Tuesday, June 17, 2008

12/5/07 "10 Days Left"

All my friends and family,

I'm coming home in 10 days! I seriously can't believe it. Some of the days went by in the blink of an eye and some days seemed like they'd never end. It's an odd sensation of feeling like I've been in China forever and feeling like it hasn't been that long since I was home.

Last week I went up to Sichuan Province. When I was at Lugu Lake in October I made lots of Chinese friends who were all from Chengdu (Sichuan's capital city), so I got to see them. I went with one of my group mates and we went to see the temples around the city. But more importantly we saw the pandas at the research and breeding base in Chengdu. We also traveled 2 hours outside the city to a place called Leshan to see the world biggest Buddha, which is carved into the side of a cliff. It is pretty impressive. And then we went a little bit further to a mountain called Emei shan (shan means mountains in Chinese). It is one of China's four most sacred Buddhist mountains, though it is now entirely suited for tourists with a road up most of it and guest houses, shops, and restaurants along the roadside. My friend and I took a bus up most of the mountain (since we only had a day to see it and it takes 4 days to hike it from bottom to top) and then we climbed to the top where there is a glorious golden temple and enormous Buddhist statue (also golden). It's logically deemed Golden Summit. I've included a picture from the view we had up there (not golden). It was inspiring. We spent the afternoon up there writing in our journals and eating snacks for lunch. Finally the clouds engulfed us and it became freezing temperatures very quickly so we hiked down, careful not to slip on ice patches.

I'm in Kunming right now writing my paper on the research I did. My topic ended up being on China's tourist industry in minority areas. I focused on two main questions: what are the components which allow a place to become a tourist destination? And, what are the social effects of tourism? In other words, how are the locals being affected? What is happening to the culture which is commoditized for tourism? What is gained? What is lost? It hasn't been hard to meet to requirements of a 25-page minimum. After 3 days of scattered writing, I have 21 pages already and I haven't even begun to answer the second question. So my last days are easily occupied with this project.

It's so cold here. The temperature is not obscenely cold, but at night it gets down somewhere between the 30s and 40s and there's no heating or electric blankets and there's always some kind of draft. I stole (borrowed) an extra comforter out of an open room down the hall. Also, our rooms have water coolers which have a hot water spout, so I fill a couple of plastic water bottles with the boiling hot water and then I sleep with them. Usually about 4AM I wake up realizing that they are lukewarm and I set them on the floor before they become cold and have a reverse effect.

On the 12th, our group is going to Beijing for a few days. I don't want to think about what it is going to be like there. I hope our hotel has a heater. Some of the hotels I've stayed in as I've traveled about have a heater. Half the time they don't work, but there's always hope. While I'm in Beijing, I'll be the closest to L.A. I've been since I've been in China, and it'll be so soon before I'm home (3,2,1 days) that hopefully thinking about home will warm me up.

Although I've missed home, especially in this last month, as I've been able to begin to think about going home, I've been overwhelmingly satisfied, peaceful, and happy to be exactly where I am. I'll be back in the States for a while. You don't get to go to China that often. So, I'm soaking it up as much as I can in these last days. I don't want to get home and regret not enjoying China while I could.

I hope everyone had a beautiful fall which challenged them and made for good memories. Some of the hardest things I encountered this fall, whether they were physical, emotional or academic challenges, have taught me more about myself and Life than I ever knew was possible. I didn't know how much I had to grow. I'll see some of you sooner than others, but not having an ocean separating us and being able to call any of you whenever I want is going to be wonderful.

11/12/07 "Rural China: my new home"

For the past week I have been staying with a rural Naxi family in the village of Baisha just outside of Lijiang. I'll be there for all of next week too. I know the son from when I came to Lijiang before in October. We visited him again when our whole group came to Lijiang. I was asking him some questions about Naxi culture and how tourism has been affecting it, how he feels about it all, etc. After several questions he told me that if I stayed in his village for a while I would find out what Naxi culture was. I decided that that was a good idea. So now I'm living with him, his mom, his dad, his older brother, their three dogs, the chickens, the pigs, and the cows. There is electricity, but no running water. We get our water from the communal spout which is supplied by the mountain water. We use a whole in the ground for a toilet. We use fire as our heater (and it's used often since it's November and it gets pretty cold). I haven't taken my long underware off for a week. I feel kind of gross. I tried to shower for the first time in a week at the village shower, but the water only stayed lukewarm for a minute and then went back to freezing. At least it's a sunny day with beautiful blue skies. We can see all seven snow-covered peaks of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. It's gorgeous! The daily routine has been as follows: The mom (with whom I share a room) gets up at 6:30, gets water boiling, and comes back to bed until 7:00 when she gets up for real. The dad gets up with her. They get the butter tea going (which is made with butter, egg, tea, walnuts, and just the right amount of salt). And they get the mantou (big dough rolls) steaming in the wok over the brick stove. Then they feed the animals and by 8:00 they get me up. But I've been awake on and off since 7:00 when the rooster starts to crow. By 8:30, after my face is washed and teeth brushed we eat breakfast. Normally we eat next to the stove, but this morning we ate outside with the sun on our backs. By 9:30 we're out in the fields. The past few days they have been cutting down corn stalks and grouping them, carrying them to the side of the field and then plowing the field and tilling the soil. Today is supposed to be the day they take a break while they let the soil rest before they plant tomorrow, but the mom and dad went out to the field anyways around 10:30. They normally work until anywhere between 4:00 and 6:00, but someone is always back by 4:30 or 5:00 to start dinner. They have a T.V. and so they turn that on for Xiao Li and me to watch. There's nothing we can really do to help make dinner (I ask every night). China news is a trip. A few days ago there was a story on how they are making the monastery at Lhasa fire safe (where the Dali Lama lives in Tibet). They were showing the monks playing with water hoses and water guns. It's often national coverage stories. But there are international ones too. Last night a Chinese reporter interview the Jordanian king (the interview was in English). All Chinese T.V. has subtitles since regardless of all the dialects in China, the characters are always the same. Many of the commercials are somehow connected with the upcoming Olympics. Last night I saw one where they used a clip from Forest Gump where Forest breaks free from his leg braces, and then a Chinese athlete came on to say, "Be a winner" (in Chinese). ... I laughed. Every night after the news and national weather, there is a cartoon and then the same two Drama shows. In the U.S. you have to wait for the next week to find out what happens in T.V. shows. I love it when I get to find out what happens the next day. Also, they have two episodes every night and NO COMMERCIALS! It's amazing! The commercials are in only between episodes. So, that's been my life for the past week. I needed to come into Lijiang for a couple days to do some interviews, but rest assured I found a guest house that has a room with a shower and a T.V. so I don't miss my show. Wow, even in China I get hooked on a show. The show is called 5-star hotel and all the glamor is particular enriching when I have no shower, no heater, and no opportunity to get dressed up. It's ok though. I enjoy having such a different experience. Oh yeah, and did I mention that the Naxi have their own language. So, Mandarin is all of our second language. It's a good time. After this next week, I'll go back to Shaxi, the Bai rural village. And then on to Dali (a developed city like Lijiang). And then I think I'll come back to Baisha and move into wrap up mode to make sure that I have a 40 page paper and oral presentation ready by December 7th. It'll fly by, I'm sure. I hope everyone is doing well wherever they are.

10/31/07 "From Kunming to Shangrila"

Three weeks of life in China is worth about three months the amount of activity I would have if I were in the States. After I returned from my week long solo trip up to Lijiang and Lugu Lake, I returned to Kunming (the city) and entered a Chinese homestay. The family lived in an apartment as do all residents of Kunming. By law you're only aloud to have a living space of a certain size and houses are prohibited. However, within the legal limits, the Chinese can potentially live relatively luxurious city lives if they have the money. My family was comprised of a dad, in business for himself selling communication equipment, a mom, working in a cigarette factory, which because it's endorsed and controlled by the government it pays well, and a 13 year old daughter, Melody, who speaks English really well and wants to go to high school and college in America (she has Princeton for college in mind). Also, there was a nanny/housekeeper of sorts who lived off the kitchen. Her name was Aqin (Ah Cheen) and although she was shy and got embarrassed easily, she had a goofy wild spirit underneath it all, which she couldn't hold back from me. I guess one goofy person can't hide from another. She is 22 years old now, but she started working for the family when she was 15; she moved from a small village to find a job that would pay her more than she would make farming. I asked her what she would do if she could do anything with her life and she said that she either wanted to open her own clothing store (which she plans on doing once she makes a total of 40,000 yuan) or she wants to become a flight stewardess because she likes the outfit and it would be fun to serve people food and drinks and make them happy. When I asked what she would do if she had all the money in the world she said she would go back to her village and first build her family a big house and then help out the rest of her village. She has such a free and generous spirit. I was so glad we got to meet and be friends. It was really interesting to talk to the mom. She has a dream of Melody moving to America and then bringing her and the dad over and then supporting them. Melody rolls her eyes and says, "my mom doesn't understand that I have my own life to live." Then she asked me if my mom was like that. As the mom looked at me also eager to hear the response, I very carefully said that my mom believes that my life is mine alone to figure out and live, but that many parents who are invested in their children's lives just want the best for their children. I then changed the subject with both mother and daughter looking mildly appeased.

I was in the homestay for two weeks. Those were my last two weeks in Kunming before my group started to travel together around the province (Yunnan). Before I left, I made some mental notes about the quirks that made it a Chinese city and not an American city. There are just some things you won't see in America.

1. VW cars have some different names: the Bora and the Santana in addition to the Jetta and Passat. The Bora was a little bit smaller than the Jetta and the Santana a little bit bigger than the Passat.

2. Babies wear pants with an open butt. So, baby's butts are hanging out everywhere.

3. On the same note children just pop a squat on the sidewalk. Watch your step.

4. Driving is insane…lanes are ignored and in the morning people drive wherever to get where they want to go…on the opposite side of the street, the sidewalk, the bike lane (which is an additional lane as big as a car lane for the masses of bikes and mopeds). Fortunately, everyone drives on the slow side and everyone knows that people drive crazily, so they're on guard.

5. Unique to Kunming (unlike other cities in China), on the drive to school my Chinese dad would play VCDs of minority dances and songs (VCD=Video CDs…the step between a CD and DVD, which was mostly skipped over in America…I never heard of VCDs). In Yunnan province, home to 26 of China's 55 official minorities, minority culture is rich and appreciated more than most other places in China.

Food in Kunming is fairly normal including rice, chicken, pork, beef, tofu of various sorts, all prepared in various ways including in dumplings, and then an array of veggies and fruits. Some differences are the common use of hot chili peppers, eating chicken feet as a snack, really sweet bread that is the most processed tasting thing in China, fried goat cheese as a common dish often with sugar on it (goat cheese is the only cheese in China), readily available pomegranates (as common as apples are to America), persimmons, and pomelos (huge melons). Nuts are constantly roasting creating a wonderful smell in the air especially in the fall. Vendors line the sidewalks selling an array of snack foods from these egg burrito things, to rice-meal-tortilla burrito things, to anything fried to meat skewers.

I've been on the road for a little more than a week now. First we went to a mountain town called Weibaoshan within Dali prefecture (Dali is a major town in Yunnan province). Weibaoshan was entirely quaint and I'd love to go back someday. It was the capital of the Nanzhao state during the Tang dynasty and several different cultures merged and emerged from the area, so it's rich with history and culture. Then we stayed a night in a really comfortable classic Chinese hotel (outside with a courtyard) near the top of a mountain with an incredible view and a path just outside that led to a series of temples and the peak. It was wonderfully peaceful. The stars were so bright. The next couple of nights we spent in Dali. I really liked Dali. It's inhabited predominantly by the Bai people who highly value aesthetics and artistic design. So, it's beautiful. There's a wall around the old city with four main entrances that have the design of the ancient royal style. The old city is in the shape of a T, with two main intersecting streets. It has certainly been transformed into a tourist town with a couple streets dedicated to Western-style cafes and bars, one of which has an elaborate overarching structure as the entrance to the street calling it Foreigner's street. Old women liberally come up to you offering ganjiao (marijuana). Manijuana plants are growing freely all along the roadside throughout Dali prefecture. Since it's not tourist season, it wasn't terribly busy, but you'll still see foreigners regularly and more curious outside Chinese on the weekend.

After Dali we drove three hours out and stayed the night at a monastery. It may well be the first place I've been on this trip that felt un-fabricated. All the temples we've been to, although certainly historically real, don't give me a genuine vibe. Maybe it's because this temple was more like a small compound set in the mountains with five Buddhist monks living on site and then people who prepare the food. They don't eat any meat and their diet consists of dried mint and seaweed, soups with leafy vegetables, goat cheese, and other vegetables. Breakfast was mantou, which is a plain but dense dough bread. Also we had an incredible mushroom and noodle soup that tasted like it belonged at the Macaroni Grill. Funny how sense memory can take you from a remote Buddhist monastery to Macaroni Grill. Also, there were these crazy monkeys all over who weren't shy and would come up to you and take things out of your hands and then bear their teeth. It was scary at times. But the mama with her baby was adorable. My first monkey encounter was in the afternoon when I was chilling in my room and the door opened and a monkey sauntered in. This monastery has massive colorful Buddha statues in the tall mountain side which was backdrop to the temple. There was also a waterfall. It was serene, especially at dusk when the monks were in the temple praying with their chants and singing. At night it got so cold though. Because the doors have carvings in them, they don't block the outside air and there's a constant breeze. We were on beds though with warm comforters. For that I was grateful.

For the past three days, I've been staying in a rural village in Shaxi county. Shaxi is between Dali and Lijiang if you ever look for it on a map (you'd have to have a detailed one since it's fairly small). It's almost entirely agriculturally dependent except for the one village that I am in. About five years ago some Swiss individuals took to the village and decided to invest in preserving its architecture. As soon as foreigners posed their interest and the Chinese government backed the project the people of the village began to view their village as something worth preserving, something that outsiders might be interested in. In the last five years little shops have been opening right and left including basic supply shops with food, drink, soap, and luxury items, a cell phone shop, small restaurants and a couple of bars/cafés. As more people come, the villagers are motivated to develop a service based economy which then accommodates the tourists and encourages more to come, thus rapidly perpetuating itself. In order for rural villages to transform into tourist sights, two things must happen. It must be accessible by bus or car and it must have accommodations like guesthouses, cafes/teahouses/hangout spots, all of which must be inspired somehow. Also, it needs to have some aesthetic appeal. And Shaxi is gorgeous. It's a valley surrounded by so many mountains. It has beautiful architecture and out in the country here the skies can't get bluer and more stars can't shine at night. I've never seen so many stars in my life. Because this village is developing, but still an innocent and predominantly rural village, it's perfect for my independent project that I will take up in another week. So I will return shortly and have more stories to tell.

Now I'm in Zhongdian which has been internationally deemed Shangrila as described by James Hilton in Lost Horizon . It's supposed to be a fantasy location of sorts, but Dali and Lijiang are both more beautiful than it is here. However, the Tibetan people which inhabit this area are enchanting. There's something about them that glows from within more so than the Naxi or Bai people from Lijiang and Dali. I just arrived tonight, but we'll be here for three nights and then we'll venture to Lijiang. The group tour will end there and we'll all be unleashed for our Independent Study Projects. I'll stay in Lijiang to do a little bit of research for about a week and then I'll go back down to Shaxi for three weeks. Come December 7th the group will reconvene in Kunming to present out projects and turn in our 40 page papers. Then we'll travel to Beijing for a week and before I know it I'll be back in the States.

10/6/07 "An Incredible Week"

I'm back. I'm back from a week of wonder. I set out on a journey to Lijiang and Lugu Lake unsure really of what I was in for.
I'd say the journey began the day before I actually left Kunming. I suddenly fell ill the day before I was supposed to leave on a week long trek by myself. I had a wonderful healing through the course of the day, but new physical challenges continued to arise. With every turn I gave it all to God. I knew that my trip was the right thing for me to do and that although I was not going to be with any one else in my group, I was not alone either. I had no choice but to entrust every aspect of the trip to God. That's the way it should have been regardless, but this was my first lesson to learn. I knew that I had what I needed for the moment and I didn't need anything more. When the next moment arrived I would have what I needed then. So away I went on a 10 hour bus ride from Kunming to Lijiang. Two other girls from my group were going to the same vicinity as me, so we were on the same bus and had arranged to stay in the same guest house in Lijiang. We met someone on the bus who upon our arrival in Lijiang offered to drive us to the guest house which was on the other side of town from the bus station. That was really nice that we avoided the Taxi. I really didn't know much about Lijiang before I got there. All I knew was that I wanted to go to Lugu Lake and I had to go through Lijiang to do it. I realized very quickly how wonderful Lijiang is. It's beautiful and quaint and the perfect place to come for a week. The guest house we stayed in was the home of a young couple. Their home is placed in Ancient town which has a river and stream running through it. There's a 2,000 year old bridge that still stands and people walk over it every day. I decided that I couldn't help but stay in Lijiang for a few days. The next day I hung out with the other girls. We had lunch at a good little restaurant, outside, right by the river side. It was blissful. Then we met up with a local Naxi guy (the indigenous people of Lijiang). He was our age, but had a well developed knowledge of his people's history and knew of good places to take us. At the end of the day he took us back to his farm house where the puppy ate the grain with the piglets out a tire cut in half. There were chickens and cows and goats. Their small traditional Chinese house had been in the family for 200 years, and had never been repaired. We met his family and they were the nicest people. They invited us to stay for dinner and spend the night so that we didn't have to travel back to our guest house 15 minutes away. They offered me some sugared mangoes. FYI, if mangoes have been sitting in sugar for a really long time they ferment and they become super alcoholic. I didn't know what I had put into my mouth until I did. It tasted like the smell of Bissman on a Friday night. Yikes. Nevertheless, the whole experience was entirely enriching. The girls I was with are both Chinese-American and are fluent in Chinese, so they could communicate with everyone and occasionally translate for me. It made me wish my Chinese were better. That night the girls and I walked around the quaint Old Town (different from Ancient Town). There were lots of tourists there, but for good reason. It has the traditional architecture, red lanterns, and lively activities all the time. There are cute shops and restaurants all through town and it also has a little river running through it. It's more popular than Ancient Town because it's right next to downtown. If anyone ever wants to go to China, I recommend Yunnan province first and Lijiang in particular. This week is the national Chinese vacation week. So everyone who works in China has the week off. Even with the large number of tourists that went to Lijiang, the city still wasn't crazy populated. The next day I stayed behind while the other girls hiked all morning to a lake. Feeling ready to branch out on my own, I bought my bus ticket to Lugu Lake and spent the day with my roommate at the guest house who is from Hong Kong. She goes by Isabelle. We got along really well and she helped me navigate the buses in the city, which would be useful later in the trip when I needed to get around by myself. Also, having stayed behind that day I had the morning to mark my lesson for the week. It was so nice to have that time before I headed out on my own (with out the language crutch of my friends). Come the next day I stepped out of the courtyard doors and knew that I was embarking on a new journey in my life. I got myself to the bus station and onto my bus and all the way to Lugu Lake. The bus ride took 8 hours—8 hours of winding through the mountains and villages. It was so beautiful. Mostly the mountain roads are cobblestone and in America they would qualify as 1-lane roads, but they're two-lanes and big buses can pass big farm trucks and no one falls off the mountain—barely. But it was fun. The bus driver drives that road every other day and knows what he's doing. I was in the habit of trusting. I didn't worry about it. The girl sitting beside me started not to feel well during the trip, so I silently supported her, simply reclaiming all the same truths about order, harmony, and supply that I had been claiming for myself in preparation for this trip. In particular, Mrs. Eddy's seven hymns came to mind, so I went through those one by one. They are all so wonderful, both comforting and empowering. The girl was certainly relieved to get off the bus when we got to Lugu Lake, but I can't help but trust that my prayers were effective on some level. I found a youth hostel that I could stay at which was very reasonably priced. The communal bathrooms in the back of the building were less than pleasant. Oh well. You get in you get out and don't breathe in the mean time. I got to experience some very rural bathrooms. As gross as they were, I still think it's better to have a building with several messy squat holes than a confined, poorly ventilated Johnny on the Spot in the States. My roommate at the hostel was from Spain. She appreciated it when I exclaimed in Spanish how happy I was that she was from Spain because I've that meant I could finally speak Spanish. Although my Spanish has a limit, I know far more Spanish than Chinese and so often when I don't know how to say something in Chinese it comes out in Spanish, but that doesn't help me much. Now someone could understand me. Also, she wasn't feeling well, but that's because she was recovering from a hang over from drinking the night before. She didn't speak any Chinese, so I got her out of the room and got her a nice meal to eat. The young couple who owned the guest house in Lijiang had a friend who had a guest house in a quiet village on the other side of the lake, so I called him and he arranged to have a car come pick me up the next day for free. So the next day, I got up early to watch the sunrise, but to no avail, it was cloudy in the morning. The hostel was literally at the water's edge, so I sat outside and read my lesson and wrote in my journal. As the morning progressed, more and more people arrived at the lake (vacation week, remember). The Chinese are such curious people. They would come up about a yard from me trying to figure out what I was doing, or maybe they wanted to watch me write in English. I'm not sure. Finally a group of little girls stood behind me for a while and eventually I turned around, they said hello in English and when I said, "hi, ni hao." They giggled and ran away. Ten minutes later they returned, the older girl of the three in front. I turned around to them and the older girl turned back to the younger girls and the younger girls prompted the older girl. "How are you?" She asked me, practicing her English. "I'm good," I replied, "and you? Ni ne?" saying everything in both English and Chinese. We exchanged names and I asked them if they'd write the characters of their names for me. They were so excited. Then we said goodbye. It was adorable. By lunchtime the car came a got me. It was a beautiful drive to the other side of the lake. The guest house was perfect. My room looked out on the lake and for the first time in a long time I had a room to myself. Lugu Lake is known as the home of the Mosuo people, the last standing Matriarchal society. This guest house was a Mosuo home, but because of it's nature as a guest house, it wasn't a true representation of the culture. This house belonged to both a man and a woman and it was more of an equal partnership than one gender being more prominent than another. After lunch, which I helped prepare just because I wanted to interact with the people, I went with a few local people and their friends who were visiting for the week to the local Mosuo school. It's called a hope-school and is based off of donations from outside the community since the community doesn't have much money. That may be why tourism is flaring up so quickly. The villages can easily make more money by sporting their culture. Unfortunately, in the process the culture gets watered down if not entirely altered. Also, tourism can often have negative repercussions on the environment. Anyways, this Mosuo school has three small buildings, a kitchen, some computers, and books and school supplies, all donated. It's really incredible for the community. There are about 10 children. They were so adorable. I took lots of pictures. With every picture taken they would say, "wo xiang kan!" I want to see. The next day at the lake I went with a group of seven kids from Chengdu, Sichuan China all about the same age as me. We hiked the mountain behind the guest house. I think I basically rock climbed the mountain. It was so steep. But once I got to the top and I could see the whole lake and all the way into Sichuan province. It was incredible. Then we took the cable car down. The cool mountain air blew through my hair and across my face with the lake and mountains in view the whole way down. It was bliss. I spent the rest of the day with that group and we all became good friends. I'm now more than welcome in Chengdu. The next day I got myself back to Lijiang. Again on the bus, I had some metaphysical work to do to handle my thought for those around me. I had such wonderful inspiration and spiritual growth through the metaphysical work I had done all through the trip, but especially this last bus ride, I made a break through. I finally got to the point where I was asking God to show me his harmony. I wasn't willing myself to pray and break through material sense. I am a reflection of Mind and it is my natural right to see the fullness of God. In the lesson, in Psalms, there was a lot about meekness or asking God to show the way, "to open thou mine eyes." The trip got extended by 2-3 hours because our normal route was blocked by rocks fallen from the mountain, so I had extra time to look out at the mountains and ponder the ideas I coming to understand. Finally back in Lijiang I stayed at the guest house again and had my own room this time. I lied back in bed and just exhaled. What a trip! I began the trip in a way that looked liked I was barely hanging on. But really, I was only barely holding on to materiality and holding closer and closer to God. What a blessing. I'm discovering a whole new world both literally as I explore new physical destinations and mental destinations. I feel like I'm seeing the world in a new light every day. It's wonderful.

9/18/07 "A Day in the Life Of"

As I turn over in my bed, I notice that dawn has arrived. The one side I've been lying on is mildy soar from the boxspring of a mattress cushioned only by a very soft, but thin wannabe feathered bed pad. This is covered by a loose sheet (serving as the fitted sheet) and finally I am covered by an impressively warm comforter which has teddy bears floating with balloons. I quickly squirm back under my floating bears as the morning arrives with a chill. My travel alarm clock goes off soon enough. It's 7:00. I get up first to take me shower.
By 7:30-7:45 I'm dressed and walking to our provided breakfast in a private room of the cafeteria. It takes about 5 min to get there. Every morning they serve warm milk, which after the first morning I have decided to pass up. Then we have some sort of "bread" which is really just the whitest of white breads and some sort of fruity goo in the middle. Every time I give the bread a second chance I'm sorry I did. The other bready option is a fried dough stick which you're supposed to dip in your soy milk, but I dip it in the jelly they serve. It's fruit punch flavored, however, combined with the fried dough stick it reminds me just enough of toast and jelly. Sometimes they serve pork filled dumplings (my favorite). They also usually serve a good noodle soup and either fried eggs or hard boiled eggs. Breakfast has come to have a whole new meaning.
From breakfast I run quickly to class which starts at 8:00. In the picture of the academic building just picture me having class on the top floor (the 8th floor). The first two days I didn't know there was an elevator. That was unexpectedly tiering.
From 8:00-9:45 we have Chinese speaking class. My class consists of Jen and me. The focused learning and teaching is really helpful. Then the Taiji (Tai Chi) master comes and we practice for half an hour. We've learned the 24 motion exercise which takes about 6 minutes to complete and in its slow motions and holding low positions gives all of us a work out. We've also learned a whole set of self-defense moves. I've gotten pretty good, so watch out. Then we go back to Chinese class for the grammar section with another teacher from 10:15-12:00.
As we walk back to the dorm we usually stop and get something at the street market. I sometimes get dumplings or bao zi's which are fluffly dumplings with a choice of meat, veggies, bean paste, or sesame/sugar inside. Sometimes I get corn and a selection of skewered meat. Today I tried some peanut buttery, sweet burrito-like creation in a rice "tortilla" and a fried dough stick inside for crunch. It was really good, but I probably won't get it that often. Not the most nourishing.
Then we have between 12:00 and 2:00 of free time. Sometimes I go out for lunch. Sometimes I have an errand to run, some paper or pens that I need. Sometimes I do homework, or sometimes I just take the down time as down time and read, sleep, or play guitar (I've started learning on my roommates. The calluses are still building, but such is life).
By 2:00 or sometimes 2:30 we go for our "lecture" which has taken the form as an actual academic lecture on a topic (history, religion, environment, social issues). Sometimes we watch a movie (documentary or an occasion feature film). We've had speakers come in and talk to us who have experience in the field or have experiences to share. Last week an 86 year old man came in full of so much youth and joy. He was Chinese and had been a Chinese translator for Americans when China entered World War II. He said he was glad to be able to spend his afternoon with young Americans because it reminded him of his American soldier friends. During the Cultural Revolution he was put into jail for mentioning to the courts that China would be wise to take advantage of technology. He was in jail for 19 years, separated from his wife and 3 children. He was 33-52 years old during that time. He was finally released with many others when Deng Xiao Ping released those jailed by the Cultural Revolution. We asked if he had any resentment once he was out. He replied, "Why waste any of my precious life once I got it back." He taught English in Chinese schools until he retired.
Also, sometimes we take the lecture period to go out on an "educational excursion" in which we get to visit a temple or a park or a market.
We are finally done with the planned part of the day by 4:30 (usually, sometimes later). I get back to my room and chill out for a second. By 5:30 people are starting to ask around who's going where for dinner. So far I've had Chinese food and one meal of Indian food. There's also a western cafe called "Salvador's" where I had a quesadilla for lunch one day.
SIT's (my group's organization) one-room personal library opens by 7:30 where I can have good light for studying as well as internet access. It closes by 9:30. Homework usually lasts until midnight or sometimes 1:00. I happily fall asleep in my bed, hard as it may be. Dawn comes soon enough.

9/11/07 "Week 2"

Da Jia Hao, 大家好!Hello everyone (lit. "big family"),Last weekend our group was split up into mini groups of 3-4 people and given a piece of paper with a location written in characters. Our task was to translate the characters, figure out where the location was (somewhere in Kunming) and then figure out how to get there and go and come back with a presentation of our experience. I learned very quickly that there are so many resources to help you and you just need to utilize them. As soon as we walked out of the academic building we asked a Chinese student what our characters were. Then we asked if he knew where it was. He didn't, but he informed us that it was a tourist park. Then we went to our maps, but they weren't very helpful, so we just got in a taxi and told the driver to take us to Mingzu cun "minority village". Then we found out that it was kind of far away and that the taxi driver could take us to the bus station that would take us and that we should take bus 44. And so we did. The bus was packed, people holding on to bars overhead, armpits exposed. Because of our distant destination though, people got off and the bus thinned out and aired out and it really wasn't that bad. When we got to the minority village park it was somewhat amusing somewhat disturbing. Let's just say going through the park is a lesson on Chinese tourism. The recreated minority villages, which represent the various 26 minorities and their villages residing in Yunnan province, were overwhelmingly fake. Even trees were fake. It was an Epcot center with villages instead of countries. Perhaps just as comparable. But somehow, because the real villages are within the province that the park is in, with their people struggling, living on very little, while Chinese tourists (mostly) are "enjoying" a fake, far from representative recreation as a substitute, was a bit disturbing. There were large "Chinese lanterns" lining the streets with advertisements on them. I couldn't read all of the Chinese, but the images caught my eye: tanks in fields with mountains behind, oil rigs in agricultural fields, and more that I can't remember at the moment (I took pictures though, so I'll get those up soon). The park also displayed a circus elephant show. It looked innocent enough until the trained bashed the elephants head with a hook on the end of a stick. I was horrified. It's amazing how the elephants still prance around with distinct smiles on their faces. I suppose getting fed fruit from the audience however many times the show recurs is sufficient. One trainer dropped his hooked stick and the elephant voluntarily picked it up with his trunk and returned it to the trainer. It was an odd display of obvious affection between the trainer and elephant and the violent bash that occurred twice. Hard to reconcile. The one undeniably beautiful part of the day was when I ordered fresh squeezed pineapple juice for lunch. It was incredible. Also, someone at lunch asked if we thought our parents were spiritual people, did they think in spiritual terms. That spurred an incredible conversation about our views on spirituality. Every one of us believed in the power of consciousness and that there is Spirit which ultimately overrides everything. Though, some believed that they didn't have the ability right now. It was truly fascinating and it gave me a chance to talk about Christian Science and give them a good sense about it before they hear about it from someone else. I got the ol', "oh, Scientology?" Everyone was so excited about what the other had to say. The day before we had been given a talk about Taiji (an eastern relaxing exercise for longevity) by a Taiji master, gearing us up for our daily. He definitely geared his talk toward a medically minded American audience and talked about scientific research that could back it up and specifically how Taiji helps specific organs or slowly heals diseases. He kept saying, "I am 86 and can do all these things. I am living proof that Taiji works!" There were many ideas that could be translated for me to give it meaning to me. And there was some of the talk that I blocked out. Every thing can be translated into a thought and taken to its highest level. So in my required Taiji, I make it my own. That's all from here.
Zai jien 在见 (Goodbye, lit. "until next time")

9/8/07 "No Blog"

So, a week into my program I finally had enough time on the internet to post a blog only to find that China blocks blogspot. So, I will just mass email what I would have blogged and work on a forum to post pictures.

I've been in China for four days now, though I've been away from home for five, and yet it feels as though I've been in China for weeks on weeks already. The group that I am with is an incredible conglomeration of strong individuals who can blend wonderfully into a brilliant group. Upon our arrival in Kunming, there was a small army-like formation of airport/luggage men (see picture). Once through customs, we drove straight to the Yunnan Nationalities University, where we'll be taking classes as well as living for the first month before we move in with Kunming families. The campus is lush with green and stone pathways, beautiful in sight, and occasionally accompanied by the stench of sewer water. The dormitories are packed full of students, two bunkbeds for four students living in room slightly larger to a Bissman room (to those of you from Wooster). In other words, they are very small rooms, especially for four people. However, for our group, we have a floor to ourselves, two to a room, and the rooms are just about the size of a Douglass double (very accommodating). There are two beds, two desks, two night stands, a water cooler since you can't drink the tap water, a shared armoire, and at least an 18" T.V. with a nice T.V. stand. The luxury of the T.V. is very odd considering the obstacles of the bathroom. So, when you walk in the door of the dorm room, there is a room for the furniture (beds, T.V., and all) and then a set of window and plastic door which go into a mud room of sorts with cabinets and a big washing sink. Then there are bars for windows which feed right outside without any glass. Therefore, the one window between the bedroom and mudroom is our only way of retaining heat in the room. It must get in the 40's by night. It feels like that anyways, so I've been sleeping in my long underwear top, and a fleece or sweatshirt, or both. So just inside of the mudroom, to the left, is the bathroom. You walk through the plastic louver doors and there's enough room for you to stand with a toilet to your left and the sink to your right. The shower head (mind you, shower head, not separate shower) is directly in front of you. So it's like it's a shower room with a sink and toilet. Therefore, when either my roommate or I shower, we have to take everything out of the bathroom like the toilet paper which we had to buy and the trashcan which we had to buy and whatever else that we don't want to get wet. It's truly a good space saver and you just have to towel everything off after you shower. Unfortunately the water doesn't dry by morning, so we have to remember not to wear socks into the bathroom. There is a drain, by the way, and a separator between the bathroom and mudroom that keeps the water from spreading. So that is my dorm life. In addition, I wake at 6:30AM to the freshman class marching around campus in army uniform, commanded by their officers. That's different. They do it again at 5:00PM. We only stayed on campus the first night. The next three nights we spent in Tonghai, a small town 3 hours south of Kunming, for our orientation.