Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Rushing Scooters: Kunming

Observation: I'm tall. As I wait for a taxi to get to my hostel, I suddenly realize I'm looking over the entire line over everybody's heads to see Kunming. The person next to me in line (nobody really stands behind you in a line in China) is also from the Beijing area. The same sense of belonging encourages us to share a taxi downtown. In the car, we go through a routine of basic introductions, and start making basic observations about Kunming, starting with the traffic. There seems to be only one two-lane street connecting the airport to downtown. Both sides of the street are half-finished lanes, highways and construction debris. The Beijing person in my car says, "This is like Beijing in the 90s." I don't think I've stepped in a time-machine by going west, especially after passing by a huge Walmart and a couple McDonald's.

At the hostel, I ask the front desk for a dinner recommendation. They just point downstairs to the noodle restaurant. To travel in Yunnan without having eaten Over-the-Bridge Noodles (过桥米线) is to not have traveled in this province at all, they say. The plate - I should say plates - are interesting. The cooking is done yourself, at the table. The ingredients are all on small separate plates, ranging from pork slices to cilantro to red peppers to a small quail egg. All these are in thrown into a huge bowl of steaming broth, whose high temperature is maintained by a layer of oil and fat on the surface.

After a night of wandering through streets and alleyways, I wind up back at the hostel. In my dorm, a short buff guy from Hubei is lying on his bed. Another guy from Shanghai is getting dressed, preparing to go to the mini club-bar alleyway for "another night of mayhem." By the time I get ready to sleep, he is gone and a woman is arranging her bed. The Hubei guy, the woman and I chat a bit. The Hubei guy is in town partly for business, mainly to accompany a traveling friend. The woman is using Kunming as her gateway to Laos. At one point, the conversation turns dead, and she suddenly says, "You're a Virgo, right?"
"Yes..." I reply.
"But you're like a Libra." she says.
"I'm born on a cusp."
"Ah. I knew it!"
"How did you know that?" the Hubei guy asks.
"Just from the way you talk and what you say." she says matter-of-factly.
"It seems like you're pretty versed in astrology." I say.
"You're such a perfect Virgo-Libra." she says excitedly.
"How so?" Now I'm curious how this person I've talked to for the last twenty minutes can tell my personality from a brief conversation.
"You live optimistically but think pessimistically." she replied.
I laugh. I laugh a bit more, and then think for a bit. She sees that I'm thinking. "You're focused and get what you want out of life, but you're always thinking in extremes, thinking mainly for the worst," she explains.
I'm not sure where I can buy that. I think I laughed mainly because her first reply was so catchy and rhythmic.
"You won't be satisfied with your life unless you're sacrificing yourself." she goes on.
Now I'm silent. What sort of life is a sacrificed life?

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