Although I am in a small hotel in a traditional style building, I had coffee and brioche for breakfast! Things are looking up. We went for a stroll to the Chaoyang gate – one of the old entrances to the ancient walled city. Men bring their caged songbirds to the gate for an outing and to chat to the other birds. The men just stand and watch the birds, as a sort of hobby.

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Next we went to the Zhu family garden – the Zhus made their fortune from lead and zinc mining at the turn of the 19/20th century. The complex is a maze of rooms and courtyards built in the traditional Qing dynasty style, with ornate doorways, carvings and bonsai trees.

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Next up was a wander round a food market – gorgeous fresh fruit and veg, herbs, spices, live fish in tanks, and somewhat less gorgeous pig intestines and dead dogs. Apparently they don’t eat much dog these days – it is only served in specialty restaurants.

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Dried pig intestine

Dried pig intestine

After a nap break we went to the Confucian temple – the second largest one in China. My favourite part was a huge lake covered in lotus plants (see pic). When they are all in flower in June it must be quite a sight. Around the temple groups of old men sat in the shade playing cards or dominoes. Apparently they gamble to make them take the game more seriously and to make them try their best to win. It’s not about the money, in other words.

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We continued our wander around the old town, popping in to a Buddhist temple and a Daoist temple on the way back to the hotel. Jianshui really typifies the Western mental image of a Chinese town – tree lined stone streets, traditional architecture, decorative archways and red lanterns everywhere.

Buddhist temple

Buddhist temple

Daoist temple - the red ribbons in the tree are wishes

Daoist temple – the red ribbons in the tree are wishes

Apparently Kunming was like this until 30 years ago, when it was all ripped up and started again from scratch. I realize that the modern industrial cities are just as much “real China” as this quaint old town, but I definitely prefer the charm of Jianshui to the traffic choked, smoggy, high-rise, high-speed, high-tech likes of Shanghai or Chongqing.


Qing dynasty bins

Qing dynasty bins

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