This morning we went down to breakfast at this wonderful hotel (I promise that I will eventually write about it!!). Everything was set out on numerous buffet tables and I would estimate that there were 100+ food options. They had sweet rolls, fruit, Chinese food, French food, Sushi, Rice noodle soups, omelets and eggs, and on and on and on!!! We ate fairly lightly, but I did enjoy watching to see what others were eating.
Today was a day that Michael had to stay at the University and I was given a “babysitter” to show me around Kun Ming. She was wonderful!!! Her name is CC (short for Cecilia), she is 24 years old and is currently doing free-lance work and studying for the Civil Service Exam. Her English was wonderful and she had a great sense of humor. She gave me a choice of what I wanted to see and I chose to walk around the “down town” area where our hotel is.
We left the hotel, crossed the street and entered “Green Lake Park”. The lake is huge and is cut into sections by islands of land. My fist impression was of music everywhere…..the reason for this is that everywhere you looked there were groups of people doing Tai Chi or some form of dance. It was so much fun to watch them and I could have stayed there all day. CC told me that most of these people were retired and this was the way that they started their day. There was a group using swords, a group of women with bright red fans and many groups just using their bodies. In addition, there were individuals standing all around the park, each of them performing their daily ritual.
Now, let me say a few words about the elderly here. Each worker MUST retire when they turn 65. They are given a pension based on the number of years that they have worked and how much money they were making (much like the Social Security system). The final calculation is a percentage of their final salary. Because of the number of people born in China during the 1930’s and 1940’s, there are a HUGE number of retirees and the government seems to be doing a fairly good job of taking care of them. There are many free options for them, including bus transport. For many years, China has had a 1 child policy and this has stopped the population explosion. CC told me that they are now starting to “re-populate” by allowing couples where both husband and wife are only children to have 2 kids. It is so incongruous to us that a country would control the birth rate, but I don’t know how the country could take care of many more people.
There is a large pond where lotus flowers normally grow, but the draught has been so bad that the pond is completely dry. I would have loved to see this in full bloom. I had never realized how large lotus flowers, but she showed me a dried petal and it looked as if the full flower would have been about 2 feet in diameter.
We walked thru the local farmer’s market and once again the freshness and quality of the fruit and vegetables is amazing. It really puts our store produce to shame!! The meat section is always fairly small as the Chinese don’t eat a lot of meat. CC gave me a hard time about being so tall and then said that she attributed it to the fact that we Americans eat a lot of meat and drink a lot of milk. As an aside, I had asked Doug where they buy their groceries and he said that it was a mixture of open air markets and stores that specialized in “Western” food.
We wandered thru an area known as “Old Town” however, much of the area is being re-developed and the old buildings are coming down and new, taller buildings are being put in. CC said that she loved the Old Town and was very sad that they had torn it down, although she realized that most of the buildings were no longer safe. The “Old Town” is bordered by 3 gates (Temple looking things) and they believe that this triangle shape is good and will bring stability to the area. There was one place that had a map of Old Town as it originally existed. This map was carved into the stones of the courtyard and had metal words written on it. There were several people walking over the map and talking about the different places.
CC explained that Green Lake is in the center of the city, and that there is a “ring road” (loop) around the inner city area. The area within this loop is divided into various sections. There is one section of roads that are devoted to technology purchases, another for music purchases, another education area where 3 universities are located, a special street where the art community is located and finally a shopping area where more up-market clothes can be found.
We spent most of the morning walking around several of these areas. I truly enjoyed “music row”. We went into several of the shops and they had instruments ranging from electric pianos to the old Chinese traditional instruments. One of the interesting instruments was a “violin” type that I described in Day 4. When I asked about them, the shop owner told me how to tell the difference between cheap quality and a really good one. The first thing was the type of wood and weight of the instrument. The heavier wood produced a more resonate sound. Secondly, the front of the instrument was covered in snake skin. The owner told us that the more expensive instruments would have skins that had larger scales on them, meaning that the snake was a larger one. The cheap instruments would have small scales.
CC then asked if we wanted to take a taxi or a bus to the next area (the business district). I suggested that we take a bus so that I could experience it as well. She had a bus pass so it didn’t cost her anything, while I had to pay 1 Yuan (there are 6.8 of these to every US dollar) so it was extremely cheap. There is one seat along each side of the bus and the rest of the room is used for standing. There are 3 seats in each bus that are for the elderly or for pregnant women. In the “standing area” there were overhead hand rails for the few tall persons, and a bunch of trips that dropped down about 12 inches from the main rail.
We passed an area that specialized in wedding dresses and there were a bunch of tall glass cubicles out on the sidewalk with mannequins wearing gorgeous wedding dresses in them. It was very incongruous for the surroundings.
While we were on the bus, CC leaned over and asked if I was a Christian. When I responded “yes”, she said that she would take me to see a Christian church. The church was a big building, with the bottom floor being jewelry shops, the second floor being the sanctuary and who knows what was on the 3rd and upper floors. We went into the sanctuary which was huge ….would probably hold 600-800 people. CC said that this church has different activities on each day, including Bible Studies and singing events. Every Thursday they have a singing worship service, with guitars, drums etc. She said that, although she was not a Christian, she enjoyed attending these musical events.
We stopped for coffee at the “Hump Hostel”. Apparently these are a chain of hostels all across the country and CC had worked for them at one time. We sat out on a 3rd floor terrace and looked over the city while we rested. I felt very much out of place, wearing nice pants and shoes, while all of the other residents were in jeans and carrying backpacks!!!
One of the things that I noticed is that the women were not wearing scarves and headdresses like they were in the rural areas. CC said that those women would have been from ethnic minorities and that most Chinese women did not wear them. I commented that the women all wear long sleeve shirts and often wear hats or carry umbrellas. She said that the Chinese women felt that it was better to have lighter skin, so they covered their skin at all times. We talked about the fact that the US was just the opposite….we love to see someone with a light golden tan. I giggled at CC as the day went on. She had a jacket with her which she would drape over her shoulders. Whenever we moved into the sun, she would pull the jacket up over her head to shade the sun from her face.
We walked past several Rice Noodle restaurants where you start with a bowl of noodles in a broth and then you tell the server what spices or other ingredients you want added. CC said that these “chain shops” were too bland and suggested that we go the another restaurant that she knew of. She ended up buying a bowl of Rice Noodles, and she suggested that I get a fried rice and pork dish. When her bowl arrived she offered for me to taste it, but I laughingly said that there was NO way that I could dip the noodles out with chopsticks. She leaned over to the serving counter and asked for a spoon for me so that I could taste her food. When they brought my food, they brought a spoon with it too!!! I was facing the kitchen and enjoyed watching them prepare each of the dishes in individual woks (about 8 inches in diameter). CC left the table and dipped pickled cabbage into a small bowl and added it to her soup as she ate. It had a wonderful salty and vinegary flavor to it. There were several bowls of condiments on our table. I recognized the bowl of salt but wasn’t sure about the others. She told me that one was MSG, one was “chili sauce with a hair” (yes there was a hair in the bowl. She then pointed to the small pitchers and said that that was probably “Soyo with a bug”. We both had a good laugh. The food was excellent, with just the right amount of spiciness, however, it was a huge amount and I couldn’t finish all of it. We have noticed that the Chinese do eat a large volume of food!!
We went into a store called “Carrefour” which is the French equivalent of a Walmart. I enjoyed looking at the prices of various hard goods such as refrigerators, microwaves, etc. Most of these prices were much less expensive than ours are. Their clothes are a cheaper construction, but the prices are very low. CC pointed out that the signs marking a sale were shown as the percentage that it would cost and not the percent of markdown. Example in the US we would say 70% off….they would say “cost– 30%”. We walked thru the food section and I was not able to recognize most of the stuff. They had a huge tea and sweets section, however, they don’t eat a lot of chocolate. The coffee culture is growing greatly and there are many espresso shops. The fresh vegetable area was gorgeous as always, and the frozen foods section was quite large. There was an entrance door and an exit door….you didn’t go out at the same place as where you entered.
The final stop for the day was the Yuan Tong Buddhist temple. We took a bus to within a few blocks of the temple and then walked the rest of the way. It was interesting to see that the “type” of people and the kinds of shops changed as you got closer to the Temple. There were a lot more beggars, lot of shops selling Buddha’s and a lot of people selling incense. When we entered the temple area, CC mentioned that this was not a normal temple in that you had to walk down to the inner sanctuary….normally they are built with the sanctuary at the top of a hill. The compound was very large and was built around a small lake.
When you first went in, there was an area where the followers would burn incense to clean their bodies and their minds. There was a huge fire pit where they would start the incense to burning. Often they would then lift the incense up in prayer and then place the entire incense into the fire pit to burn. Now remember, these aren’t little incense sticks, these are BIG ones, with the smallest being about 12 inches long and the biggest being several feet long!! I did have one laugh because there was a huge bank of fire extinguishers along one of the walls.
The worshippers would walk thru the wall of incense and across a bridge to the first of the temples where there was a photo of Buddha. They would bow and pray and then move further down the bridge to a second Pagoda where there was a second larger Buddha. Once again there was bowing and praying. The next Pagoda had a very large Buddha with 3 openings in the front, and with pillows for prayers at each opening. The final Pagoda contained the biggest of all the Buddha’s and there was a steady stream of people bowing and praying there as well. I watched one woman who brought her offerings for the Buddha…..it was a bag of chips, an orange and a bottle of water!!
The colors and ornamentation of the Temple was beautiful, and naturally I saw nothing but quilt patterns in everything that I saw!!!
On our final walk back to the hotel, I commented that certain sections of the sidewalk were very hard to walk on because they had 6 inch narrow ovals that were raised in the metal. CC looked at me and grinned and said “that lane is for blind people”!!! This lane took up at least 1/3 of the walkway and often ½ of the sidewalk. I think that it is an interesting idea, but it makes me wonder exactly how many blind people there are in Kun Ming!!!!
I said goodbye to CC and got to the room about 10 minutes before Michael arrived. We changed clothes and got a taxi to meet Doug and Sophie and head for our dinner engagement. Doug thought that we might enjoy meeting some other American expats, so he organized a group to get together. We ate at a restaurant called “Sandra’s” which is owned by a German Expat named Sandra (go figure). It is in a part of town that many expatriates live in and caters mostly to non-Chinese. The cuisine is Italian and we were served Duck filets stuffed with pistachio, a type of pasta ball (probably potato), and baked apple topped with marinated cabbage. Dessert was a chocolate mousse served with a dessert wine.
The guests at the table kept on growing until there 11 of us. Most were US expats, most were in their 30’s and all of them are living very interesting lives. The group was made up of Josh (economics journalist), his wife Ariana Lindquist (photo-journalist who has published in the NY Times, Time Magazine and lots of others), Colin (is part owner of a coffee shop/restaurant that everybody here LOVES, also owns an organic cooperative and is setting up a non-profit relief effort), his wife Aling (a Chinese woman who is a fiber artist (I am getting together with her tomorrow), Mike (goes around the world setting up and designing golf courses), his wife Catherine (lives in Shanghai), Sam (another golf course designer) and our hosts, Doug and Sophie.