Saturday, October 18, 2008

Traveling South to Yunnan Province (October 8, 2008)

Everyone is on the road during the week of vacation that surrounds China’s National Holiday, celebrated on October 1. As everyone in China has a weeks vacation, the holiday has earned the title “Golden Week.” I was no exception. I took to the airways to travel south to Yunnan Province to the garden city of Kunming. The city is actually what I imagined that Kunming would be. Smaller in scale; a bit more attention to design in architecture; color in buildings; being at higher altitude helped, too.

Kunming is located just over 6000 feet above sea level; the weather was a bit cooler and the air a bit fresher. But the real delight is that the altitude allows the smog to blow away each day and the earth’s blue sky to shine for most of the day. It was also nice to see a hill or two – I hadn’t realized just how flat Chengdu is until I got to Kunming. It is smaller in scale and population than Chengdu; it also has a reputation for having a year round spring time climate, like Northern California, I suppose. As a result there is an abundance of flowers that grow there, including orchids and a very large botanical garden. I imagine it is lovely in the springtime.

Yunnan Province is home to many of the nation’s minority groups – one third of its 42 million people belong to one of 25 registered minorities, among them the Hui, Yi, Miao, Tibetan, Mongols, Bai, Wa and Naxi peoples. The northern Han Chinese, the majority population, is the 26th group in China. To keep knowledge of the traditions and material culture of the minority groups alive in the minds of the Chinese people, the Yunnan Nationalities Museum has recently re-opened at an outdoor site10 kilometers south of Kunming city. The Museum, itself, is an outdoor walk-around park, something like out theme parks. Walking from site to site is pleasant, as the walkways are landscaped with a variety of the more than 400 types of flowers commonly grown in the area. At each site visitors walk are greeted by members of the community dressed in their traditional costume. Minority representatives at several communities played traditional songs or treated the visitors to a ceremonial dance. For me, the tour of the Yunnan Nationalities Museum provided an introduction to the range of traditions and to the fervor with which these traditional people adhere to them. Further evidence of the respect accorded these recognized ethnic minorities, all non-Han groups in China are allowed to have two children in urban areas, and three or four in rural areas.

While elaborate costumes are not commonly seen on the streets today, in Kunming and in surrounding communities it is not unusual to see brightly colored embroidered baby carriers used to tie babies a Mom’s back.

With a graduate student friend from Sichuan University who lives in Kunming, I also visited Xī Shān, also called the “Sleeping Beauty Hills” of Kunming. There is a beautiful winding road up the mountain. Because it was holiday week, everybody, including the huge tour busses wanted to go up the hill. We walked a mile or so, caught the views, and then turned back. But I must say it was an eye-popping experience to watch the tour buses try to pass each other on a lane and a half road!

At the Kunming airport on my return journey, it seemed everyone was buying boxes of fresh fruits or bunches of flowers to carry back to Chengdu and other places with them. I joined in and bought 10 apricot roses – it must be a Chinese dozen – for 10 yuan (6.86 yuan=$1US). In my apartment, they reminded me of the “Golden Week,” and my trip to Kunming for several more days. It was good to be home – even if it was already home away from home!

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