Just the mention of China can mean so many things to so many people. For me, when I think of China, I think of a great nation with a long and illustrious history. China’s ancient culture and traditions has influenced civilisations throughout Asia and beyond.
I also think of its industrious people working hard and making a name for themselves on foreign soil. But, what comes to my mind most of all when someone mentions China is its sheer size and tremendous economic growth, and all the social and political issues that come with it.
This would be my first trip to China and, as I travel from one province to another, I hope to understand not just about the people, the history and the culture, but also about the strenuous task facing the government in caring for such a vastly diverse population.
First stop, Kunming
Kunming, is the capital of Yunnan province. This is the place where all the grannies living on my “soi” (Thai for street or block) come on their Buddhist excursions. Thai travellers often carry out Buddhist excursions -people in Thailand pay a lot of money to go on tours of famous temples, because people think it will bring them prosperity and good fortune.
I’ve always wanted to come to Yunnan not because of the famoust Yuantong temple in Kunming, but to experience the culture of some of the ethnic groups living here. Of all the 56 ethnic groups in China, 25 can be found in Yunnan. The Tai or in Chinese – Dai – that populate southern Yunnan near the Laos boarder are closely related to the Thai people.
As the taxi driver drove me in his early 90s pail green cab from the airport to the hotel, Kunming seemed like any other Asian city – a combination of high-rise buildings and international fast food restaurant chains mingling with local food stalls selling fresh fruits and Asian delicacies. I knew if I wanted to meet some of the ethnic groups, this would not be the place to do it.
After trying to talk to the taxi driver in English for about half an hour and getting nowhere, he reached into his glove compartment and handed me a book. It was an English – Chinese phrasebook. I went through the pages and started pointing at simple phrases and showing it to him and he would act out the answers – at last we were able to communicate! By the time we reached the hotel, we got quite chatty, although I don’t know if chatty is the appropriate word since both of us never said a single word to each other!
I am on an information gathering trip of China for the Newborn and Child Survival Campaign. Qian Xiaofeng, the communications manager from Beijing arrived later that night and we met to go through our plans for the next few days. We will be spending our time in a small mountainous town called Mojiang, four hours drive from Kunming.