We traveled to Kunming to from Lijiang via overnight train. These beef noodles I had in the Lijiang station beforehand were disgustingly greasy and I still ate them all.
In Kunming, we stayed at the Crowne Plaza. I did not particularly enjoy the stay because both of the bathrooms in the suite smelled like sewage the whole time. If you’ve ever lived in China for an extended amount of time, you’ll know what sewer smell I’m talking about.
The Crowne Plaza Kunming food was just ok. Tasteless Yunnan mixian (rice noodles) despite the condiments and close-but-not-right versions of western dishes, like the curdled “crème brûlée” and ring-shaped dough that wouldn’t satisfy a cake donut or yeast donut craving. These close-but-not-right attempts at western cuisine are everywhere in China, often manifesting in dishes where ketchup is unsuccessfully substituted for tomato sauce.
After our visit to the Yunnan Nationalities Village, we met one of my mom’s childhood friends and her daughter for dinner. We got to try lots of local cuisine at the restaurant, including Yunnan cheese I’ve been interested in for a while.
The restaurant is called Sleeping Beauty after Kunming’s mountain range, which the locals say looks like a sleeping maiden with her hair drifting into the lake. The lake’s right next to the restaurant and people were feeding birds there.
When we entered the restaurant, we saw lots of tables eating off animal skulls. We did not experience eating off animal skulls.
Some free snacks and dessert: potato chips and yuanxiao/tangyuan.
I wanted to order mixian in soup but our host said these cold rice noodles were better. It was a good decision to get these. They were sweet (the sauce was a brown syrupy sauce used as the base of a lot of Chinese dishes) and refreshing.
We saw this stinky tofu over coals, a traditional snack, being sold everywhere on the streets in Lijiang. Finally we could try it. I know stinky tofu is an acquired taste but I thought they were just disgusting. I can’t even describe it but if you’ve never had stinky tofu and smell it you’ll probably avoid tasting it because the smell is that bad.
I loved the “milk cake,” or cheese. Here’s some info on how Yunnan cheese is made. This was something I needed to experience while I was here because for most of Chinese history, the Chinese considered cheese disgusting and barbaric (nevermind that the process of making tofu from soymilk is almost the same as the process of making fresh cheese from milk) so there’s very little indigenous cheesemaking in China. Besides Yunnan we also have the Mongolian ethnic group, which makes aaruul. I do not like aaruul. It is nothing like western cheese and like a strange candy. It is waxy and hard and chewy and sour and sweet because of all the sugar added to the milk.
Yunnan cheese, on the other hand, was very pleasant. It was not fatty or creamy like brie but dry, like some fresh farmers cheeses are. I imagine halloumi, a Greek cheese which does not melt when fried or grilled, to be similar.
This cheese was airy, bouncy and squeaky. It only had a mild and neutral flavor, like fresh mozzarella, and came with a small dish of sugar and a small dish of salt and spices. We could dip the cheese into each dish for a sweet or savory experience.
We had fun exploring Kunming’s nightlife afterwards, seeing underground gaming cafes and a roller skating rink filled with screaming teens. We even did plaza dancing (guangchangwu) with some old ladies. Kunming is the largest city in Yunnan and is modernized, full of people, lights, and skyscrapers. I could have believed we were in Shanghai or Beijing besides the fact that almost every taxi driver we met in Yunnan refused to use the meter and charged us made-up prices. One of the drivers told us they paid 5000 RMB a month to the taxi company so they could have free rein. In Shanghai and Beijing taxi drivers are good about using the meter, which throws out an English introduction when activated along with a customer service number for complaints, questions, and comments.
Speaking of shady business practices, this store:
“Xin” is Chinese for “new” and “bai lun” is a meaningless, phonetic rendering of “balance.” Xinbailun is one of many New Balance knockoffs you can find over China, along with brands such as Adadis (Adidas) and Clio Coddle (Lacoste) and whatever the entrepreneurial-minded are coming up with. Ok, this is where it gets funny. There’s a full writeup here, but the summary is that Xinbailun stole New Balance’s Chinese name and sold Xin Bai Lun products. In 2004, the guy behind Xinbailun registered the Xin Bai Lun trademark. New Balance tried to oppose this, but because they hadn’t bothered to do paperwork and register the trademark first, the Chinese Xinbailun kept the trademark. New Balance continued using Xin Bai Lun to sell New Balance products and Xinbailun sued New Balance. From the link: “In the lawsuit, Zhou claimed that New Balance used “Xin Bai Lun” on shoes without authorization, and New Balance’s unauthorized use led costumers to believe that all shoes so marked were New Balance shoes.” What a mess. The court found in favor of Xinbailun with a verdict of $16 million and ordered the Chinese affiliate of New Balance to stop using “Xin Bai Lun” and ordered them to publicly apologize to Xinbailun. The lesson learned is to do your paperwork, or you will end up being completely trolled.
This is the end of my Yunnan posts. Yunnan has so much to see and I only went to two cities, which were strikingly different. Lijiang was a remote settlement high up in the cold mountains near Tibet and Kunming was a metropolis near the tropical zones in Southeast Asia with palm trees lining the streets. What is Yunnan like in between? Beyond Yunnan’s own history, I learned so much about the cultural diversity of China on this trip and I want to learn even more in the future.
I have a few more things to write about from Shanghai and then I’ll have a huge trip report coming about
Glorious Nippon Tokyo, Japan!