China Daily Life Inspiration Photos Places Yunnan

Searching for old homes in a hidden neighborhood

A few days ago, my friend Yuhan took me on a surprise adventure around the center of Kunming. We walked along a popular street lined with trendy clothing shops and chocolatiers. Between the storefronts were these small nondescript doors, not quite hidden but easily unnoticed.

Behind these doors, we discovered rows of ancient communal housing complexes from centuries ago. Some seemed recently abandoned, while most others were still occupied by families. I was a bit shy about entering these homes, but many of the residents welcomed us in, and invited us to take a look around.


Yuhan’s family lived here when she was very young. The writing on the door and wall is a list of names and contact information of former residents that have moved away. A nice couple opened the door for us.


A young boy working hard on his homework. He was very polite, and excited to meet us.


An older gentleman smoking tobacco with his bamboo pipe. His wife really liked my photo of their cat.


The elderly couple’s cat. I think she was posing for me.



Grilled goat cheese with sweetened condensed milk and chocolate + rose petal sauce


A professional shoemaker and shoe repairman. I recently got my favorite boots fixed!


The infamous blackened stinky tofu with hotย chiliย paste.

P.S. Remember the weekly bike series I mentioned last time?

I have a new post up at CoLab Radio featuring field recordings of the city’s bike lanes by Taurin. We braved the rush hour traffic, and rode down one of the busiest roads in Kunming holding a field recorder and a camera! Ah, Kunming is starting to really feel like home.

36 Comments

  • Reply
    Koey
    October 27, 2011 at 9:50 am

    Such hidden neighbourhood is so unique and lovely. Hope they won’t disappear so soon.
    I have recently thought about having some journey to explore the natural and traditional side of China in the coming future. Traveling in Kunming seems attractive to me.

    • Reply
      Sewon
      October 27, 2011 at 1:58 pm

      Every time I discover something really special like this, I worry that they’ll disappear. You’d have so much fun exploring Yunnan Province. Kunming is a good starting point. Let me know if you make it out here! :)

  • Reply
    Galine
    October 27, 2011 at 10:59 am

    These photos are magical. It’s truly a wonderful experience to stumble upon neighbourhoods like these. I’d always be in awe when it happened to my husband & I in Korea, so many hidden gems!

    I also love how these homes serve as a practical place to live/work/eat/sleep a lot of the time, rather than focusing on all the nonsense we get caught up in sometimes when it comes to home decorating/etc, if that makes sense.

    Also, that grilled cheese looks & sounds amazing! Yum!

    • Reply
      Sewon
      October 27, 2011 at 2:07 pm

      i was reading about small alleyways and old houses hidden in Samcheongdong in Seoul. I wish I had more time to explore Korea!

      Oh, it’s such a challenge to live simply. I’m on a semi-shopping ban these days, because I’m headed back home soon and you know finicky international flights are with the baggage weight limit. But of course, I continue collecting paper goodies wherever I go. I can’t help myself!

      :)

  • Reply
    Eileen
    October 27, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    You know, you inspire me to keep blogging. Even move to wordpress. Hopefully, one day I’ll learn how to take a picture properly. (turns red). Till then, I’ll just read your blog. :)

    “Yuhanโ€™s family lived here when she was very young. The writing on the door and wall is a list of names and contact information of former residents that have moved away. A nice couple opened the door for us.”

    I admit, that made me smile. I barely never smile, especially lately. It might be because I have rather big apple cheeks when I smile and I don’t like to show that. Hmmph.

    • Reply
      Sewon
      October 28, 2011 at 12:29 am

      Thanks! :)

  • Reply
    ZEOLITE
    October 27, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    That’s so sweet that you got to go inside! That cat was definitely posing for his portrait. I still remember the smell of stinky tofu.. D:

    • Reply
      Sewon
      October 28, 2011 at 12:32 am

      I was super awkward about it in the beginning, but people were surprisingly friendly. I think we just seemed pretty harmless! :)

  • Reply
    Lindsey
    October 27, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    It seems like people in China are super friendly! That cat is really adorable too :3 Do you like goat cheese? I’ve never tried it before!

    • Reply
      Sewon
      October 28, 2011 at 12:38 am

      Ah, back home I love putting goat cheese on egg sandwich. Yunnan Province has their own soft goat cheese, which is usually sliced and added in stir-fries (like firm tofu). But western restaurants put it on pizzas, pastas, and salads and they’re really good! It was my first time trying the thin grilled goat cheese, but it was quite good. :)

  • Reply
    Claudia
    October 27, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Wow, I’m fascinated by your little adventure! It’s always so interesting to step into others lives and habits a bit.

    • Reply
      Sewon
      October 28, 2011 at 12:48 am

      It was an interesting experience, for sure. :)

  • Reply
    catarina
    October 27, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    all this food looks so tasty!
    your photos amaze me as always :)

    • Reply
      Sewon
      October 28, 2011 at 12:50 am

      Thanks, Catarina. I’m impressed even the stinky tofu looks good to you~ ๐Ÿ˜›

  • Reply
    Rina
    October 27, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    I love old buildings like these. There is so much history hidden deep in the walls that we may never know. Truly haunting. If only buildings could talk…
    How nice of your friend to surprise you with an adventure like this! So mysterious.
    P.S. love your post about the bike lanes in Kunming! I think the sound clips were an especially nice touch. It feels like I’m in the city♥♥
    xo

    • Reply
      Sewon
      October 28, 2011 at 2:30 pm

      “If only buildings could talk..” :) I know, it was a really special walk and I was just really excited.

      Ah, thank you! I’m really excited about continually expanding the project idea to include video work, as well.

  • Reply
    Cookie Cutter
    October 28, 2011 at 1:05 am

    I love how your photos pick up the beauty in the ordinary. And it’s so cool that the people are so welcoming!

    • Reply
      Sewon
      November 1, 2011 at 1:26 am

      Thank you. I was pleasantly surprised, as well.

  • Reply
    Krys
    October 28, 2011 at 7:12 am

    Wow! I love how you can see the history simply written on the walls via the names/contact info of the former residences. Seems like it was a great day for a bit of exploring (:

    • Reply
      Sewon
      November 1, 2011 at 1:33 am

      Ah, I suppose it makes it a written history on the very walls of the houses! :)

  • Reply
    NM
    October 28, 2011 at 8:49 am

    Such an evocative area! It seems like old neighbourhoods like these are slowly being lost all over the world, it’s great to see so,e still being lived in.
    (oh, the chou dofu, yum! I remember eating it in Taiwan, it’s great!!!)

    • Reply
      Sewon
      November 1, 2011 at 1:50 am

      I wish there was a better way to preserve them, but that’s also quite tricky, too.

  • Reply
    rhya
    October 28, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    Ohh…that condensed milk treat looks amazing! Rose sauce? so awesome. beautiful images!

    • Reply
      Sewon
      November 1, 2011 at 1:51 am

      It was good, and the sweetness went quite well with the cheese.

  • Reply
    Anabella
    October 28, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    wow amazing! that’s like being transported in time. i think its great people still live in those ancient homes. that’s like being transported in time. i would love to go into someone’s home and take photographs. how nice of them to be so welcoming.

    • Reply
      Sewon
      November 1, 2011 at 1:52 am

      I think it really helped that the houses are communal, and several families (no relations) traditionally live in them. :)

  • Reply
    Kelly
    October 29, 2011 at 2:58 am

    Your photo’s of the world you see are always so lovely and genuine have fun on your bicycle Sewon.

    • Reply
      Sewon
      November 1, 2011 at 1:53 am

      Thank you, Kelly. :)

  • Reply
    ai
    October 29, 2011 at 5:31 am

    How did you like that grilled goat cheese with sweetened condensed milk and chocolate? That sound so wild! And the cat with the cute bangs!

    • Reply
      Sewon
      November 1, 2011 at 1:55 am

      I liked it! It’s sort of like brie with honey, except on a stick and totally different. :)

  • Reply
    Rachael
    October 29, 2011 at 11:33 am

    i absolutely LOVE these photos, and i LOVE random adventures :) the people you met seem so beautiful. sometimes i wish i lived in a country that had more of an ancient culture like that x

    • Reply
      Sewon
      November 1, 2011 at 2:05 am

      Thank you. :) I bet there’s history to be discovered in your neighborhood, too.

  • Reply
    dina vanessa mercado
    October 29, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    lovely pictures!!! places seems full of history… so love it!!! enjoyed your blog.. following you now.. hope you could visit my blog too.. kissess!!!!

    http://voguelyvan.blogspot.com

  • Reply
    Jenny
    October 31, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    The cheese street snack sounds amazing! Did you try one??!! What a wonderful little find. These places have such amazing character.

    I want to try stinky tofu some day. But not locally, abroad… abroad… I can’t imagine it being done well here in the States :X and I don’t want to tarnish what I’ve heard is both gross & delicious by a poorly made imported version.

    • Reply
      Sewon
      November 1, 2011 at 2:07 am

      Yeah! I liked it. :)

      Ohh do they have stinky tofu in D.C.? I hear most Chinese people don’t even fathom making them at home, because it’s so pungent. I think most regions have their own take on the stinky tofu, too.

  • Reply
    Musings by Di
    November 13, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    wow…I really love all these photos. You captured ordinary moments but made them look all very special. love your lens and eye.
    the pic of the cat and the shoe repair guy are especially cute and heart-warming.
    xoxo Diana

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