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.

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