A warm welcome and a blazing rooftop terrace

House in KunmingOne afternoon in June 2012 I left Chongqing for Kunming. The sky was grey and the hot summer air seemed to be lying heavily on my shoulders when I left Chongqing. I did not know what would await me when I arrived. It had been almost three years since I came to Kunming for the first time and in China change comes fast.

Before my first arrival in the city of spring in 2009, I had heard great stories about Kunming and my expectations were high. I had read how the weather was warm all year round, I had been told that people were laid back and welcoming and that all-in-all living in Kunming had a small-town feel to it that was hard to find in the bigger provincial capitals in the east of the country. As is always the case with expectations that high, you can only get disappointed. When I arrived in the city of spring for the first time, this was exactly what happened. Arriving in Kunming was nothing like arriving in Shenzhen three years later, a city I fell in love with at first sight. My love for the city of spring developed at a much slower pace, but it would be long-lasting, as I found out when my feet touched ground at Kunming airport in the evening of this one day in June 2012 and I was welcomed back by an amazing sunset and a fresh breeze of air. I was overjoyed to be back and although most of my Kunming friends had left for other cities to find jobs after graduation, I still had the feeling that I was coming back to my home far away from home.

J picked me up from the airport and treated me to a big bowl of Across-the-Bridge Noodles, a Kunming specialty, because – as he figured – I must have been starving not being able to eat Kunming’s famous rice noodles for two years. Before we entered the restaurant, a guy on the street greeted me with a “hullo” and my friend snarled at him: “Her Mandarin Chinese is better than yours, so don’t treat her like she’s dumb”. I don’t know what got into J to be so rude to somebody who didn’t mean any harm, but I guess he just wasn’t used to hullo’s as much as I was.

I stayed at Js place the first night. On the morning of the next day, J, his wife and daughter were all gone and I decided to wash my clothes. When the washing machine was done, I took my clothes out of the machine and went on the rooftop terrace to hang them up for drying. When I was almost done, the gentle breeze suddenly turned into a heavy wind that slammed the door shut. I went to the door to see if I could open it from outside, but I couldn’t. So there I was, locked out on a rooftop terrace on my first day in Kunming, the day that I had hoped to walk through this city’s alleys to let some memories come alive and that I had wanted to spend with friends. I realised that I didn’t even have my mobile phone with me to call J. It could be 8 hours until he would be back. I looked around, but nobody was to be seen. This was what I did for the next hour or so, looking around, trying to find people who could help me. It was getting really hot on the rooftop terrace and I was thirsty. Then, after some time I saw a woman on the street. I started shouting, but she either didn’t or didn’t want to hear me. The positive side effect of my shouting was that it caught the attention of a young woman on the 4th floor of a neighbouring building. She came to the window and offered to help. She called the janitor to help me open the doors, but as another hour went by, the janitor was still nowhere to be seen. The woman would only turn up at the window from time to time, she must have thought help had already arrived.

I didn’t really know what to do with myself up there, so in my desperation I tried to sleep a bit to make time go by faster. Every 15 minutes or so I would still get up to see if the woman was at the window again, and after what seemed like an eternity, she did finally appear. She helped me call somebody else to open the door, and after waiting for another hour or so, the door to the balcony finally was opened from inside. I felt relieved but at the same time was in a kind of shock from being locked out all this time, making me want to laugh and cry at the same time.

Have you ever felt really helpless abroad? I’d love to read your comments.

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