well as exploring a new city that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Next stop…Yuanyang Rice Terraces and Jianshui…
This stop is for you, Grandma. ❤