Home > Eating In China, Kunming > Park Games And Pretty Boys

Park Games And Pretty Boys

The speed with which China hurtles forward is frightening at times. Many areas are defined by a friction between old and new. The country as a whole is accelerating at such a pace that I fear it may have missed the cul-de-sac sign at the junction. A prime example of this mindset is to be found in the city of Kunming. Like a middle-aged whore desperately trying to keep up in a modern world, Kunming is unsettled and far from content. She’s tired and  road weary, but knows she must keep up the pace in order to pay the pimp.

6 million inhabitants have carved an identity for Yunnan’s capital city. Hazell and I were struck by the juxtaposition between old and new, standing side by side like squabbling siblings in a family photo. Kunming is desperate to maintain a youthful appearance, as the outside world rolls out the red carpet and scrutinises her every move. Botox courses through every crevice of the city. The centre is an advert for the latest in industrial cosmetic adjustment. The streets have undergone a facelift so tight the pavement squeaks underfoot.

The pallbearers in this march forward are the young. Scores of them are to be found in the shops, bars and clubs which line the central areas of Kunming. Cultural heritage is of little interest to a demographic which is creating it’s own image. Central to this statement is the hair-do. Hair salons are abundant in Kunming, with an equal number of pretty boys stood outside attempting to entice passers-by into having the latest cut and blow dry. The overt, and quite clearly unintentional, campness of these gentlemen came as quite a surprise. As did the current cut of choice, which consisted of a gentle feather cut, light brown dye, and optional quiff. Call me old-fashioned, but I’ll stick to my number 2.

But however hard she tries, Kunming can’t hide the signs of old age. Like a granny who endears herself to the young by muttering ‘bollocks’, the city’s aged elements are dirty and inappropriate, but you can’t help but love them. The parks are alive with games of Mah Jong, played with fascinating plastic pieces. People congregate early in the morning and play late into the night in dingy little alleyways. The often unkept parks are brought alive by inhabitants dancing and practicing Tai Chi. Yes, people spit, piss, fart and burp when and where they feel like it, but wouldn’t we all like to live with such freedom?

As in many Chinese cities, one taps into the historical nerve centre by visiting the local fresh market. Hygiene standards are practically none existent, and some of the sights are panic inducing for any vegetarian. Live fish jostle for space alongside de-shelled terrapins. Delicious fruits such as Mangosteens and Lychees are available alongside cooked tofu, noodles, and spicy veg. My personal choice was a whole cooked chicken, diced with a butchers knife in front of me, and ready to devour. I decided this time to offer the head and the feet to the newly born kittens at the hostel, upon which the mother dissected the brains on the floor of the restaurant.

One area in particular summed up China’s current transition. Guandu lies to the south-east of central Kunming, and is described in the Lonely Planet guide-book as ‘one place to go to still see little old men puttering about in their funky blue Mao hats or donkey carts parked in front of temples.’ When we arrived there, the place looked like a war zone. Piles of rubble were interspersed with inhabitants living in what can only be described as squalor. We could only assume that residents were being progressively rehoused into the new, bland apartments next door.

The pace of change in China has consistently rendered the Lonely Planet useless, Guandu being a prime example. The modern developments are often fantastic, and the quality of living has improved immeasurably for many. However, the eagerness of cities like Kunming to shoot from an A to double F cup, jeopardises the beautiful character which underlies it’s cosmetically enhanced exterior.

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