“You have five days to plan. We’ll leave on the 21st of January and we must be in Hongpo by the afternoon of the 27th.” That’s what our instructors told us before giving us control of our plans for our “mid-treat” (i.e. mid-course retreat). We struggled frantically as we went back and forth over which locations visit, where to stay, and what we wanted out of the five days. We would soon find out that these were the least difficult out of our challenges when we actually left Kunming.
Whether teaching English conversation classes to children at the eco-store, laughing with co-workers about movie stars over noodles, or helping sell traditionally-grown sticky rice, working at PEAC has certainly been one of the most rewarding aspects of my time in Kunming thus far. What I find most fascinating, however, is the relationship between urban consumers and rural farmers.
It was 'Urban Solo Day'; banned from communicating with the group or in English at any point during the day, it was our challenge to complete a set of individual tasks to get to know our new home and culture a little better. And so, having only been able to (barely) make out 'Huashan East Road,' I stood, bewildered and bemused, on the corner of the road, furiously attempting to Google my way out. Handwritten instructions, I later realized, attempted to thwart exactly that.
While ignorance does not have the most positive of connotations, it is actually an incredible place to start learning, for when you know nothing, you learn in all that you experience. It’s an amazing feeling, and describes a significant portion of my experience so far. The feeling of learning a word or phrase from an instructor or in language class and then having it appear that night at home in one’s speech or one’s homestay family’s speech is incredible.
Follow any guide around Kunming, and you'll sooner or later end up at the Green Lake or 'Cuihu' (ç¿ æ¹–), in the center of the city. Unlike many other Chinese tourist sites, however, the Green Lake is also filled with locals relaxing and engaging in daily rituals. Throughout our time here, Cuihu has become one of our favorite spots to snack, hang out, and unwind. For our final group update, we decided to take you for a stroll around the lake.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), each two-hour period is assigned its own organ, which helps us understand the connection between the time of day and optimal lifestyle choices. In our group update, we wanted to explore the connection between our own daily lives in Kunming and this aspect of TCM.
It’s hard to capture an experience in just one story or train of thought. Chengyus seek to capture the thin common threads that run through the lives of many, boiling them down into four characters. Living in a bustling city in history’s most rapidly developing nation, it’s easy to get lost in the sauce of the experience. With the help of such pieces of ancient wisdom, we can at times step back and break it down, taking it one piece at a time.
My year in China challenged me in ways other than academic ones, and my goals were everything and nothing. My schedule, packed with Chinese classes, time in both of my NGO’s, dinners with the BY group, and cooking classes, turned out to be filled with both expected and unexpected outcomes. In Daoism, in order to achieve happiness we have to, contradictorily, consciously pursue unconscious consciousness, something known as wuwei, which translates to effortless action.
Our everyday is filled with excitements hard to express in mere words - from biking, walking or running through the city, to dancing, singing and cooking- separately or at the same time, from the places that have become home to the people that have become family. So we figured instead of trying to find the right words, we'd give you a quick peek into what our time here looks like - A Day in the Life.
Two incredibly eventful months here in China have already flown by, providing us with a lot to reflect upon. But the way in which we think about these memories has inevitably become infused with the Chinese language and culture that surrounds them, which is why in this first group update we have decided to focus on Mandarin words and phrases we find particularly meaningful. We hope these words open up our experiences to you as they have opened up a whole new world to us.