In Mandarin the word for downtown or the city center is 市中心 (shì zhōng xīn) and literally means the “city’s central heart.” But “the heart of a city” is a more natural way to translate this phrase into English. I really like how this word invokes strong feeling in Chinese. The heart of a city has a warm and inviting connotation to it.
The downtown area of the city of Kunming, the heart of Kunming, is a really interesting area to explore. If you ride the bus from Keats school down to Xiao Xi Men, you have pretty much crossed and ridden under the very heart of the Spring City.
The heart of Kunming has a very unique mix of ultra-modern and traditional Chinese culture all within a few blocks.
In the very center of the heart there is a walking district. No cars or large vehicles can drive through here, rather they drive under the walking district. In this area you are surrounded by very modern buildings. Skyscrapers stretch up to touch the blue sky from all directions. Everywhere you look glass glimmers and stone shines.
This is the area where you will find the most high-end stores in all the city. There is a very elite mall here and many other fine department stores and shopping centers. This is where you will find ultra-modern Chinese fashion. There are fancy boutiques all throughout the mall and surrounding shopping centers. In the heart of the city there are also a few other unique western stores such as Toy “R” Us that you will not find any where else in the city.
In this area you will also find many high-end restaurants, both unique Chinese establishments and Western chains. If you are looking to try some very upper class and unique Chinese restaurants, the heart of Kunming is definitely an area to scout out. Or if you have lived here long enough to crave Pizza Hut, Dairy Queen, or Häagen Dazs, this is also the place to go. You can sit at Starbucks (星巴克, Xīng Bā Kè), sip on a latte, and people-watch here, just like you could in America.
This area is also known for its many wedding and other fancy dress shops as well as a multitude of photographers to take your picture in all kinds of interesting outfits.
But even in this very modern area, you will find more traditional elements of Chinese culture. Even among the high-end stores, you will find Chinese street food and snacks all over.
Still, in the heart of the city just a little ways from the walking district are markets (like the Kunming Bird and Flower market) where you can find traditional Chinese art and crafts products. Chinese scroll art elaborately painted with beautiful scenery and delicate calligraphy hang proudly in vendors stalls. Gorgeous vases and other porcelain products so characteristic of what one envisions as classical Chinese art abound. All manner of Chinese tea from basic green, to jasmine infused, to straight flower based teas emit their sweet fragrance.
It is in this area also that I have seen the most traditional silk dress shops. Here are the small shops where the traditional cheongsam dress, known as 旗袍 (qí páo), with the delicate Mandarin collars can be found. They also have a variety of other styles of dresses, skirts, and jackets all made from richly beautiful Chinese silk. If you are not exactly “Chinese size” do not despair either, some shops will even allow you to special order pieces and custom make them for you at prices much lower than any tailor work you could dream of in the West.
Mixed into all of this are the noodle shops, dumpling and steamed bun restaurants, cool and sometimes funny T-shirt stores, and a multitude of convenience stores that typify a most of modern China and make up the majority of the city.
People from all walks of life go down to the heart of the city to have fun. On the weekend the heart of the city swells with people. Young and old and all social classes like to enjoy the downtown area as it literally has something for everyone.