Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Kunming, China

 On our first day in Kunming, we were having dinner alone, so we had to have our first attempt at ordering food.  In fact the place that had been recommended to us, close to the hotel, seemed relatively simple as you were taken to the kitchen and had to point at what you wanted.  Of course it's never quite that easy, because when I pointed to a nice straightforward looking combination of meat and vegetables, I was told I couldn't have that. After much pointing at our cribsheet of food types, gesticulations and shakings of the head, we finally seemed to have agreed on an order.  We waited with some trepidation to see what would arrive, but in fact it turned out to be quite nice. A minor success.

For our free day in Kunming, we decided to eschew the museum's and temple, and instead talk a walk into the city and check out a few of the other sights. We only set off late in the morning, so decided to stop for lunch quite early on. We picked somewhere with a cheat's English translation of the menu and pictures of the food - not something we usually do, but when you are as difficult with food as I am, and you can't even hazard a guess at what the characters mean we feel more relaxed about it. So we happily chose a couple of dishes, only to be met with a torrent of Chinese that we had no hope of understanding.  I think the lady was concerned that we were ordering one small dish and one larger dish, but she let us get on with it and we were quite happy.

We were less content with our attempt to order a couple of beers; the woman serving us understood my request for two beers (er pijiu) OK, but then she brought over a menu from which I assumed I was supposed to choose from the five beers listed in Chinese characters. I randomly picked a couple, and she then let loose with a further torrent of Chinese, which I assume was an explanation of what those two beers were.  None the wiser, and by now needing a beer more than ever, I confirmed the selection.  We ended up with a German wheat beer, which was fine but not what we were aiming for, and a Heineken, which was something of a disappointment!

Suitably refreshed, we continued to Government Square, only to find it boarded up for building works.  Then we stopped in at the tea place that we had seen recommended.  This was where we made our first of what will probably be many faux pas. We thought we could buy a cup of tea here.  So we went in and indicated as best we could that this was what we wanted.  We were ushered to a table and asked to choose a tea, so we figured we were doing OK.

The process was, as expected, long and involved.  She opened a sachet of furled tea leaves and poured the contents into a bowl which was then given to us to inspect.  In the meantime, she warmed up a handleless glass cup that had saucer and a lid. Then some of these tiny little balls of rolled up tea leaves were placed into that cup and hot water poured onto them. After a few moments, she used the lid to strain the contents into a sieve on top of a small jug.  Then the tea was poured into the tiny drinking cups.  But that presumably just to warm everything up, as it was all discarded. A second brew and pouring was done, and then finally we got our Oolong tea.  It was nice enough.

We had a few cups and then indicated we were done and went to pay. It was now that we discovered our mistake. This wasn't actually a place where you were supposed to drink tea, just to try before you buy.  We didn't want to buy, especially as we simply can't carry extra stuff around with us. We did still try to pay for our drink but were not allowed to. Oops.  They were incredibly polite to us, but I suspect they muttered something about stupid foreigners under their breath after we left.

The rest of our sightseeing was much simpler.  A wander through the shopping area - no sign of communism here - and around the flower market was interesting. And surprisingly we were not once called upon to buy something.  It seems that western tourists are relatively few here, whereas there are plenty of the newly wealthy Chinese middle class visiting, and they are much easier pickings for making a sale.

We also took a look one of the two 9th century pagodas. Pagodas were apparently built to ward off dragons and the destructive storms that they would send to the city, so the 13 storey tower has roosters, the enemy of the dragon, on top of all four corners. Today the pagodas are in a poor state of repair, but they still look impressive, and this one is a meeting place for locals who come to play mahjong or cards, or in one case, simply to sew a pair of slippers.

Tonight was a group meal, so we had the benefit of our Chinese guide to help us order.  Much simpler.

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