Stone Forest and the Muslim community
About a month after visiting Xi'an, I made another trip to China. This time to Kunming. Stone Forest has fascinated me when I watched National Geography and other TV programs. The trip to Stone Forest was on 23 October 2013 and it was raining, making it difficult to enjoy the sight. On top of that, the group was big and everything has to be done in a hurry. It was like a touch and go visit.
This limestone forest was believed to be over 270 million years old and it was named a stone forest because of the unique way the limestone jutted out from the ground among the green trees. Nature is kind to the limestone which allows the highest peak of 42 meters high stand strong without breaking (Ref. Tour guide). It's awesome to see this soft limestone juts out forming fascinating structure. There is a lot to see and to explore but our time was limited and there were so many tourists in spite of the rain. Photograph-taking was quite a challenge.
Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, is known as "Spring City" as the weather is mild throughout the year. When we arrived it was 11 degree Celsius, too cold for us. We were met by Khadijah, the local tour guide, a Muslim lady. According to her, Khadijah, Aishah, Fatimah are the popular Muslim names for girls in China. Popular Muslim Surname is Ma which is equivalent to Mohammad. All Muslims must have Chinese names to enjoy government facilities. There are about 130,000 Muslims in Kunming from the Hui tribe. Hui means 'come back' and the Hui is one of the minority tribes in China. Yunnan Province has 45 million population with only 1% Muslims, about 600,00 of them and the Hui is the biggest group followed by the Ugher.
We checked in at Hotel Yin Rong. My roommate was Ramlah, an old travelling friend. We were aghast to find all rooms with squatting toilets. A few group members are having difficulty with their knees and requested for sitting toilets. Fortunately they have limited number of rooms with sitting toilets and those in need were given one (include me).
The visit to an old mosque in Kunming, Shun Chen Mosque, was rather interesting where Chinese architecture is blended with Islamic architecture. It's interesting to meet so many Muslims there but unfortunately we couldn't converse due to language difficulty. I read a comment in TripAdvisor from a non Muslim in my country about the Grand Mosque of Xi'an. From the comment, it's obvious how ignorant and judgmental the person is with such superiority air condemning the Malaysian Muslims because they are Malays. That's the problem with them, even Jawi script became a threat and took step to wipe it out with so many ridiculous excuses, as has happened in Penang. It would be nice if more understanding and appreciation are practiced and not look at Islam as a threat and their own religion is pure. Prejudice encourages conflict. Jawi script is used everywhere in China in the Muslim community and it does not pose a threat to anybody. The second mosque we visited in Kunming city was the Yom Ning Mosque where different kinds of halal food are sold. All through our visit, we were brought to Muslim restaurants for our lunches and dinners. What surprised me most is that the Kunming Chinese put so much hot chilies in their cooking. Some dishes were so hot that I felt like hitting the ceiling. Xi'an Chinese Muslim food was much more milder.
Another surprise awaited me when we were taken to Kunming Islamic Institute where a 4 year degree course is offered in Islamic studies. This is something new to me. It has 400 students from all over China. A few of them studied at International Islamic University in KL. We met the staff and had a short interaction. Some attend special course to be Imam in their mosques. Thank you Kunming Islamic Institute for your kind reception.
The visit to Jingpo Ethnic Village was a total disaster. Heavy rain prevented local ethnic activities and we were left at limbo, just looking around the shops in the rain. Many had no choice but to buy umbrellas, raincoats or hats.
To me personally, I am thankful to Nik Noriah and Alia Travels for organizing the trip. I might not have the opportunity to meet the Muslim community in Kunming more closely if I go on my own or on other normal tour. This is an eye opening for me. Though I dislike traveling in big group and with Air Asia, I am glad I decided to join the trip as the focus of the visit was to see how Chinese Muslims live in China. On top of that, I was able to meet ex-students from Sekolah Tun Fatimah in Johor Bahru during the early 1970s, who were in the same group.
I hope whatever mistakes I wrote in this blog, especially the names of places or people, some readers would be kind enough to correct me by writing in the comments. I appreciate any feedback.
My next entry will be on Shadian.