I got the message across to my new housemate the other day (who has turned out to be a nice woman who teaches at a local school, and who’s English is worse than my Chinese) that I would like to do some shopping and would like to know where I could go. “Wo dai ni,Â hao ma?” she smiled broadly as she immediately started putting on her coat, not waiting for an answer to her offer to take me to the shopping market. Next thing I know I am wandering through one of the biggest -Â and busiest – Walmart stores that I have ever seen. Only a few days before the Spring Festival here in Kunming, the city has that frantic energy in the air as people make last minute preparations, and everyone seemed to be crowded into the place to buy an extra kiloÂ of noodles or frozen fish or some toilet paper or fancy liquor imported from Scotland, or a new wide screen television for that matter…
About an hour later I was wondering through the just as intense but entirely different chaos of the special New Year market that is help by Green Lake Park every year at this time.
The market is kind of a cultural centerpiece, with lots of regional specialties, and tons of the traditional candies, pickled fruits, teas, alcohol, more meat than can shake a stick at.
I’m sure that the romantic “newness” that comes with being in a place for the first time is a factor, but I truly feel that Kunming is one of the most fascinating places that I have been in throughout my prolific (well, prolific from what I knew back in Ottertail) journeys through south east asia. I’m certainly not complaining about the cuisine, which is a mix of many influences from around china and also flavors that have migrated up from Thailand, Vietnam, Laos.
Noodle dishes are one of the staples here – I still have finished counting the different kinds, but there are rice and wheat and eggÂ noodles, long and short and fat and thin. And, being an International center (despite the fact that it is virtually unheard of in the United States, from my experience – just another Chinese city with over 3 million people, right?), there is a very strong international influence. I had an awesome Korean kimchee stew for dinner last night.
The local love of pork provides a stark contrast to the world I have known the past 8 months in Indonesia and Malaysia, both mostly Muslim countries where babi, pork, is rarely if ever encountered.