Do you like Turkey (as in the country)? But you still love China too right? Well look no further than Kunming, a city so similar to my time in Istanbul I almost expected to see those horrific yellow signs for the first school I ever taught in. Mercifully this did not eventuate and my life has improved considerably via some rather harsh lessons since then. Nevertheless I digress, why Turkey? Well, it’s the trees (don’t know what they’re called) and a similar geographic occurrence. The road (Yuantong Lu) that slopes toward Green Lake instantly reminds me of walking down toward Besiktas stadium and the nearby Bosphorus. Throw in some mosques and presto China’s most Eurasian city so far.
This is the furthest I have travelled into China’s mainland interior and I chose the city of eternal spring for that reason; It’s somewhere more temperate than the humid hot pot of Guangzhou where I’ve been based for two years. For a few weeks prior to my excursion, I have been monitoring its temperature on my phone. However during my stay, my phone is telling me it’s way colder than it actually is, there is no way it is a low as the figures suggest. The sun is still baking hot and realising my error in packing only thicker clothes I’ve had to duck into a store to buy some lighter alternatives.
As with many other Chinese cities Kunming is very much in the midst of change. The metro hasn’t yet reached the city from the airport so it’s another bus. In the moments before landing miles of Yunnan’s rust red plains and wind turbines stretch out before the hilltop airport and its futuristic gold terminal take over the vista.
First evening as mentioned is a quick jaunt to Green Lake followed by the plush and leafy environs of Yunnan University campus (not dissimilar to Sun-Yat-Sen in GZ). At the North gate I swing right and almost immediately across another wide boulevard is another gate this time belonging to the nationalities museum, university and adjoining high school. Even in the dying light of early evening it is too late to expect entry so I decide on a quick bite while the local mosquitos decide to do likewise to me.
The weekend awakens to a sky bluer than blue and the rays beam down on the city and myself as I step out in search of culture. First up is the Kunming City Museum, which is a nice building outside which a woman is knitting! Inside it’s more like a natural history museum than an ode to its urban home. Of more interest to me and right opposite is the Museum of Urban Planning with its modernist glass facade. If Shanghai was anything to go by this should be a treat. It is albeit in Chinese, hence I could only admire the pictures and layout. Following my cultural excursion it’s time to get back to nature via a trip to the biggest lake and tourist trap Dianchi. Another essential ticked off my list, there’s no time to waste before heading back into the city for lunch.
Something that strikes me as odd is I could see no 7-11 or Family Mart convenience stores, come to think of it where do Kunming folk eat!? I enter a swanky new shopping mall convinced it will have a food court but nothing. It is so new barely any shops are open at all save the flagship ZARA and UNI QLO. I dart out the back and it’s there things fall into place; an intersection with another adjacent mall this time with some of the usual suspects attached as well as a giant red giraffe!
Eventually I settle on the wonderful Maan Coffee even if they are playing what is now an almost expected cafe playlist i.e. Norah Jones followed by Norah and other sophisticates specialising in kooky muzak. Did I mention Norah? Nonetheless I manage to be quite frivolous in splashing out for the strawberry waffle and a fritter that looks like a pizza. Of course the waffle arrives first.
Later that afternoon, a leisurely promenade around Green Lake results in one of those moments of rare synchronicity. I am feeling a bit parched and am thinking of a tea, not just any tea but green tea – I NEVER think of green tea but for some reason on that day at that time I was. Simultaneously I chance on an art bookstore (no English name) whose owner has sat down for afternoon tea time and invites me to join them. It was perfect timing and regrettably as much as I wanted to stay longer, my schedule meant departing – all for nothing as it turns out – to find my intended port of call the Railway Museum closed! For some five months now, how long does it take to change an exhibition!? The only thing I can do is head next door to the railway cafe to indulge in some more middle age spread inducing chocolate mousse cake and cocoa, which was well deserved after a hectic day and coupled with the magic of eventide, it was a nice way to conclude my visit to China’s finest Eurasian city – so far at least and a fine work in progress it is too.