Kunming to Shanghai by bus and train – 2001
In 2001 I accompanied my friend and his girlfriend to China. We flew to Hong Kong, then crossed to mainland China and flew to Kunming. The flight to Kunming was a bit scary. The aircraft was almost empty and we flew through a lightning storm. When I searched the seat pocket in front of me for information about the aircraft and its escape plan etc. I found a prayer roll instead. I do not recall many details from the 6 weeks we spent in China traveling from Kunming to Shanghai. I recall the food being delicious everywhere. I especially liked the mushrooms (oyster and shitake) or eggplant that were cooked up with fresh green onions and chilies in front of you by street vendors. I recall squid on sticks and of course all sorts of Chinese food and Mongolian hotpots we enjoyed in sit-down restaurants.
Travelling by train or bus was an adventure in itself. The first time we travelled by train we got 2nd or 3rd class and regretted it once we were standing in the train like sardines in a can. The floor was covered in old banana peels and all sorts of other trash and people looked at us as though we were from outer space. At one point people were all trying to enter the train at the same time, causing some birdcages one man was carrying to collapse. After maybe 30 minutes in the crowded train, someone moved us to the 1st class which was more like a train we were used to where each passenger had their allotted space. We also travelled in trains with sleeping compartments which were very comfortable. There was always hot green tea and the only thing that was unpleasant was having to wake up in the morning to all the other passengers making terrible noises spitting in the bathroom (which was unfortunately right next to our compartment). Buses were also interesting. They ranged from the super modern bus with individual video screens that would barrel down a huge highway at 120 kilometers per hour to very slow and bumpy rides along mountain passes without rails where at times when we were getting out of the way of other traffic it seemed as though we were going to fall off and crash down the mountainside. We only took a sleeping bus once as it was filthy and stuffy and flea-ridden.
People in China were extremely friendly and the ones who knew some English were eager to talk to us. Naïve as I was, I had imagined China would have pristine nature as shown in the movies I has seen, I was frustrated to find out that there was hardly any wildlife, plastic trash was ubiquitous (even in national parks) and some rivers were purple, pink, poison green and all sorts of unnatural colors. The only sizeable fish were being farmed in questionable ponds and some wild fish (the size of goldfish) were caught with a device that attracted the fish and stunned it using an electrical current. This was definitely not a country where anyone cares about sustainability (or can afford to).
I left China with mixed feelings. I had never seen so many different bodily fluids walking down a street anywhere in the world. I saw dead bloated pigs float down the riverfront in Shanghai and so much plastic trash floating, sticking to bushes etc. Some of the images that still haunt me today were those of exotic and probably protected animals being sold in cages for consumption on the street in front of national parks, where they’d even cook them up for you. At first I thought it was a pet store. All sorts of wooden cages or bags with toads, turtles, lizards, snakes, small mammals with sad eyes etc. This was worse than seeing the already processed parts of magnificent animals in back alley shops in Hong Kong and Shanghai where jars filled with dried flying lizards (maybe from Sumatra – I got yelled at for taking a picture of them), manta ray gills, shark fins etc. (and those were only the ones displayed openly). I also felt bad for the German shepherd I saw from the bus that was being slaughtered (at least it looked like all of it was going to be used one way or another and it did not look as if it had suffered, but who knows). I cannot understand to this day how people can treat animals so badly. I used to hunt and I know where meat comes from, but I do not see why the animal should ever suffer.
There are nice memories too like the old men playing on traditional instruments in the park, the beautiful bike trip to moon mountain in Guilin and many more.
All pictures were taken with my compact Nikon Coolpix 995 (3 Mpx).