A Winter's Day in Spring City

30 Jan 2000

I’m currently in Kunming (=”Spring City”) where it hasn’t snowed in living memory and the temperature is always mild. So it should come as no surprise that there is a foot of snow outside (and rising) and it is freezing cold. All trains, planes and automobiles are grounded indefinitely. Woohoo. We were meant to leave for Dali by bus tomorrow morning, but even if we do I’m not sure I want to – Dali sits at around 1900m above sea level and is a whole lot colder. The next stop is the town of Lijiang at 2500m, not to mention my planned 3 day trek up Tiger Leaping Gorge …

In any case the snow gives me a chance to hop on the net. I’ve only been in China for 2 weeks, but it feels like 2 months … we haven’t stopped moving since we arrived in Shanghai. After a few days visiting the rellies we went by train to Beijing and stayed at a plush hotel at the expense of my uncle’s company. Our driver (that has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? 🙂 took us around the city to catch all the sights. Plenty of temples and gardens – I’m just about templed and gardened out. They were pretty awesome though – Temple of Heaven, Lama Temple, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace (funny name for a place where you can walk across the water). Tiananmen Square was a huge cemented area covered in ice with a picture of some guy at one end. Needless to say we didn’t hang around long.

The Wall was cold. Minus 15’C plus windchill. Imagine climbing up a steep never-ending staircase fending off people trying to sell you crap like “I climbed the Wall” medallions, pausing every now and then to snap off pieces from your runny nose. Yeah, it was Great all right. At least my face wasn’t that cold – I couldn’t feel it. Actually, except for the cold the view was spectacular – definitely worth the climb.

Next was Xi’an, another 14hr train trip. This was a really fun city. Picture getting off bleary eyed at 8am, backpack on. Little do you know, but you are the only foreigner on the train. As you exit the station, a hundred starving wolves descend on you. Hotel touts, taxi drivers, beggars, people wanting you to buy posscar, rawlecks, v-sheedee. After two weeks in China you can say “buyao” (not want) like a native, but no one can hear you above all the people ordering you
to “lookalooka”.

Undeterred, you press on and finally find a taxi. The Chinese word for taxi is chuzuqiche (don’t try to pronounce it – as far as I can tell spelling has nothing to with how a word sounds). It’s a very difficult word to translate into English, but basically it means “Vehicle driven by lying, cheating scumbag. See also Extortionist.” The hostel you are headed to (recommended by Lonely Planet no less) is a way out of town, so you have to bargain for an unmetered fare. You get it down from 65 to 45 and feel pretty good. Then the taxi driver gets out and exchanges money with another driver, who gets in. Uh oh. Too late – you’re driving off. Twenty minutes later, you arrive … somewhere. You finally find the hostel a 20 minute walk away. By now you’re really starting to warm to the charm of this cold, polluted city.

Unfortunately, the hostel no longer accepts foreigners. Well actually they claim it is full, but since it’s the off-season and no one is around you don’t believe them. After a further 10 minutes arguing uselessly – you in English, she in Chinese – you catch a taxi back to the station. This time you insist on the meter and indicate exactly on the map which way you want to go. It costs 15. Wandering around looking for an honest tout, you spot the taxi driver who you helped set up a retirement fund. You resist the urge to punch him in the head.

Finally, you find a dirty, expensive twin room near the train station. The photo on the brochure is the best laugh you’ve had all day. You don’t know it at the time of course, as you won’t be having that laugh until a week later…

To cut a longer story long, Xi’an was actually worth it, for one simple reason: the Terracotta Warriors. I have to say they were one of, if not the most amazing spectacle I’ve ever seen. The atmosphere of vast and ancient mystery was carved into my brain. Awesome.

Which brings us to Kunming, which is actually a nice Chinese city. When we stepped off the plane it was a balmy 12’C. Shame it only lasted for one day. We’re hanging out at the Camellia Hotel, a very cool (literally and figuratively) little backpacker place. I’m dorming with some Danes, English and a Canadian. We’ve had a few drinks at the “Came Restu” (Camel Resturant) the last couple of nights and no doubt will be heading back there tonight. Or this arvo. Not much else to do at the moment – everyone’s way out of here has been postponed or cancelled. I can think of worse places to be
stuck though.

My fingers are starting to freeze – better put my gloves back on. Apparently there’s a connection in Dali – I’ll try to get on there if I can. New Year’s Eve is on the 4th, so if we get there at all we might be stuck there for the Spring Festival.

Having heaps of fun (really),

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