Kunming and Beyond....

Trip Start Aug 25, 2003
Trip End Jul 18, 2004

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Thursday, March 11, 2004

I'm starting to understand our guidebooks more when they describe a city as "yet another big Chinese city." This (so far) seems to mean that the city is big, clean, has a fair share of skyscrapers, and is at least a little bit on the expensive side. Not really that bad when you're just passing through, plus the public transportation has been great. Of course, having spent a few days in Kunming we really didn't find that much to do or see, so this also seems to be part of that unsaid definition of "another big Chinese city." Even before arriving, we knew we had to spend our first night of our entire trip in a youth hostel dorm. It's hard to believe we haven't spent a night in a dorm yet but like I said, big Chinese cities are on the expensive side. To tell the truth, the dorm wasn't that big of a sacrifice; it was extremely clean and had unbelievably powerful hot showers. The only youth hostel I have been in that was nicer was in Banff (anyone who has been to the Banff hostel knows what I am talking about - there were no bar crawl nights organized by the Kunming hostel).

So after a 30 hour train ride, Sarah and I weren't exactly eager to move on again. We took a day to wander around the city and another to visit the nearby Buddhist "Bamboo Temple." We found the city to be accurate to the above definition, and the temple... well, it was nothing if not serene. The Bamboo Temple was a ways out of town on a hillside, so no traffic noise could be heard. The temple proper is surrounded by manicured gardens, and walking around the back we found bamboo growing among stone tables and chairs; the smell of incense from the temple mixed nicely with the smell of the outdoors. Going inward towards the temple is a courtyard filled with statues of famous Buddhist monks with bizarrely surreal expressions. They were created by a sculptor who later disappeared because the statues were found to be too realistic and therefore offensive. Luckily, the statues remained. For many they are the draw to the temple - I just enjoyed the calm atmosphere.

Moving on from Kunming to Dali was, if nothing else, a learning experience. Options for moving on from Kunming were a day bus or a sleeper bus. The day bus trip is only four hours and as the name implies, is during the day. The sleeper bus takes eight hours. However, not much actual sleeping occurs on this bus. The day bus probably seats 50 to 60 people and the "sleeper" bus beds maybe 30 people, yet the "sleeper" bus was cheaper. "How is this possible?" is the question Sarah and I should have been asking. As I said, it was a learning experience. The answer, for us, was bad news. The day bus loads up it's people and heads off taking nicely paved toll roads, roads smooth enough to call nice even at home. The "sleeper" bus first gets loaded up with people (most of whom smoked enough to choke even the most nicotine-addicted Parisian), then a forklift loads of pallets of (in this case) gas generators onto the roof, THEN the bus heads off on rough dirt roads, saving money on those costly tolls and adding four hours to the day bus's trip time. Needless to say, the lesson was learned by the time we made it to Dali.
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