Kunming: End of the line - Touring in Thailand, Cambodia and China - CycleBlaze

February 19, 2008

Kunming: End of the line

It's grey and cold in Kunming this morning. I think this is the end of our bicycle trip. We have done some nice little day trips since we have been in China, but no touring. We have had some bad weather, we have had some colds, we underestimated the hills or overestimated ourselves or both, or for whatever reasons we have decided it's time to pack up the bikes and return to warmer climes. We were able to change our flight to Bangkok and will fly tomorrow afternoon.

But today we are still in China. Kunming is definitely cyclable and we want to see some of the sights in spite of the grey day and drizzle. Kunming is called the city of eternal spring and this is exactly like spring in Germany. First we take in a couple of ancient pagodas, surrounded by a neighborhood that is getting newer by the day.

Tang-Dynasty West Pagoda flanked by new buildings
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New China
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But once you enter the small gardens around the Tang dynasty East Pagoda you are in a small oasis where people from the neighborhood are singing and doing their morning exercises.

East Pagoda
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Garden surrounding East Pagoda
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Morning exercises
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A monocycle: I've never seen one of these before
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Between the West and East Pagodas there is a monumental gate, it looks bran new but done in traditional style, with steps leading up to an area under the elaborately painted eaves of the roof. Here we have a real treat. Two men are playing the erhu (a two-stringed fiddle) while a third is singing what I believe to recognize as Peking Opera. A woman sits nearby with the score in her lap following the music. Without the costume and transforming make-up worn by the actors of Peking Opera, the singer still manages to capture the dramatic nature of the music. This is the China I love.

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But there are other times I swear this is my last visit to this country. It's those small daily frustrations that get so tiring, often due to not speaking enough of the language and hardly anyone here speaking English when I need it. For example in the hotels. Today there was a misunderstanding about having laundry done, and as is so often the case when I don't understand what someone says, it seems he or she freezes. No searching for words, no sign language, no smiles, no shrugs, nothing.

We continue on to the main pedestrian zone, modern department stores with all brand names you would find in any major city in the world. We push our bikes for a while and are then told we are not allowed to walk our bikes through this area. I look around for the giant bicycle parking lots that I remember from my earlier stay in China. And don't find them. Very sad. There are more and more motorcycles and some day there will just be cars I suppose.

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