Sunday, June 6, 2010

old city, new digs

Yesterday I was kicked out of my hotel to make room for the hordes of high school students who have come to take the gaokao, the Chinese college entrance exam. I've moved to a perfectly serviceable hotel close to the largest Buddhist temple in Kunming (see some photos of the temple here). Unfortunately it's a bit of a hike from this hotel to the provincial library, so I will probably move back to my original hotel in a few days once the gaokao madness has ended. In the meantime, though, I'm enjoying exploring a different neighborhood, one that is much less expat- and undergrad-dominated than the one I was staying in before.

For instance, here are some squatters' houses on the roof of the building next to my hotel. Someone explain to me how that works.

One of the things that I like about Kunming is the way that old, kind of falling-down neighborhoods coexist with modern, new(ish) skyscrapers. I took a walk after dinner and stumbled upon a little village in the middle of the city:

(Notice how insanely red the dirt is! One of Yunnan's trademarks). It's kind of hard to see, but this little neighborhood is surrounded on all sides by big hotels and apartment buildings. When I first wandered in, I heard this sort of alarmed, wordless yelling behind me--the kind of sound that often indicates alarm at the arrival at a foreigner and total incomprehension that addressing the foreigner with words might be more effective than just shrieking. I turned around and, indeed, was rapidly approached by the shrieker, who was either an overly concerned retiree or a neighborhood minder (or probably both). I asked her if I could go in and take some pictures, and she was suddenly very friendly and all smiles--its amazing how many people totally change their affect if you speak only a few words of Chinese to them.

We then had one of the Conversations About Extremely Obvious Facts to which I have grown accustomed in China:

"You are a foreigner!"
"You speak Chinese!"

Etc. It gets a little old. But she was very friendly, and continued the conversation when I left a few minutes later ("You are leaving!").

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