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Dali, Yunnan 21:45

June 22, 2010 Leave a comment

We sat upstairs in a cafe after dropping our stuff at the Lily Pad Inn, run by Ben the gregarious Frenchman. The air did something to us as we looked up at the crags of the Cangshan mountains and as the rain broke out in front of our eyes. Dali is like Santa Barbara in that all of the rooftops are the same, sloping into more subtle points than the eagle talons of Thailand. These tiles are blue, and the linings of the houses are painted with the quintessential Chinese animal patterns–green and yellow birds (with the stray tiger or crab) and trees against white, white porcelein.

I’d found a book on the shelf of the bakery called “The Importance of Living” by Lin Yutang, a Chinese philosopher from the 1940s, from the beginning of some of the most tumultuous times here. He professed in the prologue to be making an offering, or a summary at least, of Chinese thoughts and attitudes toward life. If only, I thought, I’d found this before embarking on this crazy year.

There were passages relating to family loyalty, some interesting comments on how a wife is only a wife when she has children and only a mistress when she does not, but we all pick and choose from philosophy–the things we like and the things we ignore.

I chose the section on idleness, nearly out of necessity, but also because here–like many other places–no matter how many inordinate and confusing demands are made, there’s always time for a two hour nap after lunch. Mildly paraphrased, Lin said something along the lines of: a Westerner may have a strong work ethic, but isn’t it when he’s lying on his back in the middle of a grassy field on a spring day that he sighs, almost involuntarily, “life is beautiful”?

Megan and I have been having a hard time with this. We’ve gone on long walks during the few hours a day that the sun has been shining (warranting some really awkward necklace-sunburn-lines) out to Erhai Hu (a lake named for it’s shape like an ear). Then we’ve spent afternoons buzzing with the thin air of the altitude, drinking Pu’er green tea, and waving off the elderly women who repeat incessentally, “smoke-a the ganja?”

“This isn’t normally how I travel,” she said to me today. Apparently the norm is a nearly break-neck pace. She and her spring-festival travel buddy ripping through Cambodia, Laos, Vientnam and Thailand in a month. We are covering an immense amount of ground ourselves, but there is not a lot we can do in the rain–the cold rain. And as most of you already know, I am a lazy traveler. With the year we’ve had to process though, both in our respective social groups, watching ourselves change and coming to grips with some very grown up things, the idleness has been necessary. It hasn’t necessarily inspired “life is beautiful” sentiments–I hope those will come in time. It has, however, given us an opportunity for some entirely necessary reflection.

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Categories: Uncategorized

Kunming, Yunnan 19:24

June 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Woke up yesterday with one of my girlfriends zonked out next to me and the mid-morning sun blaring through the dusty curtains. Walked into the living room to see my friends and roommate sprawled on the couches, a strange Italian man with tattoos all over his body sprawled on a mattress that had been dragged to the middle of the floor. I realized that along with the increasing amount of work stress, of packing, and of final exam activities, my life had fallen into that somewhat sordid short-timer condition. It was definitely time to leave Zhuhai.

But I’m not coming back just yet…not after the weeks at Town No. 1 with Wendy, with saving up all my extra yuan and taking on those extra classes. I didn’t spend my early mornings to my late nights at UIC, grading papers, running clubs, and planning lessons for nothing!

Megan (from SB) and I arrived in Kunming, Yunnan last night. There’s something that all of my students have said about Kunming, almost using the same cadence and the same phrases in that spooky way that many Chinese people echo one another, “Ah. Kunming is called the spring city. They say there that it is never hot in the summer and never cold in the winter.”

I don’t know anything about the winter, but I do know that unlike in Guangdong, we were able to walk outside for more than an hour without breaking a sweat. The streets were swept clean, and high mountains that dropped suddenly into cliffs formed a background for the city skyline.

Last night as we drifted into much needed, twitchy sleep, I asked Megan if we could pleeeease please please go to the “Ethnic Minority Village” at the edge of town. China has this exploitive propensity that can sometimes be kitschy to the point of being horrific. I expected this to be something like the new “little person park” that was written up in the New York Times, and that I would have to keep my hand over my mouth entirely.

By the time we’d left, I was quite relaxed and happy. I was happy to be breathing clean air and looking over clean water, even if from man made lakes. We watched a demonstration by a group of Miao people, dancing, singing hymns in a homemade church, a young Chinese man with a popped collar came up to offer a song (as is a hospitality tradition) and was then forced to attempt climbing a high wooden telephone pole whilst trying to preserve his designer pants. As we rounded the side of the church, Megan and I turned just in time to get our own photos taken by a Chinese tourist. I wasn’t horrified as I walked through the well kept park, looking at beautiful handicrafts such as embroidery, clothing made from tree bark, clay teapots shaped like chickens, and elaborately carved traditional instruments. People seemed happy, and even if it was touristy, to us it was still Chinese.

This will not be the same sort of trip as we took in Thailand and Malaysia. Megan and I have an elaborate, only halfway formed itinerary that leaves us only about two days in a given place. Tomorrow we’ll be taking a 9am bus to the old city of Dali, slightly further up into the mountains. In the meantime, however, we hope to get out into the city to try some “Across the Bridge” noodles, and maybe spend sometime in the bouganveillia lined courtyard of the Cloudcity hostel.