Monday, March 5, 2012


Well in addition to Facebook, Blogspot is also blocked in China so I am emailing this blog post to my mother who will hopefully pass it on for me.

SORRY THIS IS LONG, you are excused from reading it.

So, China. I got properly excited for China before arriving by watching “Mulan” with Julia and I must say so far the real China has been just as good.

We arrived in Kunming, the City of Eternal Spring, a couple weeks ago and unpacked in Yunnan Nationalities University’s dorms. We were staying in the dorms during orientation which was pretty cool – we felt like real college students! Plus campus was beautiful. Actually, all of Kunming was beautiful – it totally lived up to its name as the city of spring! There were pink cherry blossom trees everywhere and big willow trees, tons of grassy parks with lakes and pathways.

We walked through one of these gorgeous parks to get to our welcome dinner from our partner organization on our first night in China. It was delicious traditional Chinese food, bowl after bowl after bowl of vegetables and fish and more vegetables and, of course, rice.

Somehow I didn’t see it coming that I was going to be seriously struggling with chopsticks in China. I guess I just figured that there would always be forks and knives, but I was mistaken, and at the welcome dinner at least 20 minutes passed before I was able to successfully grasp ANYTHING with my blundering chopsticks. Scott made me a pair of cheater-chopsticks out of a hair band and a napkin so I was able to eat, but since then I have been fending for myself and slowly getting better at them. I was surprised that I was the only one having trouble with this – seriously, when did everyone learn how to use chopsticks??

Anyway the food continued to impress for our whole week of orientation – there were so many good restaurants in walking distance of our dorms. There were two streets in particular, which were dubbed Noodle Street and Western Street, that we ate at pretty much every day. Noodle street has all the good Chinese food you could ever want: delicious dumplings, all kinds of tea with those weird bubble things in them, fruits, noodles with spices, everything. We got really good at asking “how much?” in Chinese and I learned a couple food words on noodle street. Then on Western street there were French bakeries and pizza places and coke floats – yeah, sorry about my obsession with food. It might have something to do with travelling for a long time.

OK but about orientation. We had an amazing week of learning about Chinese history and culture and social norms (like that we shouldn’t give our host family a white gift because it’s got something to do with death). We explored the Western Hills, a pretty big tourist attraction in our area. It’s a gorgeous area way up in the mountains with a great view of Kunming. We got to climb all along these pathways and stairs on the mountains, stopping at little temples along the way. We discussed all these orientation topics inside the Huating Temple up there – I’ll try to add a picture of it later, you should google image it though – it was so surreal, felt just like Epcot at Disney World. There was a whole big hall full of golden Buddhas, a billion of them, all with different faces and doing different things. And of course the cherry blossom trees and those kind of buildings you’d see in Mulan with the roofs curved up at the corners.

We’ve been taking Chinese classes every day and we had them for two hours during orientation! WHY is Chinese so hard! The pronunciations are so awkward for me. We’ve learned to introduce ourselves, numbers, colors, time, all kinds of vocab about food and where things are. But I don’t think my host family can understand a thing I say. I keep accidentally slipping into Spanish.

Mijal had her birthday during orientation and we blindfolded her and walked to one of the beautiful public parks near the dorms, and then Kayce led a yoga class in her honor. It was kind of hilarious because we drew quite a few spectators taking pictures and video, and a few imitators as well.

We also visited an organic farm (China has extremely high standards for what can qualify as organic) and a museum on China’s many minorities, since we are staying in a village of Bai minority people.

We took an overnight train to get from Kunming to our village, Shangqing. Shangqing is a very rural village of like 280something people, almost all farmers. It’s surrounded by fields of crops and it’s bitterly cold and windy all the time and it’s also really quaint and nice.

When we arrived we were split up into our homestay families. Karelle and I are sharing the same family, which is kind of awesome for me because Karelle took Chinese in high school and therefore is my savior. We are sharing a room. Our house is L-shaped, half of the L is outdoor areas like the kitchen. All our livestock and random piles of crops take up the courtyard. We have a huge water buffalo, a ginormous pig with tons of little adorable piglets, bunnies, chicks, chickens, and a dog.

We mostly spend time with our host mom, who told us to call her Susu. She is really cute and always smiling and she probably thinks I am the biggest idiot ever since I can pretty much only say “thank you” correctly. She is also a huge boss, she does all the field work without gloves, which doesn’t sound that cool but is actually really insane. Also, on the first day we gathered weeds around these broad bean plants for like three hours, that pile of weeds was quite considerable, and then she heaved them all into a big basket and looped it around her forehead and carried the whole thing, towering way above her, all the way back to our house. It was amazing.

So yeah – on a typical day we will get up, have breakfast with the family (we also have a host dad and 23 year old host brother). Food in the village is basically the same for each meal – some vegetables, lots of rice, usually some pork. It’s really good stuff. Then we go out to their fields and do various activities, mostly slicing garlic stalks to extract the seed chute thing. It’s kind of meditative. I like it, except it gets tiring after 3 hours. You need to get a mental picture of this because it seriously feels like we’re in a movie every day – us and our host mom in the middle of a HUGE, endless field of crops just swayin’ in the wind, bent over and slicing up garlic, wearing our Chinese hats (yes, the straw ones). It’s cool.

After lunch at 2:30 we’ll have Chinese class and then maybe seminar or work on our media projects.

Time is passing quickly and I’m kind of freaking out that we only have something like 4 more weeks in China. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Xiao Mei
(my new Chinese name, since my family saying “Claire” would have been too good)

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