James' Kunming Story;A Brit abroad settling down relishing the prospects of life

The western restaurant & bar, The park, run by James.

[InKunming--Interviews & Polls] A decade ago, the handsome British man James had never thought that he would settle down in Kunming someday, let alone that he would be running a western restaurant & bar called The Park.

That people could bath in cozy sunshine in winter seemed impossible to James until he came to Kunming for the first time in early 2009. From then on, James found a smart way to enjoy the winter.

Nowadays, James enjoys life in Kunming much like the locals do. For instance, tasting delicious Dai food, visiting Sanjiacun reservoir, looking for real Yunnan Rice Noodles (also called cross-the-bridge rice noodles), and expressing his amazement at the development of Kunming in recent years. He loves looking forward to the infinite possibilities of the future while sitting in The Park over the wine of “LIFE”.

Running The Park: a new model of enjoying life

The Park is located in Cuihu Park and serves coffee, desserts and fine wines, with several brown dining tables plus wooden benches and beige sunshades on the terrace in front of the restaurant. Stepping into the bar, people will see various kinds of whiskey on three rows of wooden cabinets. Under them, there are plenty of shiny glasses.

Cold wind was blowing outside while The Park was immersed in a warm atmosphere in winter with football matches playing on the TV. Two foreign customers sitting in the corner were having lunch and occasionally sipping hot coffee. James was smartly dressed in a blue shirt, light trousers and boots. He introduces some basic information about The Park over a cup of coffee.

In James’ eyes, Cuihu Park is a picturesque place with traditional architecture. It seems like a cultural interaction to open a western restaurant here. The Park takes up one side of the boxlike courtyard. There are some shops running businesses about Chinese traditional culture, including the Lotus Temple, the Longyun Stage, and Yunnan Rice Noodles.

"Leaning on wooden benches, drinking coffee, having meals, and admiring the natural beauty ... it's the easiest way to enjoy life and release people from a stressful work environment," James emphasizes The Park's operational value.

James enjoys life in Kunming much like the locals do.

When it comes to the name of The Park, James thought for a second and said, “it is easy to remember ‘The Park’ because of its location. Moreover, if there are some activities to hold here, like wine tasting, people can directly say ‘wine in The Park, which represents the event being held at The Park and Cuihu Park at the same time.” James thought that most of the Chinese would probably know these two simple words therefore he did not get a Chinese name. He will definitely take a Chinese name if there is a chance to open a branch in the future.

The Park has occasionally hosted weddings and regularly holds book sharing meetings, wine tasting, holiday parties, corporation dinner, etc. When recalled the most impressive event held in The Park, James said with excited tone, “it was a sunny day. White chairs, wedding cake, champagne, white yarn and balloons decorated The Park. Bride and groom standing on the stage sworn to each other with a lot of friends sitting down to witness their happiness.” It is the happiest thing for James to have people coming here, singing, dancing and chatting with smile on their faces.

"Sometimes James shuts the door of the shop and takes us to relax outside.” Nie Zhengli, the waitress of The Park, said. She has been working here for two years. Instead, she has changed several jobs before. She points out that she learned oral English and wine culture from James. It is more like a home business here.

James emphasizes that life is supposed to be full of joy. In addition to business, he is willing to relish the moment in other places with his friends.

Talking about his favorite place to go, he said a name, Sanjiacun reservoir, which many locals are unfamiliar with. James opened Baidu map on his phone and introduced, “from the west Renmin road, here is the Sanjiacun reservoir, there is a Baozhu park near Baohua road. You can call a taxi, van, or Didi...” For a moment, the brown-eyed foreigner has become a Kunming native.

When the topic came to the food, James cheerfully recommended his favorite Dai food in Kunming. “There was a Dai restaurant near Xinwen road, but now I don’t know if it is still there. Another one is on Nanping street near where I live,” James said. As for the most famous cross-the-bridge rice noodles, James likes it very much, but he said that unfortunately most of the restaurants are running for tourists. It is difficult to find the authentic cross-the-bridge rice noodles now.

It is hard to imagine that such a "Kunming Hand" had never heard of Beijing Olympics by 2009, only knew cute panda, the Great Wall and the Terracotta Warriors like many other British men at that time. Kunming, which is reputed as Spring City, was never showing in his mind.

Visiting Kunming twice: know and love the city

Speaking of the stories with Kunming, James recalled fond memories.

In early 2009, James started traveling southward from Russia to Singapore. As one of the stop for his traveling, James hurriedly spent one day in Kunming. "It was the first time I saw the sun for more than three-month trip." Warmth became the first impression of Kunming that came to James’s mind.

Expect for the warm sunshine, James did not have much impression about Kunming. One year later, he traveled in Kunming as a foreign language teacher. He was loving this city during the second trip.

In 2010, James started teaching English at a college in Ezhou, Hubei province. He began learning Chinese at that time."When I saw Chinese characters for the first time, I did not know what it means at all. I assumed that those characters were as mysterious as pictures." James explained that he always tries to talk with people in Chinese.

When the winter vacation came, he intended to visit Guilin. However, when he found that it was raining in Guilin while Kunming was sunny, he immediately changed the itinerary, buying a flight ticket to Kunming.

The western restaurant & bar, The park, run by James.

"We walked around the streets of Kunming to see locals' lifestyles, observed distinctive buildings and pavilions, and enjoyed the local customs." James smiled and said. He originally intended to visit other cities in Yunnan, but the one-month holiday had already gone, he was still staying in Kunming.

After the trip, James returned to Hubei to complete his teaching assignment. "I thought of finding a job in Kunming when the semester finished." Jimmy said frankly, Kunming was still attractive to him regardless of visiting twice.

A fulfilling life in Kunming with thriving business

James completed his study and came to Kunming in May 2010. It is the third time for him to meet with Kunming where he settled down and started his own career.

James initially got a job at International Department of Kunming Number One High School. He could practice Chinese while teaching English. He chose Alice in Wonderland as teaching material to improve students' English levels. Meantime, he would communicate with them in Chinese. Speaking of his current Chinese level, James said in standard Mandarin, "差不多".

During the teaching period, James traveled in Lijiang, Dali, Shangri-La and other places. Because of the simple wish of having his own business, he invited friends to establish The Park.

James indicated that running a business in Kunming has different challanges than running one abroad. The Park began to support mobile pay. For example, almost half of the guests prefer to use Wechat or Alipay saving a lot of trouble.

"Although there were substantive difficulties from the selection of sites to the funds for construction in the beginning of the business, fortunately my Chinese and foreign friends came and helped me a lot." James is not willing to talk about the difficulties in details, but he is grateful to the friends who gave a hand once. Now The Park is operating well with increasing popularity and customers.

Running The Park is going to fill a large part of his life. However, the English book sharing meeting usually held on Tuesday every two weeks became the stage to communicate with each other. James introduced that about ten people will be invited to the meeting sitting around the bar and recommends a book that he or she read lately. Audience will read it if they are interested, and they will give feedback in the next sharing meeting. Besides English books, Chinese books about Yunnan and Chinese culture are welcomed in the sharing fair as well.

“It is pleasant to have such friends who love reading and sharing,” James said. He enjoys those recommended books and learns different ways of thinking from friends.

Since 2010, James has witnessed and became familiar with the significant changes of Kunming, "My hometown in the UK is much the same today as a hundred years ago, but Kunming is developing very fast. The international airport, subways, skyscrapers and bullet trains have been built quickly in recent years. This is an exciting development. It is a dynamic Kunming."

James put his coffee down and started talking about the future. He likes the uncertainty of life rather than making plans in advance. When asked “will you get married in China”, James laughed, “it is not planned. Maybe someday I will meet someone and fall in love, then I will be married in China.”

From the first rough visit in Kunming, to the second visit spending one month on hanging out in the city, then to settle down here, James took nine years. Not only a shelter, for James, Kunming is like a second home for his life and career. Moreover, Kunming becomes a “dream city” with infinite possibilities for the future.

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(Editors: Rachel, Christine, Tracy)

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