I tried an experiment in capitalism before entering the train station. Instead of haggling for clementine oranges, I simply asked several vendors their price. The first couple said san and held up three fingers. The third one said er and held up two. The other vendors unleashed a torrent of venom at the woman who had gone down in price. Apparently in capitalism with Chinese characteristics, making a sale is second to solidarity.
Regardless, I found a fourth vendor elsewhere selling larger, more delicious-looking clementines for the same 2 rmb. I handed her 6 rmb ($1), expecting to buy three. She filled a bag with oranges and put it on a scale—wait, wait, no I only want 6 kuai (rmb) worth, I tried to explain. Turns out they’re not 2 rmb each, they’re 2 rmb per kilogram! I left there with enough vitamin C for the ride and then some.
Being my first overnight journey in China, I opted for the comparatively luxurious “soft sleeper” class.
It was beautiful. A tablecloth on a little table, perfect for my laptop. A vase. Curtains. And I had the entire cabin to myself for the first seven hours. The problem with the ride was it reinvigorated my desire to see the Chinese countryside by train. It was dark for half the journey, but what scenery I saw differed greatly from the industrial landscape of the eastern provinces.
I drifted asleep to the soothing rumble of the train making its way across dark Shaanxi Province. When I awoke in Yunnan Province, it was bright and sunny—the first warm, sunny day I’d experienced since I left Taiwan almost a month earlier. Still, I didn’t know when I arrived in Kunming whether to stay a couple of nights or catch a bus directly to Jinghong. Kunming was dusty and dry, and from the little I observed, it was a city rich in traffic jams and asphalt. Meanwhile, I recalled the words of Steve 2 of Xiamen: “Take an 8 hour bus ride to a place called Jinghong. You’ll find your sunshine there.” Did paradise truly exist in China?
I went with my gut and left Kunming immediately. Without Lonely Planet, I never would have made my way to the right bus station let alone Jinghong. Kunming has three or four separate bus stations, depending on which direction you’re traveling. And none of them are near the train depot.
After a 45-minute local bus ride I found myself at Kunming’s West station, where I witnessed an unusual scene. Several young men removing their shoes and cleaning their feet in the bathroom. “That’s odd,” I thought, as I awaited my sleeper bus, “Perhaps this is a practice peculiar to Yunnan Province.” When I boarded the bus to Jinghong, I understood the reason for their ritual…