Climbing up onto the roof of our hostel, the sky was filled with fireworks. It seemed every family in the city had their own display, so on mass it created a symphony of bangs, smoke, light and colour. When our slightly drunk host decided it was our turn to join in, bonfire night safety adverts and school videos flashed before my eyes. Should we be lighting fireworks on a roof in a built up area? Should a drunk man be in charge of lighting bangers about 3 feet away from the group? Should I be holding a lit roman candle in my hand? Of course the answer to these was no… but did they happen…yes! It was Chinese New Year or Spring Festival and that meant unsupervised five-year olds could play with fireworks and bangers could be set off under the fuel engines of motorbikes all to a soundtrack of seemingly never-ending explosions.
We would be spending the holiday in Kunming in Yunnan Province in the southwest of the country. The atmosphere was already jovial on our overnight train from Guilin, as the train guards cracked open the beers, each with a collection of bags holding presents to take back to their families. Kunming is a big city but is known for its bar and cafe culture. Unfortunately for us, it being Spring Festival, everything was closed and we spent a lot of our time attempting to find somewhere (almost anywhere!) that was open and still serving food. The next stop for most travellers to Kunming is the Stone Forest about 90 kilometers outside of town, but with erratic buses this was also off the cards too. Scratching our heads we were wondering what the hell we were going to do while in Kunming!
Luckily for us there are still a few things to see in the city itself and the metro was working! So we looked around temples, two ancient pagodas and the city’s lake filled park. Green Lake Park is famed for its white birds or to us seagulls, which the locals love to feed on mass, getting them to fly dozen at a time to catch bread from the waterside. It seemed weird that the Chinese could get so excited about birds which we see as a dirty pests and it was obvious that Alfred Hitchcocks ‘The Birds’ had never been big here!
Being stuck in shut up Kunming was all made worth while though for the generosity of our hostel who put on a Chinese New Year eve dinner, complete with traditional dumplings and beer…all for free! We felt very lucky and the food was delicious. As Ryan made even more new friends due to his beard (all this guy could say was ‘I like you’ and then touch his own shaved chin) we watched the whole skyline change colour as hundreds of fireworks were let off as far as the eye could see.
It was not only the irresponsible fireworks which made Kunming dangerous. The Americans had intercepted some intelligence that there was going to be another terrorist attack at the city’s train station over the Spring Festival period…the site where more than 30 people had been killed in a previous year. Choosing not to tell our parents about this little problem we boarded the train to our next stop in Yunnan…Dali.