Kunming: A Million Miles from Mao

Wednesday, 13 April 2005

Guardian figures at Qiongzhu SiIt’s the main city in the colourful Yunnan region, way off in the southwest of China – I’m not sure what I was expecting from Kunming, but it’s what the city is not that really strikes me. This is not a developing-world city. Kunming is far, far closer to Boston, Sydney or Frankfurt than it is to third-world cities.

Orderly traffic, modern cars, well-dressed people, clean streets, modern shops, outdoor coffee bars: everything about the central city strikes you as developed world, not developing.

Yet another fashion shop in central KunmingApart from wandering around, gawking at the phenomenal number of fashion shops (are there enough women in Kunming to buy all those high-heel shoes?), I hit a couple of museums and a couple of temples. In the city centre, the Yuantong Si temple has a central pond packed with turtles.

Qiongzhu Si, just outside the city, has an amazing collection of life-size figures created between 1883 and 1890. There are about 500 of them, including an amazing selection of surfing Buddhas and arhats riding the waves down the walls of the temple balanced on everything from dragons to turtles, crabs to fish, unicorns to horses.

Temple Chinglish signFootsore, I finally arrive back at my hotel and head out to try ‘across the bridge noodles,’ a local speciality created by a woman who had to carry dinner across a bridge to her scholar husband, marooned on an island, every night. And keep it hot. And it was good!

Then I have a glass of wine and a bottle of Tsing Tao in a bar, which seems to sum up the new China: people out partying, making calls on their mobiles, a million miles away from Mao.