Kunming – How to Avoid Singing in Chinese

November 2012

This is the second installment of my Chinese adventure which began in Bejing.

With flew to Kunming from Bejing & I was immediately struck by the beauty of the weather. It was explained to us that it was known as ‘Spring City’, due to the year-round spring-time weather. Our hotel in Kunming was also beautiful. We walked into the lobby (surrounded by cameras, as usual), which was made of marble and all gold and decadent. Our rooms were also stunning, with big beds, huge TV and gorgeous en-suite. Our room was cleaned and tidied perfectly every day; it was such a luxury service.

The best thing about the hotel, however, was the people in it. There were hundreds of us the same age from all over the world. I made some amazing friendships with people from Costa Rica, Serbia, Argentina, Portugal, Ireland, Germany, Canada, Figi, Austraila…the list goes on and on and on. Every night we’d all pile into different hotel rooms and stay up all night playing card games from every continent, perhaps trying to sneak a peak at the hotel’s glamorous karaoke bar, learning songs in other languages or even ‘dwarf-tossing’ (the Portuguese apparent expectation of real Irish sport which we quickly turned into a game of tossing people from one bed to the other).

The mornings were usually early starts, beginning by pouring onto our coaches and feigning sleep so as to avoid standing at the front and singing a Chinese song of choice. This seemed to be a regular occurrence, which was a slight problem for me as;

1) I cannot sing a note

2) I don’t speak Chinese!

How not avoid singing in Chinese? Shamelessly pretend to be in a deep, deep sleep – borderline coma.

During my time in China, we visited schools and universities in different places and always received an amazing welcome. We sat in on lessons and I was amazed at how well-behaved the pupils were (though it may have because of visitors!). They all sat up so straight and were really attentive, each child lining all their pencils up neatly on the desk. Whenever a question was asked, they raised their hand straight in the air and stood up when selected to answer, receiving applause from their classmates before sitting down. During lunch time, we went out in the playground which was massive and had loads of sports facilities. Everyone spread between different activities, joining in with basketball, table-tennis, football and even hula-hooping. I joined a few friends and local students in the hula-hooping which was really fun, but the best at it by far was one of the teachers who came along and did three at once, much to the cheers of everyone watching.

Lined up for Tai Chi display

At another high school, we were taken onto a balcony to look down over the hundreds of students who lined up perfectly and all did Thai Chi to music. The effect was astonishing, as there were literally hundreds moving as one. Thai Chi was popular, and we saw it being carried out during lunch breaks from visiting centres and done in large groups in parks, which we had a go at joining in on.

We also visited the Stone Forest, which was incredible. We were told it was bigger than the UK, which I don’t think was entirely correct but it was still huge. The attraction consisted of massive stone collections which were

Stone Forest

clustered in a forest-like manner. There was a stone which was said to bring good luck if you touched it, as well as recreations of villages from traditional Chinese people of different areas. Down the side of the path leading in, there were performers dressed in traditional dress doing dances, playing amazingly strange instruments and welcoming us all in.

Instruments at the Stone Forest welcoming procession

The TV cameras were everywhere, as normal, and a presenter came to introduce each competitor to their challenges. Everybody got to try them and one was a quick-footed game involving stepping between moving bamboo sticks. I’m not the most quick-footed, graceful or well-balanced individual so, naturally, I manged to get my foot caught and lose a shoe. This meant trying to hop backwards, one-legged between the moving bamboo sticks and against the flow of people moving forward behind me. Safe to say I messed things up a bit, but I got my shoe back so all’s well that ends well, eh.

We also went to a tree-planting ceremony, where each country got to plant a tree to grow in a new garden in the grounds of one of the universities. I say plant, what we really did was throw some of the soil back on a tree that was

Filling in our tree

already pretty firmly planted by someone behind the scenes, but it was fun all the same.  I managed not to mess this one up & together we planted a tree to represent the UK with our names on it, which is pretty cool. We also went to some amazing performances of incredible martial arts, traditional dancing, singing and even dancing around humongous bonfires. One of the most beautiful performances was during a stage production & we witnessed the most amazingly graceful performance of the famous Peacock dance by a very famous dancer which was truly incredible to see (click here to see a youtube example).

We also learnt about the different cultures of China practically. We attended classes and workshops to learn how to do traditional calligraphy, painting, paper-cutting and speaking Chinese itself. The latter class was of the most use for me, as I learnt at least how to introduce my name and where I was from in Chinese. The other bits of language I picked up was how to say thank you, ‘cheese’ as in the context of having your photo taken.The word they use apparently translates as ‘eggplant’ which I found pretty comical but I guess its no weirder than using a random word for dairy produce.

Words were a constant source of amusement in China, or rather the translations of them. The signs depicting each food item were completely arbitrary, as after three days attending the same buffet for lunch I noticed the signs simply swapped between items without much thought to whether it related to that item or not. Some of the menus I read listed dishes such as ‘Leather’ and ‘Hydrogen irsi’, but I made the effort to try what I could (this included, but was unfortunately

Erm...I don't think you're supposed to say that

not limited to, an insanely spicy, rubbery oblong which turned out to be pickled sea snail). The street, information and general signs were also oddly translated. The most amusing in the way that you-know-its-really-bad-&-you-shouldn’t-laugh-but-it-makes-you-laugh-more, was the sign for the disabled bathroom with was translated as ‘Deformed Person’. I know we can be a bit politically correct gone mad in the UK, but I was with people from a lot of different countries & they thought just the same as I did. Discovered for the first time in a restaurant we were dining in, the sign became an attractive in itself and the staff were completely baffled as to why we were gathered around a bathroom door & photographing it.

The other reason we were often queuing for this bathroom, was because it was often the only western-style toilet available when we were out (besides those at the hotel). The other toilets were just a hole in the ground. This may sound practically barbaric to the more conservative of you, but it was still tiled and within the confines of a typical cubicle, just as you’d expect anywhere else (which in some ways made it all the more disconcerting upon first encounter). But again, being keen (if not necessarily eager in this situation), to try everything, meant I gave it go and they weren’t as bad as they might seem.

The actual competition itself involved the contestants preparing various pieces, such as a spoken introduction in

One of the performances of a group dance

Chinese as well as a talent that was to be performed. We all watched and applauded each of these as they were recorded. During our time there, we had been filmed and various extracts were seen on TV, news reports, things in the papers etc. Viewers then voted for the person or people they liked the best to determine the winning country. For the Opening and Closing ceremonies we went to a big TV studio where there was a huge brightly coloured set & extremely animated hosts. During the opening ceremony, the competitors for each team came out and introduced themselves whilst the supporters (me included), cheered madly & waved flags around. This was broken up with performances & various pieces of entertainment whilst being filmed for television. I sleepily changed into a top which read ‘I AM AWESOME’ in big black letters across the front, not realising we were going straight to the studios from our morning trip and wouldn’t be able to change. I caught I few minutes of the show on TV later that night & to my dismay found it was one of the first things I saw when the camera went to the audience. Oops…

The studio stuff was all a bit mad although it was loads of fun, but my best experience whilst there was my birthday.  It

Cake no.1

was my 18th & I began the day by having breakfast with the UK team & opening cards from them as well as a little present from home, which was really lovely. During a sort of conference in the morning, I switched off a bit because it was all in Chinese. Then I noticed everybody stopping & looking around & the man on stage was saying something over & over again. I then realised he was saying my name & the word for England. The local girl looking after the UK people rushed between the seat & dragged me up on stage (i took her with me to translate what an earth was now going on). There was also another boy whose birthday it was during the trip & we were presented with a traditional Chinese instrument which was really beautiful & so kind of them to do. I still have no idea how they knew it was my birthday. Later in the day, we were about to go to watch some sort of documentary, when my little group (as there were so many of us, we were organised into smaller groups which were assigned to various ‘leaders’ during outings), was lead outside

My birthday scrapbook present

towards the summery grounds & pond. We came to a little place to sit & the leaders surprised me with a birthday cake & a scrapbook they had bought me. They had stuck a picture in it of me on a swing taken a few days earlier & one of me holding an umbrella with ‘your smile’ next to it. It was so lovely I didn’t know what to say, but everyone sang happy birthday to me. The added bonus was that we all got to stay outside having fun in the gardens for a couple of hours whilst the others were finishing watching the film, before we all headed to a big park. The park was beautiful & was full of people. There were people selling little poaches of treats or bubble tea

Birthday cake no.2 from my friends

as well as bridges over the water & little ponds where children played in mini pedalo boats. I bought a balloon shaped like a cartoon cat, which was soon savagely deflated, & a big stick of pink candyfloss which I was extremely pleased with. That evening, back at the hotel, I was surprised yet again with a cake from all my friends so everybody sang happy birthday again & we all celebrated together (just as we had from midnight the night before – really made the most of my birthday).

Merging of modernity & tradition

I have so many memories of China, from little things like being offered only Sprite or boiled water everywhere (including breakfast), plastic hand-clapping devices, the way the police cordoned off the roads & stopped traffic everywhere we went, to the warm, kind-hearted Chinese people, the beautifully traditional & vibrant architecture which juxtaposes the old & the new & the wonderful people I met there whom I could never forget.

China may have been ticked on my check-list, but it will remain on my to do list for the future. China hasn’t seen the last of me yet.

Further photos & videos from this trip can be seen in the China Gallery.

If you want to know who helps sort out my travel & good websites to use, take a look at my Travel Peeps page. 

If you want to find out a bit about me & why I started writing this blog, check out my Who What & Why page. 

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