Pamela MacNaughtan

One of my favourite things to do in Asia is visit local markets whether they be food, clothing, souvenirs, marriage of birds. There is something wonderful about wandering through local markets. It’s a glimpse of local life, it’s trying local foods and sometimes it involves locals trying to scam you- but for the most part it is a pleasant experience.

When I arrived in Kunming my goal was to wander through the old city, but when I asked locals about it, they just looked really confused. “Old city? We don’t have. Where you want to go?”. After several minutes of explaining myself -or trying to- I gave up and took a new approach. I asked a girl -who lives and works in Kunming- where I should go. She suggested I visit the Flower Market, Bird Market and then told me about the Marriage Market. Everything seemed to be within walking distance of each other, so I grabbed my things, found Joel (Freedonia Press– he was Kunming as well) and off we went -thankfully Joel has a really good sense of direction.

After walking down a series of alleys -I have this thing for alleys, it would probably make my parents nervous, but if it looks interesting, I must explore it!- we stumbled onto the Bird Market in a small park. When I first learned on the market my thoughts were of stalls, cages and well, birds. This was slightly different. Yes, there were cages and birds, but there were no stalls in sight. Instead people merely squatted in a section of the park -or a side street on the other end of the park- and set up like they were having some kind of birdy yard sale.

It was fabulous! Some people sold feed from sacks, while others appeared to be selling empty cages. There were a few chickens, but only one was allowed to ‘roam’, the others were alive, but had their legs tied together and were lying on the ground. The park was small, about the size of tea shop with a pond on one end and a walking path throughout the rest. As we walked through the park -which took all of 2 minutes- we wandered down a side street. It was like Disneyland for me. Anyone who knows me, knows I love old things and tend to gravitate towards the cultural side.

The side street was old. The brick was yellow and falling apart. There was a sense of decay, but also a sense of life. I could almost sense and see the years of life that had taken place there. On the stone street people were sitting on make-shift stools, selling feed, cages and birds from blankets on the ground.

Down a very small alley just to the right from where the above photo was taken -I was not permitted to photograph the alley- men were gathered. There appeared to be a few more cages filled with birds as well as sacks of feed. My curiosity radar was on overdrive and I desparately wanted to snoop, but the vibe coming from the alley said I would be unwelcome. It wasn’t a dangerous vibe, it was more like who-the-hell-does-this-white-girl-think-she-is kind of vibe. As I stopped to look around me, I was mesmerized by an elderly man dressed in an old green communist uniform. I had to fight the urge to ask for his photo as I took a few more memory shots of the market.

As I mentioned above, the Bird Market is small, but is has so much character and I’m glad I went. If you’re in Kunming and enjoy glimpses of local life a trip to the Bird Market is worth it -in my mind. Remember that it is small and ask the staff at your guesthouse or hostel on how to find it. Most of them will know!

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