Sichuan: Hot food, exciting street life and a stone forest in Kunming. New Year’s celebrations and pop music in Chengdu. And a drastic change of plans.
This article is part of a diary based travelogue from a six month journey in 1985 to several countries in East and South East Asia: Japan, Taiwan, China, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
Saturday 16.2.1985, Train to Kunming
I lay in bed reading my guidebook all day. Time is not moving as slow on the trains here as I had expected.
I bought food tickets and had a good breakfast and dinner from the trolley cart. Several locals were eager to get in contact with me; it is too bad we do not understand each other.
Sunday 17.2.1985, Kunming
We arrived in Kunming in the early morning, around 33 hours after Guilin. I left with three others to
- KUNMING HOTEL, a really “classy” place with old pre-communist style. We had a 4-bed room with around 12 deep armchairs. Top, as was the shower.
Today all my travel plans were broken. Tibet proved to be legal prey now, something I did not know. The province was opened in September last year. Therefore I wanted to go there, of course. I have always dreamed about that. My journey to the almost equally untouched (by tourists) and recently opened and minority Chinese inhabited Dali was therefore cut. And my stay in Kunming was amputated. I went to Public Security Bureau (PSB), applied for and received a visa to Tibet.
Later I walked around in town, really interesting, along with Pat (Eire) and Colleen (Canada). Later in the evening I and Colleen tried “across-the-bridge-noodles” – the local speciality. We rounded the day off with very good Tsingtao beers in the hotel bar. There I also noticed a business card from Flekkefjord (Norway).
Monday 18.2.1985, Kunming
Pat and I took an early bus to Shilin Stone Forest and walked around in the labyrinths there for some hours. The “forest” consists of oblong or shapeless and large limestone cliffs put on the head, standing tight as trees in a forest. Very impressive and well worth seeing. (The return trip from Kunming Hotel cost 10Y.)
Colleen and I tried something very hot and spicy on a Sichuan restaurant; this region is famous for such courses. Never again I said to myself, but tomorrow we are leaving for Chengdu in the heart of Sichuan… The cooking procedure was in itself exciting. We were equipped with a small coal furnace and were told to boil the raw ingredients we were served in the simmering, hot sauce.
On our way back to the hotel we bought some cheap fireworks and had a great time. The day after tomorrow is the Chinese New Year – we’re entering the year of the Ox – and people have been preparing for days with all kinds of things. It was also interesting and funny to watch the dance arranged by the hotel for the Chinese. The music was ten years old Western pop songs and only slow tunes.
Tuesday 19.2.1985, Kunming – Chengdu
We had heard that there would be a special festival in Lhasa, Tibet around the New Year so we wanted to get off as soon as possible. We therefore boarded a plane to Chengdu in the morning. At the CAAC (China Airlines) we discovered that tickets for Lhasa were impossible to get before Saturday. Very disappointing!
I then tried to find the Public Security Bureau (PSB) to get travel permits to Emei and Leshan. I found the bureau in the end but it was closed.
I tried Sichuan food again! It was fortunately not that hot this time.
Wednesday 20.2.1985, Chengdu
We found the PSB and had a couple of travel permits. We then went to CAAC and booked the flight ticket to Lhasa. 322Y is a lot!
New Year’s Eve: We bought a good deal of fireworks, and walked into some side streets with old pleasant houses. There a group of local people were blasting crackers, but when we joined them the fun really started – for us all.
While we were firing up all the money (although cheap for us) there was even some Chinese who took pictures of us!
When we returned to the hotel the three of us (Pat, Colleen and me) were invited to the room by some Chinese. There we had a really good time well into the night. They had a guitar and sang Chinese (pop) songs for us, and we Western for them.
It was all too obvious that they knew very little of Western music when Colleen played and song “Blowin’ in the Wind” and one of the Chinese shouted “disco”, jumped up and started to twist out of step with the music.
Furthermore it seems as if Boney M is top of the pops here, with songs 7-8 years old or so (“Rivers of Babylon” etc.).
Thursday 21.2.1985, Chengdu
Today we had planned to go to Leshan, a small Chinese town (or large by our standards) which is supposed to be nice. We wanted to get out of Chengdu, as it hasn’t much to brag about.
Well, Pat got away. We on the other hand must have pronounced the name of the city wrongly when we came to the station to buy bus tickets, because we were sent to another bus station. The first one was the correct one.
We spent the rest of the day relaxing. We ate in the hotel restaurant; bad and slow service and small portions. We rounded the evening off with a bottle of Peking Dry red wine; it was not very good.
Friday 22.2.1985, Chengdu
We took buses up to the Divine Light Monastery, further on to the Zoo and saw pandas. Chinese zoos are not particularly animal friendly: Small cages and bystanders feeding the animals with all kinds of rubbish.
In a restaurant the same afternoon we bumped into a British girl. She had the bed next to mine in Guilin and was even a friend of Colleen’s: The world (China) is truly small. On the other hand there are a few travellers around.
Tomorrow we’ll fly to Lhasa, Tibet.
The introduction to this journey to East and South East Asia.
Previous chapter: Southern China: From Hong Kong to Guangzhou and Guilin.