I made it to Kunming! We left Shiyan late Thursday night/Friday morning, just hours before the snow began to fall. I'm a little bummed that we're missing the first (and possibly only) snowfall of the season, I can't complain too much. This trip has been pretty fun! That first night our train to Chongqing was supposed to leave at 12:04, just after midnight. It was about an hour late leaving and just around 2 hours late arriving in Chongqing. At least we weren't in any hurry. Anytime we travel we usually break out our Lonely Planet guidebook to get the scoop on our destination. All it had to say about Chongqing was that it had incredibly spicy hotpot and the air pollution was unbelievable. Well, it was right. We got there, checked into a hostel, and set out to find a place for lunch. We had some incredibly spicy hotpot that left us in a drunken stupor that I have never quite experienced from hotpot before. It was so good, I can't begin to explain it! The ladies who worked in the restaurant were so nice and friendly that we began to wish that either they would move to Shiyan or we could move to Chongqing just so we could see them more. That was a great lunch. After that we rested briefly and set out to see the city. We were on the south side of the great Yangzi River so we walked down the road quite a ways and found a cable car that takes you across the river right into the heart of downtown for only 2 yuan. Here's an excerpt from Lonely Planet describing this cable car journey:
A ride on either of the cities two cable cars spanning both the Jialing and Yangzi Rivers will carry you over the precipitously stacked housing and polluting industrial estates for a bird's-eye view of the murky waters.
Makes you want to ride it twice, doesn't it? Well we did ride it twice. Since it was within walking distance of our point of origin and destination, we took the cable car both ways. While I was using my superior map and street sign reading skills to walk us in a large circle around three city blocks to get to something we started less than a block from, we discovered that Chongqing has much more to offer than we first suspected. Namely, Pizza Hut and Starbucks. Granted, we were on our way to spend a month in Kunming, and we had been told that Kunming was very modern and had all the great places foreigners seek out, we still felt the need to go to both of these places on our first day out of town. At this rate, I would definitely be broke before the month was up. Luckily (or unfortunately) we later found out that Kunming has no Starbucks. I'm not sure about the Pizza Hut situation. Anyhoo, we browsed around in the tiny English section of a bookstore, drank some coffee, ate some pizza, and made our way home. We were accosted by some guys with performing monkeys on the way back. They were asking for money, saying their monkeys hadn't eaten all day. I was tempted to tell them maybe the monkey could fend for itself if they took the leash off of it or, even better, to pretend that I misunderstood and say that I didn't want to pay to eat his monkey. I didn't do either. Instead I just refused to support this guy pulling a monkey down the street on a leash and kept going. I have to say that Chongqing had a very strange feel to it. There's a no honking policy throughout the city that is actually observed most of the time, and the streets weren't crowded or noisy at all. It was very peaceful and left us liking the place.
Saturday afternoon we left Chongqing on the 1:30 train to Kunming. This time our train actually arrived 20 minutes early on Sunday morning, which I didn't know was possible. Unfortunately the school got the dates mixed up and thought we were coming on Monday so no one was at the station to pick us up. We eventually tracked down their phone number (thank goodness for cell phones!) and called them. They gave us the name of a hotel and we caught a taxi across town. The school is on the 16th floor of a building in a nice section of town. The 15th floor has the living quarters (actually two floors of living quarters, but all somehow crammed into the 15th floor) and we all have our own room. There are at least 5 others here at the moment studying. I've seen them at one point or another coming in and out. At 1 we got to meet our teachers (each person has a private teacher) and then we were given a tour of the immediate area and shown where to buy things. Since Kunming is a big city it has good stores like Walmart and Carrefour. That means things like cheese, real milk, cereal, salsa, chips, and tons of other stuff that we can never dream of getting in Shiyan. Of course we flipped out and bought all of it. I must say one thing, though. Walmart has a sign that says donuts and a great big picture on the wall of a marvelous glazed donut and a chocolate covered donut on a plate. They even have a bakery display case with some round things that look like donuts with a passable glaze and some kind of crumbly something sprinkled on top of the glaze. But if you trust the signs and buy the donut, be prepared to throw the donut away because it is hard enough to break a tooth and dry enough to suck all the moisture out of your body. William and I definitely were fooled by the signs, but never again.
Well, I'm feeling pretty drained from all those trains and fake donuts so I need to head to bed. Class starts at 8:30 tomorrow morning! We have internet in our rooms and I brought my laptop, so I should be able to stay up to date on here. I didn't bring a microphone so I can't currently talk on Skype, I'll try to remedy that for you people who actually like talking to me. Goodnight all! 晚安