Posts Tagged With: nature

Exploring Yunnan: Weekend Trip to the “Redlands (红土地),” Dongchuan, Yunnan Day #2

Justin and I woke up early in the morning to eat breakfast and see our friends off before starting our trek to a village about 20 kilometers north (I forgot the name of it). We walked along local dirt paths most of the way. It was a much better experience on foot than in the van the other day. We could take our time and also mostly avoid the main road. Though we got lost a couple of times, we always somehow found the one road that went to the village we were going to. I highly recommend hiking through the hills…what a trek!


The View


Locals Tilling the Hilly Land

During the middle of our hike, it started to downpour. Fortunately, at that point, we were on the main road. Soon after we flagged down a car and asked if we could hitch a ride wherever they were going. Turned out we caught a ride with a group of migrant workers from Jilin Province who were working on the wind turbines in the area. We chatted about their work and what they think of the “Redlands.” They said they are already used to the scenery that it’s not too special. However, they were kind to take us to a famous viewing point on the way where we took pictures. Though they had said they were used to the scenery, I noticed that the group still gazed out at the hilly fields and distant mountains. There’s still something special in the landscape for them.


Locals Caught in the Rain


The View with the Migrant Workers

The migrant workers dropped us off at their work site and pointed us in the right direction north. We thanked them and went on our way. We hiked for another hour or two before it started to downpour once again. We hid under tall trees in a village with local woman. She began talking with us in a thick Yunnan accent, but I could overall understand what she was saying: “Nimen ke nadiya de ren? (Where are you from?).” A van reared around the corner about to drive through the village until the older woman yelled in the local dialect at the driver. He stopped for her, but the woman then persuaded him to allow us in his car too. He warmly allowed us in, making it the second time that day we hitchhiked! 

The driver dropped off the woman first. She waved goodbye and darted to her home to avoid the rain. We drove for another 10-20 minutes until we hit our final destination. We gave the driver 20 kuai (he didn’t ask for much, which was nice of him) and exited the car. We found ourselves in a hillside town surrounded by mountains. As we searched for a hotel, a swarm of children suddenly filled the streets. They had just finished classes. Many were walking back home to their neighboring villages or hopping on tour buses (turned into a school bus in the day time). After searching for a while, we finally found a hotel below the village. We hiked around the hills and got some dinner afterwards (unfortunately I forgot to bring my camera!). We stayed the night and took the early bus out back to Kunming the next morning.

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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.


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.


Taking A Rest by the Lake



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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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?”


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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Exploring Yunnan: Our Adventure Returning Back to Jinghong

The day before, I mentioned to Xinmeng that Sam and I needed to be back in Jinghong, capital of Xishuang Banna, by the next day. I thought it wouldn’t be an issue. There should be enough buses going back to the capital, right? Well, she got wide eyed and said: “There’s only one bus, it goes to Menghai, and it leaves at 8:00am. The village is a 2-3 hour hike from here!” She said we had two options: 1) leaving right then and make it to Bada (the village with the one bus) right at sunset, or 2) she can try to put together two motorbikes to Bada before sunrise. Sam wouldn’t be healthy enough to hike 3 hours that night…so there was only one option: motorbike. Her husband and his brother volunteered for the job. I thanked them and the family profusely. They already have hard lives as it is. They work all day in the fields, take care of two babies, and host visitors and now they will be taking me and my sick friend early in the morning to Bada. Before going to bed, I paid for our visit and added extra gas money for the motorbike ride. I went to bed and set my clock for 5:45am. The sun would rise at around 8:00am.

I groggily woke up and silenced my alarm. I shook Sam awake, packed up our things, and met Xinmeng’s husband and his brother outside. It was dark and the stars were still out. The Milk Way had already faded though. I hopped onto the back of the husband’s motorbike and held onto his shoulders. I looked at Sam as he held onto the brother’s waist and said: “This is going to be an adventure!”

Then we were off. The head lamps were our only form of light as we bumped along the uneven dirt road. I looked up at the stars and saw the big dipper in the middle of the sky, upright, not pouring into the horizon. The space station brightly flew through its handle and hurdled down behind the mountains. After 20 minutes, we crossed to the other side of the mountain range. The crescent moon emerged from behind the tea plantation hills and shone above Venus. I told the husband, “what a beautiful moon!” He quickly glanced at it and didn’t take much notice. He’s probably seen it many times before. As the moon and Venus set, the sun began to rise. The landscape started to show color: the greens of the tea plantations and forests became visible and the pink of the blossomed trees also made an appearance.

I was in awe of the scenery when the husband started conversation: “How is your friend?”

“He’s doing much better. He just needed a day of rest.”

“That’s good to hear. Are you two married?”

“Ah! No! We have known each other since middle school.”

“Are you together? Is he your boyfriend?”

“No, he is not. We are just good friends”

“HUH? Then why did you two share the same room?”

“To save money.”

The husband was so astonished to hear that we shared a room. To him a man and a woman sharing a room has only one significance, which you can probably guess for yourself. I laughed it off and said that it’s a bit different from where we’re from. Friends can share rooms, even beds, without anything to worry about. He asked more questions about my culture and I asked him about his life in Thailand and meeting his wife. The two of them both had fond memories of Thailand. It seemed like they preferred it more than here.

Forty-five minutes into the trip, my hands began to lose feeling from the brisk cold wind. The entire motorbike was bumping along a makeshift cobblestone road. I couldn’t tell if I was shivering anymore or if the bumping was in rhythm with my body. I noticed we had passed a sign saying we were approaching Bada. We were almost there! I looked out at the horizon, the sun was almost up. We had to make it to the village soon. We were chasing the sunrise!

Before entering the village, the husband asked if I needed to use the bathroom. He said the bathrooms are dirty and far away, so it would be best to do business in the mountains. I said I was fine and we continued down the path to Bada. We made it just in time to have a bowl of noodles and buy snacks. I treated the husband and brother to breakfast, thanked them for everything, and went on the bus.


Women Selling Goods Early in the Morning in Bada

Before we knew it, we were off again. I watched the sunrise as it hovered over the mountainous terrain and lit up the colorful scenery. I looked out the window and watched the tea plantations and mountains pass, as well as breathed in fresh air. The older man next to me (who kept staring at me) was smoking something strong that didn’t even smell of a cigarette. He wrapped something into a blunt and smoked it. We were in the golden triangle…so who knew what he was smoking! I breathed in the mountain air, watched the Dr. Seuss-like striped mountains pass, and was slowly lulled to sleep.


View from Bus

I woke up in urban Menghai. We took a bus to Jinghong and spent the rest of the day there. We saw a nationalistic Jackie Chan film called “十二生肖 (12 Zodiac)” and ate a lot of Western food. I was glad to finally give Sam something substantial to eat! We left for Kunming that night by plane. It was hard to imagine that we were in Manmai that morning when I got on the plane. What a day.

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Exploring Yunnan: Day in Manmai Bulong Village


Map of Xishuang Banna and our Travels (map taken from this website)

I woke up the next morning to find Sam sick as a dog. I think drinking the shot and a half of rice wine was the culprit. Our plans to hike through the rainforest to the neighboring village were on hold. After taking care of him and putting him back to bed, I then went upstairs to find the family going about their daily lives (playing with the baby, preparing to go out to the tea plantations, etc). Xinmeng’s mother cooked us breakfast, which I ate by myself. Breakfast included thin fried fish with sesame seeds and noodles with processed ham.


I ate quickly and then walked out to the open part of the second story. The village was situated on the side of a mountain, so the view was amazing:


Drying Clothes with Scenic View

After talking with Xinmeng, I decided to get to know the village of Manmai and Bulong culture. First of all, here is a Wikipedia article about the Bulong (or Blang) people of China. They are one of the 56 recognized ethnic minority groups in China with a population of over 90,000 people. They primarily live in Yunnan province. While I was walking through the village, the sound of construction and children laughing filled the air. It seemed like every able-bodied person in Manmai was helping their neighbors build or renovate houses. I wondered where the villagers got the money.

I happened upon a young monk shoveling sand into a watery mixture of cement. I asked him what he was doing. He was surprised that I spoke Mandarin and was a little flustered. He spoke in broken Chinese: “Building my house, it is this one.” He pointed at a house that was in the middle of being built. The foundation and structure had been made, but they had yet to make walls. His friend came over with a shovel and they began to talk and laugh in the local dialect. I did not want to get in the way of their work, so I waved goodbye and went on my way. I then almost ran into two little boys screaming down the street as they avoided water being splashed on them by the group of girls who were on the second story of a bungalow (house with stilts) with a bucket.

IMG_1875Girls Bullying the Little Boys by Splashing Water

I begged for mercy and quickly passed by. Their parents, it seemed, were helping build the house next door. I could hear the girls giggling as I continued down the path. I was happy to see such a lively community and to be a part of it, even as a stranger. As I reached the edge of town (which didn’t take long), I found the local Buddhist temple. I climbed up the steps and saw two men: one was a very old monk and the other was a middle-aged man holding a mat. He laid the mat onto the floor and helped the old monk lie down. He wanted to sun bathe. I meandered around the pavilion, avoiding them to give them space, and observed the southeastern style architecture.


Manmai Buddhist Temple

Suddenly, the middle-aged man tapped my shoulder and mumbled something to me. He beckoned me to follow him. He opened the temple doors and showed me a room with walls covered with stories. I followed him in and looked at the colorful pictures and characters. He then brought me to the front of the Buddha statue. Inside the temple was an assortment of colorful cloths hanging from the ceiling that contrasted against the golden Buddha. The man left me be. I followed the stories on the wall, trying to decipher their meanings. I did not understand the language that went with each picture. It looked like Sanskrit. When the man returned, I asked him what language it was and what the stories were about. He explained in broken Mandarin that the story wasn’t about Buddha, but someone else important in Buddhism scriptures. I did not really understand what he was saying, but he read the stories to me in the different language. It was soothing. I left the main hall and entered a bright red hallway that led back outside.

I went back to the house and checked on Sam. He was still sleeping. I then went hiking up the mountain that the village rested on and explored the tea plantations up there. I then moved down to the bottom of the village and skimmed the rainforest. I did not enter it, fearing that I would lose my way.


Locals Going About their Day

When it was nearing dinner time, I hiked up back to the house. I asked Sam what he would like to eat. He said that he can’t eat anything except for fruit. I went upstairs and met up with Xinmeng. She spent the entire afternoon in the fields and was resting. I asked if there was anywhere in the village to buy fruit. She said that luckily someone from Menghai had come to the village today to sell goods, one being oranges. She was kind enough to show me the way. She held her baby in a long cloth wrapped around her shoulders and waist as we walked to the seller. I ask about her life:

She was born in this village the same year as me, 1990. Back then this village was much poorer. She finished up to the third year of middle school and then at age 14 moved to Thailand as a migrant worker. She worked there for many years. She loved being in Thailand. The work was simple and the pay was better than in the village.  She also met her husband during her stay. They got married there. However, she moved back to the village when she became pregnant. That was a year ago. She said the village had changed a lot since she left. The government is giving locals money (up to 10,000 yuan) to renovate their homes and improve their standard of living. She mentioned that the reason for this development was not for tourism, but rather for the betterment of the people’s lives. Her family had renovated their house 4 years before, but then the government only gave them 2000 yuan. She is now living with her husband, mother, father, brother, brother’s wife, and two little babies.

While we were walking to the fruit seller, she said hello to everyone we passed. She knew everyone in the village and they knew her. The community was close-knit and friendly. We finally got to the fruit seller. While I was buying oranges, she bought a bowl of rice noodles and talked with the people sitting in the circle eating. I was happy she brought me to the fruit seller because I saw a more intimate perspective of the village. When I walked by myself, everyone treated me like an outsider. Not in a bad way. But, when I walked with her, the village seemed more personal and welcoming.


Sunset from Xinmeng’s Balcony

We walked back and gave Sam oranges to eat. I ate with the family, talked, and watched television with them till it was very late. I became friends with Xinmeng. We were finalizing plans about how to get back to Jinghong the next day…turned out Sam and I would need to take motorbikes before sunrise to get to town on time…

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Exploring Yunnan: Traveling to Manmai Bulong Village

Sam and I caught a bus to Menghai at around 9:00am and arrived around 10:30am. The next bus to Bada was at 2:30pm, so we had time to kill and explored the small town. We ventured through a small market where a nice woman gave us a free taste of sweet rice wine porridge. It was tasty, but also very strong. We thanked her and slowly ate it while we continued on our way. In these small towns, there is normally a center where there is a large mall and supermarket, but when you leave the center and move to the edges, you run into random farmland between apartment complexes. Since this once was country, the city was built around it. It’s normally lost behind the 3-4 story buildings, but when you explore the alleyways (like what we did), you normally stumble upon them.


Pond Next to Urban Countryside

From urban scape to farmland: behind us in this photo was an unorganized set of farmland with corn and rice paddies. We walked along the thin dirt path and crossed a makeshift bridge (three thick pieces of wood and one plank in the middle) to get to the other side of the village. The sun was beating down on us. It was so much warmer than Kunming. We found shady sanctuary at a Buddhist temple.


Menghai Buddhist Temple

We sat next to a golden shrine and listened to the screaming of children in the neighboring elementary school. I looked for a bathroom to change into shorts and also to use it…what I found was a cement wall and a pile of bricks. That will do! We meandered around the village until 2:30pm was around the corner. We got on the bus and I immediately conked out…I woke up to this scenery:


Scaling the Mountains on Bus

I always seem to forget Chinese countryside can be so beautiful. I noticed we had been traveling for about two hours out of the total of three. I thought I would ask around the bus (in total 10-12 people) for anyone who knew how to get to Manmai. I asked a few, but they shook their hands, mumbling that they don’t speak Mandarin. A 16 year-old Hani minority boy piped up and said he knew the way. I sat next to him. He wore fashionable clothing (black pants, striped button-up, black hat) and had a small guitar next to him. He went to Menghai to hang out with some friends and was heading back home to Mangwa, a village a bit north of Manmai. He explained that we could get off the bus early and hike two hours to the village. We had about 3-4 hours till sunset. I double checked with Sam to make sure he’s okay trusting his directions. Before we had time to really negotiate, the boy yelled at the driver to stop. He pointed at a dirt road and said hike down it for two hours and you’ll hit Manmai. Before we knew it, we were off the bus and all alone among mountains of tea plantations.


Tilted Shelter in a Tea Plantation


Sam and I Hiking to Manmai

We walked…and walked…and walked. At some points we hiked to the top of tea plantations, but since sunset was approaching, we kept to the path. We sang Disney songs, talked, and gazed at the scenery. It was a beautiful hike. We fortunately made it to the village right at sun down. We climbed up a hill to a shrine and watched the sunset from there: IMG_1856

Sunset Over a Wave of Mountains

It was dark when we entered the village. I asked around for a place to sleep. Most of the people didn’t understand Mandarin, so I resorted to body language. I put my hands together and imitated myself sleeping. She recognized what I meant and pointed down the hill. We continued through the dark path. I could make out bungalow homes (houses on stilts), but besides that it was too dark to see. We approached a home and ran into a smiling, middle-aged woman. I imitated sleeping again to her. She nods, mumbled in the local dialect, and ushered us into her home.  Thankfully her daughter, Xinmeng, who is my age and speaks Mandarin, shows us our room (a large mattress on the ground). Sam and I joked that we can pretend we’re married. Her mother cooks us a meal and Xinmeng’s brother hands us rice wine. It was so strong. It burned my esophagus even after drinking. I took two sips the entire night. Sam, on the other hand, drank a shot and a half. I was surprised!

I talked with the family for a bit and then headed to bed. We had another early morning. We planned to explore the village and then travel through the rainforest to get to another Bulong town.

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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.


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!


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:


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!


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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Weekday Excursion: Gazing at Geminid Meteor Shower

The night before my last two finals, my roommate invited me to join her and some classmates (8 in total) to a suburb outside of Harbin to observe the Geminid meteor shower. In Chinese, meteor shower is liuxing yu, or “raining shooting stars.”I thought that was neat. We met up at around 6:00pm and took a train to Yuquan, a suburb outside of the city known for its skiing. It was an hour and a half of me going back and forth studying Ancient Chinese and talking to the old Chinese man that was mumbling to me in Russian and Chinese. He was impressed by my Mandarin language abilities, but also surprised that I (a white person with blue eyes) could not understand a lick of Russian.

We were shooed off the train and were glad to see a clear night sky above. A van picked us up and sped across icy roads to a ski resort where we planned to stay the night. We were shown into a room that had two kang (a lifted floor that is heated by fire underneath) along opposing walls. However, before settling in, we immediately set our things down and went out to encounter the bitter cold to see the stars! I clumsily hiked up the ski hill with my layers upon layers of clothing and finally reached the top. The sky was so clear and there were so many stars. I saw my first shooting star fly by Orion’s bow.

The shooting stars were endless. Every minute I saw 2-3…I ran out of people to wish for! As Mengnan’s classmates were fiddling with telescopes and taking pictures, I remembered the good old days when my Minnesotan friends would go star tripping. That is when you look at one star in the sky and spin around, after spinning, someone shines a light into your face. I didn’t have a light, but I began spinning around and around. The sky began to rotate quickly, but its rotation felt natural. As I spun, I saw pairs “raining” stars shoot across the sky. In total, I saw more than 40 shooting stars that night. Spinning, spinning, spinning–I heard the train crack along the distant tracks as it passed by the sleeping town. The train came from Harbin. If you looked into the distance, you could still see the metropolis’ smog and its diluted city lights.

[EDIT: For those who want to know, I did well on my finals. Also, I did not take good pictures this night. I am waiting on Mengnan’s friends to send me photos.]

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Weekend Excursion: Yagou Ravine

This weekend, CET organized a trip to Yagou Ravine, a park an hour away from the city. We took a bus from Harbin and made a stop at what looked like a quarry. We walked along a sandy path that passed people cutting into the rocky hills with large machinery, jumped over a ditch by a deserted house, and hiked up a path to a hidden pavilion. In this isolated spot was a etching in a side of a rock wall dating back to the Jin Era (1115-1234 A.D). This era was constructed by the Nuzhen people, who are now referred as the Machurian minority. The stone had two etchings: 1) one of a women sitting, and 2) a man striking downward with a sword..

Rock Etching of a Man Striking the Ground with a Short Sword

After observing the ancient artwork, we walked back to the bus to begin our 3-4 hour hike. We were dropped off at the beginning of the trail, that was lined with a large lake. The scenery was covered with mist–or pollution, I couldn’t tell.

Island of Bare Trees

The trail curved into a forested area. We crossed over an icy part of the lake by bridge and entered a historical site. We were in a section of the pine forest that was dotted with old Japanese bunkers from one of the 20th century wars. I inspected one of them and found its floor covered with trash.

Looking into one of the Bunkers

We continued on our hike. The smell of pine was refreshing. We climbed up one of the hills and looked out to scenery of rolling tree-covered hills and plains of yellow grass. In the distance was a tower which was our last rest stop. We hiked for another hour…talking, singing, whistling, enjoying nature, telling stories and then finally arrived at the fire watch tower.

Final Rest Stop

The tower was frail and old. It drifted back and forth with the wind. Because of its lack of integrity, only three people were allowed to go up at a time. I joined two guys and climbed up to the top. While I was climbing up the stairs, the Chinese roommate among the two, kept on worrying about my safety–telling me to slow down, to be careful, make sure that I’m not scared. It got on my nerves, since he wasn’t worrying about my male classmate and assumed, since I’m a girl, I must be easily frightened. I understood that his concerns were well-intentioned, but the feminist in me began to swell.

I let his concerns slide and reassured him that I was perfectly fine, and that I was not afraid of heights. He was surprised. At the top, the scenery was spectacular.

Red, Greens, and Yellows

The two guys were getting ready to head back down, while I was still taking pictures. The Chinese roommate told me, “Colleen, how about you get in the middle so that I can protect you.” That was the last straw. With all of my strength, I tried to sound as polite as possible: “I don’t want your protection, I can take care of myself, you go down first, I’ll follow behind.” He understood and from then on, he was surprised at how courageous I and the rest of my American females classmates were. For instance, I joined my male classmates as they hiked along the rocks that lined the top of the hill (the picture above shows the line of rocks). The Chinese roommate was impressed. His way of thinking is arguably influenced by the Chinese traditional way of treating the opposite sex: girls are weak and need a man to protect them, etc. I’m not insinuating that I can do ANYTHING myself, but climbing stairs is not situation in which I need someone to protect me.

That small moment really opened my eyes to male-female relations in China. In America, the word “protection” is not used often in that context. If a man in America told me, “I want to protect you.” I would feel awkward and perplexed. Protect me from what? Dragons? In China, that’s not the case. I apologize for the rant…now back to my day!

At the Edge of the Rock Ledge with Tower Behind me

I sat at the edge of the rocky trail until I heard my resident teacher call out to everybody that we were leaving. I teeter-tottered and climbed along the rocks to get back to the group. We then descended back to ground-level and walked along harvested farmland till we reached the bus. Somehow a classmate and I squeezed in a medley of Bohemian Rhapsody before getting on the bus and setting off back to Harbin.

Blown over Corn

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Fall Break: Last Day of the Trip–Dalai Lake

From the small town that we stayed at that night, we set off to see Dalai Lake. When we approached it, it was large enough that it looked like the sea…but it doesn’t compare to Lake Superior, of course! We were going to pay a fee to enter a “park zone,” but its entrance ticket was pretty expensive for just looking at the lake. So, our driver decided he would go off the beaten track and drive further down the lake to an abandoned pier. We bounced all around the car while Mr. Zhang avoided holes and revved up steep, rocky hills. We stopped at a natural overlook, that is situated on a hill. My classmates and I climbed down the hill and explored.

Mongolian Yurt Looking Out at the Lake

After walking around the Mongolian yurt, I ran over to join my classmates as they trekked across a long, rickety bridge that led to a decaying pier. It was exhilarating and terrifying to slowly maneuver over the bending planks of wood and holding onto the rusty side rail. I finally made it to the pier, which was in even worse shape. Four thick, steel rods held the entire square pavilion up, besides that, decaying planks of wood crisscrossed the floor. Though the condition of the pier was debatable, the view of the lake was worth it.

Decaying Bridge on Frozen Shore

  Sun Shines on Freezing Lake

We decided to head back because the wind was getting stronger by the minute. While walking back, I lost a wool mitten–our one casualty from the trip. We got to the shore, played on the ice of the lake shore, and then headed back to the car.

Frozen Shore of Dalai Lake

We spent the rest of the day driving along the Russian/Mongolian/China border to Manzhouli, our final destination of the trip. We stopped by one more Russian border gate before heading into town and eating Russian cuisine for lunch. We had fried cheese, cheesy eggplant, chicken wings, pork covered with fried potato, and other dishes that I cannot remember. I just remember devouring the cheese.

We strolled around Manzhouli for a couple hours waiting for the bus. It felt like I had entered Russia. All the signs were in Russian with small Chinese print to the side. The architecture also did not look Chinese. During our trip and even my entire stay in the North, I have witnessed a completely different China from the South. Here, different cultures influenced northern culture, and its effect are noticeable by its cuisine and architecture.

Waiting for the Train in Manzhouli

Trains of Coal

We took “hard seats” back to Harbin. We played Mafia on the train and conversed for hours until we attempted to fall asleep. Everyone has a hard time falling asleep on a stiff chair, especially me. I finally found a nice equilibrium with my sweater and small dividing table and finally drifted into sleep.

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