Suburban Kunming

Central Kunming

The new government building in Kunming, which strikes a great pagoda pose from a distance and serves as a great landmark. It’s even being used in real estate ads elsewhere in the city as a marker of prestige.

Capital of southwestern China’s Yunnan Province, Kunming is a fairly unassuming, extensively modernised city. No part of it seems to be bustling or teeming with activity, yet none of it’s deserted or windswept, either. While the downtown shows the classic traces of contemporary transformation — the Carrefour, the Kentucky Fried Chicken, the brightly lit pedestrian streets lined with outlet after outlet of the same national chains — it’s in Kunming’s suburbs that these changes seem more like a work-in-progress and less of a fait accompli.

Suburban Kunming

A view of southern Kunming and the Dian Chi (lake) from the Xi Shan (West Hills). The elevated highway seems to have radically changed the lakefront- riding underneath one can’t help but notice a sense of decline in the adjacent properties, which though becoming increasingly decrepit, seem to have once been fairly sought-after retreats, with large lawns, and of course that now-lost view.

Renowned for its beautiful setting, with mountains to both the west and east, increasingly mobile Kunming residents are taking advantage of the nearby Dian Chi (lake) and the Xi Shan, or the West Hills. Following the main highway out of southwest Kunming takes one past a seemingly endless stretch of construction-related businesses: suppliers of materials and equipment, sawmills, storage yards, and the seeds of a new, almost exurban landscape that appears to be taking shape. Below the elevated express lanes, construction materials and scrap are constantly moving, more often than not pulled by horse.

Below the superhighway, Kunming

This newly-opened superhighway — complete with unsigned and unfinished interchanges — heads into the Xi Shan (West Hills), you guessed it, west of Kunming. While cars, trucks, and buses zoomed overhead, the local economy clopped by at a charming pace. An ideal place for a bike ride.

An unfinished yet well-used interchange, Kunming

The interchange (unfinished, yet fully used!) near the western shores of Dian Chi Lake, south of Kunming.

It will be interesting to see how the new highway network changes the geography of the Chinese city. While the transformation of the existing city is definitely striking, especially the creation of new centres of commerce and entertainment, those changes are happening in a fairly well-established and already urbanised framework. New development along these highways could be fundamentally different in its relations with the existing city, spatially, but also mentally, as people could begin turning their backs on the historic centre.

Welcome to Beetles Time

Real estate advertising reaching new heights of wackiness. The typical metaphor for overcrowded city life is usually ants, but here they’ve gone for stylishly attired and well fed beetles. Development has reached fever pitch south of Kunming, but I wasn’t sure what to make of this. Some of the beetles are even knocking back cocktails. Perhaps these beetles have left a rural life of dung-eating behind, for the bright lights and big city in suburban Kunming.

Yet not all the countryside near Kunming has fallen to the onslaught. On the shores of Dian Chi (lake), on the southern fringe of Kunming life is still fairly sleepy. The village near here was in the process of being replaced by a gigantic interchange, but nearer the lake there was a beautiful delta landscape of small farms, ponds, very narrow and slippery manure-covered paths, and this couple out fishing.

Couple fishing in the marshes south of Kunming

On the shores of Dian Chi (lake), on the southern fringe of Kunming. The village near here was in the process of being replaced by a gigantic interchange, but nearer the lake there was a beautiful delta landscape of small farms, ponds, very narrow and slippery manure-covered paths, and this couple out fishing.

This entry was written by Desmond Bliek , posted on Tuesday July 31 2007at 10:07 am , filed under Asia Pacific, Society and Culture and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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