Kunming confessions

I’ve been traveling alone in Yunnan province in southwestern China for the past couple of days, which has forced me to speak Chinese pretty much wherever I go.

I’ve made big strides after two years of Chinese lessons, and I’m slowly trying to come out of my shell and be more chatty. This morning, the cab driver who picked me up from the airport in the city of Dali was quite a character.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“I’m an American, but I’m living and working in Beijing.”

“I hate talking to people from Beijing and Shanghai,” he said. “They’re all so boring. They just talk about money. The rest of China? The people are great.”

At least he didn’t mince words.

***

I’ve written in the past about how some Chinese stare at foreigners and how it gets old after a while. Yesterday, I took a bus to Xishan, a mountain about 15 km outside the provincial capital of Kunming. I was the only foreigner on the bus, and I could overhear the Chinese in front of me talking about a “laowai,” or foreigner. This happened a few more times as I passed tour groups heading up the mountain.

“He doesn’t understand anything we say,” said an old man sitting on a bench with his family.

I guess I had reached a breaking point, because I turned around and shouted in Chinese: “I understand you!”

They laughed and told me to come over and chat. The old man complimented me on my Chinese and gave me a thumbs up when I said I was from the United States.

Hopefully, they’ll give the next foreigner they encounter the benefit of the doubt and assume he can speak a little Chinese.

Here are a few pictures from Kunming, the first city I visited, and at more than 6 million people, the province’s most populous.

The entrance to Kunming airport.

The entrance to Kunming airport.

Kunming airport almost had a mall-like feel to it.

The airport almost had a mall-like feel to it.

I rented a bike in Kunming and rode out into the countryside. The route under this overpass was pretty dangerous, with large trucks carrying steel pipes, coal and large vehicles sometimes cutting through the bike lane.

I rented a bike in Kunming and rode out to the countryside. The route under this overpass was pretty dangerous, with large trucks carrying steel pipes and coal occasionally whizzing through the “designated” bike lane.

The final leg of the journey to Xishan mountain. Getting there took about an hour from the city center.

The final leg of the bike ride to Xishan mountain. Getting there took about an hour from the city center.

I chose to hike to the top of Xishan mountain, but buses and taxis also ferry visitors to the top.

I chose to hike to the top of Xishan mountain, but buses and taxis also ferry visitors along this road.

One of the long, steep climbs on Xishan mountain.

One of the long, steep climbs on Xishan mountain.

Dianchi Lake, one of the largest lakes in China that I've seen.

Dianchi Lake, the largest lake in Yunnan province.

Kunming has beautiful mountains and clean air, compared to many of the cities I've been to in Eastern China. But there's also tremendous growth, with highrises being constructed throughout the city.

Kunming has beautiful mountains and clean air, especially compared to cities in Eastern China. But there’s also tremendous growth and construction, which threaten the local environment.

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