Friday, March 31, 2006

Hong Kong and Kunming

Our children had this week off from school, so we searched for deals and found a great airline fare to Kunming, China from China Eastern Airlines. Furthermore, for a paltry ten dollars more, they offered a Dhaka-Hong Kong-Kunming-Dhaka ticket, with a layover in Kunming. For me, this was the proverbial offer you cannot refuse...

This was the first time I had been to Hong Kong. My impression was one of polite efficiency. When our taxi arrived at the hotel, the lobby was empty except for a concierge reading the paper and the reception clerk. But as soon as the concierge saw me, he leaped into action. I told him that I had no HK dollars to pay for the taxi; he ran to the clerk, got the change, ran out to unload our luggage from the taxi and settled with the driver - all in about 30 breathless seconds!

Money permeates everything in Hong Kong. There are huge malls and expensive cars all over; everyone is an expert salesman. But there are pleasant interludes, like the HK Zoological and Botanical Gardens, and the Star Ferry to mainland from Hong Kong Island.

On the way back we stopped in Kunming. What a pleasant surprise. Kunming, with 4 million people, is capital of China's Yunnan province. It a clean, open city, with wide avenues, parks, a pedestrian-only downtown where one can while away the entire day, and very. very pleasant weather. Developing (and Westernizing) at a breakneck speed.

The famous food of Kunming is "over-the-bridge" noodles. The story behind this dish is this: once there was a scholar and his wife. The scholar studied some ways from home. When his wife brought him lunch every day, she had to cross a bridge over a stream; along the way lunch got cold. So one day she decided to take a pot of hot broth with a layer of oil on top, and all the noodle ingredients separately. When she reached her destination, she found that that oil had kept the broth hot, and dropping the noodle ingredients into the broth made for a delicious and hot lunch for her husband.

Same principle as Japanese Shabu Shabu or Swiss Fondue - cook the ingredients in the hot broth of the soup.

We tried it. Although the story is interesting, the noodles were not too good. Oh well.

Language was a HUGE problem in Kunming. Even proper nouns had to be translated to Chinese. Luckily people were very friendly and often went out of their way to be helpful. Often the hotel clerk wrote out our destination in Chinese on a card. Then we gave this card to the taxi driver. Curiously, on several instances, when we approached Chinese couples for directions, the male sort of pushed the female forward to deal with us and then acted busy with other stuff (presumably so as not to deal with the aggravation?)

We saw very few children on the streets/shops/restaurants at Kunming. Basketball appeared to be popular both in HK and Kunming, judging from the numbers of courts and kids playing. Thanks Yao Ming!

By far, the highlight of our trip was the Stone Forest, a vast field of limestone formations about 86km east of Kunming. This place reminded me partly of Zion National Park, partly of Bryce, but it was also unique in its own way. One difference from the US: Chinese have happily written large signs in many places in the Stone Forest. Apparently they have different views over the "sanctity" of national parks. There were many local Chinese visitors, and a carnival-like atmosphere permeated the more popular spots in the "Forest". Nonetheless, it is a good place to spend a day or two exploring and climbing.

Hong Kong Skyline by night:

In Hong Kong, consumerism rules over mere mortals:

Jackie Chan sells California to Hong Kong:

This day reminded me of the recent King Kong movie:

Dazzling orchids at the Hong Kong Botanical Gardens:

Kunming's pedestrian-only center:

Stone Forest entrance:

View inside Stone Forest:

More Stone Forest:

"Sani" Tribeswoman in Stone Forest:

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