The World Trek Is Bringing It Home...Kunming, China Kicks Off The Grand Finale!
June 28, 2000
Can you believe that we are in the final stage of the trek? It's China! This huge country, boasting a population of over 1.3 billion people (the largest country in the world) was once known as the sleeping giant. But the Chinese have long since awakened and the giant sleeps no more. China has opened her big red doors to the Odyssey World Trek and to you!
We landed in Kunming, the capital city of the beautiful Yunan province in the southeast of China. Although it was drizzling rain outside, none of us stayed indoors because the warm, fresh air made it feel like spring outside and the streets were packed with people enjoying the day. After getting off our plane, the first bright light we saw was that in the smile of our newest teammate, Trekker Yang-Yang. She greeted us with big hugs and then, in fine Trekker fashion, Yang-Yang led us to our humble abode and briefed us on the fair city of Kunming. She had just arrived a few hours before us but had prepared things well and settled us in with ease! Go Yang-Yang!!!
After swapping war-stories of travel conquests, giggling began to fill our small dorm room as Yang-Yang distributed gifts from home, like pictures of family sent by my Mom, and tasty vegan treats for Kavitha and Abeja, our two vegetarians. A couple of hours and a few carob energy nuggets later, Yang-Yang and I decided to take the party down to the streets and explore the fascinating city below.
Of all the provinces in China, Kunming is especially well-known and favored amongst Chinese and visitors alike. The combination of its mild climate all year-round and its diverse terrain ranging from tropical rain forests to icy Tibetan highlands, make the region home to over half of China's plant and animal species. These qualities have earned Kunming nicknames like "Garden of Heavenly Marvelous Flowers." The name Yunan province literally means "South of the Clouds" and its capital city, Kunming, is similarly referred to as "Spring City."
100-year-old eggs (also known as 1000-year-old eggs) are considered a delicacy by many Chinese. The insides act like jello and are a dark blue color. Dipped in a sauce, they are valued for their "ripe" flavor, much like a strong cheese in France.
However, their preparation leaves much to be desired. According to one person here, you take an egg and simply bury it for a month. Dig it up, and it's ready to eat! The Lonely Planet guidebook says they are traditionally made by soaking them in horse's urine!
Not everyone thinks the result is worth the effort, whatever the method:
"I spent around ten weeks in Peking (Beijing, China)... The food at those enourmous meals I found to be quite good on the whole, although I still shudder at the thought of the hundred-year-old eggs which are considered to be such a delicacy. Their smell was overpowering. It lingered too, so that when you had done with eating them you could not tell whether you were still tasting them in your mouth or whether it was simply the smell: they completely overwhelmed your senses."
- His Holiness the Dalai Lama
from "Freedom in Exile"
When you are in the downtown area, however, it is difficult to imagine that nature is anywhere nearby. Skyscrapers rocket into the air and new construction on every major street reveals that there are more to come. Major department stores are replacing small retail shops and many of the entrepreneurs of the city's 35 million residents are suffering, unable to meet the demands of their corporate competition. Still, most inhabitants see the advancements as great progress. Technology makes life more convenient but the battle rages to preserve tradition and culture in the face of modernization.
Walking down one of the city's wide boulevards, I was delighted to find a part of the traditional Kunming culture which still boasted a quaint charm. In a maze of small back streets and alleyways, I found market stalls alive with activity, exotic foods, and spicy smells. Merchants energetic about making a sale were standing at their bamboo stands, calling out their bargain prices. You could purchase anything from toilet paper and perfumes to food and flowers. I found that no one was too busy to take notice of my brown-skinned face in the crowd which brought tons of stares and attention as we made our way through.
boasting - speaking with pride
abode - dwelling place
conquests - victories
vegan - strict vegetarian, one that consumes no animal food or dairy products
The Yunan province is one of the most ethnically diverse regions of China with over fifty percent of the population being non-Han. Twenty-five minorities are formally registered and their ethnic flare adds a colorful feel to the boring grays of new concrete high-rises sprouting up all over the city. This recent and rapid expansion is due to the coming of new railway systems to Kunming. The natural resources of this region, although once exploited by the French and the British, are now exported all over China. Thanks to the expansion that began during World War II, when factories were established, the city is now a large producer of steel, trucks, machine tools, electrical equipment, textiles, chemicals, building materials, and plastics. In addition, Yunan's agricultural contribution amounts to almost one-third of the Gross National Product of China.
As we tasted yummy snacks from the market place vendors and continued to make our way thorough the stall, I met many, smiling faces. I smiled in return and wondered about the unique people that surrounded me. From the man selling buns on a bamboo steamer to the village cobbler who sat on a small stool next to her sewing machine fixing my sandals, China has a lot to show us. Her history is one characterized by struggle yet her people thrive and grow. The Chinese have lived through some of the most gruesome and unimaginable scenes, better than any horror story or bad dream, yet they are racing to catch up to the world. Today they face new struggles like globalization, capitalism, and consumerism. The sleeping giant has awakened to find the world a new place. She is adapting well but at what cost?
p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...email@example.com
Monica's Farewell: Trekking Out of India
Abeja - Confucius Says: Welcome to China
Yang-Yang - The World Trek in China Begins!
Kavitha - Buddhism? Here? Visiting the Yuantong Temple
Team - Dragon's Bones or Really Old Teeth? The Peking Man Site
Team - Making a Difference - Do As I Say, Not As I Do, And No, You Can't Have Any of My Weapons: Getting MAD About Nuclear Proliferation
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