China: Studies – Kunming: Futile Search
We woke up full of enthusiasm on the following day for we would visit a mysterious temple reminding us a bit of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts. No single two people agreed upon instructions how to get there on online forums. However, everybody was convinced that no other option how to get into the temple except hers works.
We shuffled around with post-its with bus numbers at the bus stop. Perhaps we stood on a wrong paving stone. Perhaps we had already depleted our luck yesterday. Long story short, the bus hadn’t come. And so did others which we could take „for sure“.
We lost hope after an hour. “Lets ask that friend and set off there tomorrow. Today we take a tour in the city,” I said leaving my hopes for the mysterious temple unfulfilled for the day.
I shouldn’t throw dirt at Kunming’s reputation. Perhaps it only tried to make our time there more exciting. So it didn’t show us the way to the temple right away. Also, we all know a Czech proverb about the mouth too lazy to ask… But we would find it out only on the following day. Today we were about to look around in the city.
First we went to the Eastern and Western pagodas (Dongsi Ta东寺塔 and Xisi Ta西寺塔). You can see one when you are at another. We couldn’t get inside but still it was crowded around them. Adults played chess and children just ran around. Today, these are the oldest buildings in the city – not built by ethnic Chinese, the Han (Hanzu汉族) but by the residents of the Nanzhao kingdom (Nanzhao guo 南诏国), which existed in the eight and ninth centuries.
From pagodas we moved to local mosques. We ate some supersweet dumplings at a stall near a mosque. They tasted like poppy. To our surprise, we found out there is a large public dinning room in one of the mosques. Everybody was very kind and we were grateful for this moment in the noisy Chinese city. Of course, another thing we loved were great noodles we ordered from Huis, Chinese muslim minority (Huizu回族) right next door.
Once we were walking with colorful umbrellas by one of the gigantic shopping malls we certain we would find the temple which caused a rough start of our day...
GPS: 25°00'48.6"N 102°41'23.6"E
Text and photo: Hana Bašová
Next day morning, with thick rice cakes filled with delicious filling we attempted for the second time a trek to the Bamboo Temple (Qiongzhusi筇竹寺). To make matters more unpleasant, the sky was clouded and it started to rain. The bus didn’t arrived. So didn’t other buses.
Surprisingly we survived the journey from the Leaping Tiger Gorge to Lijiang 丽江. We were in the town for the second time and nobody was looking forward to it. We got enough of it when we were there couple of days ago. Thanks to my ingenuity we were accommodated next to Lashihai 拉市海. But it was far from spectacular. Partially, the reason was in the fact we hadn’t even seen the historical center of Lijiang. The reason, on the other hand, for tourists to come in the city.
The day of our departure from the mountain paradise had come. Luckily, we had whole afternoon at our hands. Therefore, we set off for the last trip. We intended to explore only the nearby area.
Our small trip to waterfall became a nightmare. Ponies that stood across narrow pathway and deep precipice under seemed harmless. Once I got across these obstacles my landlord appeared. With great enthusiasm he instructed us to other waterfalls. As there was only one road heading to our hostel I had to mentally prepare myself to another and another waterfall.
We felt like waking up to mornings in mountains veiled in pleasant haze is hardly something we would get enough of. We had already spent couple of nights at our hostel. At breakfasts we wondered if the locals are still so impressed with the mountains.
When we boarded the bus in order to move on from the village of Yunnan minorities (Yunnan minzu cun云南民族村) to Dianchi lake滇池without paying ridiculous fees. We didn’t mean it in a wrong way. We were just tired of anyone trying to get any money from us.
In a small family hostel near the Leaping Tiger Gorge (Hutiao xia虎跳峡) we had some good night sleep. After our arrival we headed straight to see the wild Jinsha River 金沙. At its narrowest point, a tiger allegedly leapt over it. We were completely exhausted by a walk in fresh air. However, we woke up soon next day morning to enjoy raising sun at our terrace.
Even though it seems that the fate wants a boulder to fall on us along the road, the driver managed to deliver us safe and sound. We even managed to take couple pictures as if it was the only chance. During couple of following days we realized that it is impossible to get enough of this place…
We gladly left Lijiang 丽江, a small and among tourist popular town in south China. We worried a bit that we would need to return to our hostel on our way back. However, we forget our worries and looked forward to the new adventure.
Last time I have already started talking about Lashihai lake 拉市海. We intended to see it. The lake is to be found at the foothill of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (Yulong xueshan 玉龙雪山) at the altitude of over 2400 meters. The lake’s area is around 5330 hectares. Long time ago, an old horse tea road lead through here. Pu'er tea普洱was very important export commodity. Today, over 60 bird species nest on the lake. More than thirty thousand birds fly here in winter. The best time for observation is December, they say.
Our visit in Lijiang 丽江 in southern China hadn’t started particularly well. My effort to get us to live among the locals was perhaps too much. We were half-an-hour of car ride from the historic center. We couldn’t get to our hostel even by taxi least regular bus. Our landlady was, in truth, not much hospitable. Moreover, it was raining like it was the end of the world.
Our time of departure from Dali 大理 had come. We still liked the place thanks to nice house-lady, her father and their gigantic pup even after several days. We took our backpacks and set off to a bus stop.
Dali 大理, a town in south Chinese Yunan 云南, woke us up to cold sunny morning everyday. Unlike hot and busy city this one was a nice change. We had enough space so we didn’t have to jump from bikers, bicyclers transporting all kinds of goods, furious car and bus drivers, and other perils in the streets.
After couple of days in Kunming 昆明 , the time had come to move on from the city of “eternal spring”. Our next goal was Da-li 大理, a much smaller town in the Yunnan province 云南 (like Kunming, Da-li is also the capital of its province).
We stepped out of the silent temple in one of Lijiang’s streets and found ourselves immediately among tourist crowds mostly consisting of Chinese. They threw themselves on all delicacies around – from sugar hawthorn to huge baked bones.
When me and B were thinking at the airport about all prejudices our Czech friends have, we realized even our Chinese friends’ idea about our culture is not much accurate.
I have written about one of Chinese minorities, the people of Hui (回族) in one of my previous articles. I praised their cuisine and their kindness and knowledge about the place of my origin.
It was easy to count hours before the departure of the girls (and our as well). Still, we intended to utilize them as much as possible regardless the unbearable heat in Beijing.
It was only couple of minutes before the departure. T and P were about to fly back to the Czech Republic. Me and B were ready to travel to Vietnam for another adventure. There was much to remember. T and P looked pretty tired. It is no easy thing to travel across China in one month. Many say they haven’t experienced cultural shock but still China is much different from Europe.
Lijiang 丽江, a small town in Yunnan 云南 province is known as a land of clear sky, clean air, and beautiful landscape. Lijiang truly meets this. And it has even something more to it. It is a tourist paradise. When you pay 80 yuan admission to enter the city center only annoying vendors prevent you from exploring the area.
We survived the trip on the Great Wall of China. We liked it but ahead would be waiting pre-departure preparations. We were busy packing, me and B. As it turned out, packing one year worth of life in China to one coffer is far from easy and takes much more than just one afternoon. Therefore, I took T and P to their guest house and left them to take care of themselves.
We managed climbing up the hill very well. We walked through a small village. Some watched us, some obviously had met tourists efore and waved at us. Once we reached a crossroad we suddenly saw its contours. And we also recognized contours of a small shop at the crossroads. It wasn’t overpriced. Surprisingly. We refilled our water and sugar supplies (popsicles). If there exists something like an addiction on popsicles, I was an addict in China.
After several weeks on the road we were about to return to Beijing. What a strange feeling it was. B and I felt like we were coming back home even though we lived there only half a year. We took a train from Lijiang 丽江 Kunming 昆明, the capital of Yunnan province 云南. We stayed there for couple of days. Eventually we were even glad we managed to buy flight tickets because it was a last minute buy as we had been waiting for them to become cheaper.
Our great journey was about to end. But at that moment it still seemed we would travel for couple of more weeks. Imagine a group of four ragged students waiting for a bus while sitting on cobble stone. We were hoping for it to come any minute… Yeah, any minute…
Weather got better. Perhaps that turtle we helped on the day before in Yuantong圆通spread the word… Anyway, instead of rain sunrays woke us up. We were eager to eat peculiar rice cakes of thick dough which was baked and filled with strange sweet-salty stuff. We recognize only peanuts and spicy pepper.
Kunming 昆明 woken us up to cloudy sky and light rain drumming into our window. It didn’t seem as if the weather was about to get better. We put our raincoats on and set off to adventure.
In couple of articles already I mentioned the same topic – hot water drinking. Since young age I have been frightened to drink hot beverages when ill. It is easier and tastier to use just syrup with water, I had been always saying. And then I left to China.
Finally we were in the bus. We had to pay some yuans extra yet the likelihood of us eventually getting to Xichang 西昌 on time was growing. We had to catch a train going further down south.
I am of those people who cannot enjoy shopping. Mostly I have this feeling that the time spent finding something could we spent much more efficiently. When I decide to go somewhere shopping I need time.
I know the old proverb starts bit differently, yet I hold to the opinion that this tweak has some truth to it. At some places I think about this proverb more often. At some places even every day. Perhaps you already realized that by the latter I mean China.
We had last day to spend in Xian. We had tickets not to the opera but for the evening train which would get us to my beloved Chengdu 成都.
Before I traveled to China, I had noticed weird mostly roundish buildings on various ad posters. I didn’t understand why would anyone build something like this.
When we said farewell to Suzhou 苏州, the train took us to the famous Shanghai 上海. Shanghai is the name everybody things of when asked if they can think of a Chinese city. Once it used to be a small fishermen village.
„You study Chinese? So you can read scattered tea?“
„Chinese? Ping Pong?“ „Do you have skew eyes from eating all those rice already?“
Beijing, the city of our year-long study stay, did not greet the girls pleasantly. Yet despite all obstacles we faced, we didn’t let it to spoil our mood. We decided to see all the sights, we hadn’t manage to visit during the first couple of days, before our flight back. We counted with some problems in our grandiose travel plan anyway.
Christmas is the time of remembrance. One remembers passed year, how and with who she spent Christmas and how it was. I couldn’t help myself from such assessment when I saw grey snowless streets. It remined me of my first Christmas outside home, Christmas in Chengdu 成都.
First registration procedure was successfully done. I had a Chinese bank account, submitted about eight passport photos, and other required documents, and while tired I read through the instructions in my room. When I found out that there is a difference between the Chinese and English version, I decided to trust the original, in Chinese.
It hasn’t been so long ago when I boarded the plane to Helsinki. I was thinking how I would spend a night before leaving for Beijing. Suddenly, I realized that my stay in China is coming to an end. It was one of these moments when I felt nostalgia and casted my mind back.
Standing at a box office in Xichang 西昌 at the train station, we heard why we cannot withdraw them. We could only return them and try to buy new ones that would be for a train that doesn’t travel on the route where the landslide happened. When the lady pointed at the endless line, we wanted to pack our stuff and leave on foot for our next destination, Kunming昆明,. It was very fortunate that we remained standing for a while there.
End of June was about leaves. Since May, my friends had been leaving. Finals were coming and those who didn’t need any confirmation of their study stays and exams passed just packed their luggage and boarded the plane. Other didn’t visit schools because their relatives, and friends arrived. Dormitories emptied.
„To terminus? What will you do there? There is nothing! “
It was getting closer to our departure from Xian 西安. With our backpacks we had to move by city bus to a train station. It was pretty easy till then...
Upon our difficult arrival at Hangzhou 杭州 we had crammed schedule ahead. Right in the morning, we went to explore how to get to our other goal the village of Longjing 龙井 that is famous for its tea plantations.
Our stay in Yunyongyao云永谣 commenced with a funeral, not particularly traditional way to begin one’s trip. Most of the locals took part in it. Some right in the procession, others just watched from afar. Soon, however, cracking and music ended. Only streets covered with red papers could tell the story.
The Temple of Eight Immortals (Ba xian an八仙庵) is the largest Tao temple in Xi'an 西安. When we were deciding on what sight to see as the first, the temple was pretty clear choice.
It is true that I base my articles on my experiences and remarks of my friends, yet I have this feeling that everyone gets to the point when he needs to leave the big noisy city for fresh air in the countryside.
It wasn’t bad in Beijing. Yet sometimes a time comes that one just want to go somewhere else. Anywhere. The break of the first May was coming and we had already forgotten how crazy it is to travel in China, especially when even others have holidays. But this time we were bit smarter. We learned how to buy train tickets on the Internet.
Certainly there are lists of the most used words in any language. We learn what words we use the most in our mother tongue. We do not wonder as those are mostly words that are logically the most common as well.
... is that joyful? Already in one of my past articles I quoted the first sentence from Analects by Confucius. To be honest I thought of it very often. Prior my departure to China almost every other person asked me: „When may I arrive? You know I wouldn’t need a guide when you are there...“
After all struggle we finaly reached Kunming 昆明, the capital of Yunnan 云南, a province in southeast China. My friends told me a lot about Kunming. No wonder that I looked forward to it.
For as long as I had travelled in China, my main reason was studying the Chinese language. As more and more people ask me how learning Chinese in China is going I am going to spend some time explaining how it is.
In Chengdu 成都 , we visited places mentioned in previous articles. I enjoyed nostalgia, other members of our journey enjoyed great weather – mostly it was raining gently. So it wasn’t hot as it usually is in Chengdu this time of the year.
When before the departure from Chengdu I decided to final packing of my things, I found out that I have a lot more than a few things.
We were returning quite disgruntled from the village of Longjing 龙井. The intrusive lady reminded us again that we are still tourists in China – and given my face, I still will be one.
After while, during our search for tulou 土楼 we went off the tourist-luring village with never ending music. Chinese tourists took pictures of each other wearing traditional and nontraditional clothes rented for horrible money. All of a sudden, everything went quiet around us. We were approaching local hills on a narrow road.
Days in Beijing passed by merrily. School in the morning, studying, chats with friends… Everyday routine was diversified with weekend trips. Summer Beijing was not very magical, to be honest.
When you are studying in China and you want to learn more than you would at classic lessons you can ask about optional classes. There are usually many as such at universities. You can choose everything from sports, literature, or trivia to calligraphy or local dialects.
„This is something you have to see!“
„It’s sure worth it!“
„It is world’s wonder.“
After all the information we gathered from our friends and teachers about Suzhou 苏州, everybody would look forward to see it! “Up is paradise, below are Suzhou, and Su Chang and Hangzhou" (in Chinese hang you tiantang,
xia you Su-Hang 上有天堂，下有苏杭) we heard when we were mounting green city bikes, and rode through narrow streets near our hotel. The streets were crowded with various stands that lured us to stop (many of them at least). But we didn’t want to miss delicacies of Suzhou.
As I promised myself on my exploration tour to the campus I fulfilled that promise. At the beginning of September I trotted to my future campus.
Our trip to see the famous tulou 土楼 was great. A strange van appeared and it was not strange after all. Chinese tourists stepped in and we stepped in as well because they said that the last bus had just left and the van driver would give us better price.
Perhaps everyone who has visited Beijing and had little spare time paid his visit to famous Summer Palace (Yiheyuan 颐和园), northwestern Beijing. Less tourists, however, know, that near the “new” Summer Palace is also Old Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan圆明园).
This whole story which started in the last article had become one of our most favorite stories. In short, it is about how we went from Chengdu 成都 to Chengdu.
Terracotta army in Xian 西安 was truly interesting yet it wasn’t the only thing we saw there. We were, perhaps, bit disappointed from all those people we had met there. Whether they were tourists looking for something exciting, or vendors trying to make profits, and I don’t even mention high admission… We even hadn’t seen any good place to have lunch in. We ate only some snack, got on the bus to get back to the city.
When returned to the hostel we were decided to get up early, get on the roof and start the day with a look at Suzhou in the morning 苏州. Right with the alarm clock ringing we started cursing the idea. Because we did not want to be lame in front one of another we get from warm duvets, and headed to the roof.
When we peaked out to the street in the morning, it was truly alive. The digger was demolishing houses, and people were engaged in their work. I sought to protect my breakfast against omnipresent dust. It was clear now what we would do on that day. We had to get as far as possible.
First, I have to say that I come from a small town. Arrival in Prague was a large shock for me. When I was then hustling in Prague in darky morning trying to find the right address, I had no idea such an experience was not my last time. Next time it would be more intense.
Even though we tried, we didn’t manage to get nice weather. Smog, that impervious pot lid, held tiring heat above Beijing. But we were determined to prevail.