Arriving in Kunming, China

You've probably never heard of this city
of 4.5 million people

My first night in China, my sister Pris and I arrived in Kunming, China, where my son, Kris, met us at the airport.
Things appeared strange right off the bat. Travel to China is like traveling to another planet. Nothing seemed "normal" to this American tourist.

Kunming at nightIn the Kunming airport, instead of bright lights and piped-in music, the walls were drab and bare, the lighting somewhat dim. I stopped in a rest room and was happy to see Western toilets -- my son had sent pictures of some of the horrible "rest stops" around China, just to prepare me.

I went from stall to stall looking for toilet paper; there was none. That's one of the first things you learn -- when you travel to China, bring your own toilet tissue everywhere. There won't be any, except perhaps in your hotel.

Also, there frequently isn't a rest room in restaurants, so you might have to go to a public toilet down the street, where you'll pay a couple of "mao" or "jiao" (what we might call pennies, except they're paper) to relieve yourself in a sometimes putrid stall ... but it's all part of the wonder of world travel, and you learn to take it in stride after awhile.

Kunming billboardWhat was funny, though, was that I saw shoe marks on one of the toilet seats in the Kunming airport rest room; apparently, a Chinese national wasn't used to sitting on the toilet, having all her life squatted to pee or poop. That gave me a chuckle.

We arrived in Kunming around 10 p.m. and took a cab to a hotel/dorm. My son made arrangements for my sister and I to stay in a regular hotel room, while he slept in a dorm with other travelers. Never one for luxuries, he doesn't mind sleeping in a dorm, and it's a lot cheaper.

Not that our Kunming hotel room was luxurious -- far from it. We did have a private bathroom, but it was leaky and wet. The furniture was old and sparse and the lighting was terrible. I'm sure better accomodations can be found, but I learned during this trip that my son is quite the economist. He enjoys being with the "common" people, eating in the hole-in-the-wall restaurants, saving his (and our) money for other, more important, things.

Speaking of money, we were able to trade our U.S. currency for Chinese currency -- "yuan" or "kuai" at the yuan exchangehotel's front desk. "Yuan" translates to our name for "dollar," whereas "kuai" is more like our name for "buck." They're the same thing, but we always referred to them as kuai, rather than the formal term, yuan.

My sister and I just gave my son all our money and had him exchange it and then hold on to it for awhile until we became more comfortable with paying for things ourselves.

Actually, within a few days, we understood what was what and could negotiate purchases pretty well, although sometimes my son would shriek at some of the prices we paid for things. "You got ripped off, Mom," he'd say, shaking his head. "That's 10 times what you should have paid."

For cab rides, China tour tickets and most souvenirs, we let him negotiate our prices, and probably saved a fortune!

Travel in China was just beginning for us, and we were in for a big adventure!