Schedule for the semester:
2/26 Drop off assignment
3/1 Classes start at Yunnan Nationalities University
3/19 Yunnan Exploration Project
3/25 Come to Kunming after Exploration Project
3/26 Kunming Homestay
4/11 Field trip to Northwest Yunnan
4/26 Start Independent Study Project (ISP)
5/27 Finish ISP Project
6/1 Go to Beijing
A week or so has gone by since my last post. Since then, I have completed orientation week for my study abroad program. Before this week, I thought that everyone who talked about Kunming and Yunnan Province were exaggerating about the perfect, spring-like weather. It was only a few days after arriving that the beautiful weather started. During the day, the sun is bright and the skies always seem bright blue. After the smog of Beijing, seeing the sky in China is a wonderful thing. The temperature during the day ranges from 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, with early morning and evening getting much chillier. There is no heating system in the buildings, so during the day, when inside, I still need a few layers, and I even have two quilts on my dorm bed for sleeping.
The first two days of the SIT program we spent in Tonghai, a town of about 40,000 people. During our stay in Tonghai I experienced new temples, a flower festival, bound feet, climbing fences to get into the hotel, knife fights, an English school, and a fun nightlife.
So far, I have witnessed two near-fights occur in China. The first was my second night in Tonghai. Jeff and I were sitting in the hotel lobby waiting for his roommate when along comes a pretty agitated guy who proceeds to pull out a switchblade and uses it to try to cut leaves from a standing plant. A friend of his comes along and pulls out a long blade. Then, a few people come down from the second floor and start shoving the guy with the switchblade. He runs to grab a fire extinguisher to use as a weapon. Jeff and I jump off of the couches and run outside the building to get out of there. It was one of the scariest experiences I’ve ever witnessed. After Jeff and I walked a big circle around the hotel, we saw a police car pulling away from the front entry. I don’t know what actually happened, but I’m glad we didn’t hang around.
The second fight I saw was scarier, but it didn’t seem to be an immediate danger to me. This fight was in Kunming a few blocks from campus. At first I saw a man being dragged out of a local restaurant by two men. Next, I looked inside only to observe five people holding back a cook with the largest butcher’s knife I have ever seen. I felt so nervous for the people trying to restrain the cook.
On our second day in Tonghai, I met the head of the local English teaching school, Alfred. I didn’t expect to randomly meet all of the young students of this school as I climbed down an ancient temple-filled mountain. So here I was walking down with a friend and about sixty kids, ranging from four to fifteen years old, who bombarded me with questions like I was a celebrity. A few minutes later, most of my study-abroad group had climbed the mountain and were receiving the same kind of treatment by those adorable kids. Most asked questions like what my name is, where I’m from, how old I am, etc. Some were extremely shy, and others were very brave for their limited knowledge of English. The entire time that we were on the mountain, and even later, the kids plied us with gifts of candy and other Chinese snacks. I left with my hands, pockets, and purse full of snacks. Eventually, we went down to the kids’ school and one little girl, Alice, got really attached to me. She was the most adorable eight-year-old girl. Her English was really good, and she helped me with my Chinese as well.
I really enjoyed the two days in Tonghai. My favorite part and least favorite part was the time Mr. Li came to dinner with people from different counties. They showed us their toasting culture. The drinking songs were fun and entertaining and I never expected Chinese minorities to have so many drinking songs nor did I expect the drink baijiu to be such a big part of the evening. There was one point in the festivities when a lady, who seemed to have a stomach of steel, came up to me when I was trying to get back to my seat and toasted me. I had tried baijiu before, so I really didn’t want to taste it again. I relented a little and put the cup to my lips, just intending to take a tiny bit. The lady tilted the cup back and sort of forced me to down half a cup of baijiu. People at my table said I looked like I was about to throw up. When I finally swallowed, the lady looked satisfied. Fifteen minutes later, the same lady came around pouring more baijiu around my table. I covered my cup and said no a few times. She gave me a look and then poured the amount that I would have gotten in her cup as if to say, ‘look what I can do. Why can’t you?’
Back in Kunming, after a few more days of orientation, on Friday my academic director split the class into five groups and gave us a drop-off assignment. Each group was given a place to find around the Kunming area. I was with David (a mostly fluent student), Zebin, and Cara. We were told to find and get to the Bamboo Temple. We started by asking a man at the front desk if he could point it out on the map I had. It turns out that it was so far away from downtown Kunming that it was off the map. We then decided that we would try to find the number 70 bus. When we found it, David asked the bus driver if this was the right direction. The driver said that we were on the wrong bus and we should get off at the next stop and ask someone there which bus to take. David asked someone at this stop and they said take the 83 five stops. Then we asked around at this stop and no one knew where to go. It took about fifteen minutes to find the right bus that would take us to the Bamboo Temple. We got on this bus and drove for about ten minutes before we hit a dirt road. There was dust flying everywhere. After about 300 meters, the bus turned onto a mountain road that had a speed limit of five kilometers an hour. From this mountain, there were beautiful views of the city. The bus ride lasted about half an hour and dropped us off right in front of the Buddhist Temple. I was very happy to note that commercialism was not a problem with this temple like there were with other temples I have been to in China. The temple was a well-kept temple that people who actually want to practice Buddhism and even Daoism can come here. (In this area of China, it is common to combine Buddhist and Daoist figures in the same temple.) The main part of the temple seemed to still have the original architecture and paint, while near the rear of the compound there was a new walkway and pond. This was a beautiful and serene area for this temple. I will go back there while I am still in Kunming so that I can try to talk to the monk who lives there. This day was some of the most fun I’ve had so far because I was forced to use public transportation and not know where I was. It was a big challenge!
Official classes started March 1st. I have oral Chinese class in the morning from 8-10, Taijiquan from 10-10:30, and comprehension Chinese class from 10:30-Noon. The nice thing about Chinese class is that I am in my own class. I have one to one teacher ratio. I also get two different teachers for each Chinese class: Zhang Laoshi and Wang Laoshi. The toughest thing for me right now is learning simplified characters, but my comprehension is pretty good.
Well, I have to start my Chinese homework and preparation for tomorrow’s classes. I hope to write more later this week. (P.S. I’m getting pretty homesick.)