I was not born in Kunming, Yunnan province, and I cannot speak the dialect even though I spent 15 years in the "City of Spring". But in my dreams, I always return to the place that I remember so fondly.
Before we moved to Kunming, the provincial capital in Southwest China, we lived in a nearby valley. Every weekend, Dad would take mother, my elder sister and me on a bike to Wenquan - a resort of hot springs and temples.
Every 60 years on the Mid-Autumn Festival, the moonlight would shine on the statue of Amitabha through a hole on the grand hall's roof of Caoxi Temple. The spot of light would move from the Buddha's nose to the bellybutton upon midnight.
When we encountered one such grand occasion, there were too many people for us to closely examine the architectural wonder of the 900-year-old temple.
On our way back, the bright moon filled the world with silvery ambiance. The Tanglangchuan River sang an unhurried song with the waving reed. I never felt my Dad's back so broad, warm and strong.
It took us some time to get used to the busy urban life, but I'm lucky I got to enjoy Kunming's unique beauty before it was blurred in development.
Kunming people love flowers. Today, visitors can buy huge packages of freshly cut roses, lilies, even orchards, before boarding planes.
Twenty years ago, I used to spend a few mao (0.1 yuan) every week on a bouquet at the vegetable market. It was my classmate and good friend who introduced to me the idea of arranging flowers. I led her to pick mushrooms and red bayberries in the mountains.
I studied in one of the province's top middle schools. Most teachers and students there were descendants of the Southwest Associated University that played an important role in the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-45).
My friend's father was one of the young students who fought the invaders by studying in the open field even under air raids. The aged expert on the Bard impressed me with a keen mind. The first thing he asked me was if I liked Jia Baoyu in A Dream of Red Mansion and what young people like me were thinking about.
One needs time to savor the true beauty of a place. The West Hill, shaped like a sleeping beauty, is perhaps the most famous landmark. Today cables enable tourists to reach the Beauty's forehead from the Dianchi Lake in half an hour.
One New Year's Eve, I walked for hours with my classmates to reach the Huating Temple half way up the mountain.
Early the next morning, I was alone and found an old monk sweeping the courtyard. Camellias blossomed at the foot of two giant magnolias. Various songbirds chirped in the mist-shrouded pine forest.
From that moment, I became a true lover of Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) poet/painter Wang Wei who left behind many Buddhist works.
Today, when thinking of Kunming, the first thing that springs to mind is the rice noodle, which is like a thread that pulls out all other images and packs tastes that form a spiritual haven.
The locals have unique ways of preparing rice noodles. I never fancied the expensive Crossing the Bridge Rice Noodle, which involves putting chicken, fish and some vegetables into hot chicken soup. What gets my mouth watering is the common Small Pot.
With just a few Chinese chives and a spicy meat sauce, the rice noodle cooked in a small pot on the simplest road stand never failed to meet my expectations.
(China Daily January 31, 2008)