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Stray Images of Kunming, Part One

There's a street sweeping truck that comes out and sprays down the main thoroughfares when it hasn't rained for a while, to keep the dust down. It plays music much like the ice cream trucks back home. The song that it plays is "happy birthday to you." This tune is catchy like a flu. Not something you really want echoing in your head all day.

bikes riding through rain

On rainy days, everyone wears these ponchos that cover the front of the bike as well as the rider. The idea is to cover the basket in front of the handlebars in the rain. The hoods make everybody look like Ku Klux Klan's men. Because of all the colors you'll see amongst the bike riders, I like to refer to them as "The Rainbow Klan."

Honking has become something we don't notice until its right behind us as well. In the states, we signal 100 feet before making a turn. Here, they honk 100 feet before hitting someone. Honking is constant on the streets of Kunming. It is the main communication between those in the autos and those who are not.

Right of way has yet to be determined as far as I can tell. Street lights and signs are guidelines, nothing more. At the major intersections there are guard posts overseeing the traffic. Sometimes that includes a guy in the middle of the street standing at attention and pointing this way and that occasionally.

In fact, traffic in Kunming is the most interesting of all modern phenomena that I've seen here. There's a real flow between the bikes, of which there are thousands at all times, and the cars which are less numerous, but louder, especially the many buses.

Everyone just flows around each other. Just like water. Nobody looks where they're going, there is absolutely no right-of-way. Everyone just goes, and moves through each other without hitting each other very often. Nobody can go very fast since the streets are so congested, but that doesn't mean there aren't accidents. More often than not, its due to someone going the wrong way in the bike lane at night when nobody can see the errant rider. I've seen that a few times.

Chinese values favor flow and harmony. It shows on their streets.

Chinese elderly doing aerobics

Elderly people in parks enjoy aerobics along side Tai Chi and Qi Gong.

Tai Chi and Qi Gong is still practiced in large groups at parks and public places, but amidst all the noise of cheap boom boxes playing tinny sounding classical Chinese music is the sound of a Western beat. Aerobics are taking hold in Chinese parks in the morning.

Its interesting to see how when something as ingrained into the culture as old people doing exercises together in public places can evolve to accept a foreign influence, without really losing its own traditionally Chinese flavor. They did it with Buddhism from India, with communism from Europe, and now, with aerobics (and capitalism!) from the good-ole US of A.

girl wearing mini-skirt on bike

Something that I have yet to really get used to is seeing women in short dresses riding bikes.

Okay, I apologize if this is offensive to anybody. But I've got an observation that I simply have to get off my chest. Sorry. If you're easily offended by honest feelings of the male gender, please type "Alt+Q" now.

There are some drop-dead beautiful women here. They ride bicycles with their skirts hiked up to areas that we, uh... don't needle without a third party in the room. That's all well and fine. I don't have a problem with that. The only thing that I don't get is why the Chinese men don't seem to notice.

I mean, even if they avert their eyes out of courtesy, and I support that, there are many women here who have gone to great lengths to appear as goddesses. And all I see from the men, is that they're staring at ME!

I'm at a complete loss. Perhaps my skirt is too short. ha.

I asked around, it turns out that the culture did not, until very recently, support the voyeurism that is part of Western culture. Okay, that's fine. But what I've noticed, is that the women have embraced this new tool, seduction, but the men haven't. The women know what they're doing, but the men, except for a glance now and then, simply don't notice the women.

Something that I do like about China is their concept of beauty. It turns out that in China, fair skin and deep set hazel eyes are considered quite attractive. Body hair is exotic and exciting. A receding hairline is a sign of intelligence and people have been known to have their noses enlarged to look Western with plastic surgery.

Whereas, in the states, I'm a balding Jewish geek with a huge nose and too much body hair. In China, I'm Mr. Universe.

I don't have to understand everything to enjoy it.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on January 15, 1998 8:41 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Shi Lin, the Stone Forest.

The next post in this blog is Stray Images of Kunming, Part Deux.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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