One Night in Kunming and Scattered Thoughts on Travel

Greetings from Yangon, Myanmar (or Rangoon, Burma, depending on your politics), where I’m spending the Chinese National Day break. To get to Yangon, I first had to fly to Kunming, a city in southwest China that serves as a sort of gateway to Southeast Asia. Due to a combination of flight schedules and my own frugality, I wound up with a very reasonably priced ticket that required overnight layovers at each end of my Myanmar trip—there was such a huge price difference between the flight that I booked and the next cheapest that even with two nights of hotels in Kunming, I was still making the thrifty choice. (Well, for about a minute I thought about just hanging out in the Kunming airport all night. That moment passed.)

So on Monday morning, I hiked out to Pudong airport on the Shanghai subway and flew to Kunming, a city I’ve been to once before under almost exactly the same circumstances—a 12-hour layover en route to somewhere else. By the time I got from the airport to my hotel, though, it was already after 4pm and I knew I wasn’t going to have much time to explore on this trip, either. I really only had one goal for my brief time in Kunming: to eat dinner at Heavenly Manna, a restaurant that author Lisa Brackmann had raved about when I saw her as she passed through Shanghai on Sunday.

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Getting to Heavenly Manna turned out to be an adventure in itself—I couldn’t find a cab driver willing or able to take me (some said it was shift change time, others refused to deal with the traffic heading into the city)—and wound up taking the advice of a taxi driver to ride the new subway north and then transfer to a bus over to Wenlin Jie, the expat-touristy strip where the restaurant is located. By the time I got there, my early dinner had turned into a height of rush-hour meal, and I wound up waiting about 20 minutes for a table. But wow, was it worth it: Lisa had instructed me to order the cumin beef (which was completely amazing), and I picked out fried goat cheese with broccoli (really good, if oilier than I’d prefer—but that’s what makes it delicious) and glass noodles with carrot and ginger strips in a spicy-vinegary sauce (initially not that spicy and then it hits you in a “hurts so good” kind of way). I’ve had many very good meals in China, but only few that I would rate as truly excellent. Dinner at Heavenly Manna is on that short list.

So this morning I got up, ate a breakfast of Heavenly Manna leftovers, made my way back to the Kunming airport, and flew to Yangon. Various things struck me over the past two days of travel:

  • One of the things that people complain about when taking domestic flights in the US is that airlines don’t give you food anymore, and yes, that is annoying. But I think the other extreme can be seen in China, where a tremendous amount of food and packaging must get wasted because every flight includes some sort of meal. In general, you get a hot dish (almost always a choice of noodles or rice), plus a box containing fruit, a packaged snack or two, and maybe a bit of salad or a roll. At best, the food is mediocre (at worst …). Sometimes I take the meal, sometimes I don’t; even when I do, I almost never finish it. And looking around the tray tables of my fellow passengers, I think that’s true of most people. How much trash do these airline meals generate? I’m curious.
  • I really like that passengers on domestic flights in the US can now use electronic devices during the entire flight, a change from the old “turn everything off for takeoff and landing” policy. Especially when I’m traveling, I mostly read on my Kindle rather than carry multiple books with me. But in China, the policy actually seems to have gotten stricter, or at least more strictly enforced, over the past two years: all electronic devices have to be shut down 30 minutes before landing. Thirty minutes is a long time when you’re deep in the plot of The Interestings and don’t finish the chapter before the flight attendant forces you to put your Kindle away. Fingers crossed that China, like the US, considers changing that policy sometime soon. Think of the readers!
  • Three cheers for Myanmar’s brand-new online visa application system: I was nervous about using it, but everything went perfectly. The check-in agent in Kunming seemed a little wary of letting me go without a visa in my passport, but another foreigner happened to be checking in at the desk next to me and he had the same visa approval letter that I did, so I think seeing two of us reassured both of our agents that this really is a thing. When I arrived in Yangon, the Immigration officer stamped a visa in my passport and away I went. So simple.
  • Myanmar is ten and a half hours ahead of US East Coast time. Thank you, iPhone, for having the World Clock feature, because that half hour is throwing me off way more than it should.
  • Really, thank you to technology in general and all the people who create it. I certainly don’t plan to spend my vacation online, but I really appreciate not going into a black hole anymore when traveling. I like being able to have email conversations with my mother over my morning coffee, and I enjoyed turning on my Kindle tonight and seeing the copy of Anne Helen Petersen’s Scandals of Classic Hollywood that I’d pre-ordered download. I remember my first trip out of the country (Italy, 1999, Latin class trip), when I didn’t call my parents for two weeks because I couldn’t figure out which calling card I would need, and I also remember going to Paris in 2001 and racking up something like $60 in calling-card charges on my credit card when I phoned home to say hi and wound up chatting with my mother for half an hour. I’m glad those days are mostly over.

More on Myanmar in due time. I’m off to read about some classic Hollywood scandals.

2 thoughts on “One Night in Kunming and Scattered Thoughts on Travel

  1. Hah, glad you enjoyed the meal! And good to know about the subway — I was wondering re: the status of that in Kunming. Very much looking forward to hearing about Burma! (which I used instead of Myanmmar because I can spell it).

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