After several months of travelling with just Sue, Sue's mom joined us for the rest of our travels starting in Kunming. It was a bit of an adjustment to take on another person who was used to a different sort of travel, but with a bit of compromise on all sides things went quite smoothly. In Kunming we stayed at a business hotel, which had the distinction of having a fully transparent glass wall between the hotel room and the bathroom. We did a pretty good job of always keeping the curtain closed, but it was annoying. I can't imagine business travellers prefering a glass wall instead of the regular type. Also after the first day one of our drinking glasses (which we didn't use) had a crack in it when we got back home. It took Sue about an hour of arguing with reception for us not to get charged for that damage that we didn't cause. In conclusion, the Enjoying Business Hotel in Kunming is no good.
Kunming is a big city of several million people, and though Yunnan is one of China's poorer provinces, Kunming is modern and looks like a Western big city, with high-end shopping and fancy office buildings. The most striking aspect of the city is the area around the old Bird and Flower Market, where a neighborhood of old run-down houses and shops literally borders new fancy malls. As we were walking there we passed one street that seems to be condemned for demolition, and I suspect that 10 years hence there will be no old Kunming. All these pics are taken around this area (equivalent in location, say, to the new Ryerson business school building in Toronto that backs onto the Eaton Center). I like the third pic, showing a second floor of a building that's falling apart, and a ground floor that's a modern jacket shop.
The other interesting historical feature is two pagodas across from each other 2 blocks apart, with temples and sculptures between them. One of them was rebuilt because of damage suffered several years ago - according to China due to an earthquake; according to the West the damage was due to Muslim citizen unrest.
Watching a game of Mahjong. The old guys sure take a long time between moves.
Sue with a horse, and me admiring the jockey
Another unexpected feature of the Kunming skyline is what appears to be a flat 30-storey billboard but is in fact a 3-dimensional 3-sided hotel. Here is a view where we can (barely) see the second side. From most of the city the hotel seems 2-dimensional.
From Kunming we took 3 day trips: the Yunnan Nationalities Village, the Jiuxiang caves, and the Stone forest. The Yunnan Nationalities Village features mini-villages (with a few buildings, a few people, and small cultural performances) from about a dozen ethnic minorities living in the province, which itself has the most minorities among Chinese provinces. In comparison to Mini-Asean and Mini-Malaysia, this is much more varied and much less well laid out. To take the best of both, it would be nice if the Kunming one had less gift shops, a consistent layout of mini-villages (some houses are gift shops, others are museums, others are furnished houses - and it's sometimes not clear which it is - whereas in Malaysia they are all furnished houses), better labelling, and if there were a clear circuit between them (in Malaysia they are side by side in a circle, whereas in Kunming they are sort of anywhere).
While the Village was just OK, the highlight is an hour-long music and dance show which is worth the hefty price of admission and would not be out of place in Toronto, London, or New York (probably similar to the Africa one that was advertised aggressively in Toronto a few years ago). The cast is about 100 people, and at one point it rains on stage (for about 5 minutes there is actual water "rain" for about a foot wide along the entire length of the stage. The floor retracts so that the water lands in a foot-wide area under the stage).
Our other two day trips were with the same company, and included peripheral stops in the same gift shops, temple, and health center where we got a slightly painful foot message (the first and last definitely pay commissions to the tour company, and the temple might). The daylong tour including extra stops, lunch, transport, and guide is actually cheaper than admission alone to the main site.
One of the gift shops had a line of employees at each of the entrances, presumably there to make me feel like special as I walk past them and to justify the inflated prices.
Jiuxiang caves are incredible - not only for all that one would expect from caves - the spikes from the ceilings and floors and the large spaces where the ceiling is natural rock and seems not to be supported by anything, but also for the amount of work that has been done to make the natural site tourist-accessible. Everything is colorfully lit up, there are very few narrow spaces and some large areas of polished floors, making me wonder how much the site was changed from its natural state. Either way, the size (over a kilometer across, with the 'ceilings' generally about 5 stories high) and variety of things in the scenic area are amazing.
Our tour started with a boat ride on a river that cuts through a gorge. It was a good gorge, very cliffy, but not as fun as the gorge in Turkey.
Here is a polished floor inside the caves. It is massive and must have taken a lot of work to go from cave floor to this.
Colored lights make the conic formations all the prettier.
At some points the top ones meet the bottom ones, forming columns.
Inside another cave are layered pools, caused by water overflowing from the pool above. Similar to the ones we didn't see at the calcium rocks in Turkey, but bigger and fuller of water.
Indoor (sort of) waterfall
Reflecting water pool
View from the cable car to get back to where we started
Here is a temple that was important during one of the dynasties. As the story goes (as told by Sue and half-forgotten by me), the emperor gave one of his trusted generals principality over this district. That general was power-hungry. In China, temples are built in a straight line and the one furthest back belongs to the emperor (symbolizing the emperor presiding over everything). So this temple complex was built, and afterwards the general had another temple - his own - built beyond the emperor's. A monk, sensing that the general was bad and trying to usurp power, foiled the general's plans to become emperor by building another temple. This new temple caused a change in the orientation of the straight line of temples that ends with the emperor's, and thus made the general's temple not be part of the line (let alone at the top of the line). As such, that general never became emperor.
Now I personally don't really like how symbolism, mythology, and facts blend in official Chinese history, but it makes a good story.
The actual temple complex has a bunch of Buddhist temples at the front, and Taoist temples at the back. The first time we went the guide said non-Taoists can't go to the back temples, but the second time I went almost all the way up and saw a bunch more temples and 2 big buddhas.
Many of the people on the tour paid to have their fortunes read, which possibly pays commissions to the tour company - that's the only reason I can imagine that both tours included the temple.
Here is a view of part of the line of temples. Because of trees blocking the view from the top of the mountan and temples blocking the view from the bottom, it is hard to get a good view of the whole complex.
Here are all of us in front of a fountain
I think these are some Taoist happy men. There are supposed to only be 3, so maybe these are just Taoist men.
A modest Taoist temple
Roofs of some of the temples in the fancy line of temples
Another Big Buddha
Complementing the caves and not too far away is a 'stone forest' composed of tall, narrow rocks that were formed as coral when the area was under the sea.
Views from above
In front of an area that's landscaped to look like a golf course
Huang's Health Systems
Here is the gift shop that was the last stop in our tours both days, offering free foot massage, many products which among other things cure cancer and make Western cancer treatments unnecessary (according to the doctor), and a shopping area that's shaped like a maze so that once you go in you have to walk through all the aisles. If you didn't know better you would think it's a legitimate health center.