I shared a cab from the bus station with an American couple. The guy, whom I’ll call “M-C-K”, because that’s what he said when I asked him his name, was living in China.
“How long have you lived here?” I asked.
You have to have a certain adaptability to live in China that long. I mean, if you’re not Chinese. He was far and away the longest-surviving American I had encountered.
MCK didn’t speak much—maybe China does that to you—so I conversed mostly with his girlfriend, an American of Taiwanese descent who had lived five years in Beijing but was back in the States. I told them about my hesitance to visit Kunming at all after what people had told me. They suggested limiting my time there and high-tailing it 300 kilometers west to Dali.
Several people who had stayed at the Hump Hostel had told me it was located right in the center of town. Which to me sounded like a great reason not to stay there. Instead I headed to “Upland”, recommended by a Turkish German back in Jinghong.
Upland was located in the touristy Green Lake section of Kunming, yet I was not accosted by a single vendor walking around the lake. No postcards, no boat rides across the pond. Point 1 in Kunming’s favor.
English signs explained the history and legacy of the lake. With grammar and spelling that would make my eighth-grade English teacher proud. Maybe that’s what Mrs. Grubb did after retirement: move to Kunming to ensure that all the signs were grammatically correct. Point 2.
A bowl of hearty chicken noodle soup so large I couldn’t finish, and a coke, for $1.50. Point 3.
Kunming was more relaxed than any of the East Coast cities. The people were friendly. And the weather was stunningly beautiful. Points 4, 5, 6…
O Kunming, how I doubted thee.
I realized why those people in Shanghai and Xiamen had told me that Kunming was a writhing cesspool of bile and filth. They were agents. Agents whose job it is to prevent Kunming from being overrun with tourists.
The next day Tanja, a German who had taken the Trans-Siberian Express through Mongolia to China, introduced me to “Rambo”, a nearby bakery.
Afterward, I visited the bird and flower market, walked down the main pedestrian street to the center of town, and caught a beautiful sunset on the way back.
O Kunming forgive me, me of little faith.