Arrival in Kunming

The bus journey to Kunming was less exciting than the train ride to Kaiyuan, but was nevertheless very atmospheric. It was quite a small bus with maybe 20 people on it. They all wore thick, warm coats, and looked like important working people. They sat quietly, in a disciplined way, with their hands lightly resting on top of each other on their laps. No chitter, no chatter, no spitting in the aisle, throwing rubbish out the window, or the like.

We travelled for 3 or 4 hours, mainly through cities and along quality carriageways. The traffic was mostly trucks, with a few buses, and hardly any cars. It felt like the whole countryside was alive with industry, lorries carrying important things ferrying them back and forth, to build stuff, to conquer nature, to make China great! All in the thick, misty, cold dawn. You could see your breath.

The silent orderliness inside the bus was only broken when we got stuck in a traffic jam. The whole road was blocked some way ahead, and only single files of traffic getting through. We must have waited about an hour all told, and after five minutes people started to talk a bit. I was looking at the numbered bus rules and regulations on a poster, hence learning the Chinese characters for 4 四 and 5 五 (1 一, 2 二 and 3 三 are easy!). Sitting next to me was a young friendly soldier in a smart uniform. When I got out my phrasebook to look up 6 六, he smiled at me. Soon he was drilling me, counting to the unfathomable heights of one hundred, in a beautiful voice. When you listen carefully to someone speaking Chinese there’s a curious, simple, tuneful life from the tones. Just as I am always impressed by perfect French rolled Rs, any well made sound that you can’t make is surprising and beautiful. We must have driven the people in the quiet bus mad by my repeated attempts to ennuciate the numbers, but did cause occasional bouts of friendly laughter.

I’m now staying in Kunming, at a curious hotel / student lodgings run by Yunnan university. My plan is to spend a month here, taking a Chinese language course. My first two nights were in a pretty grim room, but I’ve managed to change to a much nicer one today. Strange to unpack into a place I won’t have to move out of in a few days time. It has been bitterly cold, but now it is sunny in the afternoons. There’s the most heavenly bookshop in the world, which even stocks guidebooks that are meant to be banned by the government because of their history section and pictures of the Dalai Lama. That traveller’s rumour is either untrue, or the place will be shutdown within the week, as it is recently opened – perhaps the right bribes have been made. Especially astonishingly, they have Lonely Planet Tibet! I resisted the temptation to snap up a history of China and SE Asia, some kanji flashcards, and the complete works of Tintin in Chinese.

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