old chinese blind man

A blind man plays music in the street

I managed to navigate the buses in Kunming quite easily, which was a welcomed relief after the train ride from hell.

In fact, if the buses had been complicated, my sleep-and-food-deprived body probably would have just given up on the spot and collapsed under my backpack, which magically has grown heavier since I put it on two days ago!

I checked into a pretty decent hostel called “The Hump.” Go figure. It’s a big place with decent dorms for about 25 yuan, or $3.50 a night. Like most hostels, they make up the prices for cheap rooms by charging outrageous food and drink prices. I decided to beat the system and go for a little walkabout to check out my new home city.

Kunming is a city of just over a million people, so I was expecting something sort of charming, like Chiang Mai in Thailand, I think. That is the problem. Lao Tzu said: “A man with no expectations is never disappointed”…I should have paid attention. Unfortunately, all that I have found here so far is the usual gray, concrete city with a polluted gray sky looking down from above. It is still chilly and raining, which is the same weather I left 3,100 kilometers to the north. I guess I was expecting some palm trees, a bucket, maybe a nice dark-skinned girl putting flowers around my neck. Wrong.

I still wanted to give Kunming a fair shot, so I walked for hours. My adventure started within the first 30 minutes, however. I was walking on a wide tourist street, equipped with the usual McDonald’s and KFC which seem to be everywhere in China, and the sidewalk really wasn’t that crowded. I was just in my own little vagabonding world, hoping to find a cheap noodle shop somewhere and maybe a friendly face.

I felt a small tug on my bag; on any other day I might have ignored it, but for some reason I turned around and caught a dirty-clothed asshole with his arm elbow deep in my day bag. I gave him a hard push and noticed that every other pocket on my bag was wide open. He had been walking with me — and robbing me — for a while. He gave no reaction and just stood there smiling with his hands by his sides as I tongue lashed him in my pitiful Mandarin. A crowd gathered and they were all laughing. Surely, someone had seen him tailing me for a while, fumbling with zippers, but no one said a word. It was broad daylight!

So much for karma.

I took a quick inventory and everything seemed to still be there. Keep in mind, I am humping around an $1,800 SLR camera setup. He just could not get it out of the bag — yikes! Suddenly, just seeing him standing there smiling at me filled me with rage. I called him bu hao ren (bad person) and got in his face, pointing to my bag. I put it on the ground between us and said ni yao zhe? (you want this?) pointing to my bag. If he had even flicked an eyelash at it I would have given him the best kick I could muster after a month of Shaolin training.

I was so angry that I was shaking with adrenaline.

He never moved. Just stood smiling that same toothless smile. A police officer walked up and I tried to explain what happened, the policeman just waved his hands at me to move along…suddenly, I was the trouble maker!

Needless to say, this has left a small bad taste in my mouth about the city that I had just traveled 36 hours to see. I may hang around a day or two to see the Stone Forrest here, but otherwise I am off to the mountains near Shangri-la. One other option is that there are consulates here and I can spend a week either working on my Vietnam visa or extending my China visa.

My Thai islands are calling me more and more from the far south, but I just cant bring myself to leave this country yet. Who knows, I may still find myself trying to decide between going home to prepare for the deep dive in the morning and ordering another Thai bucket.