A Travellerspoint blog

Yunnan

The most beautiful place in China

A little background on Yunnan. It is a province in southern China that borders the countries of Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar to the South, the province of Guanxi to the east, and Tibet to the west. It is known for its diversity and is home to a variety of the ethnic minorities in China. It is filled with natural beauty and we were also told would be very nice weather compared to BeiBei. Every year our study abroad program takes a class trip towards the end of the semester to Yunnan. It’s kind of like our present after all the stress of midterms. This year our trip would be five days, from Wednesday (Nov. 9) thru Sunday (Nov. 13). Usually the trip is just four days long, but this year Sam had been able to budget an extra day for us. Way to go Sam. As we were packing up and leaving most of the group had reached the point where they were tired of living out of suitcases, but we had been looking forward to Yunnan for months and were excited to see what it would be like.
Wednesday morning (Nov.90) was a rough start. We had to assemble in the lobby of Wisteria Garden by 4:30 am. The ridiculously early start to the trip was the brainchild of our Waiban coordinator and trip chaperone Chuck Lee. Our flight left at 7:30ish and we wanted to make sure we weren’t late. Note on Chuck (usually referred to as Chuckles by the group). He was kind of an idiot. He was in charge of any issues that arose for our group during our time in China and also had the pleasure of monitoring our activities. In the beginning none of us minded Chuckles. We just thought he was kind of dumb. We began to have issues with him early on when he censored our One Question Projects. As the semester progressed we liked him less and less. He was inept at helping up with our Halloween party, he whined nonstop whenever we were around him, and failed to answer our simplest of questions. By the end of Yunnan our whole group had developed a firm hatred of him. We all boarded the bus looking liking zombies and fell asleep for the 40 minute drive to the airport. When we got to the airport our travel agency was supposed to meet us there to check in our luggage and give us our tickets. (In China it is typical to do everything through an agency. They them become in charge of everything from buying plane tickets, to hiring to guides, and even deciding what restaurants the group eats at.) The travel agency rep wasn’t there so we spent close to an hour just chilling in the airport insanely early by ourselves. The grumblings about Chuck began. While some of the group went to get food, Guy, Kia, Cindy, Luke, Sarita and I all hung out in the front lobby. Eventually the agency rep arrived and we were able to get our tickets and go to our gate. The flight to Yunnan was uneventful and by noon we had arrived in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan. From the airport we headed to the Stone Forest, the main attraction of Kunming. After a subpar lunch (subpar food became the norm with this travel agency) that our guide arranged, we arrived at the forest. It was pretty impressive. What it is a few square miles of towering rocks that a millennium ago when it was all underwater were shaped into intricate patterns and shapes by the ocean. Today all the water is long gone, but the stones remain. At the stone forest a number of the local minorities offer the chance to dress up in their native costumes and pose for pictures for a small fee (10 yuan for the costume, another 10 if you have them take your picture and print it). Kia, Luke, Cindy, Bert, and I all decided that it would be kind of fun. So we dressed up in the local Naxi (I believe that was the group) garb. It was good for a few laughs and some cute pictures. IMG_4193.jpgAfter that we explored the Stone Forest. Originally we were all supposed to stay with our tour guide, but our group throughout our time in China had been a tour guide’s worst nightmare. We liked to wander on our own, look at what we found interesting, and hated doing the Chinese tourist thing of spending just enough time at a location to take a picture to prove you were there and then moving to the next site. We liked to go at our own pace. Some guides (such as Andy in Beijing) had adjusted to this, the majority though did not. Sam realized this and had begun just to tell guides to give us a time to meet back up and let all of us do our own thing. We took that approach to the Stone Forest. Bert, Luke Sarita, Cindy, and I went exploring on our own. The Stone Forest was packed with tourists so we made it our goal to simply get to somewhere remote where we could actually enjoy the beauty. We first found a sweet cave and thought we were being all BA by breaking from trail, doing a little bit of rock climbing and then dropping down into the cave. We realized about two minutes later when little Jessie wandered in that there were stairs at the back of the cave that lead straight in. Oops. So we kept looking. We eventually found a set of rocks that were off the beaten path, were easy to climb, and from the top offered a great place to lounge and take in the scenery. We spent about an hour just hanging out there and then went back to meet up with the group.IMG_4235.jpg After the Stone Forest we traveled to downtown Kunming. Along the way everyone fell asleep except for Harriet. She had a blast taking videos and pictures on Annie’s phone of all of us sleeping. Poor Annie, when she went to use the camera she found that it was full with over 500 pictures of all of us asleep. We had the famous Kunming rice noodles for dinner at a downtown restaurant (they were okay, not the best thing ever but definitely not bad) and then walked around downtown for a bit. A group of us (Deanna, Kia, Nolan, Cindy, Sarita, Axel, Chris, Luke and I) had decided to go to Dynamic Yunnan per last year’s class suggestion with the Johnson family and the others (Guy, Dan, Bert, and Zach) had a few hours to themselves to do whatever. Dynamic Yunnan was really interesting. It was a dance and song performance that showcased many of the different minority groups and their customs.DY_20.jpg After the performance (around 10) the whole group met back up and headed to the train station. We were not spending the night in Kunming; instead we were taking an overnight train to the city of Dali. To say we were less than excited is putting it kindly. We were taking hard sleepers to Dali which meant that it would be six to us in each open cabin with less than clean conditions. With apprehension we boarded the train and bunked down for the night. In my cabin was Cindy, Kia, Nolan, Deanna, and Chris. It was freezing on the train. We had all been told to bring just one warm out outfit for when we climbed Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and the rest of the time it would be warm. Hence we had all packed one pair of pants, one sweatshirt, and the rest were warm weather clothes like shorts and t shirts. This turned out to be a major issue on the trip. The entire time we were in Yunnan it was cold (think low 40’s to approaching mid 50’s). Due to the lack of warm clothes and our refusal to use the dirt encrusted, smelly blankets that came with our bunks we all just curled up into the fetal position and tried to sleep for the 10 hour ride. It was a long night.
Thursday (Nov. 10) morning dawned colder than ever. The train pulled into the station around 8:30 and we happily disembarked. We were now in the town of Dali. The whole group was pretty crabby at this point. We were cold, no one had slept well, and it had been two days since any of us had been able to shower. Unfortunately, we were just about to get even crabbier. We met our new guide at the train station and he took us to one of the big hotels in town that all of the travel agencies have contracts with for meals. When we got to the hotel before we even wanted to think about food we all wanted to find a bathroom and wash up. The girls’ bathroom was gross but it was not the worst we had experienced. The same could not be said for the poor boys. Upon walking into the bathroom Chris vomited, Dan almost did, Luke and Guy simply walked out. After the bathroom incident we didn’t think things could get worse. We were wrong. We went into the dining room for breakfast. And it was the worst breakfast any of us had ever had in China. The food was either cold or burned. The rice was mush and simply none of us could stomach it. Dan, Luke, Sarita, and I took one bite and walked out. We decided to fend for ourselves and see what we could find in the surrounding neighborhood. We quickly found Chris at a noodle place across the street from the hotel and joined him. The noodles were excellent and helped warm us all up. We reboarded the bus in much better moods. From breakfast we drove to the ancient section of Dali. Much of the old buildings have been remodeled into an old style shopping district. The group had fun shopping around for about an hour and then we headed to our next stop. Next on the agenda was the Three Pagodas. The area was gorgeous.IMG_4284.jpg As Kia proclaimed, “Someone please propose to me. It’s so pretty in this place there’s no way I would say no.” The pathway approaching the pagodas is lined with beautiful gardens and ponds. The pagodas themselves are breathtaking and standing at their base it is impossible not to be struck by their size. Once again we ignored our guide’s wishes and simply ignored him and took in the beauty on our own.IMG_4286.jpg After too short of a time we again had to board the bus. Next our guide took us to a marble showroom. Wtf, why in the world do a bunch of college students want to wander around a marble showroom? We would have much preferred more time at the Pagodas. After the marble showroom we went to lunch. It was at another one of the big agency contract restaurants, but it was fine. After lunch we headed to the Butterfly Springs. At this point most of the group was feeling pretty tired. We had been on two whirlwind tours of Kunming and Dali in less than 36 hours and we still had a long day ahead of us. Due to the tiredness most of the group simply entered the butterfly spring park and made a beeline for the benches. Dan, Sarita, and I figured that as long as we were there we might as well have a look around. It turned out to be pretty cool. We walked around the park, which had a similar look to the panda reserve in Chengdu, for a while and eventually made it to one of the springs. It was really pretty; the water was an almost teal shade of blue due to the minerals in the rocks and was super clear. From the pond we hiked up an insane amount of stairs to an observation tower. It gave a breathtaking view of the whole of Dali. It was certainly worth the hike. Dan and I tried to keep climbing up the hill past where the tower was located but we unfortunately had to give up when the hill became overgrown with bushes. After the hill we strolled around the lake in the park. We only saw one butterfly the whole time we were in the park when it landed on Dan’s shoulder and then flickered to a nearby plantIMG_4349.jpg, but given the cold temperatures and the time of year we weren’t expecting too much, so we were okay with it. On the way out of the park we ran into Guy and Bert who had agree to babysit Harriet and Jesse while Sam and Annie walked around. Bert had given them each sticks and they were proceeding to beat Bert and Guy with them. They turned their attention on us for a while when we approached but we were quickly saved by Axel’s arrival. They then beat him with sticks until he collapsedIMG_4355.jpg. Overall, it was really cute. None of us got hurt in anyway and it allowed them to burn off some energy before the long bus ride. After the Butterfly Spring we got on the bus and were officially done with our tour of Dali. From there we had a four hour bus ride to the last stop of our Yunnan excursion, Li-Jiang. The bus ride was filled with gorgeous views of the countryside and village life. Our driver though was less than fabulous. He was extremely aggressive and on more than one occasion we feared for the safety of everyone else on the road. By the time we reached Li-Jiang we were more than ready to be off the bus. All any of us wanted was to be able to shower and put our suitcases somewhere so we could stop lugging them around with us. We met our guide, Paul a young guy from one of the local minorities that ended up being pretty cool. He led us through the ancient section of Li-Jiang to where we would be staying. Instead of staying in a hotel away from the old city section of Li-Jiang like previous groups had, Sam had taken their advice and set us up in lodgings in the old city itself. The only thing is there are no hotels in the old city. Instead we would be staying in a hostel. Since I had never stayed in a hostel and whenever I heard of them the movie hostel immediately came to mind I wasn’t sure what to expect. The hostel was located in the heart of the city. We were optimistic when we entered the hostel, it seemed like a pretty cool place and after seeing the rest of the group’s rooms it seemed like all would be good. That was until they led us to our room. Cindy, Sarita, and I just about cried. The room was freezing, there was no heater, the door knob had been broken off by previous guests so you couldn’t close the door and you also couldn’t lock the room, the windows along one wall no longer closed and the windows along another wall were brokenIMG_4396.jpg. There was no way we were willing to stay there. We complained to Paul and after a while of “discussing” with the front desk was able to get us another room. Our second room was much better. It was still freezing and without heat, but at least all the windows closed and it had a door that we could actually close. It had a pretty cool set up. It was a four person room (although we luckily didn’t have to share it with anyone else) with a private bathroom. It had two beds on the same level as the bathroom and then a staircase that lead up to a loft area with two more beds. It was so nice to finally be able to set our suitcases somewhere and take hot showers. We went out to group dinner at part of the program and then went our separate ways. Dan, Luke, Bert, Guy, Nolan, and I went out to explore the area a bit. After a few hours, Bert and I headed back. When I got back to our room it was just as cold as before so Sarita, Cindy and I all decided to bunk together in the beds up in the loft. We pushed the two beds together and took all the blankets off of the other beds and stayed nice and cozy for the night.
Friday (Nov. 11) was our first full day in Li-Jiang. We were on our own for breakfast so Sarita, Cindy, Dan, and I found a local baozi place that was pretty good. Around 9 we all met up at the hostel to start the day’s activities. We had been warned to dress warm because we would be climbing a mountain. We had been dressing as warm as could given our limited wardrobes the whole trip thus far, but for today we were especially bundled up. I was wearing four layers beneath my sweatshirt and Cindy had done the same. We trekked back through the city and boarded our bus. The drive to the mountain was really pretty. I should mention at this point that all of Yunnan was pretty. I think we found it particularity beautiful because of the sky. The sky in Yunnan was a gorgeous blue and we could actually see the sun. This may not seem like a big deal, but in BeiBei we could count on our fingers the number of sunny days we had. It was nice there, just perpetually cloudy so the chance to enjoy the sunshine was much needed. The drive wound through mountain passes, farm fields, and pasture lands for horses. Upon reaching Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Paul gave us a brief history. In the local culture it was believed to be a god for centuries and is still revered. No one has ever successfully climbed the mountain to its peak; even climbers who have conquered Mt. Everest have tried, but failed. It is around 9,000 meters tall. After the history we headed out. For the first part of the trip we took a bus up. It drove us past stunning lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. After the bus, we took glass gondolas up the next few thousand feet. The views were breathtakingIMG_4431.jpg. In all directions all that could be seen were mountains, lakes, and forest. The gondola ride took us as high as we could go. Our trip up the mountain ended in a beautiful valley at about 3-4,000 meters of elevation. It was high enough that we could notice the lack of oxygen when we breathed and that there was snow on the ground, but it wasn’t too bad. The valley had been a sacred sight in the local minorities’ tradition. It was the location of self-sacrifice. Lovers who could not be with one another would come to the field and special priests would assist them with killing themselves. Kind of morbid, but also romantic I guess. Regardless of its bloody past, the valley is awe-inspiringIMG_4459.jpg. Easily one of the most beautiful places in China in the group’s opinion. We strolled around the valley, through snowballs at each other, tried to pet the semi-wild horses and yaks that inhabited the valley, and took a bunch of pictures. After a while we grew tired of staying on the assigned path (this was the general trend of the trip. Annie always said we reminded her of Jack Frost’s poem The Road Less Taken with our approach to tourism). So Guy, Bert, Dan, Zach and I decided to see what if we could get closer to the mountain itself. We wandered through the woods for about half an hour just exploring and enjoying the natural beauty.IMG_4468.jpg After a while we were forced to head back because of the time. After the valley we headed down on the gondolas again. We had lunch at the gondola station and then walked toward to lakes and waterfalls we had seen earlier. Like in Dali the lakes took on a teal shade from the minerals in the water that made them almost glow they were so blueIMG_4493.jpg. The group had a great time. On a whim Annie dared Cindy and I to jump in the water. She was 100% sure we wouldn’t go for it. The water was freezing and while we weren’t cold, we certainly weren’t hot enough to feel the need to cool down. We had refused to even put our heads in when all of the boys had. However, Cindy and I figured why not. When would we ever get this chance again? So without telling anyone aside from Annie, we didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves, we stripped down to sports bras and underwear and jumped in. It was so cold!! In one of my brighter ideas I decided that instead of just wading in I might as well just completely dive in. The second the water hit my skin it was like needles. Cindy and I could not help but scream which of course attracted the attention of the rest of the group. After about 20 seconds, Cindy and I were more than over the cold and attempted to clamber out of the water, which turned out to be must harder than getting in had been. Despite the fact that it was super cold and that I lost a headband in the water, it was so much fun!! It was one of those moments that I look back upon and can’t help but to smile at. In exchange for jumping in I got a bowl of fruit loops (that’s a really big deal in China) and Cindy got two loaves of bread and a jar of peanut butter (also a big deal). After that we got dressed again and headed down the mountain with everyoneIMG_4495.jpg. It had been a long day and we were ready to get back to the hostel. After showers and dinner, a group of us (Cindy, Sarita, Luke, Guy, Dan, and Bert) went out to spend some more time in the city. In the center of the old city were a big water wheel and an open square. When we got there, there was a mass of people dancing around in s circle to traditional music. It seemed like anyone was welcome to join, so Guy, Sarita, Cindy, and I jumped in. It was a blast and even though we didn’t know the steps everyone was really nice to us and helped us learn. After a while of dancing, we just wandered around people watching and talking. After a few hours we headed back to the hostel. While the weather during the day had been very nice and comfortable, night was again cold so the sleeping arrangement of the previous night held.
Saturday (Nov. 12) was another busy day. We again were on our own for breakfast so Sarita, Cindy and I went to the same baozi place. The plan for the day was to go to Tiger Leaping Gorge in Shangri-La. The gorge was about a two hour bus ride away. We were pretty excited. It is considered one of the 50 places to see before you die and after our great experience at the Golden Knife Gorge was had high hopes. The gorge turned out to be just okay. It was nice and offered some gorgeous picture ops. But it didn’t compare to the Golden Knife Gorge. It was cool to see the Yangtze River rushing through it however. The power of the water was mesmerizing and terrifying at the same timeIMG_4515.jpg. After lunch at the gorge we began the trip home. On the way home we stopped in a local village to see what village life was like for the people. We never figured out if we were really supposed to be there or not. Paul just told the bus driver to stop at a random location and we all piled off. While we were looking around, Dan wandered away from the group and about a minute later we see him come sprinting as fast as he could back towards us. There was a huge dog chasing him. As Dan came sprinting towards us, Paul went sprinting towards the dog yelling at it and was able to scare it off. Seriously sigh of relief for the group. After that scare we came across an adorable old lady in her garden. Out of the blue she invited is into her and her husband’s home. Their home was a traditional Chinese home with three buildings built around a common courtyard and surrounded by a wall and gate. She was so hospitable to us. She brought us out a big box of walnuts and an apple for each of us. We couldn’t converse with her but communicated our thanks with a lot of smiles and body language. It was just one of those moments where you see the goodness in people. After about half an hour we headed back to the bus where we met back up with Chuck. We asked him where he had been while we were in the village. He said that he had seen Dan getting chased by the dog and turned right around. Nice to know Chuck had our backs when we needed him. This was about strike 20 for Chuck by this point on the trip so after this we completely wrote him off. After the village we went the rest of the way back to Li-Jiang. That night we had our last big group dinner. It was a really good dinner and everyone had a lot of fun. We segregated the tables into guys and girls (this became our secret weapon whenever everyone was really hungry because we had learned that when we sit with the boys they eat all the food too quickly, but when just the girls sit together there is more than enough). Harriet was thrilled that she got to sit with the big girls. She was even in a mood to try some Chinese food and of all the options of things on the table the thing she told Annie she wanted was the fish eye. We plucked it out (btw, fish in China are served completely whole and you just pull the meat off of it with your chopsticks), and she tried it. She wasn’t a fan but we were impressed that she was even willing to try it. After dinner most of the group headed back but Annie wanted to stay out and enjoy some time without the kids for a while. So Luke, Axel, Dan, Guy, Bert, and I stayed with Annie at the restaurant. It was a good time just talking about how the trip had gone, about life, about Annie’s experiences, and life in general. After a while Cindy and Sarita joined to and the whole group walked through the city just chatting and enjoying our time together. Slowly people began to drop off from the group and after a bit Dan and I headed back too while Annie, Axel and Bert continued their discussion of Bert’s one question topic.
Sunday (Nov. 13) was our last day in Yunnan and it was a completely free day. We could do whatever we wanted for the day, we just had to be back at the water wheel by 4:00 pm to make our plane home. Sarita and I had talked previously about going horseback riding but we weren’t sure if it would work out for us. Our only lead was from Annie who had talked to a woman outside our hostel on Friday who said she offered horseback riding tours in her local village every day. All we knew was that she said she was there every morning between 9:30 and 10:00. We had no idea what she looked like but decided to give it a try. Dan, Sarita, and I went to an early breakfast then helped him find a scarf for his mom for Christmas. On our walk back to the hostel we ran into Axel who actually had gotten the card for the lady from Annie. We told him we wanted to go horseback riding and he said he did too. We gave her a call and she agreed to meet us at the water wheel. Dan ran to grab Guy, Bert, and Luke and then the seven of us met up with the women. After bargaining for a whole day tour for 170 yuan (about $24) that included horseback riding through the mountains, a traditional lunch, a canoe ride through the nesting grounds of migratory cranes and transportation we headed out. We really had no idea what to expect but we were excited. When we got there we had lunch before setting out on the ride. The lunch was similar to Sichuan hotpot but instead of using boiling oil to cook the food, it used water and then you dipped your food (noodles, potatoes, carrots, lettuce, pork, onions, and tofu) into a dry spice. It was delicious. After that we started on the horseback ride. Luke and Axel had never ridden before and were a little nervous but they did really good. The rest of us had some experience and the horses were trained enough that we could just kind of sit there and enjoy the ride. My horse was a sweetie but super hard to steer, I just kept him right by his friends and he was fine. The ride started out from their village along the shores of Lake Laoshi then wound its way through the mountains. It meandered through old family burial shrines, farmland, and rugged mountain terrain. I have said this at least two times already when describing places in Yunnan but this really was one of the most beautiful I had ever seen. My words can’t even remotely do it justice. When we looked out on one side we could see the lake and rising up behind it the beauty of Shangri-La. In the other direction you saw gorgeous tree covered mountains and towering about it all was Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. It was about a two hour ride up the mountain. At the top we could see for miles upon miles. We chilled up on the mountain for a while with our guides and marveled at what we were experiencing. All of us agreed that when we had decided to come to China we had never expected the trip to be like anything like this. We had experienced so much and the trip had definitely left its mark on us. It was also the perfect group of people to share the moment with. Since National Holiday the six of us, Sarita, Luke, Dan, Bert, and Guy had been close to inseparable. We had become extremely close and it was a great moment to share together. After a while on top of the mountain we began the trek down. The journey down brought us through more farmland. Our guides were thrilled to show off their crops to us and offered us samples of many of it. After the horseback ride, which by the end of we were all quite sore (instead of what we would typically think of as saddles the saddles were four pieces of metal welded together with two bath towels woven through the bars to serve as padding), we were taken on a canoe ride on the lake. It took us through a nesting ground for cranes that migrated each year between China and Siberia. It was late in the migratory season but we were still able to see a number of birds. The view again was amazing. The mountains that we had just been in were perfectly mirrored in the water of the lake. It was straight out of a fairytale. And of course, none of us had camera that could capture its beauty. But maybe that is for the best. It was moment that put so much in perspective and a moment that cannot truly be shared with anyone who wasn’t there. After the canoe ride we returned our horses to the pasture and drove back to Li-Jiang. In a small world coincidence our guide had a son who was also attending SWU. She asked us if we would be willing to take a few things to him at school and Axel graciously agreed. We got back to the hostel with about an hour and half to spare. We went to dinner at N’s Kitchen which was a western restaurant. The food was great. Sarita and I split a pizza and a bowl of pasta, Cindy got a tuna sandwich, and the boys got basically everything on the menu. It was a good cure for our western food cravings. After a hectic time trying to get everyone together, we eventually were on our way to the airport. We had only one hitch at the airport and that concerned our bus driver. Sam had asked Chuck what protocol was on tipping the day before. Sam expressed that we were not happy with the service we had gotten (the driver’s driving was so dangerous that at one point his sudden stop had launched Harriet from her seat and she had flown two rows forward before colliding head on with an arm rail). Chuck had told Sam that tipping was not expected and not to worry about it. However when we got to the airport the driver demanded a 1,000 yuan tip, a ridiculous amount even for excellent service. Sam replied that he didn’t have any money for a tip. Chuck just kept whining that he was so embarrassed that we weren’t tipping the driver and how could we do such a thing. To say that that was yet another strike against Chuck is an understatement. After that debacle, everything else was smooth sailing. We got our tickets, got through security, boarded our flight and got home with no issues. We were all quite happy to return to our nicely heated room and soft beds.

Posted by remullin 09:39 Archived in China Comments (0)

Pretty Chill Week

Again, see title

The next week and a half in BeiBei were pretty chill. Not a whole lot happened but for the sake of completeness I’ll do a quick entry on it.
Sunday (Oct. 30) was Guy’s birthday. The group had to meet at 10 to finish cleaning the courtyard. We moved all the tables back to the Waiban office, got the toilet paper out of the trees, and finished sweeping up the garbage. After that we had the rest of the afternoon free. For Guy’s birthday we all met around 7 to go out for his (and mine) favorite thing, hot pot. It was a pretty big group of us. It was Guy (obviously), Dan, Cindy, Sarita, Nolan, Zach, Deanna, Kia, Axel, Rae (Bert’s girlfriend who became one of my best Chinese friends), Leyi, Sri Pan, Aing, Gao, Som, (four of the Thai girls we got to know while we at SWU), Emily, and her friend Kachumay. We took the city bus (and pretty much filled up the whole thing) across BeiBei to a hot pot restaurant that had been recommended to us. It ended up being really good. It was a lot of fun being with everyone and Guy had a great time. After Hot Pot we went back to Gate 5 and met up with some more friends. In addition to it being Guy’s birthday It was also Sri Pan and Aing’s last night in China. They had just graduated and were returning home to Thailand the next day to start teaching. It was really sad because I had just started to get to know them. After a couple hours I said my good byes and headed home.
There’s really not too much to say about the school week (Oct 31-Nov. 4). Chinese was beginning to become more comprehendible everyday so I no longer dreaded going to class. I just disliked the early mornings. Kung Fu was cancelled for the week due to the rain. All of our Kung Fu classes were outside so whenever the weather was too terrible we simply didn’t have class. In calligraphy we kept working on painting. I got really good at frogs, but that was about it. In ethnology we just continued plugging away at the dynasties (if you didn’t know there are a ton of them and they all kind of blur together).
On Tuesday (Nov. 1) night we had Ladies Night with Annie. At least once a month, usually more, Annie and all of the girls on our trip (Deanna, Kia, Cindy, Sarita, and I) would go out for the night. It was a great way to relax, catch up with the girls, and get to know Annie outside of the classroom. We went out to dinner all together at one of the restaurants Sarita and I liked best. It was down by Noodle Man and lucky for us had an English menu so we could actually order more than just the 10 or so things we knew how to say. They had amazing eggplant. After dinner we took the trolley over to gate 2 to one of the coffee shops. It had amazing lavender tea and over National Holiday Deanna, Cindy, Kia, and Annie had discovered it. The tea was great and so was the conversation. I always left ladies nights feeling refreshed and excited for what was to come on our trip. Annie challenged us with discussions. She asked us to really explore ourselves and to discover why we held certain truths. She also was filled with fun stories to tell us, from her past dating experiences, her college experience (she went to college in Denmark that used no grades and the entire curriculum was built around conducting their own One Question Projects), and her experiences as a mom.
On Wednesday (Nov. 2) we went to Chongqing for Sam’s class. We went to see the TANK institute. It is an art institute built in the art district of Chongqing. The art district was not what I expected to find in China. It was filled with artfully graffitied buildings that stood out so much from the usual stark monotony of Chinese apartment buildings. Tank_Loft__9_.jpgTANK was also pretty sweet. It was filled with different studios that we got to tour. All of the art work was different. One artist combined new art with propaganda objects from the Cultural Revolution, another mixed traditional art with new forms of air brushing to make neon bright prints of things like tigers and pigs, another drew run down apartments contorted into different shapes or emerging from everyday objects such as the back of a car or with an old man carrying it, another had comic book like illustrations with the eyes of the people drawn over with red and background that sad things like GDP with an arrow pointing up. It was all really artsy and cool, but not necessarily what you would expect to see in China. It was great for changing how we all perceived China.Tank_Loft__10_.jpgTank_Loft__46_.jpg
The rest of the school week was non-descript.
On Saturday (Nov. 5) Sarita, Luke and I went with Kevin, Otabek, Alex (a quiet, shy, sweet guy from Sweden), Pablo (an adorable sweetheart of a guy from Argentina), Oley (a soccer player from Laos), and a few others to Chongqing for the day. We caught the bus from downtown BeiBei to Shabingba district of Chongqing. We all were craving pizza so we went to a Western style buffet for lunch. Sadly, it was not very good, but it solved out pizza cravings. After that we wandered around for a few hours. Sarita was out of conditioner so we found a store where she could get that and the boys looked around at stuff. It was a pretty chill day, but it was fun getting out with other people and getting to know the international kids better.
Sunday (Nov. 6) was just spent catching up on homework, making sure I understood all the concepts we had covered so far in Chinese, learning some characters, working on visual journal stuff, and putting together materials for my Summer in DC internship application.
Monday and Tuesday (Nov. 7-8) were pretty low key too as our group focused on getting ready for our trip to Yunnan.

Posted by remullin 09:34 Comments (0)

21 Days of Class pt. 2

The next school week (Oct 17-21) passed pretty uneventfully. We had all reached the point of the semester where Chinese was a struggle. We just covered so much information each class that most of us continued to fall more and more behind. Luckily this trend didn’t last too long and eventually I found the time to just sit down and figure everything out. But for a solid two weeks, Chinese was a living hell. In Ethnology we continued to chug away at the dynasties. And in SAS we worked had One Question presentations as people presented their topics. On Wednesday (Oct. 19) Sarita and I went to dinner with Sophie and Sol to the guy that loves us. They enjoyed it much more than when we went to the Korean restaurant. On Thursday (Oct. 20) I babysat for the Johnson’s so that they could have a date night. Throughout the course of the semester almost all of us were asked to babysit them at least once. I was a little nervous about the night would go. Dan and Bert had watched them Tuesday afternoon for only about an hour and a half at the park and said that it was exhausting. They were constantly running around trying to keep an eye on both and keep them from getting hurt. I knocked on the door of room 202 with a sense of apprehension in my stomach at 6:00. My worry was for nothing. The kids were super good. We curled up on the couch and watched movies for the night while eating strawberry flavored popcorn (China had this thing for fruit flavored popcorn, they also liked orange which actually was pretty good, as was the strawberry). We watched the two of the new Land Before Time Films (seriously how many of those movies are they going to make?). When they started to get rambunctious I taught them some of our Kung Fu routine. This turned out to be one of their favorite things ever and throughout the rest of the trip they would attack the students with it whenever they got bored. Sam and Annie came home around 8 and I was free for the rest of the night. Sarita came with me while I got dinner at one of my favorite rice places by the Noodle Man. They made a usong rosa that was delicious. After that we went for milk teas as usual.
Friday (Oct 21) we had Chinese in the morning and then Sam’s class was cancelled for the afternoon because we had our first teaching weekend for our Teaching Practicum course. Around 1:15 the “teachers” assembled in the courtyard. It was Cindy, Sarita, Kia, Axel, Chris, Luke, Zach, Nolan (who we called Nogan all semester, the remnant of one of our first nights in Beijing), and I. We would be teaching in Sichuan Provence. It was about a two and half hour drive to the town of She Hong. We would be teaching at the Primary school which in this case had grades (K-9). Usually primary school was K-6, the middle school is 7-9. But this school was small with only 4,000 students (small, right?) so they were combined. One fun fact about our school was this it was sponsored by the local alcohol distillery so the walls all around the school were decorated with pictures of the alcohol they sold. When our bus pulled up it was insane. It was as if we were celebrities. Kids crowded around our bus just trying to get a look at us. When we stepped off the bus they immediately starting taking our pictures on their phones. It was a very strange feeling. We had had our pictures taken by strangers before and were used to people staring at us, but this many was a new experience. We then met with the teachers and were told what grade we would be teaching and given the textbooks. Cindy and I were co-teaching a section of 6th graders, she had the first two periods and then I was in charge of the next four. We were given their textbook told to start at lesson 1 and get as far as we could in six periods. This was going to be interesting. After that we headed into a nearby city which was where our hotel was. After dinner (the first of many to serve us pigs ear, fish stomach, and pickled intestines. They’re considered delicacies and our hosts ordered them for us at every meal when we went on teaching weekends), Luke, Sarita, Chris, Axel, and I went out to explore the area around our hotel. We basically just wanted to see what was around and get some ice cream. We were very disappointed. Everything around our hotel was closed at it was only 7:30. We wandered around and after about an hour gave up and headed back without finding any ice cream. We were all super tired so ended up going to sleep by 9:30.
Saturday (Oct. 22) was our first day of teaching. We had to leave the hotel at 7:50 to get to the school in time for class. Cindy and I the night before had briefly glanced at the textbook lessons (they covered greetings, farewells, car brands, and a handful of nationalities) and decided we were just going to wing it. One other point, the books taught British English, which impacted both spelling and pronunciation. Cindy and I quickly informed them that neither of us spoke British English and that we would teach them American English. We started going through the lessons but it quickly became apparent that the students already knew a lot of the material. IMG_4565.jpgWe spent a while on it and then came up with our own stuff to do. We taught them colors, clothes, seasons, and food. It became fun for them because we would teach the English and then challenge them to teach us the Chinese. After Cindy left I kept going with teaching them whatever I could think of. We got a break after the first three periods to have lunch. Our hosts took us to lunch at a local restaurant with all of the other teachers. We again got the honor of eating ear, stomach and other delights. They also served us more normal food though such as duck, lotus and a variety of other dishes that were all very good. After lunch we got back to the school and still have about an hour and half before classes resumed (like our class schedule at SWU the students had classes in the morning and then a 2 and a half hour break for lunch and resumed class at 2:30). We hung out in a conference room and took naps and compared storied. Luke, Zach, Chris, and Axel were having a great time with their classes. Nolan had had a rough morning trying to stretch teaching the numbers 1-12 into enough information to last 3 hours. Kia and Sarita were also struggling with their classes. Their students were hard to control and Sarita’s class was not particularly interested in listening to her. To say that they were less than excited to head back to the classroom was an understatement. IMG_4564.jpgI was also a little hesitant because I was out of new vocab material but my class was amazing and I loved them so the excitement at getting to spend more time with them outweighed the nervousness. The next three periods went pretty well. We covered some more random vocab such as body parts, days, and months. Then Zach showed me a few games to play with them. One involved writing all of the new vocab words on the board. Then two students would be called forward. I would say a word and it was a race for them to find it. The best 2 out of 3 won the game. We played that for a while and then changed it so that one student would say the words and their partner would have to find it. After that we played hang man. It was a good way to end the day. On the bus ride back to our hotel we compared stories. Everyone’s afternoon had been similar to their morning except for Nolan’s. He had had 2nd graders in the morning and then 3rd graders in the afternoon. It had not gone so well. His class was utter chaos. Two kids took mops from the hallway and started having a broom fight during class. Other students would stand on their desks and try to tackle Nolan. Another kid had a nose bleed that would not stop. Overall, it was a crazy class period. At the end of the day their real teacher came in and instead of dismissing them brought in the bamboo discipline cane. He excused Nolan and we can only assume then used the cane on the students.IMG_4563.jpg Side note, the only naughty thing my class did (and it wasn’t even that big of a deal) was remove the door knob from one of the doors of our classroom. After the day of teaching we went to dinner and then all went back to the hotel and passed out.
Sunday (Oct. 23) was our second day of the teaching weekend. Cindy, Sarita, Kia, and I were assigned to the kindergarten for the day. I was super excited. I got the oldest kids in the kindergarten (in China children start kindergarten at 2 and attend it until they are 4, think of it as a more rigorous version of our preschool) who were 4 years old. They were so cute! I got to the classroom and the teacher simply assigned me to play with them. That I could do. We played outside on the playground equipment for a while. My clothes were never the same size again after that day. I literally had a throng of about 12 kids pulling my clothes in all directions. It was cute for a while then it just became annoying as I heard the threads ripping. After playing outside I was instructed to teach them big, small, long and short using some illustrated cards their teacher had made. Big was illustrated by a basketball, small by an orange, short by a pencil, and long was also a pencil. We then sang English songs until their parents came to get them. As they left I gave them each a piece of candy which they were not allowed to receive until they said please and thank you. After classes were over we went to lunch with the teachers. Then we boarded the bus and headed home to BeiBei.
Classes the week of October 24-28 were stressful. Chinese was way over our heads. We would literally go in and sit down, she would start talking and for a bit we could keep up and then it was like a switch was flipped and we had no idea what was going on. Luckily, I just took notes over everything she said and figured it all out outside of class. In Kung Fu we finished choreographing our performance and focused on learning it. In calligraphy we started a Chinese painting unit, turns out pandas are kind of a struggle to paint if you don’t get the first three points (the eyes and nose) exactly right spacing wise. In Ethnology we watched Hua Mulan which was an amazing movie. It was really different from the Disney cartoon but so heart wrenching. Nothing goes right for her, even in the end. It made all us tear up, even a few of the boys were touched. In SAS we had finished presentations and started discussions on our second textbook, The Art of Travel. We focused primarily though on our Halloween party in Sam’s class. The Halloween party is a study abroad tradition of our program. Every year the students in the group put on a Halloween party for about 200 people. The point of it is supposed to be a way to show our Chinese friends an American tradition. Last year’s group had told us before we left that they had thrown the best Halloween party in years and that we had big shoes to fill. When we began planning our party we got a different story over what had happened last year. Let’s leave it at that there were some heated emotions that resulted in a fight. Oh and a biker gang showed up. Anyways, because of last year’s incidents we had some serious guidelines we were expected to follow. Our party had a strict time policy of 7:30 to 9:30. No alcohol was allowed. Entrance would be strictly monitored by the guard of our compound. No one was allowed in without a ticket. There would also be six addition security officers on hand to monitor our courtyard. The Waiban also tried to limit the number of Chinese students we could invite to 2 each (we were each allowed to invite 15 people so they wanted 13 of the invites to go to foreign students) and wanted the rest of our guests to be the other international students. Our group refused to agree to this though. We said that the point of the party was to introduce Chinese students to the holiday of Halloween. We were more than happy to have the other international kids there, they were our close friends, but we wanted to make sure that the Chinese students got to experience this too. For the party we each had a committee we were in charge of. We had a 1,000 yuan budget for the party and we were determined to make it good, despite the new rules. Sarita and I were in charge of decorations. Since this party is a yearly tradition each group leaves behind anything they used for their party that they think will help future groups. This means we had 26 years’ worth of decorations to sort through. Going through all of the boxes was a lot of fun. We found all sorts of stuff, such as Halloween mix tapes on cassettes from the early 90’s, old costumes and masks, lots of bloody and gory stuff, and lots of balloons. With all those decorations there was very little we needed so we just bought a bunch of orange and yellow Christmas lights and a bunch of toilet paper to hang in the trees and called it good. By Thursday (Oct. 26) we were in a desperate need of a break from planning mode. There were only so many times we could go over food (it would consist of fruit, punch, candy, chips, and cocktail wieners), games (bob for apples, costume contest, bean bag toss, and mummy wrapping contest), the music (that actually wasn’t stressful at all, Dan, Guy, and Bert put themselves in charge of that and did a great job). So Ronnie decided to take Sarita and I out for the night. We went out for an early dinner. Then took the trolley over to gate 2 to go rollerblading at an indoor rink a short walk from the gate. I hadn’t been skating since about 6th grade and neither had Sarita so we had a lot of fun adjusting to being on skates again. It was a good laugh. After about an hour Kevin, another international student from Canada, and a guy we had not met before named Charles came to join us. Charles was studying upper level Chinese at SWU too. He was from Vermont originally and had graduated in May from the University of British Columbia in Asian studies. He was at SWU on a full government scholarship studying upped level Chinese. He was a really nice guy and Sarita and I were sad we hadn’t met him earlier in the semester. We kind of had the worse timing ever because Charles was leaving on Monday for Beijing. He had revoked his scholarship and was heading to Beijing in the hopes of getting a job. He just felt that he had had enough of studying and wanted to start putting his Chinese to use. After skating for a few hours, we walked over the Eats Street (it’s an area right off campus that is filled with street vendors. It has every kind of food one could want). Charles took us to his favorite stand which had sandwiches. This was a big deal to us, China has like zero bread and none of us has had a sandwich in about two months. He ordered each of us a fried egg, bacon, lettuce, mayo, tomato and cheese sandwich. It was one of the best things we had eaten in a long time. After that we all caught a taxi back to the dorms. Charles invited us over for movie night with the international kids. We watched Zombieland and had a great time laughing and joking with everyone. After the movie we headed back to Wisteria Garden Hotel strongly wishing that we lived in the other international student dorms with everyone else. Back to the Halloween party, the other thing that we wanted for decorating was pumpkins for Jack O’Lanterns. We had no idea how hard this would turn out to be. It turns out that pumpkins in China are not like pumpkins in the US. They are thin (think about 5-7 inches wide) and tall (about the length of my elbow to fingertips). They are also impossible to hollow out. So after the first failed attempt at carving a China pumpkin we had to improvise. Ronnie had found orange melons at the supermarket that looked almost exactly like pumpkins. They ended up working really well for carving. So on Friday (Oct. 27) Sarita, Deanna, Kia, and I were in charge of carving ten pumpkins for decorations.IMG_4138.jpg We also invited Sally, Sarita’s language partner, to carve them with us. She had never carved a pumpkin or celebrated Halloween. She was so excited. She had a great time carving the melon and her jack o’lanterns were definitely the best of the group.IMG_4140.jpg The lead up to the Halloween party was stressful. It involved a number of meltdowns, some tears, a lot of whining and overall just a lot of unnecessary problems to deal with. The night before the party our group was in agreement that we wanted nothing more than for it to be over with.
Saturday (Oct. 29) was the day of the party. We all had the morning free to do what we wanted but had to meet at 3 pm to start setting up the courtyard. That morning Ronnie invited Luke, Kia, Sarita and I for brunch at her dorm. We were joined by Charles and Andrew. It was a delicious brunch of omelets, potatoes, toast, banana smoothies, and pancakes. It was one of the best breakfasts I had in China. After brunch I spent the rest of the morning helping Cindy and Luke with food prep. They were in charge of fruit salad and skewers for the party so it involved cutting up dozens of apples, chopping five giant watermelons, picking all the seeds out of four pomegranates, and slicing 5 pounds of apples. We had a lot of fun doing it despite the amount of work involved. Since Sarita and I were in charge of the decoration committee we were in charge of directing everyone on what to do. Set up actually went really well. With whole group working on it, it went really fast. We put up fake spider webs, decorated the gate to our courtyard, hung lanterns from all the tress, hung dozens of balloons, put up miscellaneous spooky stuff around the courtyard and let the boys have a blast tping all of the trees in the courtyard. Set up finished around 5 and everyone had about an hour and a half to get dinner and get dressed. Deanna and I went to Muslim for a quick dinner and then I went back to get dressed. Sarita and I had hoped to get custom costumes made for us at one of the tailors like the girls from the year before us had done. Unfortunately though by the time we had got a free moment to find a tailor there wasn’t enough time for them to complete the costumes in time. We then thought we would wear the black dresses we got in Chengdu with some masquerade masks we had found in the decorations but we wanted heels to go with our dresses. After hours of fruitless shoe shopping trying to find something not covered in sparkles we found that our feet were too big for Chinese shoes. Finally, we went with Guy’s friend Emily to a costume shop she knew of. At first we were really sketched out by the whole thing when an old woman lead us up the stairs to a dilapidated apartment complex but they she showed us into a room filled floor to ceiling with different costumes. Emily had previously worn a belly dancer costume that the woman had and I had fallen in love with when she wore it and knew that was the costume I wanted. Sarita looked at a variety of other options and then decided on the belly dance costume too. Anyways, I loved my costume and was super excited to wear it.DSC_0016.jpg I felt that the way set up had went was a good sign for how the rest of the party had went and was excited. It turned out my feeling was right. Our Halloween party was a blast! All of our friends came, both Chinese and international.DSC_0058.jpg Everyone looked amazing and had a fabulous time. Guy and Charles won the costume concert. They both dressed up in drag and made surprisingly pretty girls.DSC_0312.jpg It was an awesome night and everyone who attended our party and the year before’s party agreed that ours outdid theirs. We were pretty proud. Sadly, though the two hours passed super fast and before we knew it was 9:30 and it was over. Our hotel had made us promise to clean up the majority of the decorations that night and the rest we could leave until morning. We spent about half an hour taking down the gist of the decorations and then were free for the rest of the night. Larry, one of the other international students from the US, and his roommate Max, also American, hosted a Halloween party at their apartment following our party. Cindy, Sarita, Luke, and I went. We met up with the rest of our international friends there. After a while there we went to 99. After a few hours there we all called it a night. It was a great way to cap off 21 straight days of school and we were all very excited to finally have a free Sunday to sleep in.DSC_0058.jpgDSC_0135.jpg

Posted by remullin 09:31 Comments (0)

21 straight days of class pt. 1

I think the title pretty much sums it all up

I should preface this entry with the fact that this entry and the rest of my blog entries from China are no longer as accurate as I would have liked. They were completed upon returning home using my memory (obviously) and my day planner to give the best summary that I could of the experiences. I’m sad that these entries will be less detailed and less complete due to the time lapse between events and when they were written. But it was rather unavoidable. In order immerse myself, make the most of my time in China, and deal with the ridiculous amount of work for classes and internships back home some things had to fall by the way side. Blogging was one of those things. Oh well, what is done is done.
Saturday (October 8) was our first day back from National Holiday. It would have been so nice if we had the day to sleep in and rest from a week away, but this is China. There’s never time to rest. To make up for the days we missed over National Holiday we had to go to class on Saturday and Sunday and then have a full week of normal classes Monday through Friday too. Saturday we trooped into Chinese with about as much enthusiasm as people have when they go to the dentist. All National Holiday group (Sarita, Bert, Guy, Dan, and I) were even less enthused than the rest of class. We had been assigned an extra large amount of homework to complete over the Holiday because it was so long. This wouldn’t have been so bad if we had actually been able to complete the homework little by little but given the fact that we had been gone the whole week and gotten home around 10 pm the previous night, it resulted in a late of night of fervent scribbling of characters and trying to memorize sentence structure and stoke order. The boys had simply given up on the homework and gone to bed. Sarita and I stayed up though and finished it. It had made for a very late night. Class that day went surprisingly well though. Doing the homework had been a big help and Sarita and I really impressed our teacher. The boys were less successful and simply had to say that they didn’t know to almost every question she asked them. By the end of class we were all ready for a nap. That afternoon we had Ethnology. Wang Laoshi knew that we would be exhausted from National Holiday so he just had us watch a movie the whole period. The movie was an account of Confucius’ life. While it took a number of artistic liberties, it kept the general story. Watching the movie I realized that I am really not a big fan of Confucius. His teachings were harsh towards women and he allowed others to idealize him too much. He never even became famous on his own. It was through the work of his disciples that his teachings were collected and made into Confucianism. I simply think he gets a lot of credit for other people’s work. After classes we were all more than exhausted.
Sunday (Oct. 9) was our early session of Chinese. Side note, we had three Chinese classes a week. Mondays and Fridays they started at 9:40 and Thursdays they started later at 10:30. Class went better for the boys than it had Saturday. That afternoon we were scheduled to have Sam’s SAS class since technically Saturday was following Thursday’s schedule and Sunday was Friday’s schedule. Sam knew that we hated the fact that we were having to go to class on the weekend though and gave us the afternoon off.
Monday (Oct 10) we again had Chinese. By the third day of Chinese class in a row we had reached overload mode. We simply couldn’t focus on more characters and struggled with the new concepts she introduced. That afternoon we had Kung Fu class. Everyone was still exhausted so only a few of us showed up. At class Levi, our professor (he was a senior of SWU majoring in Martial Arts) announced that we were going to be performing in five weeks for the whole school. No big deal, right? We were to learn a routine that would last about 2 minutes and would incorporate most of the basic kung fu moves used in combat. We were rather nervous at this prospect. Up to then we had struggled at even the most basic sequences Levi had tried to teach us. We spent the whole two hour class period learning only the first 20 seconds of the routine. We knew we had a long way to go in the next month.
Tuesday (Oct 11) was my free morning. I spent it working on homework (mainly my VJ) and relaxing. That afternoon I had Ethnology.
Wednesday (Oct 12) was a baozi day. Sarita and I would go every Wednesday morning before Calligraphy class at 10:30 to get baozi for breakfast. It was the only day of the week that we ate breakfast out. The rest of the week we ate breakfast in the dorms before going to class. Breakfast usually consisted of some kind of roll from the supermarket and a yoghurt. It tended to get rather monotonous so Baozi days were a big deal. Then we had calligraphy. Our poor calligraphy teacher. He was a senior at SWU like Levi and he was a calligraphy major. He really cared about calligraphy and tried to make his class fun for us. But we really didn’t care that much nor were we all that good at it. As it usually ended up we would work on certain characters and styles for the first half of class. Then after break everyone began to stray. The boys would start drawing pictures or working on our characters for Chinese. Sarita and I always tried to stay focused on what he wanted us to do, but by the last half hour even we would have grown tired of the same five characters and start doodling. That afternoon, we had SAS. Sam was not leading it though. Every year CSBSJU sets it up so that two of the class periods are taught by a specialist of some kind that they have some sort of connection to. This year they arranged for someone from the Southwest Poetry Institute to present two lectures to us on Chinese poetry. One would deal with ancient poetry and the second with modern poetry. Sounds super exciting doesn’t it? Well the first lecture was painful. Apparently no one had mentioned to our presenter that while we were in China and were taking Chinese classes, we were far from fluent. He came to class with a power point of the poems that was almost all in Chinese. Only the titles had English translations. He then proceeded to lecture to us on the intricacies of Chinese poetry for 2.5 hours with only one five minute break. He would ask us questions and none of us knew the answers to them because we had no idea what was going on. Even when someone did answer, usually Sam, he never liked our answers. We were just frustrated and tired. Then at 4:50 when class was supposed to be over. He didn’t stop talking. After 10 minutes Sam politely asked him how much longer the presentation was because Cindy and Luke needed to leave to go to their Chinese class. His response was that he had another 45 minutes at least planned. We all let out what I am sure was an audible moan of despair. Sam tried to explain that technically class was supposed to have already ended for us and asked if there was any way the rest of the presentation could be combined with the information that was to be presented to us at the next lecture on Friday. Apparently that was not possible because today’s was on ancient and the next one modern but he would try to shorten it. Half an hour later at 5:30 we were finally allowed to leave. To say we were not happy is an understatement. We were also far from excited for Friday’s coming lecture.
Thursday (Oct 13) we had Chinese in the morning and Ethnology in the afternoon. That afternoon Sam called me to tell me that he had someone that he had met that he thought I would be interested in talking to about my One Question project. If I have not mentioned it previously, every student on our trip had a One Question Project they were exploring the semester. My question was on how classes are taught in China. My original question had been on the role of censorship on education in China. That had been too controversial though and hadn’t gotten clearance. The rest of the group had some really interesting questions too. Luke was also looking at education, but more the education system on the whole and what reforms it needed. Cindy was looking at Chinese society’s view of marriage. Bert was looking at Chinese dating culture. Dan was examining how the One Child Policy was affecting family dynamics. Guy studied how the business culture of China functioned. Deanna explored the prevalence of son preference due to the One Child Policy. Sarita started out studying Buddhism but her questioned morphed into why Chinese youth lacked religion when she couldn’t find very many/any people to talk to. Chris explored Chinese food and food culture of China. Nolan looked at the impact of 1911-1920 on Chinese history. Zach looked at the role of globalization on Chinese language. Kia studied the history of the Hmong people in China in hopes to gain a better understanding of her ancestry. And Axel had the most interesting question of all, how do Chinese people define success. The point of these One-Questions was for us to explore an aspect of culture, become a mini expert, and then share what we learned with the class. Through it we would become the teachers and also be more compelled to explore Chinese culture in-depth. Anyways, the women Sam wanted me to meet with was visiting from Hong Kong where she was a professor at the University of Hong Kong. She was at SWU exploring education methodologies for her research. Her English name was Nancy. He gave me her number and I sent her a message asking if she would be willing to get together with me in the next few days when she had time before she returned to Hong Kong. That night I went the Muslim for dinner with Sarita, Ronnie, Luke, and Dan. After dinner we all decided to go for Milk Teas at our favorite milk tea shop. While we were ordering, I got a call from Nancy saying that was at one of the campus tea houses having tea with two friends who she thought I should meet. She wanted me to meet them in ten minutes. Nothing like spur of the moment. I asked if Luke could come with me because he was also researching education and she said that would be fine. Luke and I had a temporary panic because neither of us had anything to write with or on and we knew we were going to need to take notes on this interview. We quickly ran to the store by Korean that literally sells anything you could ever need in China and bought some cheap notebooks and pens. We then tried to find the campus tea house. We didn’t even know SWU had one until Nancy said she was there. She told us it was right by gate 5 which the Muslim restaurant luckily is right next to. After about 15 minutes of wondering and asking “cha jai zianar” (literally translated tea house where) we found it. There Luke and I met Nancy and two of her colleagues, Mike and Xiaofeng. Both had studied at the University of Hong Kong which is where Nancy knew them from. Mike had recently gotten his PhD and was now a math professor at SWU. Xiaofeng had completed her masters and was now teaching at a Confucius Institute in Thailand. She was SWU for the week as part of delegation from Thailand. Luke and I were really nervous to talk with them. We were afraid of crossing some unknown line when questioning their education system and offending them. But they were amazing gracious to us and were crucial in my One Question project. We talked a great deal about how the education system in China is structured, how classes are taught, demographics, university structures, government involvement, financing, GaoKou, and parental pressure. I won’t bore you with the details. If you want to learn more for some weird reason let me know and I’ll send you my research papers which delve much more deeply into what they had to say. At the end of the conversation they turned the conversation on us. They were extremely curious on how Luke and I viewed China, why we had chosen to study there, whether we had changed our opinions of China after being there, and would be back. The most memorable part of the discussion for me was concerning China as a super power. When Luke and I both said that we thought China was/was going to be the other great super power of the 21st century. All three of them responded that they didn’t believe China would ever be a super power. They felt that while on paper China may be growing and its economy had so much power, the reality for Chinese citizens was much different. Until China was able to deal with its domestic issues, such as poverty, migrant worker issues, education and the gap between the rich and the poor, China would never surpass the US as a super power. We spent three hours in the tea house talking and the conversation only ended because the tea house graciously told us that they were closed and would we please go home so that the workers could too. It was one of my favorite conversations during my time in China.
Friday (October 14) I had Chinese in the morning. That afternoon we had the second poetry lecture. We went in with the lowest of expectations possible. Luckily though, it was not nearly as bad as the first. Sam had told the lecturer that we were not fluent in Chinese and this time the power point had both Chinese and English so we were able to follow. The poems were also much more interesting. Some of them we even knew. While we still usually didn’t answer questions with the answer the lecturer wanted, the lecture was much more bearable. He even let us out at the right time. Yay for that.
Saturday (Oct 15). You would think that after 7 straight days of class we would get a break. But if you remember the title of this section (21 straight days of class, in case you forgot) you know that was not the case. Saturday we had a class trip to the Golden Knife Gorge starting nice and early at 9:00 am. Does no one realize that college kids need sleep? None of us knew what to expect from the Gorge. All we had been told was to dress warmly and that it would involve a three hour hike. The day did not start off well. The road to the gorge was extremely curvy and our bus driver liked to speed up as fast as he could and then have to slam on the brakes to make it around each turn. This resulted in the majority of the group (myself included) becoming very car sick. We had to stop at one point half way there so that everyone could get out and vomit. Luckily the fresh air was enough for my stomach and I was one of the lucky ones not to puke. This did not bode well for the rest of the day. Happily enough, it turned out to be one of, if not the, best group excursions of the trip. After the puke break we headed to a village at the base of the gorge. We walked around through the historic district for bit.2IMG_3934.jpg We saw some interesting shops and an old Buddhist temple (it was now being used not to practice Buddhism but as a place for people to come to pray for luck. Sarita was less than excited about this but it did get her thinking about other directions to take her One Question project in). While we were there Bert bought two small water guns and had fun spraying everyone with water for a bit. It was a good mood booster for the group to just run around like little kids and laugh. From the village we headed up the mountain (again quite twisty and turny) and had a delicious lunch at a hotel at the top of the valley. Then it was time to start the hike. We still didn’t know what to expect until we reached the entrance. It was one of the mostbeautiful places I have ever seen let alone been to!! To enter the gorge we had to hike down the side of the mountain by way of a couple hundred if not a few thousand stairs. It was a killer leg work out. You have the choice to either climb down yourself or you can pay to be carried down. There are teams of people all the way down asking to be let to carry you down for between 30-50 yuan. This was actually interesting experience for our group. We had heard that there would be people willing to carry you and it had raised a debate over whether or not it was moral to support this idea. On one hand you’re forcing people (most of whom were older, think late 40’s through 60’s) to carry you because you are too lazy. While on the other hand you are providing them a livelihood. Our group never came to an agreement one way or the other. Dan, Guy, Zach, and Nolan all got carried down. IMG_3975.jpgThe rest of us walked. By the bottom our calf muscles were twitching from exertion. The rest of the hike was not nearly as grueling. We meandered through the gorge looking at waterfalls, bamboo and intricate rock formations. It was so pretty.IMG_4013.jpg It didn’t feel like China anymore. At least not the China was had come to know, filled with crowds, dirty, polluted, and hectic. This place was calm, gorgeous and peaceful. It was exactly what we all needed to recharge our batteries. We took a boat through part of the gorge that we were not able to walk through. As we were approaching the exit of the valley, we came across a group of monkeys. Guy was so excited! The whole trip (like the China trip, not just the day trip) he had been talking about how he wanted to see monkeys. He, Dan, Sarita, Deanna, and I spent about half an hour just sitting watching the monkeys go about their lives, mothers grooming their babies, older monkeys lounging, and a few “teenager” monkeys mock fighting. From there we made our way out of the gorge to the bus. The gorge was beautiful but we were quickly reminded that not all of China is that way. Right past the exit of the gorge is what can best be described as a dump. It is just a field of wreckage of building ruins and trash. It was the only downer to an otherwise beautiful place. After the two hour bus ride back to campus we were pretty tired but since it was technically a Saturday even if it didn’t feel like it, we wanted to have fun. Sarita, Dan, Luke, Guy, Bert, and I went over the Thai girls apartment (SriPan and Som lived off campus by the noodle man). We had fun playing games, laughing and hanging out. Later in the evening Larry and Otabek joined us. Ronnie was going to as well, but she was feeling sick. Since I don’t think I have mentioned this yet, I will add it here. National Holiday was the start of a group of us (Dan, Luke, Guy, Bert, Sarita, and I) becoming much better friends with the other international students. I don’t think there was a single week/weekend after that during which I did not hang out with the other international kids. They would go on to become some of my best friends in China. We headed to Banana 99, spent a few hours there. The night ended with Luke, Larry, Otabek, Sarita, and I getting some street food across from Wu Hao Men (Gate 5). I remember sitting there with them and saying that I couldn’t believe that two months from today I would be home. Little did I know just how fast those two months would go.
Sunday (Oct 16) was another bright and early morning. At 9 o’clock we went down to the Sunday morning street market in downtown BeiBei along the river with Sam. Sarita and I definitely did not want to get up and considered skipping the market since it was an optional class outing but we thought it would be good to since we doubted we would ever go on our own. We were glad Sam had been before because it was a crazy path to try to follow to the market. It wound down by Youngwei (the supermarket) through the new apartment complex, past the science museum they were remodeling, and along the river. The market was crazy! It was super crowded since it is the one day a week most of BeiBei does their shopping.IMG_4083.jpg It had everything you could think of and about a million things you wouldn’t expect. In one area it sold live animals to butcher yourself, such as ducks, chickens, pigs, etc. The ducks looked so sad all lined up waiting to be sold. It was as if they knew their fate.IMG_4085.jpg Sarita’s foot almost got attacked by one duck she stepped just a little too close too. In another part it had people cutting hair, eye “doctors”, and dentists who did teeth work out in the open with really gross instruments that were definitely not sanitary. Other parts sold things like clothes, household items. Butchers set up stands in another area. Traditional Chinese medicine was for sale in a number of crowded shacks by the river. Plants and seeds lined the side walk. The area that tempted Sarita and I most though was the pet section. It was at least three blocks with cages of animals lined up. It had every pet you could think of, dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, fish, snakes, lizards, and even more. It was so sad to see some of their forlorn faces that all I wanted to do was buy them all.IMG_4099.jpg After the depressingness of the pet section we headed home. That afternoon we Kung Fu class to make up for the class missed over National Holiday. We continued to work on our performance routine and by the end of class had a solid minute of it choreographed. We still had a long way to go but it was coming along.

Posted by remullin 09:04 Archived in China Comments (0)

National Holiday

One word: Awesome

The mantra of our National Holiday trip was awesome. It had two very distinct for meanings for us. We applied it in the usual situations of wow, this is so cool. For example when we got to see baby pandas, Sarita’s response was this is awesome. We also used it, probably more frequently, in a very sarcastic sense, such as when our taxi drivers couldn’t get us back to the right hotel or when everything seemed to go awry (this happened with basically everything on this trip). However, despite the many, and I mean many, negative applications of awesome on our Golden Week trip, our trip really was an awesome (good application) experience and will likely be one of the high lights of my trip.

Our trip started bright and early on Saturday (Oct. 1) at 6:30 am. Actually it was not so bright, it was cold and rainy, and 6:30 was far too early for our tastes. Application of negative awesome #1. The plan was for everyone to meet at the lobby and at that time and catch a cab to Chongqing where the train station was. As expected, the boys were lagging. Sarita and I waited close to twenty minutes for them to finally show up. However they did bring us breakfast, so they were quickly forgiven. I should probably mention that the group of us who went together for National Holiday was Sarita, Luke, Dan, Guy, Bert, and I. We trekked through the rain to hail a taxi and after a moment of panic because the taxi driver seemed unsure of whether he knew where the train station was we were on our way. The ride to downtown Chongqing from BeiBei is about an hour. We had been warned by Guy’s language partner that the taxi drivers would try to rip us off because they turn off the meter for the trip because it is such a long trip. She told us not to pay more than 25-30 Yuan a person. With this in mind we negotiated a price of 20 Yuan for our car (Sarita, Guy, and I) and Bert, Dan, and Luke paid 100 for theirs. We got to the train station around 8. It was crazy. There were tons of people trying to get everywhere. Luckily we got through security with no issues and went to our train terminal. Turns out the train we were taking stops about a millions places between Chongqing and Chengdu and as such there were literally hundreds of people waiting. We found a place in line and began the wait. Our train was supposed to leave at 8:45. In typical Chinese fashion, this was definitely not the case. Awesome application #2. We finally boarded the train around 9:30. For a group of sleep deprived, slightly stressed college kids who were sick of getting stares due to being the only foreigners in the train station, the wait was not a lot of fun The one plus side of the long wait though we met a really nice girl in line named Tian. She had become friends with last year’s class and had spent the summer working in Rapid City, SD at a restaurant through a program Southwest University has for its food safety majors. This was the first of a handful of small world, right place, right time experiences that would happen throughout our week. She was very nice, her English was excellent, and she was a lot of help. We bored the train and found our compartments. We had been unable to get tickets on the bullet train to Chengdu. They were all sold out. So instead we were on the slow train, on the plus side though we had soft sleeper tickets for the trip. A quick note on how Chinese trains work. There are usually five categories, or what we would think of as classes. There is hard seat, soft seat, hard sleeper, and soft sleeper, hard seat being the worst and soft sleeper being the best. During times of high demand a sixth class is added called standing room. Tickets for standing room only are very cheap. People who buy them are not given a seat assignment and just receive a car number. They simply try to find a place to stand somewhere in that car. Tian says this is the manner of ticket she almost always buys to get home on holidays. We felt quite bad for her since the train ride was supposed to last 4 hours and that seemed like a daunting amount of time to have to stand for. So it was with slight guilt that we crawled into our soft sleeper beds. This trains soft sleeper compartments were divided into six beds. Three bunks on each side. Bert and I were in one compartment and luckily had the bottom bunks. Sarita, Guy, and Luke were in the neighboring compartment and Dan was off by himself farther down the car. The early morning caught up with us and we all slept soundly for the first two to three hours of our trip. After that Bert and I were awoken by one of our cabin mates. She was ecstatic to meet foreigners. We were apparently the first Americans she had ever met in person and she was so excited she couldn’t help but talk to us. So much for sleeping. Awesome #3. She was very nice, but her English was poor so conversation quickly lagged. Soon though, we were joined by Sarita, Guy, Dan, and Luke. While we were all talking we realized that our train had been stopped for much longer than a regular stop would require. We asked our cabin mate what was happening. She responded that there was flooding on the tracks and as a result what was supposed to be a four hour train ride would now be close to six and half. Awesome #4. Poor Tian! We were annoyed that we would have to deal with lounging around for two and a half extra hours; she had to stand for it. The extra time actually turned out to be a good thing though. The six of us passed time reminiscing about how our China experience thus far, about campus life, stories from home, and future plans. It was a really good bonding experience for the six of us and made me excited to see how the rest of the trip would go for us. Our train eventually made it to Chengdu despite the flooding and happily disembarked. In another case of small world good fortune we had a contact in Chengdu waiting for us when we arrived, Anne. Her brother, Hao, goes to St. John’s and is a friend of Guy and Dan. He is from Chengdu. The boys told him that we would be spending one night in Chengdu before catching the bus to Jiuzhaigou and he put us in touch with Anne. She just graduated from one of Chengdu’s top universities with a hospitality management degree. She and her boyfriend Evan met us at the train station. We had been told to make sure we bought our train tickets home to Chongqing as soon as we could so before we left the train station we asked Anne to help us buy tickets home. She asked us when we wanted to go back and we said that our first choice was Friday because we had classes starting Saturday morning, but that if we couldn’t leave Friday we would deal with getting home on Saturday. Anne talked to the teller for us and bought us each a ticket home on the bullet train. The bullet train tickets costs us each 100 Yuan but we were excited because it would get us home in less than 2 hours and we had heard a lot about them. As we were leaving the train station Anne asked us what time our bus tickets were for Jiuzhaigou. We told her that we didn’t have the tickets yet. We couldn’t buy them online and had to buy them in persons and obviously since none of us had been to Chengdu before that had not happened yet. This turned out to be a seriously problem with our plan. Anne called all of the travel agents she knew in the city and none of them could get us bus tickets to Jiuzhaigou. They were all sold out for the entire week of National Holiday. Awesome #5. So with our entire plan for National Holiday having gone up in smoke we were kind of at a loss of how to proceed. Anne told us she would talk to some travel agents and see if they could come up with any other options for us. That sounded pretty good to us. We caught two taxis and headed to the hotel Anne had gotten for us. Evan and Anne both had to attend family dinners since it was National Holiday but we made plans to meet with them later in the evening. The hotel was very nice. Everything was clean and fresh and very modern. We were super happy with it, especially the fact that it had clean towels and 24 hour hot water; two things are SWU dorms are definitely lacking. The one glitch in the hotel though was that the bathrooms were all glass. Anyone in the room could see in. Our original plan had been to split up in the rooms 3 and 3, however with the bathroom hitch the boys graciously agreed to give Sarita and me our own room. After showering off the train germs we headed out to dinner. For weeks Bert had been craving pizza and, sadly, BeiBei has nowhere to get a pizza. Chengdu however has a Papa John’s so we decided to go there for dinner. We were pretty excited because it had been close to 2 months since any of us had had pizza. It turns out that pizza is a big deal in China and pizza restaurants are quite fancy. They are also very expensive, prices started at 127 Yuan for a pizza. We ordered three though and it was so worth it! It was so nice to have a taste of home and a change from our usual diet of noodles and rice. After dinner we walked around the mall where the restaurant was located and tried to find a video camera for Guy. His camera broke a few weeks ago and his parents told him to get a video camera over here to replace it and that would be his birthday present. Unfortunately, Guy had no luck. We caught taxis to downtown Chengdu and met up with Evan and Anne. They showed us the historic river section. It had some really cool temples and old style buildings. After that we went to one of their usual hang out places and chilled there for a few hours. We headed back to the hotel and I fell asleep instantly.

Sunday (October 2) started out a little frantically. Sarita and I woke up at 11 to the sound of pounding on our door. It was housekeeping. We were supposed to have checked out half an hour previously. Awesome #6. We had planned on leaving for Jiuzhaigou on Sunday so Anne had only booked us the rooms for one night. We quickly called Anne and had her talk to the front desk and she secured us another night in the hotel. Anne also gave us some ideas of places to go other. She suggested we go to Uhmai Mountain (no idea how to spell that) or a set of hot springs nearby. We were open to anything since we didn’t have plan so asked her to look into getting us tickets for either. She told us she would get back to us later in the day. We went to wake up the boys and get breakfast. We aimlessly wandered around looking for food for about a half an hour. It turns out the reason we had such a hard time finding a place was because we had wandered into a primary and middle school complex. Eventually we found our way out and found somewhere to eat. The food was quite good, but different from what we were used to. In BeiBei we eat noodles for basically every meal (When I get home I don’t want noodles for a very very long time). In Chengdu we found more rice dishes, which were a nice change. After lunch we decided that it would be a good day to go shopping. Sarita and I are really tired of the like five outfits we brought with us. And yes I know Tim Gun would just tell me to make it work, but after two and a half months all options begin to expire. Guy still wanted to find a video camera. Anne told us of a good shopping area and the group headed there. When we arrived we decided the best use of time would be to split up. Bert volunteered to help Guy haggle for a video camera, while Luke and Dan agreed to go shopping for clothes with the girls. Yeah, we were as shocked as all of you reading this that they would willingly go dress shopping with us without us even having to ask more than once. We tried a number of stores, both boutiques and department stores, with no luck. Chinese women’s fashion is not my taste. It consists of a lot of ruffles, puffy sleeves, sparkles on everything, and basically trying to look as much like a five year as possible. The boys graciously put up with us dragging them through each store. As we were going through all these stores I kept seeing people holding H&M bags and figured that since we were having no luck with Chinese stores we should give H&M a try. Their clothes are cute back home; they should be in China too, right? Actually this did turn out to be pretty true. We finally found the H&M and Sarita and I were super excited. The clothes were reasonably priced and we found some cute stuff. However the course of finding this stuff took close to an hour. The boys tried to entertain themselves by looking at the guys’ clothes, but eventually they couldn’t do it anymore. They agreed to meet us in the Nike store next door. Sarita and I thought that was more than fair. After an absurdly long wait at the dressing room, Sarita and I both found some stuff. Sarita got a dress and a skirt and I got a dress. After paying we met the boys at the Nike store. They asked us if we were done with our shopping and would be okay with going to the sporting apparel stores with them. We agreed. That seemed more than fair. We spent a few more hours wondering around the shopping area and people watching. In our quest for clothes we had wondered pretty far from Guy and Bert so we all just agreed to meet back at the hotel. That night we went out for dinner in the area around where we had found lunch, luckily we managed to stay out of the school campus and found dinner much more quickly. We choose a hole in the wall looking restaurant that probably would fail US health codes, but the food was excellent. They had really good jaozi with a spicy laja that tasted almost more Mexican than Chinese and the noodles (yep, back to our usual cuisine) were pretty tasty. That night we went back to the river section. We walked around some more and found a cute British pub and bar. We spent a few hours talking with the bartender who is from Manchester and has been in China for two years. He was also the owner of the bar. He was really friendly and it was nice to be able to talk to someone we met in English for a change. After that we saw some more of the famous Chengdu night spots and headed home.

Monday (Oct. 3) was a pretty chill day for the group. We got some disappointing news from Anne that there were no tickets available to anywhere. It looked like we were stuck in Chengdu for the week. Oh well, we all agreed it was nice to simply get away from campus regardless of where it was. Everyone did his/her own thing for the day. Sarita and I decided to go explore the areas around our hotel some more. We just walked around for a few hours; window shopped, and watched people go about their daily lives. We also spent a while in one of the city parks taking pictures and practicing our Kung Fu. We got some funny looks from the guards, but it was still a good time. We headed back to the hotel and met up with the boys. We realized while we were out by ourselves that we were really happy to have the boys with us on this trip. Without the boys present, people were much more comfortable staring at us and just being awkward. The boys’ presence seemed to intimidate people from staring for too long and just provided a reassuring sense of safety. That night we decided to visit Jin Li. It’s a famous section of Chengdu that is centuries old. The original structures remain but it’s been converted to a touristy destination with lots of shops and restaurants. We went with the intention of walking around for a bit and eating dinner there. Upon arrival though, our minds quickly changed. Jin Li was packed with people, literally thousands. There was no room anywhere. We decided that since we were there we might at least walk around it a little a bit, but we ended up getting lost inside. The whole area is surrounded by an old city wall and is like a labyrinth inside. After about an hour of wandering we were beginning to consider scaling the 20 foots walls just to get out. Awesome #7. Just then amidst the sea of Asian faces, we see three familiar faces looking about as lost as we were (This was another one of our small world, right places right time moments). We saw three of the other international students from SWU, Larry, Otto, and Nik. We all laughing approached each other in shock that in a country of 1.3 billion people, out of all the cities and places one could go, we just happened to run into each other. They told us about how their time over National Holiday had been going. They had definitely had it rougher than us. They had been unable to find a hotel. China has let’s just call it a situation because I can’t come up with a better word in which they have hotels for Chinese people and hotels for westerners in some areas. The Western hotels are way more expensive but the Chinese hotels won’t rent rooms to Westerners. The western hotel was completely booked so they had thought they were going to have to sleep in a KTV for the night. At the last minute they had a met a German guy on the street who was couch surfing his way across China and he offered to let them sleep on the floor of his room for the night. After hearing their experience we were pretty darn happy to have Anne. With the combined efforts of all of us we eventually found our way out of Jin Li. The nine of us found another hole in the wall restaurant that was pretty good. We spent a lot of time just hanging out and talking. We went back down to the river district and explored some more. We invited Larry, Otto, and Nik to hang out with us the next day, but they said they had given up on Chengdu and had bought tickets back to BeiBei for the next day. We said good bye and that we’d see them back at campus.

Tuesday (Oct. 4) was one of the nicest weather days we had had in China. The sun was shining and it was actually possible to see blue skies. This might not seem like a big deal but considering the fact that I can count on my fingers the number of times we’ve seen the sky, we were pretty excited. We spent the day enjoying the weather. We walked around the park for a while and then hung out on the rooftop of our hotel. It had a bunch of lounge chairs set up and offered a nice view of the city. It was a pretty chill day. That night we met up with Evan and Anne for hot pot at one of Evan’s favorite restaurants. The taxi ride there was a nightmare. Dan, Bert, and I shared a taxi cab. Unbeknownst to the three of us, our taxi driver had no idea where this restaurant was even though we gave him the address. He ended up dropping us off about a mile away from the restaurant (Awesome #8) and we had to wander around using the translator app on Bert’s asking people where to go for about 45 minutes before Anne and Evan were able to locate us. Needless to say, by the time we reached the restaurant we were more than ready for some hot food. The hot pot was super good. We got a lot of different dishes, such as lotus root (my personal favorite), various types of mushrooms, different meats, potatoes, radish, cucumbers, and a ton of other stuff. Evan and Anne were shocked that we could handle the spicy food. We actually did even better with it then them. We ended the meal with each taking the pepper corn challenge. What the challenge consists of is eating at least six pepper corns at one time without water. The peppercorns are Sichuan’s specialty spice. They have a very bitter acidic flavor and their trademark is that they make your tongue turn numb. It’s a weird feeling but kind of cool. I personally have really grown to like the peppercorns and am sad that the US doesn’t have them. After dinner Evan and Anne took us to another one of their favorite spots. We really enjoyed getting to see the local side of Chengdu instead of just all the tourist destinations.

Wednesday was probably my favorite day in Chengdu. We decided to go to the Panda Reserve with Evan and Anne. The reserve was about an hour bus ride from our hotel, and the drive was iffy. Evan ended up getting car sick from all of the bumps. The panda reserve was awesome though (definitely good application)!! Unlike zoos which always make me feel guilty because all the animals looks to depressed, the reserve was built into the panda’s natural settings. Side note that I found interesting, Pandas are not found all over China, as many people believe, they are only found in Sichuan Province. This is because out of the 100 varieties of bamboo that grow in China Pandas only eat one kind and it is only found in Sichuan. We got to see baby giant panda cubs which were adorable. We also saw a bunch of red pandas as well as grown Giant Pandas. The highlight of the visit though was at the end. The park was supposed to close at 6 but at 5:45 we decided that we wanted to quickly see the Giant Pandas one last time. We headed back to one of the enclosures and got to see 4 teenage pandas play fighting with each other and just goofing off. It was just us and about 10 other people which was super nice because the rest of the day there had been huge masses of people and we could never really get good viewing spots. The park officials let us stay for about half an hour after the park closed to watch the pandas so it was like our own private viewing. Dan got an adorable video of them playing that I will try to upload at some point. We all left the reserve quite happy with the visit. Bert even bought a panda hat and spent the rest of the day saying “wo ai shong mao” which means I love pandas to everyone we encountered. That night we went to a small undergroundish music scene. We heard about it from a group of kids we met from Canada that were going to college in Chengdu. It was pretty cool. The band was a group of college kids from all over Europe that would meet up once a week and put on improvised shows. They never practiced and they didn’t play actual songs. One member would just start playing some progression and everyone else would improvise around it. They were really good and a lot of fun to talk to about what it was like to go to school in Chengdu.

Thursday was our last full day in Chengdu. We didn’t do much in the morning, just lounged around the hotel. That night we were invited over to Evan’s apartment to have a family dinner with him, his mom, and Anne. We were quite excited but also a little nervous. We didn’t want to do something unknowingly that would offend his mom. We knew that being invited to a Chinese person’s home is a really big deal and they often times don’t even invite close friends over. Hence we wanted to make a good impression. We knew socially we were supposed to bring a gift. We decided to bring some baked goods, such as crème puffs, fruit filled waffles and such, that we thought would make a nice dessert. We bought them at a stand by our hotel but quickly realized that we needed to wrap them in a more presentable fashion. After a frantic search to find gift wrap (we once again relied on Bert’s IPhone) we found some pink and red wrap which are considered good colors in China. With our gift in tow we headed to Evan’s apartment. When we arrived Evan’s mom was so excited. We were the first Westerners she had ever met and was so hospitable to us. She knew almost no English and our Chinese is still very rough so we communicated mainly through hand gestures and smiles, but it was still really nice. She prepared so much food for us, it was crazy. It was all very good though. Evan even mentioned to her that I really liked lotus root so she made sure to have some for me. It was delicious. We spent close to five hours eating, talking and just enjoying each other’s company. It was the first time we had had a home cooked, family meal since being in China and I don’t think any of us had realized just how much we missed that aspect of home. After a few hours, we went outside and, like little kids, played on the apartment’s playground equipment for a while. We also tried to star gaze, but of course the China haze made it impossible to see anything aside from a few planes. It was a great night though.

Friday we woke up, packed up all of our stuff, and checked out of the hotel. We went to lunch one last time at the Jaozi restaurant (we had actually eaten at least one meal there every day, the owners loved us) and then headed to the train station. We were all pretty excited to take the bullet train and looked forward to being home in time for dinner in BeiBei and with enough time to finish the mountain of Chinese homework we had been assigned over holiday that we had certainly not brought with us on the trip. The Chengdu train station was much less crowded than Chongqing had been and we easily got to our terminal. Bert and I were the first ones in line for our group to try to scan our tickets to board the train. We both tried our tickets but it just kept blinking red at us. We asked the lady what was wrong because we couldn’t figure out what we were doing wrong. She took my ticket, stared at it for about 30 seconds, and then responded that our tickets were for the train that had left the day before. Awesome application #9. The tickets were all written in Chinese so none of us could read them, we had simply trusted Anne when she told us she had bought us tickets for Friday. We definitely had a problem, we were stuck in Chengdu with worthless tickets and it was the last day of National Holiday. That meant that everyone was trying to get home that day and all other train tickets were sold out. Just awesome. Lucky for us Evan had come to the train station to see us off. We called him and caught him before he took a taxi home. We explained the situation and he came back to try to help us out. He talked to the ticket teller for us and was able to secure us 6 tickets on the slow train that was supposed to leave in 4 hours. One small hitch though, all of the seats had already been sold. We were going to have to stand for the entire trip home. Awesome #10. We all agreed it was worth it though if it meant getting home that night. We sat around the train station for the next few hours and eventually got to board our train. We were completely unsure of what standing ticket holders were supposed to do. We didn’t know if there was a certain area in the car we were supposed to stand in or if it was just wherever. Eventually we looked helpless enough that one passenger explained to us that we could stand anywhere on the train. We all stowed our backpacks and prepared for a long ride. Just as the train was about to leave we had one last small world moment. On to the train walked another one of the international students from SWU that we had gotten to know, Ronnie. She had the seat right where we were all standing around. It was nice to see a familiar face after such a stressful few hours. There’s not really much to say about the train ride. It was long (there was flooding again so we were delayed, only 1 extra hour though instead of 2), it was tiring, we were all kind of crabby, the other passengers were very nice to us though and allowed us to share their seats for stretches of time so at least we didn’t have to stand the entire time. We talked with Ronnie a bunch about how her Golden Week had been (she had gone to Jiuzhaigou so we were excited to hear how it had been) Once we finally reached Chongqing, we wanted nothing more than to get back to our dorms. We caught taxis and were home in about an hour. Before we even made it to the dorms though, we stopped at one of our favorite street vendors for some noodles. It tasted amazing after hours of standing. We then headed back to our dorms to start our piles of homework.

Overall, National Holiday was a great adventure. It showed us that we could somewhat take care of ourselves in China and it was our first time truly being on our own and having to provide everything for ourselves without the help of our program. It is definitely a memory of China that I will cherish.

Love and miss you all,
Rachel

Posted by remullin 08:04 Comments (0)

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