My arrival in昆明 (Kunming) by highspeed train, with only a 24-minutes delay, was effectively flawless. My travel guide / Chinese teacher / friend, Yuwen, was waiting for me and ready to go to dinner and drop me off at the hotel afterwards. She invited the travel agency organizer along so we could finish up some last-minute travel arrangements, which included actually paying for the upcoming trip with, you guessed it, an app (in this case Alipay). The dinner place Yuwen selected was a traditional Yunnan style restaurant that served a soup-like noodle dish called 过桥米线 (Guò qiáo mǐxiàn). It consisted of 15 individual ingredients (meat, vegetables, mushrooms) that were served in something that resembled a bento box and those ingredients were all dropped into a hot bowl with rice noodles and chicken soup. I guess they really wanted to show that everything in the bowl was fresh. It was delicious and a very warm welcome to Yunnan and Kunming.
The hotel for that night, Green Lake hotel, was in downtown Kunming near a small city lake called 翠湖 (green lake). After breakfast I met up with Yuwen and we went for a stroll around the lake, which was filled with blooming lotus flowers. The lake is the oldest part of Kunming and it’s surrounded by old buildings, including Yunnan’s military academy where some of the early communist leaders received their training.
Our driver picked us up at noon to take us to 石林 (Shílín) Stone Forest, about a 1:30 hour drive from Kunming. Shilin is one of the best representations of Yunnan Karst’s landscape. It was formed 270 million years ago when it was part of a large sea that over time receded and the landscape eroded. Its also a great example of how Chinese love to see shapes and stories in these limestone rock formations. For example, 阿诗玛 (Ashima) is a famous rock pillar that represents a Yi-girl and her local head wear. There is also a legend associated with this pillar. Ashima was a beautiful Yi girl born in this area. When she fell in love and was forbidden to marry her suitor, she turned into a stone pillar.
After an exhausting afternoon, it was over 80F (27c), humid and the sun was beating on our heads, we had dinner in a very popular roadside restaurant that served local chicken soup, dumplings with sticky rice and meat, and a bitter tasting type of squash. Yuwen grew up with this kind of squash and loved it. For me it was an acquired taste.
After dinner, we headed for the train station to take the bullet train to Dali, our next destination. This was a little bit more eventful because of an afternoon rainstorm that caught up with us and we hadn’t booked the train tickets ourselves. This isn’t a problem for Chinese people because they use their ID card to get into the train station, but it wasn’t clear I could do that too on my passport. It turned out that I can run through everything too with just my passport (this is a major change from previous years). As a passport holder, I have to go through the manual check points/check-in counter but as long as my passport number corresponds to the number on the ticket everything is fine.