Sunday, November 16, 2008

Last from Kunming

Hey! This is probably the last post for a while... we're going to Shaxi on Tuesday, where I probably won't be able to post, and I don't know how it'll be in Cambodia.
We'll see how it goes.
I went to a Chinese wedding last week with Katie R., it was very cool. Also very different! We were told that casual dress was fine- like, really casual. I was wearing sweatpants and a tee shirts that morning, and I didn't have a chance to change before the wedding (it was fairly last minute), but I wasn't really under dressed at all. Some people wore suits, but most were in jeans and other casual clothes. We got to the hotel it was at, and were instantly hurried over to the bride and groom for pictures. He was in a fairly standard suit, she was in a disney princess style gown, all floaty and white and sparkly. She was positively dripping in diamonds (or something like them), and had a sparkly tiara cocked rakishly on the side of her head. She had a white fur stole around her shoulders.
After Katie and I took plenty of pictures with the bride, we were brought inside to a large room full of tabels and people smoking. In the center of each table was a dish full of candy and cigarettes, as well as plates of wrapped food. The dinner started shortly after, and everyone smoked and ate as more and more dishes were brought to the lazy susan in the center of our table. There was literally a cloud of smoke hovering over the room.
Eventually some of the people got up and stood around the top of the stairs, and the bride and groom came in to music that sounded like it was from Jurassic Park. Although some people were throwing roses and confetti on them as the went to the platform at the front of the room, most were still eating, talking, and smoking.
Throughout the ceremony we could barely see or hear what was going on, as everyone kept talking and a crowd of professional photographers clustered around the stage and took photos from every angle, sometimes right up in the bride's face.
The ceremony itself was nothing like in America. There was a lot of bowing- to the parents, to each other, to everyone. They drank from each others cups, and each of the parents made a speech. The bride's mother wore a tight sparkly pink dress that made her look a bit like a mermaid, and I thought she was a hired MC for the first half of the night. The whole thing was done like a fairy tale, with small lights hanging from the ceiling and millions of rose petals.
After the ceremony was over the bride and groom went off, and three girls in see through, neon yellow harem pants and bra tops with tassels hanging off came on stage and belly danced for a while. No joke. They would go off and change when the music ended and come back in some completely different costume and do more.
Eventually the bride came back in a beautiful red dress, and made the rounds saying hi to people. The parents, meanwhile, were going to each table and toasting with very strong alcohol. After the bride came back I left, because I had a lot to do and the main stuff was over. I heard later from Katie that the whole wedding party went off to kareoke afterwards. Incidentally, the groom was Katie's host uncle, so that's why we were there.
It's been great here. I love Kunming, I hope I come back someday. Next time I hope to be a little healthier- I've had this damn plague since we got here. I can't stop coughing! Two days ago they gave me a million pills to take three times a day, and I actually think I'm finally getting better. It's all Chinese medicine, so I have no idea what it is. Hopefully it's working.
Ok, bye!

Sunday, November 9, 2008


So China is pretty fab. I'm so happy that I can find my way around Kunming now... at least my part of it. I also came up with some great ideas for how to get find places. For instance, my acupuncture adventure. I wanted to get acupuncture, so Charles recommended I go to the hospital because it is the most clean. He wrote down the number for the foreign affairs department for me. I called it from a phone on the side of the road, and a Chinese woman told me in English to meet her on the sixth floor of the outpatient building at three (in fifteen minutes). I grabbed a Chinese guy off the street, handed him my notebook and the phone, and had him write down the address from her. I then showed what he wrote down to a taxi driver, and sure enough ended up at the hospital. I wandered around it for about fifteen minutes while I tried to find the right bit, which was actually pretty cool because I got to see a lot of interesting stuff. It's an experimental hospital, combining traditional Chinese medicine with Western. For instance, I wandered into the gynecology wing by mistake, and in an open room I saw all the traditional equipment, but also a woman getting stomach acupuncture. In every wing, from surgery to oncology, they have at least one traditional massage therapy room. While I was waiting outside the outpatient acupuncture room I watched a guy sitting in traction- he sat in a chair, with his neck in a sling pulled tight to the ceiling. He had to sit so straight in order to not get hanged!
When I finally got to the doctor, she sat me in a chair in a room filled with patients in beds and a million of her disciples. She took my pulse in a bunch of places, looked at my tongue, and asked me a load of questions. She sent me out to pay the 30 yuan (a little more than $4) for my treatment, and return with my receipt. When I did, she put me on a bed and did all the pulse stuff again, then palpated my stomach. She seemed dead certain it would hurt. She hit one spot and it totally did! She looked so satisfied when I flinched. Then she and her disciples gathered around my head and told me to go 'ahhhh'. It was a bit strange seeing about 18 Chinese doctors staring at my tongue. Eventually they decided to put needles in my hands and just below my knees, and put a heat lamp magnet thing over my stomach. They attached smoking balls of paper to the needles in my knees. The needles didn't hurt at all, I was very impressed. The areas where they put them got all warm, and twitched like when you are going to sleep. I lay there for about half and hour, then was set free into the wilderness of downtown Kunming.
We're reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed right now, and it's amazing. We have the best seminars about the nature of development and education and so much more. It's crazy hard to read, but so worth it. Chinese class is going great; I still can't pronounce anything, but I have learned so much. Charles is a great teacher. I think his goal is to send us home fluent in Chinese. The other classes are working from the textbook and not learning nearly as much. Charles is writing his own textbook! Our teaching is really fun. The kids are always so engaged when they talk to us, so there's a lot of energy in the room. We teach really basic stuff, but it's pretty hard to do.
It was so exciting on election day! Well, the day after election day for us. We watched live in our classroom as McCain conceded and Obama accepted, and it was crazy. We all wore our Obama shirts for days before and after. It was really fun at English corner this week, discussing it with people.
I asked some of the people at English corner about the importance of learning English and why they do it, and I got some pretty interesting answers. One girl told me she is Muslim, and speaking English she can talk to Muslims in other parts of the world. One boy said he can read Western news sources and find out things the Chinese government tries to keep secret.
This weekend, Alexis, John, and I went to the stone forest. We had a lot of trouble booking it, because Chinese hotels don't make you say how long you will stay and therefore never know if they have room or not. At first we were going to go to Tibet, but there has been so much rain that there have been a lot of mudslides and it would have been too difficult. We took a two hour car ride there, then found our hotel and chilled. We had a really relaxing weekend; lots and lots of sleeping, eating, chilling. We went to the stone forest Saturday after sleeping in really late. It was a beautiful day, perfect spring weather and completely sunny. The stone forest is amazing! The stones are incredible shapes, and so cool (temperature wise, but also cool in the other sense). We walked between them for hours- most of the time we were completely alone. In between them it is radically cooler than outside, and dark and so silent and still. It was really worth doing, and so relaxing- I guess the stones are very calming in some way. There were tons of caves and lakes. Alexis wanted to stay there, we think that caves may be her natural habitat. She is white enough! She borrowed my umbrella when we weren't shaded by the stones so she wouldn't have to be exposed to the sun.
To balance out all the awesome things about China, here are some not so good bits. I don't like how everyone spits loudly all the time. You can be walking alone at night and hear someone make a disgusting spitting noise the next street over. They are so loud! I also dislike how everyone here smokes all the time. In the house, in school, at dinner, while walking in the stone forest... it's absurd. I don't like how everyone has mopeds with hugely loud alarms which constantly go off, and how if there is traffic they will drive them down the sidewalk no matter how crowded it is, honking at people to get out of the way.
But essentially, China rocks.
Here are some more pictures, finally!
I'll add Machu Picchu soon.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


So here are all the details I didn't have time for this morning, plus a description of Kunming exploration day. Definitely read the post below this first though, it gives an introduction to what we're up to in China.
Becca's birthday was a few days ago, so her mother sent us all Obama shirts for her present. Since we haven't had laundry done since Machu Picchu, we all wore the Obama shirts three days in a row, until we got some clean clothes back. The Chinese loved it! Everyone asked about it, and I'm pretty sure all of China supports Obama. Thursday night we went to 'English Corner', which is when all the people in Kunming who want to practice English gather at a park and talk to each other and whatever foreigners are there. We were told not to discuss politics or anything controversial in school, but at English Corner everyone asked about all the taboo subjects. I ended up discussing gay marriage, Obama, democracy, the constitution, abortion, and more. Of course, there was also a lot of talk about food and friends and things Americans do for fun. I was very suprised by the wide range of opinions I heard on a very wide range of topics. Everyone here asks for your email, so I've already gotten loads of emails from people I've met at schools and at English Corner.
More details- Chinese bathrooms. Wow. What little modesty wasn't beaten out of me in Bua is definitely gone. Most of the public bathrooms are essentially a line of holes in the ground with waist high walls in between and no doors. I always try to get the stall farthest from the door, so I have to walk past all the Chinese women doing their thing to get there. It is a very strange experience when people are walking past while you go to the bathroom. I am not a huge fan. They also don't give you toilet paper, so everywhere I go I steal tissues and napkins. None of the sinks work, so I always have purel. At least in my house here I have a hot shower! No more rio for me.
Kunming exploration today wasn't actually alone, it was in groups of three. Alexis, John, and I were a group, and were given a temple to find. Actually we were handed a sheet of paper with three Chinese characters and told to go. We found an English major on the university campus within thirty seconds, and he walked us all the way to the temple. His name was Hawk.
We didn't actually go in the temple, because of the volume of beggars outside. We knew there was no way we could get through without giving them money, and we didn't have much on us. Instead we went to the zoo and aquarium just down the road. It was a pretty cool zoo, except some of the animals were in tiny, awful cages. There was one cage of absolutely emaciated lions we saw hidden behind some fences, clearly not open to the public. I held hands with an elephant! It was sticking its trunk through the bars of the fence, and if I stood on the wall and reached my hand over the moat we could touch. The elephant would stretch as far as it could, and caress my hand. It was a very strange feeling. John has a pretty cool picture of it, when he puts it up I'll post it.
The aquarium was not well taken care of. One tank just had a large, dead horseshoe crab in it. Another tiny tank had two large sea turtles, floating with their heads against the wall. A small bathtub sized pool of water was filled with coins as well as a sea turtle. It was very depressing.
Afterwards we walked around a bit, and found our way to foreigners street, where we got excellent hamburgers and ice cream. Overall we had an excellent day! Though very wet- it literally poured the whole time.I'm still soaking. Actually, Charles told us that it has never rained this much at this time of year, which is the same thing they told us in Bua. Pretty scary- global warming much?
Anyway, that's all for now. Tomorrow I think I'm going ice skating (if we can find the rink) and learning to make dumplings. I'll have much more regular internet now that I've figured out Kunming, so write to me! I miss you all!