Friday, October 21, 2011

New Paths to Discovery: Unexpected Destinations and Kids

I think now is a good time for a change of pace with a light post about discovery and kids. 

As I mentioned when sharing my experience following a dog in Yuli, Taiwan, I enjoy opening myself up to new ways to explore the world.  It's not necessarily about building a fully representative view of any place but about discovering things I might not have discovered otherwise.

An example of this occurred almost exactly 4 years ago during a visit to Kunming, Yunnan while on vacation.  One day I took a bus to a temple far from the central downtown area and upon finishing my visit I took the same bus route back.  I think.  For reasons mysterious to me, the bus did not go all the way back to the center of the city and finished its trip in... well, I only had a very general idea where I was.

For a brief moment, I wondered how I should continue to the city center.  Then, I realized an opportunity had presented itself and began walking about.

It was a side of Kunming I hadn't seen before.

Mostly dirt street

Various items for sale amongst partially demolished buildings

I was pretty sure the area didn't see many foreigners and the kids were very eager to interact with me and have their photos taken:

This kid's father sold shirts.  When I asked to take his photo the first thing he did was take off his shirt.

After soaking it all in I decided to explore further.  While walking down a main street I came upon a side street that looked decidedly dull.  I figured that was an excellent opportunity to mix things up and headed down that street.

Soon, I came upon two young girls engaging in an activity that might be fun for kids around the globe -- smashing rocks:

Two girls engaged in the universal game of rock smashing.

Like the kids I met earlier, they were very surprised to see a foreigner.  They were particularly curious to know why I would be walking around that area.  I decided to keep it simple and said that I was looking for Chinese culture.  After talking with each for a short time they told me about a place they thought I should go see.  Possibly due to my Chinese skills I wasn't sure what sort of place it may be.  They weren't able to fully describe how to get there, so they excitedly decided that they would take me there themselves.

So they got on their bike:

The smaller girl broke out into laughter almost every time I took a photo.

And we left behind a little boy:

Not coming along for the trip

The place we went to was easily a kilometer or two away.  As we were heading there, the girls would occassionally ask me if I was carrying any money.  I wasn't clear why they were asking me this question.  I had never had kids in China ask me for money under similar conditions so I didn't think that was the explanation.  But I wasn't sure what their real motive could be and decided to just let events unfold.

On the way to the mystery place

Finally, after the unexpectedly long journey we arrived at our destination.  They had taken me to a very large outdoor market.

And after another question it became clear why they had asked me if I was carrying money.  As any smart kid knows, the market isn't as enjoyable if you don't have money to buy anything.

So, an unexpected bus route and meeting two cheerful young guides led to one of the best days of my visit to Kunming.  I saw a side of the city I would have unlikely seen otherwise.  I later examined several English and Chinese maps of the city and saw no mention of the market introduced to me by the little girls.  Often, what I learn from such experiences proves useful, even if it just provides me more context for an important piece of information.  The girl's choice of bringing me to a market in itself provided a clue of what they thought when I said the words "Chinese culture".

What I learn is certainly a large part of why I keep myself open to such experiences.

But for me nothing is better than getting to meet the various people I come across.

Girls bidding me farewell after a wonderful outing


  1. I like to visit food markets in different countries for the same reason.

    On my recent trip to Tanzania, I got sick and visited a hospital. When I tell people in the US that, they say, "How awful!". But I think the visit was one of the highlights of my trip because I got to experience health care from a different perspective. I saw a place few tourists on safari get to see.

  2. I love the attitude and glad that you are (presumably) fine after your "special" safari.

    And yes, food markets are always an attraction to me wherever I go. Of course, I also like trying the local food.