Howard's Blog

Two Occidentals getting Oriented!

  • March 2, 2012

We have arrived in Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province in southwest China. Yesterday was a fairly stressful one. It started in Taipei, Taiwan where we had spent a delightful 6 days with our son Anthony, his wife Vanessa and their 2 darling daughters Trudi and Izzi. They own and operate an English language school, and Anthony is also developing, a website especially designed and intended for ex-pats living in Taiwan (of whom there are 10s of thousands). However, I digress. After we had been dropped off at the Taipei airport for what we thought would be a straightforward flight to Kunming (via Shenzhen, very close to Hong Kong), we were informed that our China Southern Airlines flight had been cancelled. There followed some animated negotiation which resulted in our getting a flight on a China Airlines flight. There was also the little matter of our vast amount of luggage (funny how much stuff you have to take when you’re packing for 2 seasons,and lots of books and scores and orchestral materials which I will need for my work at the university. I have to tell you this…upon our arrival in Taipei a week earlier, Anthony had posted a photo on Facebook of Maggie and me with our 2 bulging baggage carts. One of his friends remarked how thoughtful it was of Maggie and me to look after the luggage of everyone on the flight!). All that by way of saying that our overweight charge Taipei to Shenzhen was a whopping $400 (another $200 to fly it from Shenzhen to Kunming). Oh well, it’s only money, right? The flight itself was smooth and comfortable. Then, in Shenzhen we were told that our China Southern Airlines flight to Kunming had also been cancelled! One wonders whether CSA flies anywhere at all! We were advised to call our travel agent in Canada to make alternate arrangements. The fact that it was 2am in Ontario didn’t really register with the CSA folks. However, one of them was very helpful and helped us book a flight with Shenzhen Airlines. Of course that flight wasn’t due to leave until 9pm. In the meantime, understand, Maggie and I are navigating our 300 lbs. of luggage from one terminal to another. On one occasion we had to move from arrivals to departures via the escalator, having been informed (incorrectly, it turned out) that there were no elevators. So I’m lugging our stuff piece by piece up to departures while Maggie, now in her guard dog persona, is keeping watch over our hoard at the bottom of the escalator. That all worked out fine with me emerging more fit than I’ve been in years! We got our bags checked, parted with another $200 in overweight charges, and then began a hilarious exploration of the airport as we kept heeding the announcements…one after the other, about a half hour apart…that the departure gate had been changed. Mind you, these changes were themselves the equivalent of a short flight! We were exhausted, but I kept reminding Maggie how funny all this was. Let’s just say the hilarity of the situation pretty much escaped her this time! The flight was delayed (of course!) by 1 hr. When we were finally seated on the aircraft, we were told that due to “air traffic control issues”, we wouldn’t be airborne for another hour! But eventually we took off and arrived in Kunming just after 1am Friday. We were to have landed Thursday evening about 9! Olivia Chan, a charming young woman from the Yunnan Arts University with whom we have been corresponding for months, was there to meet us along with a driver and a large van (we had warned her in advance about our little mountain of stuff!). We arrived at our apartment and learned that it’s a 5th floor walkup! Thank goodness the driver must also be a Sherpa…he carried our big suitcases up those 5 flights, and wasn’t even out of breath. Remember, Kunming is situated 1900 metres above sea level, so you do notice the thin air.

Now to the apartment itself. It’s lovely, spacious and well appointed. We’re renting it from a French couple who own and operate a French Cafe on the ground floor of the same building we’re living in. We (read Maggie) unpacked our toothbrushes and a few other things and hit the sack at about 3:30am. It had been quite a day! However, the king bed is very comfortable and we slept the sleep of the dead. This morning about 11 we wandered down to find the French Cafe. I knew our stay here will be colourful when I saw a somewhat bedraggled, down-on-his-luck Englishman, standing in front of another coffee shop (there are plenty of them here in our district), and, in a pungent limey accent, already into his cups, talking plaintively on his cell phone, something to the effect of “…I just needed a f—-ing shoulder to whine on”. Abruptly ending his phone conversation, he then proceeded to be most helpful to us. Believe me, the ex-pat community in these remote parts of the world is nothing if not interesting! After breakfast at the French Cafe, Xiaoxun, the co-owner of said cafe, and mercifully also fluent in English, took us to the local Police station to be registered, something all foreigners have to do. After that, we found a local shop (“Paul’s”) where all foreigners shop, picked up a few groceries, and headed back to our new home to continue settling in. We have the weekend to complete that process and to explore our new surroundings, and then on Monday the adventure at Yunnan Arts University begins. I’ll be conducting the choir, organizing and conducting a university orchestra, and also teaching conducting. Maggie will be coaching the excellent 55 voice choir in Latin and English. The choir has sung in Chinese only, and they are very keen to tackle the Mozart Requiem and a few choice morsels from Handel’s Messiah.

Life is good! As I get better at the technical aspects of blogging (with some much-needed help from my 15 year old grandson/IT guy back in Canada), I may even include some photos. That’s it for today.

1 Comment on Two Occidentals getting Oriented!

  • operajoseph says:
    March 2, 2012 at 8:45 am

    Wow, quite an ordeal getting there… I feel for you! Was it weather-related? I’ll remember to avoid China Southern! But I am sure things will get better from now on, and your music-making will only get sweeter. Have a great time, Howard and Maggie!


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