Traveling via public transport in China is a challenge for the western psyche. There are vastly different definitions of personal space, as well as social mannerisms and hygiene. Sometimes it’s a struggle to remember that we are just visitors and not hold a scenario up against our homeland expectations.
We took a bus North out of Yangshuo to Guilin, then boarded an overnight train heading west to Kunming City in Yunnan province. The train was modern, fairly clean, and in good repair. But many of the passengers were smoking cigarettes in the cars, and there was terrible ventilation. For us this resulted in a miserable experience, and after 16 hours of second-hand smoke we struggled with respiratory issues for days. It was a welcome release to step off the train in Kunming City, the capital and largest city of Yunnan province in the Southwest of China.
Yunnan province is mountain and river country, and is home to the majority of China’s ethnic diversity. Our initial reason for coming to Kunming City was that there are numerous internet postings for paragliding sites in the region. A Canadian pilot named Mike has blogged about the excellent flying possibilities. I contacted him and told him we were coming through, and also dug around on the web to find contact info for the local flying club. It turned out Mike was not interested in flying together, but was willing to sell me a seat in his truck for a fancy price. So I punked him and told him to piss off. The local pilot who runs the Kunming paraglide club, on the other hand, was thrilled to have some foreign pilots coming to town. In broken communication over a bad cell-connection, we established a plan to join up the next day.
Our new friend came by to pick us up in the morning, and we hit the road in his ragged fly Jeep. It turned out that my Mandarin was our stronger link, so the majority of our communication was in Chinese supplemented with hand-signals and some paragliding names and terms thrown in. We drove for miles up back roads to arrive at launch on top of a big hill overlooking some sort of industrial sight. Once again the wind conditions were not ideal, this time too strong, so that I was barely able to kite my glider on the ground and was tossed around for a few good rides. Chalk it up as more good experience in the bank – this was a foreign land and I was feeling her winds.