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Spoke Notes Stamp

Peter Snow Cao
Spoke Notes

Land of Eternal Spring
Copyright © Peter Snow Cao, 1998.

Skip to:   Travelogue Index | China in October | November in Yangshou | Road to Taijang | Killing in Kaili | Grinding in Guiyang | Out in the Boonies | Land of Eternal Spring | Dali in December | Tiger Leaping Gorge | Doing Dali Again | Train to Guangzhou | Goodbye China!

On the eve of my 18-month trip anniversary we arrived in Kunming, a major destination point for both Rainer and me. Today was surprisingly fast due to a wonderful tailwind most of the way. There were four ranges to cross, but the new highway reduced the grades to easy 5 to 7% grades. Also the highway cut through a new area not shown on my map so we didn't have to ride the 120 km we had expected. We came upon Kunming quite suddenly and we were very surprised to be here so soon. After checking into the 10-yuan per bed dormitory at the Camellia Hotel we went to check to see if we have any mail. At the Post Office we met William Lindesay again. What a nice surprise; I expected him to be weeks behind us. I asked if he walked here, not believing my eyes. He had walked about 5 days from Yangshou and hit some rain and wasn't finding anything on the Long March, so he decided to take a bus here where he met his wife. From here he was going to try to get to his primary site in Yunnan.

We were invited to his room this evening where he showed us his books and told us a few more exciting stories about his experiences on the Great Wall. One night when he almost froze to death and then was picked up the next morning by the police. He was detained in the People's Hotel for 6 days and wrote a self-criticism. We then gave him a blow-by-blow account of our adventure to Kunming. He seemed impressed we did as well as we did and encouraged us to continue on our trek.

I got some discouraging news about getting to Katmandu via Tibet. Tibet is completely closed. Even the city of Lhasa is closed meaning there would be no safe haven along the way and probably no border crossing as well at the China/Nepal post. Other possibilities like going over land to Laos also appear to be out of the question. The only thing I could do is try it and see what happens. But at this point I don't really feel like trying to be a hero.

China Flag StampI am writing letters again, so I have to come up with an itinerary for my future mail pickups. My rough idea is the following (six hours later after much map reading and climatic conditions consulting I have a rough plan): three or four more weeks in China; January 1 - Thailand: Bangkok/Chiang Mai/ Ko Pangon for the Christmas/New Year. January 15 fly to Katmandu or Dhaka, Bangladesh, probably the former. February 28 Cycle form Katmandu to Delhi. April 1 cycle from Delhi to Karachi, then fly to Ankara or Istanbul, Turkey and start cycling toward West Germany/Switzerland. These plans should put me in Europe at the beginning of spring, a good time to visit Uli in Germany, Thomas in Switzerland and Lars in Denmark.

I woke up early to go to the park and watch the Chinese warm-up with their early morning activities. Badminton is very popular with birdies flying everywhere. Tai Chi and other forms of martial arts are all about. Lots of dancing; ballroom, waltzes, hand clappers, people twirling swords. Someone said it is the influence of Mao who was an exercise buff.

I just met four American women who have been studying in China for five months. I particularly enjoyed talking with Colleen, a beautiful blonde from Minneapolis. She said her experience in Guilin has been one of deepening depression. Guilin has been very hard for them to find their niche and they found it difficult to accept the reality of living in a country where censorship and lack of privacy is a way of life. She said she was surprised to find herself becoming an outspoken advocate of American rights and liberties, something she could have never predicted before. Their arrangement at school is far from ideal. They are physically cut off from the Chinese students by having to live in a hotel on the other side of town. Colleen also said it was frustrating being in a group of 20 when several members have no idea the image they are portraying to the Chinese. Drinking lots of beer, flashing lots of money, being loud, etc. She said she came here hoping to learn about China, but found that there is very little outside of facts and figures on production available, even in their history class.

"Seven years of school and a year and a half of travel, you must be prehistoric"

Comment by a woman from California in Kunming about me.

Most disturbing to me was the news that some of their letters sent home have arrived opened and sometimes the letter was missing altogether. Now I am convinced that if my diary arrives home in tact it will be a miracle. I also wonder about the letters I have already sent. Will they make it? I think I'll send only postcards from now on. I asked a guy from Hong Kong to mail my letters from there. I hope he will, he seemed trustworthy. I really find the idea of the post office opening letters to be extremely disturbing. Censorship sucks! I will be careful about what I put in future correspondence. The whole system with the postal service is extremely disturbing and distressing. If I had known the mail was opened, I would have held onto my diary.


A gorgeous day, bright sunshine, clear blue sky, good roads, low traffic and easy grades. This town is a very quiet place with almost no motorized traffic.

Just glancing through my book of quotes I found this one, "He that travels far, knows much", John Ray (1627-1705). Another favorite quote: "Imagination is more important than knowledge", Albert Einstein (1879-1955).

The students of the English class invited us to the local school this evening. I was reluctant at first wanting to sit down to write a bit and rest. However, we decided to go and it turned out to be a very nice evening. We went to the teacher's apartment, a beautiful Chinese woman who was doing her internship teaching 35 students to be future middle school English teachers in the two-county area. They had a year and a half to go before they would be placed in their jobs. The teacher said she was going to Brisbane, Australia in January for six months with a group of 15 as part of a United Nations exchange program. She was very excited about that. I was surprised to hear about her plans in view of the fact that the Australian government embarrassed China by allowing the Chinese students who were in the country at the time of the Tian'amen Square massacre to remain in the country and work.

We talked about lots of things; marriage (generally occurs between the age of 20-23) children (city-dwellers are allowed only one, farmers are allowed 2 and if they have more they are fined 10,000 yuan (about 2 year's pay). She said some rural people are illiterate. They either don't know about the law, don't have access of contraceptives or want children to help with the work. And if the kids work, they don't go to school making them illiterate as well. Some families move from area to area to avoid the fines and living in temporary shelters.

One student said he was very nervous when he met Liz, the Californian woman who hitch-hiked here from Kunming a few days earlier. She told them to expect us as we would be coming through their town. Another student gave us a detailed account of how he practices Qigong, a sort of telepathic mental healing and communication technique used in China. He said he uses it to improve his eyesight and spends 30 minutes everyday practicing. He learned the technique from a book. His teacher said it was dangerous to practice on yourself without the guide of a teacher and said someone in Kunming jumped off a tall building supposedly under the influence of Qigong. But she also said she saw a demonstration where she was the interpreter between an elderly American woman and a Qigong master and he was able to diagnosis that her husband in the US had brain cancer. The teacher told us there was a Buddhist temple nearby where people go to pray for finding a girlfriend. I told her I would go there tomorrow.

The students all seemed anxious to travel, but said they will never get the chance. The teacher said once you are put in a job you are expected to stay in it until retirement, which is 50 for women and 60 for men. Women are allowed two months off to have a child and then are expected to return to work. The grandmothers often take care of the grandchildren while the mother is working. Having more than one child would result in the loss of a job, and the end of medical benefits as well as the fines.

The Chinese rarely leave their jobs because it is very difficult to get another one. I wonder about all these vendors we see in the streets of Kunming and other places. Are they independent?

I woke up thinking how fortunate I have been in my travels in China, meeting such wonderful people. The Chinese are some of the nicest and friendliest people I have ever met. I also have been thinking about how I should be meditating. Not meditating leaves me feeling very anxious and uptight, creating friction with myself and Rainer.


Another beautiful day, and a fairly good ride, though the road was pretty busy. I went to the Buddhist Temple and what I found was a wall around the top of a hill. I sat down for a while and tried to practice a bit of meditation and think about finding a girlfriend, my relationship with Rainer and my trip in general. Although it was rather short, I came away feeling very peaceful. I will try to do it more often, hopefully everyday.

On the Road

Yesterday we were faced with the common problem of finding a place to sleep in a closed area, on the approach to a big hill. I stopped in front of a construction site where a man was sitting before a small coal burner contemplating the day's work. When Rainer arrived he motioned for us to join him. Soon afterward the parade of Chinese men started coming by to check us out. It was about 5 PM and we talked a bit and smiled a lot. We tried to communicate where we were going, where we came from and what we needed; a place to sleep. After a while I got out the phrase book and we figured a few more things out about each other.

Friends who shared their leanto shack for a night I tried to explain by constructing a small house from stones that we had a tent we could sleep in. I don't think they ever grasped that concept. Camping is not something Chinese do. Later some kids came by and we had fun teaching each other words. They were so animated and lively. Then as night settled in, out host said we could stay in the small lean-to shack he used to store tools and sleep. I thought we would have it to ourselves, but a young man stayed with us. It was a very tight fit with Rainer's and the young man's head at one end and mine at the other between them. Surprisingly it was also very warm. There was straw and blankets on the ground and the straw mat walls that provided a wind break. The plastic roof kept the dew off us as well. I ended up taking several clothes off during the night because I was too hot. Our proximity of the highway and location on the outside of the curve made it seem like the highway ran right through our abode. However, I slept fairly well between being awaken up from Rainer and the young man's movements. I hope we will get to Dali today. It is about 65 km away.

On to  Dali in December

Skip to:   Travelogue Index | Introduction | China in October | November in Yangshou | Road to Taijang | Killing in Kaili | Grinding in Guiyang | Out in the Boonies | Land of Eternal Spring | Dali in December | Tiger Leaping Gorge | Doing Dali Again | Train to Guangzhou | Goodbye China!

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