One of the first things I learned was that on the streets of China, you are not a pedestrian but a vehicle, to which nothing yields, and, in fact, cars have the right-a-way. And if your body comes into contact with a motor vehicle and you decide you may want to have some words with the driver, you might want to think twice. On my walk back from Starbucks, I witnessed an incident whereby a Chinese driver got out of his car in the middle of the street (it was, at least, at a light - though the light was green), came up behind this white guy, shoved him to the ground, kicked once at his ribs then punched once in his face. The white guy looked stunned, obviously, and began shouting in Chinese to the attacker, whose car, mind you, is still in the street unattended. After shouting for some time, the Chinese man began to walk back to his car, scowling the whole time at the white guy, who walked off and checked his back to see if his laptop or other goods had been broken. He looked visibly shaken (as was I just from witnessing it), but, other than a scrape on his face, he looked to be managing alright. I was never sure what provoked the driver to attack this man, but my guess is something happened with his car at the intersection.
Rarely on the street was I greeted by a local Chinese person with a smile. Perhaps being a big tall American they are a little skeptical of me. Every person on the street I pass, whose eyes I meet, I try to cast at least a half smile on them, hoping for one in return. The little children are, by far, the ones I get the return smile from, but even this is rare. I'm not saying that the Chinese are unfriendly, but perhaps just cautious of strangers. In fact, once you become friends with a Chinese person, they treat you like family. For instance, my Chinese collaborators and graduate students are very attentive to my needs, more so than I actually need. If I even mention I am in need of something, they will talk with others about it without me even being aware. I mentioned in passing to Wei one day, last Saturday actually, my desire to go to a Catholic church, if there was one. He was not aware of one, but, two days later, told me he had asked around and maybe had a lead on one. Concerned over me not eating as much as he thinks I should, Wei also took me to McDonald's and bought me two spicy chicken sandwiches and fries. They also try to accommodate me by speaking in English when I am around, which is nice because more often than not I don't know what they are speaking of to one another.
I also learned that, though Kunming is the capital city of Yunnan, Yunnan is one of the poorest provinces in China, and, thus this city is still a much developing city. There is construction around every corner, which means there is also a lot of dust and particulate matter floating in the air. Though this is not ideal, I prefer this over the smog of Beijing any day. But things are built with an unmatched rapidity here in China. Buildings are raised and storefronts are changed within months and days, respectively. This means that my experience and the sights that I take in here and now will be somewhat different to someone visiting next year and completely different to another visitor who comes in five years. It is much like a river, always changing.
So, yes, my quest for Starbucks was successful, though it was a grueling walk. I not only was revived by the coffee, but I got to experience some of this strange city, which is now, just a little, a more familiar sight to my foreign blue eyes.