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Kunming: the city of eternal spring

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Kunming Flowers and Birds Market

“For man, as for flower and beast and bird, the supreme triumph is to be most vividly, most perfectly alive.” --David Herbert Lawrence

What better place is there to feel most vibrantly alive, than in a city of seemingly endless spring? Located 25° north of the Equator, at an altitude of 6,200 feet above sea level, Kunming has the ideal conditions for pleasant weather year-round. Flowers are continuously blooming here, offering locals and visitors alike a constant sense of renewal. In fact, Kunming is one of the world’s leading suppliers of fresh cut flowers.

Kunming’s Flowers and Birds Market on Jingxing Street is a wonderful place to experience this “eternal spring” phenomenon first hand. As you stroll down this colorful street you will find yourself enveloped with the aroma of hundreds of flower varieties, from simple cuts to elaborate bouquets. While taking time to smell the roses, you’ll discover another harbinger of spring—the sweet songs of a multitude of exotic birds. However, the Flowers and Birds Market is not limited to petals and feathers; it is also a vibrant bazaar offering everything from porcelains to puppies.

If you prefer experiencing Kunming’s treasures in a more peaceful setting, then the Daguan Park has the best of both worlds: aesthetics and serenity. Daguan means “Grand View” in Chinese, which is a suitable description for this lakefront beauty. Here you’ll find a treasure-trove of foliage, flora, ancient architecture, bonsai trees, rockeries, and tranquil pools. Quirky little signs dot the intricately landscaped areas, with subtle messages such as “Green grass is beautiful, hope your foot give mercy.” During Chinese festivals, locals will congregate in Daguan Park and nearby Green Lake Park to celebrate, giving tourists a chance to experience an array of cultural traditions and lore.

          

Shilin—also known as the Stone Forest—is the most prominent site of the Kunming region, and consequently, is its most popular tourist attraction. To reach Shilin, one must travel from Kunming to the Lunan Yi Nationality Autonomous County, which takes approximately 3 hours to reach by bus. Despite its name, the Stone Forest is not a forest in the traditional sense, but rather, 96,000 acres of towering limestone rock formations. The Stone Forest began to form roughly 270 million years ago, and is continually being reshaped by geology, weather, and erosion. The shapes of these striking features were initially determined by the fracture patterns in the limestone, which was subsequently eroded by the downward movement of groundwater over millions of years. Look closely at these impressive pillars and you just might find something equally amazing, but on a much smaller scale. At the macro level, you can occasionally find the intact fossilized remains of ancient sea creatures, which are the building blocks of limestone.

          

Essentially every formation in the Stone Forest has been named by the locals. Judging by some of the monikers—such as “Camel on Elephant” –one can surmise that the natives have vivid imaginations. That being said, these creative labels also serve a practical function. They help visitors find their way throughout the Stone Forest, which can easily turn into an intimidating maze if one doesn’t stay aware of his or her surroundings.

In addition to beautiful landscapes and an idyllic climate, Kunming’s population of 5 million residents is unique in its extensive ethnic diversity. Over two dozen of China’s 55 minorities call Kunming home. According to the Go Kunming website, this vast array of cultures is partly the result of Kunming being on the receiving end of China’s “brain drain”. During World War II, many intellectuals fled to Kunming to escape China’s war of resistance against Japan. Even in less hostile times the trend continues, making Kunming one of the most intellectual cities in China. If the opportunity presents itself, I encourage all visitors of Kunming to frequent the minority establishments found here. Or better yet, purchase tickets to a local theatrical performance or a dance show. “Dynamic Yunnan” is a powerful performance, showcasing the traditions of several of Yunnan’s minorities, via music and folk dance. The talented dancers reflect the richness of their respective cultures in their breathtaking choreography. “Dynamic Yunnan” is an enlightening experience that will tug at your emotions and leave an indelible impression in your heart.

          

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