I like trains a lot, but it's hard to feel affection for the K79 from Shanghai to Kunming. There's not enough space to see much of the train anyway. Each carriage in hard sleeper class is a dormitory of around 48 tightly packed bunks. The middle and top bunks aren't tall enough to sit up in, so you spend a lot of time lying down or holding your breath in the narrow smoky corridors while you untangle your bones.
If you want a couple of moments alone, or a change of scenery, of course each carriage has a little bathroom. As is typical in this part of the world, this has a squat toilet, but it's embedded in a floor so disgusting that you want to immediately burn your shoes. Also, it's literally a hole in the floor. You can see the tracks going by beneath you.
Back in the compartments, loudspeakers keep you "entertained" with psychotically cheerful Chinese pop, folk and opera for sixteen hours a day. Sellers of food push trolleys along the corridors shouting out what they have. Babies, unhappy with the change in routine, take it in turns to freak out and wail. After 38 hours of this, you have to remind yourself that you're too mature to do the same.
Having a place to occasionally sit means making friends with the people in the bottom bunks. The bottom-bunkers near me didn't speak any English, but everyone speaks Small Child and they'd taken the precaution of bringing a three year old girl. We bonded over clapping games, small child antics and crisps. (They were crisps that Small Child had dropped on the floor, but sometimes you have to risk germs in the name of international relations.) It was actually a pretty nice way to pass the time.
I still wasn't sorry to get to Kunming.
First impressions of Kunming: it's not a loud, smoky, packed train. I love it here!
Ok, second impressions of Kunming: we're in the countryside now. The population is a mere 1.1 million. People are friendlier, traffic is calmer, prices are sane. Taxi drivers don't try to scam you (as much). Restaurants sell Chinese food. There's no KFC on every corner. Also, it's getting cold. You can feel Autumn in the air for the first time here. Three layers weren't really enough today; I'll need to buy a coat.
Once I'd checked in and had an _epic_ shower, I went to see the Bamboo Temple, on a hill outside the town. It's a regular serene Buddhist temple, but what makes it spectacular is its collection of Arhat statues. These are 500 statues of noble blokes, all with different faces and expressions, some wise, some playful, some completely nuts. They're supposed to "perfectly represent human existence". Some of the states of human existence apparently include:
- "Hurray! A frog jumped on my arm!"
- "This single macadamia nut causes such sorrow in my heart."
- "Have you seen anything as fabulous as my legwarmers?"
- "WAAAAAAAGH, a dragon!!!"
- "My ear is itchy."
- "My earnestness is conveyed by my beard"
- "Is this REALLY a DOG???"
Even the ridiculous ones are so expressive and lifelike that it's a bit creepy to turn your back on them. It near killed me to obey the no photography sign.
Finding my way back from the Bamboo Temple was a two hour/three bus comedy of errors, but the hostel has put on a Clapton album and the common room is warm and contains big bowls of soup.
So, that's Kunming so far. It's awfully nice and you should visit soon. Please bring my winter coat when you do.