I woke feeling better but as the day went on I developed a streaming cold. I now have Chinese Lemsip equivalent so hope I’ll be less like a limp dishrag tomorrow. In spite of not feeling my best, I enjoyed visiting the Stone Forest outside Kunming. This is a limestone Karst formation covering a huge area. Most of the local visitors whizz round on the electric bus, but my guide suggested a stroll through this extraordinary landscape. The Chinese do love imaginative names for their natural formations, so we admired King Kong, a map of Australia, an elephant and so on. It is a typical Chinese tourist attraction – incredibly well organized, efficient, clean, designed for visitor comfort, but with limited respect for the actual natural beauty. There was a large amount of concrete walkways, man made lakes and inscriptions carved into the rock.
We then had a long drive to a city called Jianshui, which is on the way to the Vietnamese border. The transport infrastructure in China has expanded exponentially in the last decade and the number of people holding a driving licence has followed suit. In the 30 years to 2008 car ownership increased from 1 million to 51 million. In 2010 China overtook the US as the biggest maker and consumer of cars in the world. Teenagers now tend to buy an electric scooter rather than a bicycle, and you see them buzzing along, sometimes two or three on board, in shorts and T-shirts with no protective gear in sight. Sadly the standard of driving is best suited to empty roads at low speeds. On dual carriageways there is not always a central reservation and, when there is, people are quite likely to do a U-turn without warning. Sometimes the overtaking lane is nearest the central reservation and sometimes it is nearest the side of the road, which causes a certain amount of confusion. Road sweepers, mostly old ladies with a besom, wander along the side of the road clearing debris. There is no hard shoulder. Roundabouts are my favourite – it is the ultimate game of chicken, with no rules other than needing 360 degree vision and courage. I decided that sleeping was the best way to stay calm.
I am now installed in a sweet little hotel in the old town where I am staying for a couple of nights. No driving tomorrow thank goodness.