Thursday, January 10, 2013

Kunming Spring and the Season Traveler

The concept of seasons can be quite foreign to someone who grew up in the tropics. The Philippine capital Manila, my hometown, technically has two seasons (wet and dry) and I consider myself lucky to have grown up in a place which at least has two. Can you imagine growing up in a city that's gloomy and rainy all year? I'm looking at you, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. I love your food, but your weather not so much. The truth is, wet and dry does not describe how it really is on ground level. "Here we have three seasons," a traveler from Southern India once said of her city Madras in Tamil Nadu, "a warm summer, a wet summer, and a cool summer." She could have easily been talking about Manila.

In my travels, I occasionally tend to choose the destination based on its seasons. I wanted to experience all four. Winter was ticked off the list quite early when I decided to head to the Great Wall of China in a cold March day. Sure, it was the tail-end of winter. There was snow, however, and that's winter in my book. Autumn was a bit tricky because while there is autumn in Nepal, I had to climb up 3,000 meters above sea level in the Annapurna Region to fully experience the wistful colors of fall. That leaves spring. Enter Kunming, capital of Yunnan province in Southwest China.

Green Lake Park, Kunming, Yunnan, China
Beautiful cherry blossoms in Kunming, City of Eternal Spring

Low latitude and high elevation make Kunming's climate one of the mildest in China. Here, it's never too cold, nor too hot. Subtropical highland climate, they call it. It was like they were wooing me when they put those words together. This climate is quite characteristic of a large part of Yunnan province. In Mandarin, yún nán means "south of the clouds." I guess the ancients noticed that while the rest of China is blanketed in snow in winter or lashed by rain in summer, Yunnan province blossoms in the vivid colors of spring year-round. True enough, I was passing through Kunming when most of China was still frozen cold. No need waiting for April to bask in sunny and pleasant spring weather over here.

Green Lake Park, Kunming, Yunnan, China
Spring is for lovers.

Green Lake Park, Kunming, Yunnan, China
A classical dancer rehearses in the midst
of the cherry blossoms of Green Lake Park.

Green Lake Park, Kunming, Yunnan, China
Roses are red and these are pink.

With spring-like weather year-round, Kunming inevitably joins the ranks of many cities in the world with the very endearing title City of Eternal Spring. In Mexico, the title is held by the southern city of Cuernavaca. In Colombia, it is the famed city of Medellín. In Spain, the Andalusian city of Málaga holds the title. Rejoice for we have one in Asia—Kunming.

One of the best places in Kunming to experience the many colors of spring is Green Lake Park, located right in the city center. It is very accessible and many backpacker hostels are right within the area. It makes for a relaxing day in Kunming's relatively laid-back atmosphere. When relaxing in the park, however, be wary of the seagulls who flock to the park's ponds. Being constantly fed by park goers, they will be dropping deuces every so often. An occupational hazzard. If you do get crap on you, simply wipe it off and be grateful for the colorful flowers around you and the spring weather Kunming provides you.

Green Lake Park, Kunming, Yunnan, China
Green Lake Park in Kunming's city center makes for a relaxing day in this laid-back city.

Green Lake Park, Kunming, Yunnan, China
Seagulls flock to the park's waters. Be wary. They do drop deuce.

Green Lake Park, Kunming, Yunnan, China
Ahhhh. Pretty.

A friend from Norway tells me that the seasons in his country are so distinct that if he had been locked up in the house for months and was suddenly released out into the world, he would instantly know what month it was judging by the season. Living in the tropics, you would not be able to tell seasons apart. Here it is always warm. While I appreciate not having to heat up the house up lest I freeze myself to death one cold winter night, I wanted something different. I wanted to experience something that is not my everyday, to expose myself to something new. Isn't that what travel is all about?

More photos of Kunming in my Flickr set Yunnan, China: Kunming

Do you find yourself traveling to places with seasons and climates different from where you grew up? Are you also a "season" traveler? What's your experience?

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