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2013: The Year in Review, part I

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The end of the year is a special time in which editors and writers around the world recycle content from the previous twelve months and repackage it as new. We at GoKunming are not above this practice, so here's our look at the people and events that shaped 2013 in southwest China.

Sunset approaches over the Yangtze River
Sunset approaches over the Yangtze River

January

China began the year fretting about drugs with Cambodia. We cycled to a mountain named after dumplings (not really) and a technological marvel opened six months earlier at a cost of US$3.6 billion was rendered almost completely useless by a little fog. Myanmar bombed China, accidentally of course. GoKunming's readers had their say in our annual awards while the city's nascent subway went off the rails. Realizing the Spring City was nearly out of water, we hopped on our bikes and rode to the Yangtze to see if it was doing ok. While we rested from our ride and stared across China's greatest river at Sichuan, the province banned the sale of Yunnan's most famous medicine. How rude!

Back in Kunming, an old friend came up with some new beats. Things were not good in Zhaotong and little better in Gele. The monkeys, however, were having a better time than they had in years. Healthcare providers from the United States flirted with Kunming, a local artist flirted with international success and Yunnan renewed its commitment to cash. Shopping for fish was never so much fun and getting sick was not a particularly good idea. We wondered if a river nicknamed "angry" should be left alone, but Beijing wasn't having any of it. A nice, hearty meal made us feel better, as did the story that everyone in Yunnan could now watch TV, or at least see during the night. An elderly man warned us about the dangers of swimming in reservoirs and then happily dove in and did a few laps.

February

The second month of 2013 is often one of the year's slowest, usually due to Spring Festival insanity. But February began on a truly bizarre note involving an unlucky ostrich. We were a bit more fortunate than Chinese zoo animals when we sat down with a local shop owner and promptly received an encyclopedic lesson in Spring City history. Farmers were up in arms when their land was taken to make way for the development of a badly conceived theme park. An ancient Tea Horse Road outpost with a remarkable history beckoned us westward. Many local businesses were shuttered in preparation for the Year of the Snake but Spring Festival celebrations were unable to stop people from chasing after an oblong ball.

While one provincial official questioned whether government activities were transparent enough, another ostentatiously made his case to prove he was king of the numpties by acting like a baby in public. Northeastern Yunnan suffered yet another earthquake. Luckily no one was reported killed. We reviewed a touching documentary about one of Yunnan's most misunderstood ethnicities, China mulled using drone technology to drop a bomb on one of its neighbors and Beijing Lu inched ever closer to once again becoming a fully functioning thoroughfare. We had a good idea of what we wanted to make for dinner but the water got shut off, again.

Jingpo men at the Munao Zongge dance festival in Longchuan county (龙川县)
Jingpo men at the Munao Zongge dance festival in Longchuan county (龙川县)

March

We went for some fun in the sun down south but couldn't help but wonder what Chinese television programmers were thinking. We weren't alone. Tragedy struck Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture in the form of an earthquake. Meanwhile, down south, a Dutchman went native and 500 million year-old animals developed nerves, perhaps for the very first time. We went to explore caves near Kunming, old neighbors tried to play nice for the thousandth time, a fire struck the old town in Lijiang and scientists hoped to wipe out an ancient disease that, when you think about it, has quite a strange name. In the meantime, our favorite dance crew took advantage of a worldwide craze in a very public fashion.

A soft drinks maker was flogged in the press over accusations of spying. A very clever man was working diligently at a job he didn't actually have. The hongshao rou proved to be delicious but the choices of a Cardinal were questioned by the pope. Yunnan's eponymous medicine got sued for 11 yuan and our article about it got attacked, although we still aren't sure why. Cycling along the highway around Dianchi Lake turned out to be rather crowded. In completely unconnected developments, it seemed like making gumbo was the only way forward and Kunming decided to remove the sewage from its water. Our geography obsessed contributor Matthew Hartzell banged the drum slowly while government officials in Wenshan made a mess in their own backyard.

The bridge and waterfall at Likan
The bridge and waterfall at Likan

April

April started with a joke about apples and rolled right along to a story about rhinos that seemed to be humorous but wasn't meant to be. We interviewed a fictional band as they passed through Kunming. Ximeng County beckoned and we were helpless to resist the area's funky bridges and pristine waterfalls. In a good bit of news for provincial coffee farmers, Nestlé dumped loads of money into Yunnan beans and then officials pooped on the parade by bringing up communicable disease. Dali threw a party for the world and after recovering we headed up to Tiger Leaping Gorge to renew our faith in the majesty of nature. Everything came crashing back to reality when two scandal came to light, one involving ungodly amounts of cooking oil cooked up in hell, while the other concerned blatant idiocy in the name of profit.

Spring City residents were wondering, quite rightly, about the quality of the air they were breathing. Some really old eggs gave up the secrets they had been clinging to for tens of millions of years, while at the same time Jin Feibao was forced to give up because of a senseless bombing. We hoped a nice hike in the mountains would clear our heads and when finished, helped ourselves to one of Yunnan's best rice dishes. Not completely sated, we decided to fill up on bugs, lots of them, enough in fact to save the world. Chinese billionaires meeting in Kunming told the government to butt out of big business. It was announced that Yunnan's capital was fighting the good fight against what some consider a scourge and others count on as the light of their day — Chinglish. We chronicled the sad demise of a once-thriving mining town. Hungry once again, we visited the amazing folks at Tusheng Shiguan, who showed us how to make delicious homemade tofu. Thanks to Kris Ariel for putting the video together.

Bruno Barbey: 'Anshan steel victory', Shanghai, 1973
Bruno Barbey: 'Anshan steel victory', Shanghai, 1973

May

Those working for an hourly wage got a bit of good news but it still didn't seem like much. Contributor Georgia Freedman showed us how the province's most famous tea is processed and packaged. Perhaps not coincidentally, it was announced trade between Yunnan and the rest of the world was growing at an incredible rate. The Party Secretary sat for a rare 30-minute interview and discussed all sorts of interesting plans for the future. Kunming residents got together for a good cause, no doubt leading to the city immediately being ranked fifth in an expat poll of desirable places to live on the mainland. Long-planned railways finally opened, Kunming hosted an international photography retrospective and it was gumbo time once again. Sea turtles made an appearance and we chatted them up before setting our sights on the annual business and trade expo. An outpost of green caught our eye.

Given the general lay of the land, Kunmingers may have gotten out of hand. Conductor Howard Dycke had the Nie'er Symphony in the palm of his hand and people were on hand to see how the subway was coming along. An unidentified person left five million on the table. In a tale of two drinks, a green fairy mangled Luan Hanratty's liver at the same time Beijing looked to preserve tea heritage in Yunnan. Bear attacks...yes bear attacks...were on the rise. Perhaps someone should have offered them some sweet and sour ribs. We took to the air over Fuxian Lake with the help of Mike Fougere. The province's four-year drought led some government officials to ponder rerouting a giant river in Yunnan's northwest.

Meili Snow Mountain
Meili Snow Mountain

June

Hope sprang eternal for an overland trade corridor connecting China and India. Art was was on display for the masses and the city's pools welcomed everyone willing to don a swim cap. We sat down with Jim Goodman, who has spent the last 20 years of his life exploring Yunnan and all its myriad minorities. Dragons and boats were transmogrified across the country and we wanted to know why. While businesses flocked to Kunming in search of new customers, China's most ambitious outdoorsman decided it was a good idea to run across the desert for several days straight. It was time to go shopping for drugs.

Falling rocks, really big ones, made it a bit more difficult to see one of Yunnan's most spectacular natural areas. People were throwing Frisbees around everywhere and the police were busy confiscating truly massive amounts of H. Why is the name of one of the city's largest thoroughfares just a collection of numbers? A visit to Yunnan Normal University explained everything. The province decided it was time to battle CO2 and then said goodbye to the man who did more for the study of botany in China than anyone else, ever. A senseless act of violence was carried out in Pakistan with one mountaineer inexplicably escaping. Magnificent rice terraces received what some would consider long-overdue recognition and the exploration of a mosque in central Kunming revealed just how much the Spring City has changed.

Whew! That was a busy six months. We'll try to catch our collective breath and be back with part two of the 2013 Year in Review in a few days.

Top Image: 云翔 via Sina

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