Saturday, February 1, 2014

Kunming: Life as an Exile

Day 9 in Kunming. I’m in a constant state of hunger and boredom. I have run out of peanut butter. I haven’t had human contact (i.e. English) in about three days, and am counting down the time until I am reunited with my CET friends and can actually experience some study abroad traveling like everyone else. Right now the Chinese New Year celebrations are in full effect, so everything is closed down and I’m hungry. Like actual starving person hungry. A few days ago I went to a local market and bought some peanut butter and jelly, but they didn’t have any bread. If you stick one finger in the peanut butter, and another finger in the jelly, then eat them at the same time you can forget that you are trapped in a Chinese city that was once used to hold banished government officials. I still haven’t figured out what I did to deserve my banishment, but my passport should arrive on Feb 17th. In the passport office, I had a forty-five minute interrogation with some police/military guy, and was informed that, among other things, I am strictly forbidden to talk about the Chinese government on the Internet. Also, I am legitimately afraid that they will deport me if I elaborate anymore, so you’ll just have to ask me in person how that experience was.

脑子, or jaozi, are basically tiny steamed dumplings.
They are traditionally eaten during the Chinese New Year, or, if you're me, all the time.

Yesterday, I got lost and walked two hours to the only open supermarket in Kunming, only to buy sliced bread, jelly, and Goldfish crackers. They didn’t even have any peanut butter, but I had already committed to the bread and jelly that I had to live with my choices. Supermarkets in China are really confusing. I wanted to buy some Chinese food or snacks, but nothing makes sense and I was too hungry to be adventurous. I was so exhausted when I got back to my hotel, but then started laughing because all I had accomplished that day was buying bread.

Bread...someone please talk to me.

Okay, my complaining is over. This has been building up the past few days, but, in all seriousness, Kunming is absolutely gorgeous. The city is nicknamed the “City of Eternal Spring”, and every day truly feels like an early June day back home. All the locals act like we’re in the polar vortex with their scarves and winter jackets, but I’ve finally gotten used to their stares and comments about my pastel colored shorts, sunglasses, and flip-flops (I CAN UNDERSTAND YOU BRO ITS HOT DEAL WITH IT). I’ve spent most of the past week walking around the Green Lake (an intricate system of bridges around a lake and one of the cultural centers of Kunming), reading on the “quad” at my Yunnan University, and tanning while sipping from a fresh coconut. Classes don’t start until Valentine’s Day, so I’ve been enjoying this little vacation. 
Green Lake jog. PALM TREES

Spongebob ExtraChromosomePants

Thankfully, last weekend I met another college student who was also in Kunming by himself, so I had about three days with a travel partner; but, more importantly, I had someone to talk with. On Saturday, we managed to figure out the bus system well enough to take us two hours away to the Stone Forest. Millions of years ago, when the continents were moving, water began pouring out of the area, eroding behind massive stone pillars and creating miles of stone forest. Even before coming to Kunming, I had learned about this area in class, so it was at the top of my list for places to go. The Stone Forest is incredible. After climbing to the top of Lion’s Peak (Den?), I was able to look out on the entire forest, and was amazed at the sheer size of the place. Other parts of the forest contained deep caves, where one wrong step would lead to a quick death by impalement. Overall, it was really cool and some great exercise. I’m definitely planning on going back there.

 石林 (Stone Forest)
The stairs are cut straight out of the stone.

The next day, we took another bus to the top of one of the mountains overlooking Kunming, to check out the Bamboo temple. I’ve seen a lot of temples already in China, so I was mainly just looking forward to do something besides walking around the lake. The temple was eh, but we ran into another girl who had also been studying in Beijing. This girl was born on Staten Island, but grew up in France and knows like five languages. She was more interesting than the both of us. After ten minutes of pretending to be interested in the temple, the three of us decided to go exploring around the mountain. We hiked for a few minutes until encountering a rope bridge with an actual toll guard. Somehow we charmed ourselves out of the full toll and continued along our hike. I hadn’t really ever had the chance to check out Kunming from afar, so it was pretty cool to get a sense of just how unique this mountain/lake city is. The rest of the hike was beautiful and uneventful, but at one point we saw a Ghost Busters street sign that meant…something.

"Wear your seatbelt", or become a ghost?

That night, we went to an area of the city called Kundu. I’m not sure what Kundu translates into, but it is the red light district of Kunming, and where most of the nightclubs are located. I’ll probably have more fun in Kundu once all of my friends show up, but it is interesting to see how Kunming people party, because it honestly looks like they don’t even want to be there. The lay out of most of these clubs is basically a bunch of tiny tables, with an even smaller dance floor in the middle. Each table is occupied by groups of girls that look like their shits don’t stank, with unopened bottles of beer and a large edible arrangement in the center. These girls, however, made me feel reeeaaally good about myself. Every time I took a lap around the bar, I was stopped by one of their friends and summoned over to their table for free alcohol and broken conversation. I didn’t have the heart to tell them they were barking up the wrong tree, but my wallet welcomed the free alcohol. Besides happy hour at the local expat bar, I don’t think I paid for a single drink that whole night. It looks like I’m going to enjoy living in Kunming for the next few months after all.

Clown in a nightclub. Because China.

Unfortunately for me and my sanity, my travel companions have already left for the next legs of their vacations, leaving me all alone again. They left right before the New Year festival began, which sucks because, as I mentioned before, nothing is open. It’s kind of depressing walking down my neighborhood and seeing the once lively shops all boarded up. Luckily, there is a French café that is open today, Saturday, so I am currently sitting outside typing up this blog. About twenty minutes ago, a little Chinese boy came up to me and asked to practice his English. His English was horrible, but it was hilarious watching him try. He didn’t say much, but my favorite part of it was him saying “orange has two meanings: one is color, other is fruit. Red yellow make orange. Do you like snack orange?”.

My friends come on Monday, so I don’t have that much longer to wait around. We’ve booked train tickets to travel within the province of Yunnan to the city of Dali, and one other city that I forgot the name of. I’m just so excited to travel around that I don’t even care where we go. I think this is the longest post I’ve written, so I’m going to stop now. Maybe I’ll go snack orange.

So is the masseuse blind, or am I blindfolded, or??

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