Monday, August 1, 2016

Kunming, China: I Get My Phone Stolen

So off I head to the Southwestern province of Yunnan - this province borders Vietnam, Laos, Tibet, etc., and is incredibly ethnically diverse (well, as ethnically diverse as China gets) and different than the rest of China.  Yunnan is home to over 15 ethnic tribes that were originally settled in this area before the Han Chinese came and took over. As is such, it's a super interesting place to visit once you've been bumming around "regular China" for a bit.

I started my Yunnan adventures in the capital city of Kunming, which I flew to from Shanghai.

What It's All About:
I'm having trouble describing a place that I only want to refer to as "The Evil Place Where My Phone Got Stolen" (a fact which my title gave away).  I'm sure Kunming is lovely, though. Actually, I did really like the city - or what little of it I saw while running around getting my phone nicked and then having to replace it, anyhow.

The minute I stepped foot into Yunnan, it felt different. First off, it's lovely and cool here (it's higher altitude, which makes it totally dreamy, weather-wise) - it's the first time since I've been in China that I haven't had a steady stream of sweat running down my back.  The people are also noticeably different - they tend to be darker and more diverse-looking, and many of the tribes wear colorful, patterned clothing. This means no one has commented on my skin color at all.  Win!

The Green Lake Park in Central Kunming

Kunming is the capital of Yunnan - as is such, it's a great base to explore the rest of the province. The city itself doesn't have too many must-sees in it (there are a couple lovely pagodas and parks and shopping streets and such, but nothing too out-of-the-ordinary), but it's a good place to start to get your bearings. And to replace lost phones.

The Stolen Phone Saga:
So let's get right to it, since it happened on my first day in Kunming. There I was, walking down a busy street, when I decided to get in line for meat sticks.  Because I love meat sticks.

Exhibit A. I love meat sticks. Clearly I seem to have no idea where the camera on my new phone is.

I literally reached into my purse for my phone to check on some directions, then I put the phone into my jacket pocket (because you wear jackets in Yunnan!!) for two minutes while dealing with the meat stick transaction. I walked away from the counter - and then I knew instantly. I felt down for my phone and everything, but it was gone. It happened that fast.

There were a bunch of incredibly shady-looking characters loitering around the meat stick stand - a man, a lady, and a teenage-looking girl. They were all standing apart from each other, but they looked shady AF and they were seriously standing around, not doing anything, not waiting for anyone - just standing there and looking suspicious. I asked all three of them separately - basically was like "Hey I noticed you've been standing here awhile and I just got my phone stolen - did you see anything?"  The man rudely asked why he would have seen anything and then turned away from me, the lady shrugged her shoulders and moved on, and the teenage girl kind of freaked out and started backing away the moment I started to approach her.  I'm sure there was some kind of ring going on, looking back on it. But there was nothing I could do about it or prove it, in any case, so I was forced to walk away. Honestly, it was devastating - my phone is my life while I'm traveling - but I was oddly calm at that moment.  I back up my photos constantly because of this blog (so I'd only lost a day's worth of photos), and I'm due for an upgrade as soon as I get back to the States anyhow - so it could have been much, much worse.  It still didn't stop me from wishing that my iPhone thief would fall down and hurt himself badly enough to regret his actions forevermore, but not enough to cause death. I'm not a sadist, people.

I spent the entire next day hauling myself out to an area of town that my hostel told me sold a lot of cellular phones. And now I'm basically a Chinese phone expert.  The best Chinese phone brands are Vivo, Oppo, and Huawei. Samsung is way expensive, and iPhones are alone in their own world of "completely and utterly unaffordable" (they don't get those contract discounts or anything on iPhones, so they have to pay full price of $800-1000 for a new iPhone).  I spent my day staring blankly at phone salespeople explaining features I couldn't understand (I have to confess I don't even fully understand things like processing speed and RAM and phone functionalities in English, nevertheless in Chinese) -  I seriously was just like "I want a camera and internet!"  

Also, walking around on the streets, you see tons of people holding signs that say "secondhand phones" - I tentatively asked one of them what he was selling, and he produced a very new-looking Samsung phone. He was selling it for less than 1/4 of what the same phone was selling for in the store, which made me wary.  Later on, I asked a store employee how those people in the streets could sell secondhand phones for so cheap. She told me that they either are selling fake phones (with shoddy hardware), or stolen phones. I (half-jokingly) suggested to her that if I asked every single person on the street selling secondhand phones to see their inventory, maybe I'd find my stolen phone!  She looked horrified at the suggestion.  Apparently nottttt recommended.

Anyhoo, to wrap up the phone saga, I am now the (not-so-proud) new owner of a gold Huawei Honor phone!  The camera works (in that you can kind of tell what I'm trying to take a photo of, barely). That's the only positive I can say about it right now, as I've had to take a crash course in how to work an Android phone, and despite having changed the language of the phone to English, all the error messages still pop up in Chinese. Which causes me to press a lot of rando buttons in hopes the message will go away. I've probably inadvertently signed up for thousands of dollars worth of additional services on accident.  I can also say, however, that I bartered the phone price down enough (and got the man to throw in an extra SD card, a free cover, and a free case) that the man who sold it to me grumbled that being an American must make me an extra-cutthroat bargainer, so that pleased me.  

Sorry for the long-winded story, but to warn you all going forward - the photos from here on out are going to markedly decline in quality (I miss my iPhooooone!), and I no longer have access to Whatsapp, Line, or Snapchat (Chinese phones doesn't support Google-related services! Booooo), so sorry if anyone has tried to reach me on any of those mediums.  Otherwise, business as usual (she said, as she sobbed silent tears into her tea).

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • So the phone saga probably took a day and a half of my time in Kunming, but I did manage to take some time to wander around otherwise. Here is an amalgamation of rando photos from around Kunming (though probably not representative of Kunming at all, honestly).  Most of them are me testing out my new phone.

My first morning, I wandered a market near my hotel that was CRAY. It was filled with animals in cages (the dogs above made me especially sad. I wanted to buy them all). But there were also huge cages filled with geese, and turtles, and doves, and frogs, and fish, etc.  It was the craziest, most in-your-face, not-meant-for-tourists market ever.

Old men playing chess in the streets. I'm basically just testing out my new phone.

This is the Green Lake Park in Kunming, which I spent an hour wandering on the nicest, sunniest day ever

A local man playing violin in the park

Everyone was riding car-shaped paddle boats

This kid running on the giant floating hamster wheel was incredibly entertaining

More chess tactics. You have to visit a Chinese park, honestly - the feeling of community, and of people singing, and old men gambling, and groups of ladies dancing, and families with children everywhere - it's the greatest.

This bridge was highly inefficient

This man was writing beautiful Chinese characters with water and giant sponge brushes. He could have been writing a disgruntled political diatribe for all I understood, but I thought it was so pretty

And then there was a dried foods market, 75% of the food unidentifiable to me

Selling blankets

People dancing in the park. In Kunming, I saw numerous instances where everyone was holding hands to dance in a circle, which I WHOLEHEARTEDLY APPROVE and love.

These couples were all waltzing and the woman in the middle was just getting down on her own.

  • Sorry for the lack of photos and/or info. Now that I'm back in business with a phone and a camera, things will be (semi) normal starting next post!  Please reassure me that you don't see any difference at all in the photo quality. Do it.  But honestly, if 13.5 months in, and the worst thing that's happened to me just happened, I think it's all going to be ok.

Fun Facts of the Day:
  • Moto taxis are back!  If there's one thing I truly love, it's a good moto taxi. You won't be walking down the street any longer than a minute before a motorcycle will stop and offer you a ride. Sweet, sweet bliss.
  • There's an incredibly pretty sight called the Stone Forest near Kunming - it's accessible as a day trip, and while crazy-touristy, it's apparently stunning. I didn't have time (see Exhibit "I spent a whole day replacing my phone"), but I would have loved to add it onto my trip.

This is what the Stone Forest looks like!

  • I can't understand a single word the locals are saying here - their accents are super suuuper heavy.

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