As a provincial capital, Kunming is a sizable city by any countries standards – in fact with a population of close to 6 million, of which 3 million are within the city proper, Kunming has a larger population than New Zealand and has about the same number of inhabitants as Laos. It is little wonder that we felt a little overwhelmed and lost in the first few hours of wandering around.
We arrived on the eave of May Day celebrations so we don’t know if it was quieter than a normal business day but we did find the city to be reasonably orderly. The first real difference between South East Asia and China is the absence of motorcycles….well, the absence of petrol powered motorcycles. In China it is all about electricity – just plug into your nearest coal fired power station and re-charge for another couple of days cruising around the city – silently. Sounds too good be true – well it is! There is nothing wrong with silent modes of transport – as long as they follow road rules and stay where they belong. But boy it gets scary when they start coming at you from behind like silent assassins patrolling the footpaths!
The city has some nice parks and very impressive street malls. Most noticeable in this communist country is the number of High Street, Western designer stores with European luxury cars parked in the streets. It is difficult to fathom how so much wealth can be accumulated by individuals as part of Communist state. Maybe they can easily save money due to the incredibly cheap meals or perhaps it is simple economics -even a tiny percentage of wealthy people in a country of 1.4 billion people equals lots of German cars and Italian handbags.
Of course we will also remember Kunming as the place that we had our laptop stolen. Annoying, frustrating, maddening and disaapointing – and that is just from dealing with the police! Unfortunately we were polite in announcing our loss and thus we were careful not to point to closely at the Hotel staff where we were staying. That was then used by the Hotel security staff, management and the police as a reason to move the blame elsewhere. In fact we were advised on 3 occasions to simply say that another Hotel had lost our computer – again, that was the police advice, not the Hotel staff. Ultimately, I did get a ride in an electric police car that looked like a cross between a golf cart, a Hollywood take on a police car in a futuristic, Utopian society and the Wiggles big Red Car. It was very quiet, even with lights flashing!