Getting Outside in the Spring City

Written by Hannah Casper-Johnson, (Georgetown University) Student Correspondent Middlebury School in China: Kunming, Fall 2017

Yunnan province gets its name from its characteristic multicolored clouds, with 云南 coming from the phrase 彩云之南 (Cǎiyún Zhī Nán, or “South of the Colored Clouds”)

I’ve been living in Kunming for almost three weeks now, and one of the things about the city that has most (happily) surprised me is how green and outdoors-y the city feels.  From the trees lining the busy streets, to the perfectly lush grass on Yunnan University’s campus (it’s actually against the school rules to walk on the grass), to the banana trees growing outside my dorm window, this attitude is an integral part of the city’s character.  Coming to a sprawling Chinese city of more than 6 million people, this was certainly not something I was expecting, but it’s been one of my favorite aspects of the city so far, and one that I look forward to exploring in the coming months.

From my first night here, it has been obvious how much the people of Kunming use the outdoors to have fun and relax.  After more than 24 hours of traveling, my roommate’s suggestion that we take a walk to the nearby lake was not exactly the most appealing, but I was definitely happy I did.  Evening at the 翠湖 (Cuìhú,Cui Lake) finds a bustling, energetic atmosphere.  There are people enjoying post-dinner strolls, running off the day’s meals, and countless groups of people gathering to dance in all styles.

Even inside, the lush colors of outside are still present.  In preparation for making 火锅(huǒguō,hot pot, or Chinese fondue) one night, my roommate took me to a nearby vegetable market.  It usually rains at least once a day here, so the markets have a huge variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.

A view of滇池 (Diānchí, Dianchi lake) from西山 (Xīshān,Western Mountains). Unfortunately, the green color comes mostly from recent water pollution due to development around the lake, but it does make for a stunning photo.

One of my favorite experiences in Kunming so far has been going to the flower market, a huge, three-floored warehouse filled with every type of flower: potted plants, dried flowers, freshly picked, seeds, and entire floor dedicated to cacti.

Of course, when talking about getting outdoors in Kunming, I have to mention the 滇池 (Diānchí, Dianchi lake), which I got to see up close last weekend during a day-long hike of 西山 (Xīshān,Western Mountains).  After hiking up 2000 feet, eating a hearty lunch in a mountain-top village, and climbing for several hours along the mountain face, we were rewarded with this stunning view of the lake and the city of Kunming.


Last but not least, I’d like to give a special shout out to the fourth floor of Yunnan University’s library, where, even while studying, I can enjoy the fresh breeze while sitting in the open-air study area.


View of Yunnan University and the rest of Kunming from the library