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China Alive Yunnan 2009: A True China Adventure

November, 2009
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Each year for 6th to 10th graders at SAS, there is a China Alive week devoted to traveling around China and discovering Chinese culture. This year, my friends and I embarked on an unforgettable journey to Yunnan. I kept a travel diary during the trip to document the memories and share my experiences.
 
Monday, Oct. 26, 2009
After arriving in Kunming, we immediately head to a local restaurant for lunch where we are given a taste of Yunnan’s specialty, “Cross bridge rice noodles” (过桥米线). Our tour guide tells us the story of the noodles’ invention. The noodles were invented when a devoted wife found a way to keep the heat of the soup insulated by pouring a layer of oil on top of the noodles. She sent these noodles across a bridge to her husband, who was studying hard for an imperial examination. He liked the noodles very much, and it helped encourage him to persevere and eventually pass the examinations. After hearing this interesting tale, my friends and I jokingly wonder if eating these noodles will also help us do well at school.
Our next destination is the Yunnan Cultural Art School, where we participate in a cultural exchange with the art students of the school. We are taught a dance of the Wah ethnic minority of Yunnan. My friends refer to it as the “hair dance” because the movements require dancers to flip their hair in quick and powerful motions. Watching the art school students perform the dance for us, I am amazed by the flow of the movements.lucy-10
With most of our day over, we look to be soothed at the hot springs. After a quick buffet dinner at the hot springs restaurant, we all excitedly change into our bathing suits and jump into the pools. A few daredevils even go as far as jumping into the cold pools first before running back into the hot tubes. I myself chicken out, and simply stand back to watch all the action. After an hour of relaxation, our 5.20am start the following day means we all head off to bed.
 
Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2009
Our first activity in Dali is bike riding around the city. As we ride across the city, we glimpse fields dotted with green and yellow, and a clear blue sky that cannot be found in Shanghai. Our line of bikes passes many whitewashed houses of the same architectural style. Our guide explains to us that these buildings are typical of the Bai ethnic group because of their love for the color white. For me, these houses seem to convey peace and tranquility, and I begin to wonder why Shanghai’s buildings aren’t more like this. In short the journey is “a feast for the eyes, torture for the butt,” as my roommate says after a pleasant yet bumpy journey.
The action doesn’t end there. Next, we go to Cang Shan Mountain for a 3 hour trek. Along the way, the beauty of the green expanse of the trees in the mountains distracts us from the soreness of our feet. It seems that everywhere we look, there is greenness all around.
Dinner and free time at the Ancient Town follows. After a busy day, chilling out and shopping with friends is just what I need. We are given an hour to explore the array of shops. Traditional Yunnan items, such as Bai ethnic dress, handicrafts, and tie-dye items fill the streets. We all look around and find many trinkets to take home as souvenirs.
 
Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009
Today we pass the time on the bus by listening to our guide talk about various aspects of the Bai culture. Listening to her explanations of the Bai marriage customs, I am amazed by the sophistication of their ceremonies. She explains an interesting marriage tradition of pinching the bride-to-be as a well-wishing sign of happiness. This custom seems rather fun to perform, but hopefully not too painful for the bride.
The first stop is a tangerine orchard. Never in my life have I seen this many trees all filled with orange fruit.

We are told that we can eat as many tangerines at the orchard as we want. Excitedly, we dart from here to there trying to find the biggest tangerines to pick. We are also taught how to pick them so that the trees themselves are not destroyed. At the end of the visit, I have eaten three large tangerines. Full and satisfied, we head to the bus to drive to Chicken Foot Mountain for horse riding and hiking. The mountain is so named because it is shaped like a chicken’s foot. By the end of the day, I realize that Shanghai’s weather and environment cannot compare to the beauty I have seen here.
 
Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009
Today’s itinerary is a welcoming change, as it is much more relaxing than the past few days. Instead of biking, trekking, or hiking, we are to devote the whole day to the artistic and cultural aspects of Yunnan.
We leave the hotel and head to a family-run tie-dye factory. My friends and I laugh as our tour guide informs us we are about to learn how to dye, because it sounds as if we are about to face death instead of learn about fabric coloring. Later, I realize that this is the smell of the organic dyes used in the factory to produce shades of blue, red, pink, green, purple, and yellow on the cloth. I quickly learn how difficult the dying process is. It requires the careful sewing and tying of thread to form a specific pattern on the cloth. That hands-on experience gives me a more profound understanding of the dedication and skill that must be put into each tie-dye scarf or tablecloth. I leave the factory and make a mental note to buy some traditional Yunnan tie-dye items the next time we visit the Ancient Town in Dali.lucy-7
Next, we drive to Xi Zhou to visit the Linden Center. Xi Zhou is a famous place for the arts, literature, science, and culture in Yunnan. The Linden Center, run by American expats, helps to preserve that culture and encourage education. We spend roughly 2 hours there, learning about painting. Every nook and cranny in the center itself is full of elaborate details such as Yunnan architecture and Buddhist sculptures, and there is also a great view of the town from the balcony, so there are lots aspects to choose from when painting. I decide to draw a few of the distant mountains. After working hard on the watercolor painting, it becomes a nice little souvenir, although it can hardly compare to the beauty of the land itself.
We then attend a tea ceremony close by, where we watch a dance performance and are served special tea of the region. We are also taught how to say “thank you” in the traditional Bai dialect. On our bus ride back, I find myself missing Xi Zhou already. Even though we are only there for a few hours, the little town is so abuzz with tradition that it inspires anyone who visits.
For the evening, we head onto an overnight train back to Kunming. I have never spent the night on a train before, so I feel very excited at the train station. After a few hours of hanging out, everyone decides to abandon plans for staying up all night. Exhausted, we climb into our bunks and go to sleep.
 
Friday, Oct. 30, 2009
I wake up at 5 am to the sound of the train’s loudspeakers playing music. For some strange reason, I don’t feel tired at all and wander out into the hallway to see if anyone else is awake. No one is, so I reluctantly climb into bed and doze off again. When I wake up again, we all pack and get ready to disembark. We have breakfast and get ready for the flight back home.lucy-2
We head over to a famous flower market in Kunming as a last stop before the flight. The market is full of flowers of every size, shape, and color. Thinking that fresh flowers are too burdensome to carry onto the airplane, I decide to buy some flower seeds instead. When we leave the market to board the bus once again, I am a little saddened about the Yunnan trip ending. I realize just how much I learned about the Yunnan culture in my short stay, and also how much experience I gained from the trip.
The check-in, ticket stamping, waiting, and baggage claiming already seem customary now, and soon I find myself back in Shanghai. It’s home sweet home once again. 
 

By Lucy Wang, pictures by Sherry He

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