The days leading up to a trip are one of the greatest parts of the experience, but hell for someone with any level of anxiety. All of those details, all of those small items that you are so likely to forget when you begin the process of packing. I rarely start the physical packing process prior to the night before departure; I think it is bad luck. Plan too early and you are bound to forget something important. Wait to the last minute and you will only leave the small things behind. Toothbrushes, nail clippers, pens, all things that can be replaced.
There are not many things as inconvenient to forget as a pair of sunglasses, especially when you are heading to a place at higher altitude where glare and risk of retina burn tend to me much higher. I decided to shave about 10 minutes before leaving for Yunnan, a last moment tinge of social anxiety. I must have been wearing my sunglasses, as I ended up in Kunming without them, only to be told that I had left them on the bathroom sink. As it turns out, sunglasses are extremely hard to find in Kunming, and significantly more expensive and ugly.
I didn’t really know what to expect of the southern city that I had heard so much about. I knew that it was a favorite among travelers and trekkers, revered for warm weather and gorgeous scenery. It is regularly referenced as the land of eternal spring. True enough, I arrived toward the end of October to a completely full green landscape and temperatures in the mid 70s. It was immediately apparent that I had made a grave error in my decision to live in Beijing. This was paradise.
I’m not sure how I can describe Kunming and actually do it any level of justice. I’m also not sure that I’m really in a position to pass judgment; I was only in the city for two days, but I was more relaxed in those two days than I have been in a long time. The transition to a China lifestyle has not been the most relaxing of moves, and it was nice to find a moment to slow life down just a bit. The buildings around the city are much lower than most things in Beijing, and tended to be made out of red brick, giving it a look not dissimilar to parts of Baltimore and bits of old industrial New York and Pennsylvania. The soil in the region has a high clay content, and I suspect that most of the bricks were locally produced. Narrow, curving streets lined with high skinny trees gave it a tropical European feel. For a few moments, I didn’t have much of a sense that I was in China.
I spent the night in an amazing place called the Cloudland Youth Hostel, sleeping in an eight person dorm (something in the neighborhood of three dollars a night). It was a very down to earth place, and in the morning I found myself wishing I had a bit more time to sit on the porch watching the side street down below. The clock was moving, and it was time for me to head further south, but part of me never wanted to leave this small moment in time.
This is only the first bit of the great southern tour, one day out of two weeks. Check back on Friday for part two, the deep south. Pictures of a whole new variety. Until then-