China: Yunnan: #1 Back to Kunming
In between the two treks written up already in the posts on Mongolia and The Great Wall of China Walk, I had a week off, just enough time to jump on a plane and head from Beijing to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province in the SW corner of China. One of my college-day mates, Ross, has been in China for a number of years teaching English, so I didn’t need a better reason to make the detour.
As I waited for my plane, I couldn’t help but notice that Beijing’s domestic terminal is very open and spacious compared with Sydney’s cramped ‘reach-up-and-touch-the-ceiling’ terminal. Sydney’s main gateway to Australia is nothing more than a debacle.
Beijing was beginning to get rather smoggy again. Just before I’d arrived in China ten days earlier, the Government had closed industry down to clear the air for the events that celebrated the 70 years since the Chinese defeated the Japanese. But now the smog was settling once more. It was a good time to be getting out of Beijing.
The three and a half hour flight was totally uneventful – just the way I like it!
As we flew closer to Kunming, I noticed that the outskirts are covered with tunnel houses used mostly for growing cut flowers. These tunnels reminded me of my visit to Kunming during the 1999 World Horticultural Exposition... an impressive show.
The most memorable part of that Expo for me, was seeing the many display gardens and buildings that represented each of the ethnic groups of China. The vast majority of these groups live in Yunnan Province and, on that tour in 1999, we travelled through many of those ethnic areas as we moved northwards through the province.
As the plane came into land in Kunming, I was wondering what experiences I would enjoy this time round. I knew that something special had been planned for me.
Ross (right) and his house mate Kenzo were waiting for me as I emerged into the arrivals hall. It’s always good to be met by friends when away from home.
We caught an airport express bus into the centre of the city and then a taxi to their apartment. The view from their abode on the 15th floor of an apartment block is quite open compared with many. At least they have a long view and see a green swathe of trees and not just the back of more apartments. As with many Chinese cities, this is a city that’s had a huge building boom, mostly of apartments, many unoccupied. Ross told me that there are reports of 73 million unoccupied apartments in China.
Kunming is the capital of the SW Chinese province of Yunnan and is now a very big city… back in the 2011 census, the population was 6,486,400 and it’s much larger now. From the map it’s fairly obvious that Yunnan is bordered by Burma, Laos, Tibet and Vietnam as well as other Chinese Provinces. That makes Kunming the centre of political, economic, communications, culture and transport for the whole of SW China. It has road links to Burma and Laos and a rail link to Vietnam.
The city’s history goes back 2,400 years although it hasn’t always been called Kunming. It began as an important crossroads for the caravan routes on the Southern Silk Road that linked South-east Asia to Tibet and India.
The name Kunming was given to the city during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) although at that time it wasn’t under Chinese rule. That came 200 years later, in the 14th Century, when the Ming Dynasty rulers (1368-1644) defeated the Mongols.
Kunming became much more important many centuries later when the rail link to Haiphong in North Vietnam (then still part of French Indochina) was built in 1910. That rail link has had a chequered career! It was cut during World War 1, restored in 1957, cut again in 1979, and reopened in 1996.
In the 1930’s, roads were built linking Kunming with Chongqing in Sichuan and Guiyang in Guizhou. This road opened the way for a large influx of population. In 1937, when the Second Sino-Japanese war broke out, many rich east coast Chinese flooded into south-west China. They brought dismantled factories with them and re-erected them in Kunming because it was out of the range of the Japanese bombers. A number of universities were also moved to Kunming. As a result Kunming became an important industrial and manufacturing centre and a centre for education.
During the Second World War, Kunming acted as an Allied command centre, which grouped the Chinese, American, British and French forces together.
After the Second World War, Kunming had another period of rapid development with the construction of large iron and steel and chemical complexes. It also became an important supply depot during the Vietnam War.
Until 1952, Kunming was a walled city. In that year the city government ordered hundreds of young people to tear down the old wall and use the bricks to build a new North-South road.
Right up until Mao Zedong’s death in September 1976, Kunming, a somewhat remote city, was used as a place to exile political prisoners.
During the 1980’s and 1990’s the Swiss helped rebuild the city centre into its current ‘modern’ style. In 1999, Kunming was ‘put on the map’, by the staging of the World Horticultural Exposition that I mentioned earlier.
Next morning, Ross left at 09.00 to tutor ‘one-on-one’ a 15 year old Chinese student who is being sent to New Zealand by his wealthy parents (they own a Rolls Royce!).
That left Kenzo and me to go exploring. We decided to catch the bus into the CBD, the stop being just a 10 minute walk from the apartment.
On our way to the bus stop, we had to cross the road, helped by the guy in the hi-vis vest on the left in the photo. When the lights changed, he swung that blue banner out into the middle of the road stopping the traffic… and we walked safely across.
There was much to see from the bus as we took the forty minute ride to the CBD. At one point a special cleaning machine came towards us cleaning the barrier in the centre of the road…. quite ingenious.
Among the many modern buildings in ‘downtown‘ Kunming is this modern ‘Pagoda style’ structure. A new take on traditional architecture.
I was impressed with the horticultural treatment of the median strips in the city.
Citizens are encouraged to keep their city clean and tidy… they do, and it is.
I wasn’t so impressed with their cabling – although, actually, this IS impressive!
We were heading on the bus to the main Kunming Railway Station to buy tickets in readiness for a proposed trip to Jianshui next day. At the ticket office, I had to show my passport and Kenzo had to produce his ID Card before the tickets could be issued. When that little exercise was over, we caught a bus part way back to the apartment… but only part way. Some more walking was in order.
On the way, we walked by this old Military Academy.
We resisted the temptation to enter this ornate gate… an entrance to a park. It’s not often that I bypass a park but we were to meet Ross for lunch, so walked on.
It was very interesting walking through streets like this in the older part of the city. But we couldn’t linger long. It was time for our lunch appointment with Ross. And after that, we would explore the grounds of Kunming University… more of that anon.
All photographs copyright © DY of jtdytravels
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