KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
As we approached Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province we knew that the journey with our Naxi friends was coming to an end. It had been a long day, made easier by toll highways most of the way from Banna, but tiring just the same. We were all a little overwhelmed by the speed of the traffic and the huge flyovers in all directions. Our maps didn't show the location of Yongping Road, where the internet had informed us a Super 8 hotel was located. After driving over yet another flyover, our driver suddenly pulled over on the expressway to ask a motorcyclist for directions. I was terrified we would get rear-ended, but this seems to be a common thing to do and all the traffic behind us simply passed to our left.
The three Naxi spoke with the motorcyclist at length in Chinese and then they told us the rider said there were no Super 8s in Kunming. We were sure there was one on Yongping road so he agreed to take us there. He sped off and we followed him as best we could. When he finally turned on to Yongping road, he rode for a short distance and then made a left turn onto Beijing Road, the main thoroughfare. He tried to get us to consider another hotel nearby and when I saw it was a large tourist hotel it suddenly dawned on me that he was directing us to it so that he would get a commission for bringing a guest. We dispensed with him in short order by paying him a small fee and then returned to Yongping road. Within a block, I saw the Super 8 just where it was supposed to be. Found the hotel was recently renovated, and while the price was much more that we paid in Jinghong, it was still incredibly reasonable for a great room that included a free internet connection for my laptop. This has enabled me to spend the past couple of days writing about our adventures over the last fortnight.
We woke up to heavy skies and rain our first morning in Kunming. It's known throughout China as the city of "Eternal Spring" but it didn't seem very inviting to us after the warmth and gentle atmosphere of Jinghong. The hotel is conveniently located near the main train station and the airport is just minutes away, but the surrounding neighbourhoods are old and run down leaving us with a poor impression of the city. We walked around the first day in the damp and began making plans to move on quickly.
When we applied for our visas to China, we learned that visitors can stay for one month, but if they choose a double entry visa, they can stay for two months for each visit. Our sixty days were almost over, so we would have to leave China and re-enter, or else apply for a visa extension. If granted an extension, our second entry permit would be cancelled. After careful consideration of all the options, we decided we would fly to Chiang Mai, Thailand for a week and then return to China to see the final few places we want to see before we left for Vietnam. We are hoping to meet up with my sister Donna and her family when they visit Saigon during the Christmas/New Year's season.
David came over the next morning having made up his mind overnight to shorten his stay in China and head home to Edmonton. He had planned to stay with us until the end of November, but found that he was struggling to keep his diabetes under control and just wasn't feeling as well as he should. Like us, he is not at all fond of the spice, star anise, which is so prevalent in Chinese cooking. This places a huge limitation on eating choices and when he did find dishes he liked, they usually contained large amounts of highly processed carbohydrates, not good for his blood sugar levels. We were disappointed not to have him along for the rest of our tour of China, but I knew his health was paramount. We went that afternoon and purchased his ticket to Beijing where he would connect with his Air Canada flight home.
For his last night with us, we went to Ma Ma Fu's, a great café recommended in the Lonely Planet. We have a terrific meal, great Yunnan coffee and a wonderful conversation about all the adventures we had shared over the past several weeks. David seemed to perk up now that the decision to head home was made and I was happy to see him looking much better. We went to the airport early in the morning to see him off and I just received an email from Jeong Ae that he arrived safely.
It's too bad that David left when he did because the sun is shining, the air is warm and we have been enjoying some great walks around Kunming. There is very little of old China left in this modern city but it does have wide tree-lined streets and many modern buildings with small parks tucked here and there and a canal running through the center in a north-south direction. Our first impression of the city was so very negative, I'm really glad that we were able to stay an extra couple of days to see things in a better light. It's a little like seeing Edmonton in the late fall when most of the leaves have fallen and there doesn't seem to be much to see or do in the city. Life is busy for those who live and work there, but a visitor would leave without much to admire.
Tomorrow, we fly to Chiang Mai, Thailand for a rest and a change of cultures. I was there once before, in 1991 with David, Jeong Ae and my good friend Cathy Moreau. I had been in India with Anil, Adia and Raj for a family visit. Anil and the kids had to return to school, but I extended my stay so that I could see Thailand for the first time. Anil has seen Bangkok several times but this will be his first visit to Chiang Mai.