Empty cinemas, empty carriages – more of Kunming in pics

We had the extraordinary experience of watching a film totally alone in Kunming. In fact, at first when we tried to book the tickets, we were told in the way the Chinese have with words, ‘mei you’, which is usually used for food on menus when they haven’t got any, but this time meant the film was off.

Empty cinema in Kunming

In fact, they were probably thinking of cancelling the film we wanted to see since nobody had turned up, but they relented and let us in. So we got to see an American film with Chinese subtitles shown just for us…Wasn’t a great film, but the staff all waved goodbye as we left, so it was a hit with us and obviously entertained the staff to let two westerners in.

I may write more on this particular film experience if ever I do make this journey into a book, because sometimes sitting on your own in a 500-seater cinema is not quite as grand or luxurious as you may think, and hidden dangers might just lurk somewhere in the dark…But more on that at a later date…

The place I enjoyed most in Kunming was the old railway station, which used to be the starting point for trains to Hanoi, when this was right next to French Indochine, but is now a museum with some fascinating insights into train history.

Kunming to Hekou line

First up was a nice reminder of home, especially since we lived just ten miles from Darlington and my Mum was born in Stockton…

Stockton-Darlington railway

There were panels full of purple prose about the French colonialists exploiting the local population and destroying the beautiful Yunnan countryside to have the railway built, but also beautiful reminders of some of the rolling stock from days gone by. I could just picture this Michelin carriage plying the route maybe a hundred years ago

Michelin carriage on the Kunming to Hanoi line

Or the more basic third class Chinese carriage


There were interesting names among the railway’s past suppliers. This piece of track was from Thyssen of Germany, sent in 1933…

Thyssen rail 1933

Some of the original planning documents are displayed, all in French of course


And I couldn’t help smiling at the staffing structure for when the railway was first built by the French, since the shape and style mirrors almost exactly a place I used to work in, although that wasn’t officially French…


And last of all, this museum had something we see all over the place in the UK and western Europe,  but seems not yet to have caught on much in the east: a café in the museum. So, a lot of galleries and museums around both China and the rest of Asia could learn from this initiative at the Kunming railway museum. Service with a smile, too, by the way…


The one thing I couldn’t see anywhere, in between the colonial start to the railways and the information on the superfast modern lines China is now building, was any explanation of why or when they closed the line to passengers wanting to get to Hanoi. Maybe it was linked to the Sino-Vietnam scuffles that took place in the late 1970s, but the museum stayed schtumm on the issue. They clearly don’t want to tell us so it’s simply left out of the museum’s narrative.

And that’s how you tell a story in China these days, it seems…


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