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2016 Year in Review, part II

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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. It's been a busy year here in Yunnan. News and events ranging from good to bad to befuddling have graced our front page. There were of course many encouraging bright spots as well that reminded us, once again, why we choose to call this corner of China home. So before delving into the uncharted territory of 2017, let's take a look at the second half of the long and winding road that was 2016. Part I can be viewed here.

July

It seemed Sino-Burmese politics were becoming increasingly complicated as China began to lose patience with its Southeast Asian neighbor over the environmentally controversial Myitsone Dam. In an example of greener infrastructure development, Yuxi began its experiment as one of China's 'Sponge Cities'. Unfortunately, it seems that Yunnan has a long way to go to ensure it is on a path toward sustainable development as the Three Parallel Rivers were plagued by unregulated mining. But such questionable practices may soon come under greater scrutiny by Beijing since it is now Yunnan's turn for a national environmental audit. Of course, it is not only Yunnan that boasts some of China's greatest and most threatened natural wonders. The province's eastern neighbor, Guizhou, boasts a 300-meter deep chasm that Kunming transplant Peter Mortimer attempted to walk across on a tightrope. Yikes. A frequently forgotten town in Yunnan — Jinning — proudly celebrated its most famous son, and although not as ambitious as Zheng He's expeditions, we rediscovered Dali's Old Town and explored the city's more bucolic neighbor to the south, Weishan.

As part of our tour of Dali Prefecture and its villages, we had a unique glimpse of the history of Yunlong. Yunnan has long been a popular destination for tourists, but one unexpected group of visitors last summer was China's national football team, who trained in Kunming in preparation for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Our feature travel stories included Friction of Terrain: Cycling through Zomia, part I and a look at Ruili and its less-wild modern face, which made us think of a not-to-distant era when western Yunnan was a bit crazier. Tourism is a booming area of Yunnan's economy, but weather and economic pressures drove prices down in the province's lucrative mushroom market. Meanwhile a mysterious series of shop closures occurred in Kunming's infamous Kundu Night Market. In brighter news, a philanthropic widow gave two million yuan to rural Yunnan school. However, as we have come to see over the last few years, not all giving and receiving of money is acceptable in China, and a former propaganda minister was indicted for graft.

August

We resumed two travel tales from July, with the final installments of the Friction of Terrain series, parts II, III, IV, and V, as well as a wander through the countryside near Myanmar. We also introduced a winter outdoor travel option, hiking Yunnan's Laojun Mountain. August was a big month for natural history, with a rediscovered mushroom species that had been lost for 164 years and the unearthing of a 400 million year-old clue to plant evolution. Such discoveries are of the happy science variety, while examining the Earth's stunning annual 'ecological deficit is much less so. Relations between China and Myanmar appeared to have reached yet another new beginning in August, with the delayed Myitsone dam and rebel groups dominating Aung San Suu Kyi's China visit. On the domestic front, provincial authorities got serious about national poverty reduction targets, while Chen Hao was named Yunnan Party chief and governor. Improving economic livelihoods is essential in relatively less well-off Yunnan, and figures highly as one of many items appearing on Chen's to-do list. In travel news, more shocking tales of bad behavior, while in cultural circles, we researched the striking attire of Yunnan's Yao women and then previewed the Stone Forest Perfect Music Festival.

September

Music was in the air, with Vanessa Pan releasing her Kunming album Limbs, and Yunnan roots ensemble Shanren hosting a cross-cultural music exchange. But in spite of the cultural buzz, China's native bees were at risk. In better news for conservation efforts, giant pandas were finally delisted as endangered. And as the Fuxian Lake shampoo incident demonstrated, Chinese netizens are becoming more ecologically conscious, and possibly grumpier. Reminding us that nature always has the last word, thousands were displaced and rail service halted by Yunnan mudslides. Back in Kunming, Xuefu Lu experienced its own frustrating transportation issues while the Spring City announced a plan to put 45,000 public use bikes on its roads over the next several years. September celebrations included Mid-Autumn Festival and GoKunming's tenth birthday party. Our special thanks to everyone who made the site's journey toward adolescence a reality, especially Chris Horton and Matthew Sills. Our next event, the Stone Forest International Photography Competition, focused on the UNESCO-listed Karst limestone formations of Yunnan. The competition was launched in the middle of the month at a press conference, and we had a conversation with one of our main sponsors, Andre Erasmus of Sofitel Kunming. In a nod to visual arts of the province's past, we brought you a story on how Yunnan's ancient rock art is at risk. We also featured two travelers on a mission, Dr Robert Detrano, who led a formidable hike from Dali to Lijiang, and Salvador's co-owner Colin Flahive, whose business trip to remote Achang country evolved into an exploration.

October

We started the month with National Day in the Spring City, followed quickly by the Strawberry Music Festival. Concerning ecology and conservation, we covered the sacred forests of the Dai people, Yunnan elephants freed after two days trapped in water storage tank, and a trip to visit the natural white stone terraces of Baishuitai. On top of that, we featured a conversation with climate scientist Kang Shichang on understanding Himalayan glacier loss. Further illuminating the natural — as well as the cultural — aspects of Yunnan's past, yet another major evolutionary find was unearthed in the province, and an archaeological discovery changed how we understand Yunnan's Bronze Age. We reported on a number of endurance tests as well. These included intrepid pilots who recreated the World War II 'Hump' air route, the 2016 China-ASEAN Mountain Marathon, and the Red Bull 24-Hour Cross Challenge. In a sign that more Yunnanese can expect longer, healthier lives, we wrote on how organ donations and successful transplants are on the rise due to advances in training and technology. And a convicted criminal, former Yunnan boss Bai Enpei, was given a new lease on life after accumulating 247 million yuan in illicit cash and gifts.

November

We announced the lovely winners of the Stone Forest International Photography Competition while the UNESCO site preparing for the arrival of high-speed railway. Despite Yunnan's growing enthusiasm for rail, Kunming embraced its car fetish at the city's annual auto show extravaganza. Meanwhile, a shamed Wenshan politician issued an apology for denigrating Miao people, and we discussed the rich musical heritage of Yunnan's many minority cultures in an interview with Liu Xiaojin. Thankfully, interethnic relations in Yunnan are quite peaceful compared with those across its southwest border in Myanmar, where civil war flared up again. The province's culinary delights were in display in November, with the release of Zhang Mei's charming book Travels through Dali with a leg of ham. Additionally, Shangri-la Highland Craft Brewery won a prestigious European brewing award, while another famous local product, Yunnan Baiyao, faced an uncertain future. Preparations were underway for another distance-running event, the 105-mile Mount Gaoligong Ultra and the setting, weather and participants were all fantastic. While elite athletes ran ridiculous distances, Vice-premier Zhang Gaoli — no relation to the mountains — wrapped up his Yunnan tour. As has become a winter tradition, Kunming's own Flying Tigers Rugby Club hosted its annual Spring City Cup and pasted the competition. Again. We saw Yunnan stand up for children's health and rights in 2016's penultimate month, with the Have a Heart Fundraiser, which managed to raise a healthy 81,000 yuan. We closed out November with a Kunming newspaper known for occasional flashes of journalistic brilliance publishing a child labor bombshell.

December

Starting out the final month of the year, we prepared for the tenth annual Best of Kunming Awards. First we posted an overview of the voting process and then officially opened the polls on December 11. Next, it was on to a celebration important to many Westerners, as well as the residents of a small Miao village, Christmas. Relations with Southeast Asian neighbor Myanmar seemed to grow even more tangled, and during a year fraught with negative environmental news for the planet in general, we brought small but positive tidings for Yunnan in December, as local company Dali Bar began a free community e-waste recycling program. In other positive news, a previously unknown population of critically endangered monkeys was observed in the province's southwest. We featured local and international music in December as well. We reviewed Shanren mini-doc Qike Ami and also covered DJ DSK's obsession with vinyl, as he released several 7-inch records in a nod to hip-hop's roots. Continuing the drama of Yunnan's constant succession of top leaders, the province appointed a Hubei heavyweight as governor, and former provincial Party secretary Qiu He was sentenced to prison. Giving you more travel adventures, we ventured to the River of Golden Sand — by tractor no less — and then made a journey west to lovely Heshun. Airpocalypse struck much of industrial China, but luckily not Yunnan. Heading back to Kunming, we dropped by venerable Green Lake and checked out the dancing granny scene.

It was a busy, rewarding and somewhat crazy year and we want to thank you for being part of it. From everyone at the GoKunming team, we wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2017!

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