Posts Tagged With: Kunming

Exploring Kunming: Biking to the Bamboo Temple

For my day off, my friend and I decided to bike to the Bamboo Temple(筇竹寺), which is located west of the city, north of West Mountain (西山). We headed west and hit the third ring road. We started biking down south and on the way passed another temple, Guanyin Pavilion (观音阁). It was a temple dedicated to the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin. We took a break to check it out.

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Guan Yin Pavilion (观音阁) on Third Ring Road

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Buddha Hall

After walking around the small temple, we continued biking down the third ring road until we found a small road that seemed to climb the mountain on the right. This must be the windy road up to the Bamboo Temple! We biked and hiked up for an hour or so before we finally reached it. We paid a small fee to enter the facilities. The Bamboo Temple is famous for being placed within a bamboo forest, as well as for its 500 unique clay statues. Each has its own unique face, posture, expression, everything. It’s incredible! Unfortunately, the room was closed when we got there, so I did not get any good pictures.

You can look up more information about the Bamboo Temple’s history here.

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Behind the Temple

I also forget to take pictures of the main entrance way and temple of the Bamboo Temple, but my friend and I explored behind the temple where we found a long hallway of lanterns alongside man-made ponds. It was isolated and relaxing. It was nice to escape the stress of the city and have some peace and quiet.

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Posing Behind the Main Buddha Hall

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All Natural-The Bamboo Temple

While we walking around, we met a 97 year-old man walking about in tip-top shape. He sparked conversation with us and told us more about the temple. He even knew how to speak some English! We were amazed by his vivacity and sharpness at such an old age. Think back on it, I wish I had learned more about this curious old man. I’ll just have to visit the temple again and hope he’s there.

If you have an open morning/early afternoon, I highly recommend biking or hiking up to the Bamboo Temple. You can get some exercise and enjoy some traditional Chinese culture.

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Exploring Kunming: Zhaozong Water Grotto

For my good friend’s birthday celebration, we took a trip to the Zhaozong Water Grotto (招宗水库), which is west of the city. I met up with them at the birthday girl’s house and then set off to the neighboring market to pick up some picnic snacks. The market was off of Dianmian Avenue in a small alley that led to Jiaoling Road. My friend picked up drinks and some grilled bread (粑粑), while I picked up some sweet bread, specifically peanut grilled bread (花生粑粑) and sesame grilled bread (芝麻粑粑). When you are in Kunming, I recommend buying some street “baba (粑粑).” It’s a local snack that’s very popular in Yunnan Province.

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The Bustling Market

Half of our friends biked to the grotto, while the birthday girl, a couple of friends, and I took a cab with the food. The location of the grotto is a bit isolated, so after some ambiguous directions (that my friend told me to say), we finally found the place. We walked behind a few buildings and walked up a flight of stone steps and saw the grotto. Our biking friends had already arrived! We walked around and set out stuff down. It was time to swim!

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Relaxing at the Grotto

I looked around and saw a lot of older Chinese men swimming across the grotto exercising. There were also a lot of naked people changing in or out of swimming suits. It was a very relaxed, natural environment. We jumped in and swam for a bit. I avoided the weeds that were growing along the lake bottom (supposedly a couple people drowned last year because they got caught in the weeds). We stayed at the Grotto for a couple hours before having to leave to go to a birthday dinner at Cacao Mexican Restaurant.

I definitely want to go back and swim again before going back to Lugu Lake! I highly recommend visiting the place. It’s a bit hard to find a taxi to go back to the city from there, so you can take a local bus that will take you closer to the center of Kunming (second ring road). You can get off and then find a taxi from there.

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Recap of February Before the Trip: Chinese New Year

I apologize for the lack of posting lately. I have gotten used to Kunming life and have found fewer and fewer things that inspire me to blog. Before writing out my 2-week long trip to Northern Yunnan, I thought I would briefly recap what I did during the Chinese New Year. The Spring Festival is a month-long ordeal where people go back home and celebrate the new year with their family. So, from the perspective of a foreigner, EVERYTHING is closed and empty for what feels like many weeks.

Molly, my twin sister, came to Kunming to visit me during this time period.

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Molly Found a Bunny While Reading in a Cafe — Adorable + Super Adorable, right?

On the day of New Year’s Eve, we trekked for 10 miles to and alongside Dianchi lake. It was a beautiful day with blue skies and puffy white clouds. Molly was glad to get out of the urban-scape environment and enjoy some natural scenery in the city. I was also happy to introduce her to Kunming because it reinvigorated some lost energy that I had when I first entered Kunming in December. I explored much more before, whereas recently I’ve been plopping myself in front of my computer or in cafes reading thick ethnographies and dense articles.

After a good 3-hour walk, we made it to Dianchi Lake.

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Taking A Rest by the Lake

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Suburbs that Rest on Dianchi Lake

We walked through the suburbs to get back on a road and soon realized finding a taxi the night of New Year’s Eve would be incredible difficult. We walked for a bit and saw a taxi drive by. We waved at it, but it continued on because it already had someone in it. We sighed and continued. Ten minutes later, the same taxi came back looking for us. The woman driver knew we would never find a taxi where we were and helped us out. She went out of the way to drive us back home. I really appreciated it! We wished her a happy New Year.

Afterwards, Molly and I went to a cafe to eat free dumplings and then we met up with friends at a bar where we set off fireworks and merrily drank [one white russian] through the New year.

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Other activities before traveling included: playing frisbee with the local pick-up team, watching Battlestar Galactica, and having a potluck with other Fulbrighters and friends. I made a square Apple pie.

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Exploring Kunming: Bike Ride to Daguan Park & Dianchi Lake

I took advantage of the weekend and relaxed by watching A LOT of Battlestar Galactica. My friends have gotten me addicted to the show. I cannot stop! I hit a point in the afternoon where I felt like a lazy slob–lying in bed, eyes dazed and emotionless while looking at the computer screen (all I needed were Dorito chips and the imagery would be perfect). So, I got out of bed, changed, and started to bike towards the West part of the city. I wanted to find Dianchi Lake. I’ve seen it many times while busing and hiking up the Western Hills. It’s a large body of water that lines Kunming western edge. It shouldn’t be that hard to find, right?

Somehow, I missed it, and biked for two hours aimlessly through the poorer suburbs. The first batch of suburbs I went through were going being demolished and being turned into brand new apartment complexes. The residents that once lived in the 2-3 story cement buildings will most likely never be able to afford a room in these new complexes. That’s currently a social issue in China: finding an affordable home. There are more luxurious apartment buildings being built than the demand for them. As apartment prices rise, the difficultly of living for average Chinese rise too.

For instance, as of now, Hangzhou city in Zhejiang Province is the most expensive city to live in China. The price per square meter to buy an apartment in the city center is 42,668.77 ¥ (which equals out to ~$6857). So, if a recently married Chinese college graduate is looking for a cheap place to live with his wife, they would most likely look for a small ~60m studio. The price for such an apartment would be around 2,560,094¥ (equals out to ~$411,420). If a family was looking for an apartment in the city, they would look for around 250m 2-3 bedroom apartment. The price for such an apartment would be around 10,667,060¥ (equals out to around $1,714,250). To rent a one-bedroom apartment in the city center would be around 4,172.22 ¥ (equals out to ~$670). Information taken from here. I hope my math is correct! [edit: my friend who lives in Hangzhou mentioned that there is affordable living in the city and that my numbers may only apply to more ritzy standards. Thanks for the comment!]. Kunming is much more affordable than Hangzhou, but every year its housing prices rise. I already hear Kunming residents complaining about the cost of living.

After scouring the suburbs and asking random people for directions, I finally found Dianchi Lake.

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Man Fishing Alongside Dianchi Lake –I wouldn’t eat the fish!

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My Bike and Smelly Dianchi Lake

Dianchi Lake is renowned for its pollution. It has become so serious that people should no longer drink the water, swim in it, and, I think, even fish in it. Are there still one-headed fish that survived the contamination? The lake is now being cleaned, but the waters still exude a subtle stench. It’s pretty to look at though. From the lake, I followed a path that bordered an amusement park. I noticed two old men watching a roller coaster prepare to catapult its riders down towards the ground. I watched too.

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Watching the Roller Coaster Ride

After following the path, I hit a road again and started biking. Fortunately, I biked right to the entrance of Daguan Park. I was told by my friends before it was worth a visit. Coincidentally, I biked right to it! I payed 20¥ and walked around. My legs were tired from biking. It was nice to take it easy and look at the lake and flowers.

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Inside Daguan Park

I found a bench and sat down. I looked out at the smelly lake and gazed at the Western Hills. I sat there for a while. Usually, when I’m by myself, more Chinese people approach me and say “hal-lo.” I smile and politely respond back. Sometimes the conversations are very short: “Hal-lo,” “Hello.” Or they can lead to longer conversations that slowly change back to Chinese. This time there were no long conversations, just cute little Chinese kids who blushed and ran away after saying “Gud day, how er yu?”

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View of the Western Hill From the Bench

After walking around the entire park (including roller coaster I had past earlier), I exited the area and biked back home. I made dinner that night. I was starving and was home first. I made pineapple fried rice and Teriyaki Tofu. My other roommate helped make cabbage soup, vegetable hearts, and brought home Dai minority food. Every night we normally eat together. Good day.

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Everyday Life: Taking a Break around Green Lake

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGreen Lake–Lotus Flowers Abloom (photo taken in Fall 2010)

These past couple of weeks, I have delved into new reading materials (primarily ethnographic fieldwork manuals), one being Chuan-Kang Shih’s “Quest for Harmony: The Moso Traditions of Sexual Union and Family Life.” I am trying to finish these books before February, which is when I plan to travel to Lugu Lake, my fieldwork site, for the first time. These books are thick and dense. After spending one afternoon reading Shih’s book, I decided to give my mind a break and walk around Green Lake. It’s a scenic, relaxing part of town with a large man-made lake where the older Kunming population often congregate.

I was expecting a quiet walk, but instead found myself in a madding crowd of mostly older Chinese taking up the entire sidewalk going about their way. I noticed many were lining along the fence, looking at something. I squeezed through to see and saw the fence lined with “seeking relationship” advertisements. I observed a few: 1) 71 year-old man looking for a partner, 2) 36 year-old man looking for a wife, 3) 29 year old woman looking for a husband, etc. From what I saw, the majority of people looking at the ads were primarily mothers, but there were some old men looking at ads too. I was pushed along and ran into some kind of event. I saw a sign that read: “茶花节《三十六计》(Tea Flower Festival “36 Plans”). The event was based off a popular “finding love” television show. I watched from the audience as a group of awkward men and women paraded the stage doing random challenges that the host organized.

All of a sudden, an older Chinese man approached me and said, “Do you speak Chinese?” I said yes and he continued: “Are you participating in this event?” I quickly responded that I was not finding a date and was just going on a walk. He was intrigued that I spoke the language and continued our conversation. We talked about studying abroad. He mentioned how the Chinese education system is not as good as it was before and how many of “us” Chinese want to send their kids/grandkids abroad to study. I started pulling in a crowd of curious Chinese who noticed a foreigner speaking Mandarin. I decided it’s my time to go and politely excused myself.

I continued walking through the busy crowd, hoping to find a new place to read. Suddenly, another older man taps me on the shoulder and says: “Mind if I walk with you? I noticed you were speaking Mandarin back there.” I consented and we started a new conversation. He was short, wore large-rimmed sunglasses, and looked about 60 years-old. I asked what he did in Kunming. He first wanted me to guess–I guessed “teacher.” He said that was close and then gave me a round-about answer of what he does. In the end, I didn’t fully understand his job. He began to rub me the wrong way. He then said: “This is the first time I’ve ever talked to a foreigner. Even better, you’re a beauty (meinv).” That made me feel even more uncomfortable. I laughed it off and said I was happy to be the first foreigner he had ever talked to.

At one point on the walk, we passed a group of policemen. He suddenly got really close to me and whispered: “What do you think of them?” I glanced at the policemen and replied: “They are really helpful. Whenever I need help or get lost, I look for a policeman.” He nodded and replied: “You know, if you need any help you can call me too. I want to become friends with you.” I nod and look up at the spinning fans that hung above the sidewalk. I didn’t want to respond. He then continued, “I think you have mistaken what I just said as a joke. If you have any problems, you can always give me a call. Let’s be friends. Let’s exchange numbers.” This is when my language abilities got in the way: How do I politely refuse in Mandarin?

With a lack of better vocabulary, I bluntly said, “We just met. I would rather not give you my number.” We finally reached one of the entrance gates to Green Lake where I can leave. He seemed distraught and offended that I didn’t want to give him my number. “Why? Is it my age? My job? Why don’t you want to be connected? I feel like our meeting is auspicious. It means something to me.” He then confessed that he was a police officer. Why didn’t he say that in the first place? I was still skeptical of his occupation. I tried to explain my reasoning for not giving him my number as politely as possible, but he wouldn’t stop. This was the first time I had ever met someone so involved in getting my information. In the end, he conceded, but as a last resort, he offered me his phone number. I grudgingly took it. We shook hands as a farewell…He grasped on a little too long and when we let go, he stroked his pointer finger along my palm. I quickly said goodbye and went on my way.

I finally escaped. I made it to the Confucius Temple Park and continued reading my research materials. What an uncomfortable encounter!

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Exploring Kunming: Confucian Temple and Old Kunming

My friend Sam visited me from Japan for the week. On the first night we went to a Tibetan restaurant for a welcoming feast (yum!). The next day, I showed him around town: the Yuantong Buddhist Temple, dumpling restaurant (best in town!), and then we decided to go to Kunming’s Confucian Temple, which I had never been to and had no idea where it was. I asked random passerbys on the street, rode two buses, and walked close to the city center. A kind, old Chinese man, who we met on the second bus, showed us the way. We followed him as he hobbled through the busy bird and flower district alleyways. Birds chirped, bunnies rattled cages, maggots squirmed in large woven baskets, and the old man gruffly talked to me with a strong Kunming accent: “Ne suo han hua suo de hen hoe, hen hoe (you speak very well, very well.)” He was over 80, graduated from Yunnan University in the 1950s, and was a teacher at Kunming Xiamen University. We arrived at the front entrance to the district. He points us into the general direction and says farewell.

On the way to the temple, I played with puppies that were being sold on the street. We also stopped at a memorial that commemorated the forces who fought against Japan during World War II. We then passed the cross between Old Kunming and “New” Old Kunming.

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Which side is the “real” Old Kunming?

The development of “Ancient Cities (gucheng)” has become quite widespread in China for tourism incentives. This “ancient city” (on the left) is an example. The architecture is traditional, or at least what most people think “traditional” Chinese architecture looks like. I would guess this is based off centuries old buildings. The side on the right is one of the few existing old parts of the city (the bird and flower district is basically Old Kunming). When I say old, maybe over 100-200 years old. This is because most architecture in the past was made out of wood, hence most of it wears and rots away within many centuries. The Great Wall survived with its thick layers of stone and bones. I found the dichotomy within this photo to be evident and interesting. The battle versus old and “Old.”

In front of “Old” Kunming was the Confucian temple.

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The Confucian Temple: Now an Open Park and Garden

The door was open for the community. We entered to find crowds of retired men and women playing cards, chess, and music. Beneath the pictured pavilion (seen above) was a horde of older men playing mahjong. Table after table had men flicking their tiles into the middle and picking up a new tile, hoping for the lucky one. Sam and I found a bench overlooking this lively environment. I think I found a new reading spot.

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Cannons Crossing the River: Playing Chinese Chess

When exiting the park, we found a crowd circling around something. I always get tricked into thinking there’s a fight. But every single time, it’s two men actually playing Chess. I’m hoping to learn how to play and join in one of these epic board game events.

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Celebrating New Years Away from Home: A Night of Music and Chinese Lesbians

After reading up on fieldwork methods that afternoon, I met with friends for dinner at a popular foreigner bar. We made new friends (one from Britain and the other from New Zealand) and both set off to Camel Bar for their New Years party. New Years is normally a holiday where I hang out with my family, and not a night where I go out on the town. I thought I would give this kind of celebrating a shot. We get to Camel Bar just in the nick of time (around 11:45pm). The band introduces the New Year by playing rock and bluegrass. The confetti feels like it fills the air, always falling. Couples kiss, bright lights twinkle, the floor is vibrating from the base, the group next to me throw their glasses into the air and cheer for the New Year: “gan bei!” “cheers!” I start to miss home. I remember this time last year my twin sister and I were playing the new Zelda game and beat it that night (I know, we are beyond cool). That was a good introduction to the new year, at least for me. Celebrating this time of the year with strangers feels a bit strange. I look into the crowd trying to find my friends. They are in the middle, listening to the music. I find them and wish them a happy new year.

My new British friend bought me a white Russian and from then on the night was filled with conversation. I listened about their adventures traveling for the past month, they were intrigued by my research, and I laughed at my friend’s jokes. I felt a bit better. The two people I was talking to decided to go dance. I stayed behind because I wanted to stay off my foot. I injured my toe the other day. While I relaxed on a bar stool, I noticed my friend flirting it up with two Chinese girls. I silently rooted for him and continued sipping at my white Russian. Suddenly, he looked back at me and said: “Hey, she thinks you’re cute.” I nearly spit out my drink. A young, pretty Chinese woman approaches me and says in Chinese: “Hello, I think you’re cute. My name is M.” She mentions that she finds my research interesting. My friend was playing the wingman for me…not sure if he even knew. My night took an unexpected turn.

I get to know more about her. She works for the subway development company that’s currently establishing Kunming’s first subway system. She says it’s busy and has long hours, but it’s good pay. We talked for about 20 minutes, then my British friend returned and persuaded me to join them dancing. I asked if M wanted to dance, but she simply smiled and refused. “We’ll talk later,” she said. After joining them on the dance floor, my friends decide to move to the party district, Kundu. I joined them, since it was closer to my apartment. I was getting tired and wanted to head back.

What I wasn’t expecting was that M was driving us. She showed us her car, a brand new, white SUV. We were surprised, what a nice car for someone so young! She must be rich. M’s friend escorts me to the front seat, but I said I can sit in the back. My friend with longer legs should be in the front. But she didn’t want to hear it, seemed like M really wanted to sit next to me. My friend whispers into my ear, “Looks like you’re the favorite.” I comfortably sit in the front seat and look back to find my two friends, a 40 year-old french man (where did he come from?), and M’s friend crammed in the back.

I have light conversation with M and then we arrive at the party district. It is alive with drunken Chinese filtering in and out of the club entrances. The club front walls were beaming with lights and busting out loud beats. I was too tired to even think about going into one of those. I politely excuse myself to flag a taxi. I heard later that M and her friend left soon after.

That was my first experience being hit on by a Chinese lesbian. I was very flattered, but also felt a bit bad on two accounts: one, not being attracted to her, and two, unintentionally “cock-blocking” my friend. In the end, Near Years Eve turned into a very eventful night. I enjoyed it.

Happy New Year everybody!

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Exploring Kunming: The Old Second Hand Market

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James, another Fulbrighter, and I decided to check out one of the second-hand markets for bikes. “Second-hand” in this case may actually mean either “third+ hand” or stolen wares. We found the old second hand market beneath a highway overpass and behind a large cement wall. The stalls had about everything: half-broken refrigerators, dusty rugs and carpets, dirty mattresses, and rusty bikes! We tested out bikes up and down the thin pathway. That day we did not buy a bike, but the next day we went to the new second hand market, which was gigantic. It was maze riddled with small alleys that led to more shops. We both found what we were looking for and biked back home.

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Exploring Kunming: Yuantong Buddhist Temple

I visited the Yuantong Buddhist Temple today. It’s placed smack-dab in the middle of urban Kunming, but when you enter it, you forget you’re in a city of 6 million people. It’s still active with Buddhist monks who I saw hanging outside of their dorms and using power machinery to renovate the run-down buildings.

Photo Tour

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Large Gate Before Entering the Temple

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Beautiful Shrine in the Middle of a Pond

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Ryan, James and I

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Look out from the South Eastern Style Dai Buddhist TempleOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Dai Temple

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Wishing You a Merry Holidays from Kunming

At around noon, a group of friends and I set off by bus to the Western Hills outside of Kunming. We got off at the wrong stop and found ourselves in a suburb (which in China is considered poor and undeveloped). We asked around as to how to get on the hiking trails, and the villagers directed us down the street. As we walked along the gutter, we stumbled upon what looked like a temple. We decided to take a quick look before adventuring on the hiking trails. It turned out to be a memorial for a Chinese geographer-徐霞客 (Xu Xiake: 1587-1641). It was a peaceful household turned-into museum. In the other section of the place, the courtyard was surrounded by four separate rooms, with multiple fall-colored trees. There was a fruit tree bearing large, yellow fruits. We politely asked the police guard to help us get one. He said, “Why do you want to eat that? They are too sour, not sweet like a pomelo, and less sour than a lemon.” We helped us pull two off the branches anyways. With much effort, I pulled the thick skin off the core, which turned out to be very small. It was like the guard said, not sweet and not as sour as a lemon. I thought it tasted okay.

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Entering the Courtyard of the Memorial

The guard led us to a set of stairs that would bring us to the path (and avoid paying the entrance fee!) We said goodbye and headed up the mountain. We first stopped at the Magnolia garden and took a break. Ryan, Phillip, and I decided to take advantage of the “fengshui” and did Taichi. Our CET Harbin gym teacher would be so proud! We had a crowd of older men and women gaze at us curiously and humorously as we messed up the moves. I plan to continue practicing!

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Performing Taichi in the Magnolia Garden

Afterwards, we continued our way up. We went off the beaten track and took a steeper route up the mountain. When we reached the top, unfortunately the view was blocked off with trees. But, that didn’t stop my friend:

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Ryan Climbing to See the View

The hike was fun and a good workout. I kept forgetting it was Christmas because it was nothing like Christmas–no snow and no family. I am very lucky to have had friends in Kunming during this time of year, or else I would feel very homesick. I am so thankful!

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View of Kunming from the Western Hills

We hiked back down to pick up a bus back to the city. We ate pizza that night to celebrate the holiday and stayed up late talking. I had an enjoyable Christmas…but I of course missed my family. This is my first year away from home during the holidays. I hope everyone had a happy holiday and look forward to the coming TWO new years (Western and Eastern). Merry Christmas!

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