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Happy Christmas!

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Your move!

We were woken abruptly at 6:00am by the lights being switched on and the guard yabbering in Chinese wanting to give us our tickets back. They had swapped these when we boarded for plastic cards with our seat numbers on. In this way they know who to wake up for each stop. Stef and I had both slept surprisingly well although it was pretty hot in our little cabin when we woke. There was not much space for four people, all waking up after a long trip to move about in, and by the time I had managed to get my boots on we were at Kunming station.

The station was large and deserted. A flight of steps took us down to where the taxis were and with a bit of haggling we chopped the fare down from Y30 to Y20, probably still more than double the cost it would have been if we could have got them to go on the meter, not something they seem keen to do here from bus and train stations.

We had agreed with Ellie and Eric that we would try and get a good discount at one of the better hotels in town so that we had a comfy space to stay for Christmas. The Kunming Hotel obliged with a rate of Y460 compared to their advertised Y780, not bad but it still brings it in as our most expensive since Hong Kong. It was worth it though. We have a large room with a king size bed, a balcony overlooking the main street below and English language TV. Not just CCTV9, China’s English speaking news channel that brings you global news with a Chinese perspective, but also an HBO movie channel. A long hot shower rejuvenated both of us as did a bit of a snooze while we watched Biloxi Blues.

Later in the morning we headed out into Kunming. It seems quieter than other cities we have been to and pretty well organised. We arrived in the dark so did not really get much of a fell for what was around us. We should have guessed really as it is just another city full of big tower blocks and shopping malls. It seems to be clean with no litter out and about and the traffic also seems to follow rules of the road.

It was raining when we arrived and although it had stopped by the time we went out the pavements were still slippery. We are not sure if that is down to what they are made of or whether it is the accumulation of months worth of spit that goes all slimy again in the rain. The water has left a thin muddy film on the surface, showing that although the city seems clean it is still carpeted in a layer of dust.

We did a quick stop off at the Post Office and then headed to China Telecom to buy phone cards to call home later in the day. The number 5 bus took us down to the centre of town, near to the Yunnan Provincial Museum, our planned sight seeing for the day. The bus turned off the main three lanes each way road and worked its way along a smaller street just one block back. Here to our left whole blocks have been demolished and the ground is being cleared to make way for new buildings, no doubt more high rise towers. To our right the old traditional Chinese buildings still remain with their tiled pagoda style roofs. They look very precarious and run down and I am sure that it will not be long before the bull dozers work their way to here as well. It is sad to see the old quarters disappearing but if this section is representative of the whole it is probably a good thing.

Stef popped into a noodle bar for a quick bite of breakfast. The lady behind the counter took a cheese grater type implement to a big white block and the end result was freshly grated noodles. Various different chilli based sauces were added on top, along with a sausage, all for the grand sum of Y3, about 25p.

The museum was interesting but disappointing at the same time. It was based in a big old building that looked and smelled like it had seen better days and there were signs of rising damp in the walls. A large grand staircase at the back of the building led to the upper floors where the exhibits were on show. The first section was a display of Buddhist art which was mainly just showcase after showcase with statues of Buddha and other deities. For us it was displayed in a very boring style. I am not sure if reading the Chinese panels would have made it more interesting but it was a shame it was so dull.

Another room housed a collection of bronze drums, some of which have been dated back to 250BC. The basic design of the drums has not changed much between then and the modern day which I found surprising. Most were ornately decorated and engraved but the dim lighting in the museum made this hard to see.

The final collection charted the development of pottery over the ages and this was the only part of the museum which we both found interesting. It showed the different techniques and styles used to add colour to pottery either by under glazing or overgrazing. Initially pieces were just glazed in one colour but as techniques improved multi-colour patterns and styles were used. Styles and designs also changed with time and the different dynasties as did the marks on the bottom of the pots that enable you to track back and identify who produced them.

We walked down into the centre of town, through the main shopping hub and out into another square. Large highly decorated gates were dotted around and it seemed odd to see the silhouettes of minarets from the local mosques against this background. Kunming has a long Muslim tradition. A little away from the centre was a small park with a pagoda dating back to the Tang dynasty (AD618 – 907) and a couple of hundred metres to the east was a further pagoda. The pagoda itself was pretty tall but looked unloved and slightly lost. The square around it seemed designed to be a meeting place for people to chat, gossip and play games but there was little going on.

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Traditional bowl of sloppy crunchy stuff

The road between the pagodas has been renovated and closed to traffic. On either side grey stone buildings line the road. A couple of cafés have opened up on the ground floor but most seem like shops that are still empty. Dotted around are metal statues of traditional Chinese characters, at play or at work. Part of the reason why I knew we were headed in the right direction when we were looking for the pagodas was that I had spied he inevitable tour groups of Chinese holiday makers. They were here en masse too all swapping cameras so that they could all have the same photo taken.

From here we worked our way back to the hotel to relax for a while before going out tonight. We had arranged to meet Ellie and Eric so that we celebrated Christmas together but before hand tried to call home. We thought we had done well to buy calling cards so easily this morning. I tried to call using the hotel phone but to no avail. At reception I could not get across what the problem was so they were no help either. As I headed back up to the room I bumped into Ellie and Eric and should have known then that we had bought a duffie as we had got much higher value cards for our renminbi.

In frustration we headed back to China Telecom to use their phones and then all became clear. We had not expected that there would be any restrictions on where or how we could use our cards. The ones we had could not be used in hotel or public phones. We can only use them at certain phones within a China Telecom office. Not great. Stef managed to get through to his Mum but my call to Scarborough resulted in a message on the answer phone and the worst bout of homesickness I have had so far. Silly me!!

Back at the hotel we met up with Ellie and Eric, and headed into town for Christmas dinner. Ellie has been dreaming of finding somewhere offering the full traditional turkey dinner but it was not to be. We headed to a place they had gone to for lunch, another one with settees at low tables and swinging garden chairs for young lovers. Although our food was not the best we have had so far, we had a great evening and a couple of bottles of Jacobs Creek wine (which cost far more than our food!). Ellie purloined some Santa hats from the staff and they also brought out to us some Santa stuffed toys to decorate our table. All in all we had a fun evening, rounded off by trying the local Chinese wine in our mini bar which was a bit like sweet sherry and nowhere near as tasty as the Jacobs Creek.