We take a short sweet flight to Kunming, (koo-ming) a city of eight million people. Kunming, the old kingdom, was named by Kubla Khan. At the airport, one member of our group, left the tour because his Chinese fiancé, who was supposed to meet him, was having trouble with her visa. In order to marry a Chinese woman now, a foreigner must prove his income, own a house, buy the marriage certificate, pay other fees and provide medical proof that he can father children. Mark’s visit was part vacation and part business. Vicki is upset by this and claims she has never had anyone leave her tour.
On the plane, I sat next to a Chinese man who had just come from vacationing in North Korea. He and his friend were young and spoke good English. He claimed it was frightening. The people on the streets avoid eye contact afraid to look at you, very repressed. He was not allowed to photograph buildings. The guards were always in evidence, like they were being followed. Then, at the airport the guards looked at every photo in his camera before letting them go. He said he had been tempted to take a forbidden picture and didn’t. At the airport he was glad he had obeyed.
We settle into our hotel and head for the bird market past this unique curved building, called the Sister Building. Kunming means eternal spring. This city is home to about 25 different ethnic groups with North Koreans, Arab Muslims from India, Burmese many minority Chinese. The Burma (now Myanmar) border is near. Kumning was once an opium growing area, part of the Golden Triangle and also the base for the Flying Tigers.
As we hurry across the street, ( no pedestrian right of way), I grab a quick shot of this vendor who is selling dog and cat pelts. Kids, unaccompanied, walk along the busy highway to schools and cross busy city streets independently.
The bird market is normally an interesting tour but because there is bird flu going around, Vicki makes this a very quick pass through and we agree with that. My memory disk is now full and I can not take any photos until I get back on the bus. We saw birds in cages, bunnies and kittens in tight cages, not exactly what we like to see anyway. They had “white meat” snails with beautiful striped shells. Very large crickets and beautifully made cricket cages, which they race. Trained rats, too. The city is quite modern because it was rebuilt after the Japanese bombed it. The old town section looks like poor Mexico and gives us an idea of what the city looked like at one time. The old feudal walls were torn down in 1953.
I got a kick out of the blonde curls attached to this child’s hat. The park was full of cute kids; a lovely place to relax, play cards, have tea, do tai chi. Most Chinese socialize outside rather than in their small houses and apartments.
In China, you are never far from something ornate and beautiful. We guess at whether this huge vessel had a function of some type at one time.
At lunch we taste a local specialty, fish skin, which is quite spicy and tasty. We had the usual meats and vegetables and condiments with a surprise, watermelon for dessert. A nice change. We have a couple of hours of free time before dinner and a show; a chance to rest, shop, or walk around town on our own. There is much to see and do here, but as the saying goes, “You can’t see it all.”
Dinner is a western buffet in the hotel where everyone is dressed for Halloween. I preferred this beautiful jug over the carved pumpkins pandering to American tourism. During dinner the loudest, awful television in the dining room told Halloween stories in Chinese. All the wait persons danced to incredibly loud music. It chased us out of the place. We return to our rooms to dress for the Peacock Extravaganza that features 200 ethnic peoples, a tradition in this area from the time of Kubla Kahn.
No pictures were allowed, but I’m inclined to describe this impressive program anyway. The first dance features this famous woman peacock dancer with an enormous drum moving in very strenuous body movements. The dancers have painted bodies, the background is stormy suggesting how early people feared thunder and lightning and they made loud noises to scare off the evil spirits and wild animals that also fear storms.
The peacock dance was followed by the moon dance with great costuming and beautiful sinuous moves. The stage settings are rich and dramatic. In one scene dancers in bird costumes with iridescent wings flapping in the darkened theater gave the impression of birds flying away in a captivating beautiful way.
The Chinese use very shrill high pitched screeching instruments that do not set very well to the western ear. I usually find it hard to tolerate but in this huge theater it was okay. They dance a ritual child sacrifice and a sensual birth of a baby. They danced the Muslim people coming into China through the mountains, facing hardships and bringing Buddhism to China. And the last show brought back the great peacock dancer with balance, grace and beauty performing, with her fingers displayed in huge shadows on a screen, a peacock grooming, and strutting and eating.
This engaging, historical, world-class performance, cost us a small $20 bill. The peacock show travels all over the world. We returned to our rooms entranced.
The main attraction in this area is the famous Stone Forest-tomorrow.