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Princeton Bridge Year China 2015-16


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I remember the summer after freshman year my parents and I went on a road trip through the national parks of the American Southwest. We visited the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Arches, Canyonlands, and Yellowstone over the course of a two-week-long loop from Washington down to California over to New Mexico and back up to Washington. The trip was a lot of fun, but looking back I wish I had taken more time to appreciate it. Most of the time we were in the car I had my face buried in a textbook studying. Sophomore year was coming up and I was intent on taking seven AP tests. I saw academic success as my ticket to bigger and better things, chief among which–ironically–was travel. Since I was eleven I had been enamored with the idea of traveling the world. And through hard work I hoped to make that dream a reality. I figured if I could only get into the right school and get the right job I would be able to go wherever and do whatever I wanted. But I was so caught up in my future aspirations that I was letting the present slip right by me. There I was, traveling through some of the world’s most stunning landscapes and instead of just looking out the window and soaking it all in, I was studying.

Last night I was reminded of this episode in my life as I stood out on the balcony of our program house in Kunming. It was a little past midnight and my friend was practicing violin in the cool night air. I had initially come out with the intention of studying while the other group members slept. I felt a craving for productivity and had brought my pen and books out with me. I sat down and set to work memorizing vocab and studying chess opening lines. But after a few minutes, my legs were feeling rather uncomfortable from sitting directly on the concrete. I got up to stretch out and leaned against the rail.

Kunming is gorgeous at night. Its air is among the most pristine of any Chinese city and the mix of flashing lights and pitch black silhouettes against a cloudy backdrop reminded me vaguely of my home in Seattle, but at the same time had an air of being completely new and foreign. As I stood leaning out over the balcony I decided I wasn’t going to sit back down. My books were calling to me, but this was more important. I wondered to myself how many people got to have an experience like this: listening to a world-class violinist while looking into the night sky from a twelfth story balcony, a concert of one in the City of Eternal Spring. Studying the Ruy Lopez and learning how to say “rheumatoid arthritis” could wait.

This is not to say I am any less studious or ambitious than before. But I have resolved to not let my studies get in the way of appreciating life’s unique moments and spontaneous treasures. I made that mistake three years ago, but this trip I don’t want to have those same regrets. I want to balance future aspirations and present opportunities, long-term satisfaction and momentary happiness.

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Princeton Bridge Year China 2015-16

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Concert for One

Alexander Helman,Princeton Bridge Year China 2015-16

Description

I remember the summer after freshman year my parents and I went on a road trip through the national parks of the American Southwest. We visited the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Arches, Canyonlands, and Yellowstone over the course of a two-week-long loop from Washington down to California over to New Mexico and back up to […]

Posted On

10/5/15

Author

Alexander Helman

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  The phrase 下乡上山 translates to "Down to the village, up the mountain"and has a brutal history. During the cultural revolution, this was the name of the program that took intellectuals and urbanites were involuntarily taken out of their homes and relocated in "reeducation" programs in the country side. This piece of history, over forty years old at this point, has mostly escaped the public consciousness, especially among the younger generations, those born after 1980 this memory of this old program is dwarfed by the pressure to achieve the Chinese Dream 中国梦. In the capitol of Lincang prefecture, development has been rapid. There are large shopping centers and high-rise apartment complexes. Pictured below is a temporary wall built around a construction site touting the relevance of this Chinese dream in Lincang, reminding the residence here that the dust from this new building project should be seen as a piece of the collective goal of economic development. In my experience, finding stories of the reeducation programs are rare. Many of the older generations returned to their city dwelling and went about their lives. Sometimes however, the past is very visible. A year ago, around this time of the year, my co-instructors and I entered a convenience store near a temple in In the mountains of Inner-Mongolia. These stores are ubiquitous in china and nearly always carry the same products. Vacuum sealed meat snacks, chips, candies, soda, Red Bull, rice liquor, sunflower seeds, and cigarettes. This store was a little different, the owner was selling polished rocks and books. Most notably a book on the a geological survey of inner-Mongolia. Thus Man, teacher Gao, had been an accomplished geologist before being sent to Inner-Mongolia after his father, a successful factory manager, was suspected of being a rightist and removed from his position. Teacher Gao had been put on a train and sent to a village near where we had met him to work as a farmer. When the program ended, he got a job as a teacher and eventually in the government as a surveyor, but her never returned home.  Needless to say, we were fascinated by this man's story and surprised to find him in such a tucked away corner of the country. I can't help but wonder how many people like this exist, but whose stories are never told. Conversely, finding stories about those relocating themselves in pursuit of the china dream are very prevalent. In Bandong village 邦东乡, where we have been living for the past week and will remain until October 2nd,  we can see the effects of rural to urban migration first had, as the village is home to mostly the youngest and oldest generations. Most who leave end up in Lincang or Kunming, seeking various types of employment. While walking around the village with Jesse, he comments regularly on the changes he has noticed, coming to this village annually over the past three years. There is a new road, a new dance square, there are many new concrete houses, and many houses have new additions. Pictured below is the house where the instructors have been living. It has a new third floor with clear plastic roof and walls made for drying the tea. The money for these additions often come from money sent home by children who have gone off to urban centers to find work. The result is that the quality of life of those in the village has become markedly more comfortable, they can greatly boost their incomes if they can invest in tea processing facilities. But as this village grows, others are being bulldozed for the development of expanding roads and cities, and regardless of whether or not the village survives, the economic pulls that draw children to the city pull families apart and the cultural products that come from these ties are being lost. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to be "reeducated" by the communist party, but I do know the value of spending time in small Chinese villages. The complexities that exist in these small places are enormous. I feel that I have many questions about what motivate the people around us, about the social pressures on different ages and genders, about the balance of traditional knowledge and modern practices. Doing this home stay was a major part of my motivation to sign my contract and work with this program. I honestly do feel that by going down to the village, I am going up the mountain. And I have immense gratitude for both our hosts and our students, who have been working hard to connect with their family despite language and cultural barriers. Our students will be volunteering for six months in Kunming, but service is not something that one time process and one of the greatest gifts that this village has given me has been the opportunity to slow down and, as a group, discuss the impact we have had and can have when while in this village. If you want to get a taste of our discussion, I recommend these two ted talks. The first stresses the importance of listening if one wants to provide "service" and the second questions the impact of volunteer-tourism and challenges its viewers to value learning service rather than giving one's self a pat on the back for volunteering one's time. Ernesto Sirolli: Want to help someone? Shut up and listen! https://www.ted.com/talks/ernesto_sirolli_want_to_help_someone_shut_up_and_listen?language=en Daniela Papi: What's wrong with volunteer travel? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYWl6Wz2NB8 We cannot be in discussions all the time, when we are not a together as a group is when much of the learning happens. This is when tea is picked, food is prepared, conversations are had, and bonds are formed. 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下乡上山 VS. 中国梦

Joe Goldes,Best Notes From The Field, Princeton Bridge Year China 2015-16

Description

  The phrase 下乡上山 translates to “Down to the village, up the mountain”and has a brutal history. During the cultural revolution, this was the name of the program that took intellectuals and urbanites were involuntarily taken out of their homes and relocated in “reeducation” programs in the country side. This piece of history, over forty […]

Posted On

09/28/15

Author

Joe Goldes

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In the past ten years, the picturesque backpacker's town of Dali has transformed into a bustling tourist hub for both Chinese and international travellers.  Ridden with reinvented "cultural relics consisting of African drums and Tibetan bracelets, Dali has wiped away much of its memory of the original inhabitants of this prefecture capital - the Bai minority.

As I wrapped up a jog around the city's winding alleyways and myriad construction sites on Monday evening, I ended up at the top of a hill overlooking both the "old town" - the tourist's center, and "Xia Guan," the industrial side of the city.  This hill is no more than twenty odd feet high, but provides the city with a grassy barrier between its supposedly traditional elements and its new high rises.

As I stood at the top of the mound, I was initially struck by the scope of the new town. The group had been living and eating in the old town for most of our stay, and I had forgotten that the city had developed beyond the small borders of our visit.  Tall "Da Sha" or large buildings cover the land beyond the hill, contrasted by the newly built homes on the old side of town with white walls and blue-tiled roofing meant to replicate Bai-style architecture.  Plastered on the walls of one of these houses was a Party slogan ending with the phrase “保护农村” or "preserve the countryside".

In some ways, Dali has succeeded in this mission of preserving its countryside.  Most families living on the outer edges of the city maintain small rice paddies or tobacco farms in front of their homes.  Wind turbines are a common site atop the surrounding, serving the city's desire to keep its air quality above the Chinese standard. From an environmental perspective, it seems that Dali is doing well.

Preserving the countryside in its entirety, however, is multifaceted.  Another translation of the slogan word "农村"(nongcun) is "village".  The city of Dali has, in recent years, lost much of its past village feel. Bai homes are destroyed, only to be replaced by replicas that tourists find more authentic. Dali, the capital city of Yunnan's Bai Prefecture, has a majority of Han people, with only one third of its population comprised of the indigenous Bai minority.  Dali used to be the center of "Dali Shi" or marble trade between India and China.  Now it is nearly impossible to find a piece of marble in one of the many souvenir spots along the main streets. Instead you find wallets inscribed with Machu Picchu labels and graphic T-shirts with English slogans. The exoticized "Bai cuisine" served on the city's side streets is a mere reflection of what Bai people typically cook in their homes.  These changes are intended to preserve Dali's past, but in doing so it seems as though they have replaced the essence of what the town used to be.

This view from the hill reminded me of a conversation I had had earlier that week with "Lu Laoshi" our guest house manager in Shaxi, a small town just north of Dali in the midst of a similar developmental struggle. As we chatted in his kitchen, he addressed concerns about several changes along Shaxi's streets. Just down the alleyway from his guest house (the Shaxi Cultural Center), fumes from newly painted facades reek, and the sounds of buildings being knocked down wake us early in the morning. The old trading town of the Horse and Tea Road used to house a market three times a week - now tourists and locals alike shop at a large supermarket in the center of town, only to be supplemented by a weekly market run.

These changes may seem subtle, but they bother Mr. Lu.  The town he has seen grow for over a decade may now become a fake Dali-like site for tourists to imagine the life of the Bai people without actually talking to any of them. He acknowledges the positive effects of the town's growth (namely higher wages and increased property value), but also worries about all that is being lost along the way.

Who knows what will happen to Shaxi and Dali down the road, but in the meantime, the BYPC group is trying to make more friends like Lu Laoshi. As we depart for our two-week rural homestays in Bandong Village, we can't wait to learn more about the rapid change that pervades the New China, and get to know a community that might someday be deemed one in need of "preservation."
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Princeton Bridge Year China 2015-16

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“Baohu Nongcun” – Preserving the Countryside and Village

Natalie Nagorski,Princeton Bridge Year China 2015-16

Description

“保护农村” – “Preserve the Countryside and Village” In the past ten years, the picturesque backpacker’s town of Dali has transformed into a bustling tourist hub for both Chinese and international travellers.  Ridden with reinvented “cultural relics consisting of African drums and Tibetan bracelets, Dali has wiped away much of its memory of the original inhabitants […]

Posted On

09/16/15

Author

Natalie Nagorski

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9/11 Last night I looked up at the sky on the way back from the Shibaoshan market and saw the clearest stars I've ever seen. Coby suggested a night hike, and within minutes, four of us were winding around the back of the temple we were sleeping in and up the mountain. Several times up the narrow path I looked up at the stars then down at the distant glimmer of village life below. Daytime hikes are stpectacular; yet, I caught my breath at the combination of the eerily serene darkness that enveloped the mountain peak, the crisp dewy air that filled my lungs with every breath, and the night sky brimming with constellations. Questioning the reality of such magical moments only seemed natural. At the top of the mountain, we creaked across a rope bridge and came to a stop in front of a slightly ajar door. My ears strained to identify the singing that floated out from deep within whatever lay behind the doorway. Eyes wide with curiosity and apprehension, we hesitated, staring at the peeling red character for 'luck' as if it could choose for us. At last, we stepped over the raised idoorsill and followed the music to a small room in the temple past the empty courtyard. There, I asked in nervous Mandarin if we could enter and join the festivities. The elderly women seemed puzzled as to why there were young foreigners in their mountaintop hangout, but soon warmed up to us. Between attempted conversation in a head-spinning mixture of Baizu dialect and Mandarin, and demonstrations on how to jam out to the traditional Chinese instumentation, one lady informed us with pride that they were in the midst of a three-day celebration of the Song as per Baizu minority traditions. After we left the temple with hurried attempts at explaining that we had half an hour to return to our group, we found ourselves quite literally stranded in a cloud. Our only choice was to trace our steps back to the partying bunch and ask them for directions. Exhausted and conflicted, unable to communicate clearly with the celebrating grandmas, we resigned ourselves to following a middle aged Baizu man out a different entrance to the temple. It was strange and rather frightening to have to rely on the words of a man I had spent mere moments interacting with, but soon we were on a familiar path, headed back to our warm beds. Were we just incredibly lucky, or do people really have more goodness and deserve more trust than modern society tends to credit them with? [post_title] => Celebrating Song [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => celebrating-song [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-09-16 09:32:38 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-09-16 15:32:38 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://wheretherebedragons.com/?p=125515 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 112 [name] => Princeton Bridge Year China 2015-16 [slug] => princeton-bridge-year-china-2015-16 [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 112 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 263 [count] => 26 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 3.10002 [cat_ID] => 112 [category_count] => 26 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Princeton Bridge Year China 2015-16 [category_nicename] => princeton-bridge-year-china-2015-16 [category_parent] => 263 [link] => https://my.wheretherebedragons.com/category/princeton-bridge-year/princeton-bridge-year-china-2015-16/ ) ) [category_links] => Princeton Bridge Year China 2015-16 )
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Celebrating Song

Soyeong Park,Princeton Bridge Year China 2015-16

Description

9/11 Last night I looked up at the sky on the way back from the Shibaoshan market and saw the clearest stars I’ve ever seen. Coby suggested a night hike, and within minutes, four of us were winding around the back of the temple we were sleeping in and up the mountain. Several times up […]

Posted On

09/16/15

Author

Soyeong Park

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Photos from Shibaoshan and Shaxi

Joe Goldes,Princeton Bridge Year China 2015-16

Description

Posted On

09/14/15

Author

Joe Goldes

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Dear family and friends, We are currently in the old town of Dali, where we have spent the last 24 hours resting up and enjoying some comforts of the town here. Over the past few days we witnessed many aspects of China, from the sleepy old town of Shaxi well known for its history on the Tea and Horse Caravan Road, to the rowdy Song Festival of the Bai people at the picturesque temple on Shibaoshan. Sleeping at the temple for two nights, we shared the space with the hundreds of Bai pilgrims, most of whom were over 50 and came to sing and dance for 3 days and nights, as well as with the resident monkeys (pictured). The students will be sending more updates soon but we wanted to update everyone to let you know we will be departing tomorrow on another 2 day trek near Dali. We will be hiking up one of the five Buddhist holy mountains, Jizushan (or Chicken Foot Mountain) and spending the night in the temple on the top. We won't have internet until we return on the night of the 14th and prepare for our entry into the rural homestay component of our course. You can expect some great student yaks then! [post_title] => Update: Dali trek for two days [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => update-dali-trek-for-two-days [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-09-14 08:44:05 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-09-14 14:44:05 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://wheretherebedragons.com/?p=125292 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 112 [name] => Princeton Bridge Year China 2015-16 [slug] => princeton-bridge-year-china-2015-16 [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 112 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 263 [count] => 26 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 3.10002 [cat_ID] => 112 [category_count] => 26 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Princeton Bridge Year China 2015-16 [category_nicename] => princeton-bridge-year-china-2015-16 [category_parent] => 263 [link] => https://my.wheretherebedragons.com/category/princeton-bridge-year/princeton-bridge-year-china-2015-16/ ) ) [category_links] => Princeton Bridge Year China 2015-16 )
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Update: Dali trek for two days

Jesse Millett,Princeton Bridge Year China 2015-16

Description

Dear family and friends, We are currently in the old town of Dali, where we have spent the last 24 hours resting up and enjoying some comforts of the town here. Over the past few days we witnessed many aspects of China, from the sleepy old town of Shaxi well known for its history on […]

Posted On

09/14/15

Author

Jesse Millett

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    [post_content] => Settling in and settling out

After thirty six hours of travel from Princeton campus to Guangzhou, the China Bridge Year group landed in Kunming to start our year's adventure. The group woke up early on our first morning -- partly because of jet lag, but also because of the sheer excitement of starting the day on the other side of the world.

Our first Kunming excursion was a trip to "Cuihu" or "The Green Lake," Kunming's largest park which draws thousands to its banks every day to practice morning exercises. Although the group been expecting to take a taiqi class with Longyun, our local director, we were quickly swept up by another master. We blended in (not so seamlessly) with a group of elderly taiqi regulars, laughing as we tried to shift our weight in sync with each other. At the end of the routine, Coby enjoyed some playful shoving from the gongfu master, serving as a demonstration of faster, more competitive martial arts. Hungry after our morning exercise, we enjoyed our first breakfast of rice noodle soup "mixian" and congealed pigs blood "hongyouxuewang" (Alexander was particularly excited about this dish).

After several orientation exercises focused on health, safety, and goals for the year, among other things, we departed on a day bus for Shaxi, a quaint town northwest of Kunming, that has served as an excellent site both for settling in and for conversations on China's "fazhan" or development. During our stay here, we've enjoyed hikes around the cloud-embedded mountains surrounding the Shaxi valley, daily taiqi lessons from Longyun (we've now learned the "stroking the horse's back" routine), and a dumpling lesson from Lu Laoshi, the owner of our hostel, and longtime friend of Jesse's.

The transition from Kunming to Shaxi, and the even larger shift from home to China, have happened with few glitches thanks to the structure of the Dragons curriculum and the contagious curiosity the group shares for new experiences. We've all struggled with acclimating in our own ways - from trying to quiet our American voices to keeping our feet off of tables, to engaging with the Bai people in Shaxi who often speak neither Mandarin nor English. The process of settling in is both daunting and exhilarating, but the group has served as a constant source of support. We are currently departing for a 2-3 day hike for Shibao Shan, where we won't have internet access. Can't wait for the year to come, and will check in later this week!!
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Princeton Bridge Year China 2015-16

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Student

Natalie Nagorski,Princeton Bridge Year China 2015-16

Description

Settling in and settling out After thirty six hours of travel from Princeton campus to Guangzhou, the China Bridge Year group landed in Kunming to start our year’s adventure. The group woke up early on our first morning — partly because of jet lag, but also because of the sheer excitement of starting the day […]

Posted On

09/9/15

Author

Natalie Nagorski

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A smile is worth ten thousand words. As we perused the streets of Shaxi yesterday, we were forced to communicate with people who could not speak Mandarin, let alone English. Through our confidence in the kindness of strangers and a healthy dose of enthusiasm, however, we were able to connect with the people around us. Although some of our interactions were uncomfortable by nature -- such as finding the oldest person in the town or learning how to say "dragon" in the local dialect -- our giggles and gestures guided us through our task.

Confucius once said, "The path does not broaden the man; the man broadens the path." Throughout our interactions, however, we found that our path actually broadened our experience as well. From interactions with elderly mahjong players in a temple, to witty banter with a German physics teacher who has lived in Yunnan for the past thirteen years, we were struck by how open and kind the people were to us. Approaching them with positivity and a smidgen of laughter proved an effective method of bridging different cultures.

Nestled between rolling mountains on either side, Shaxi has been a great site for our onsite orientation. In a small town where many residents have never even learned Mandarin, yet the hum of construction and signs advertising "cosy rooms" in English signal imminent change, the growing tension between China's new and old has been in full view. However, we learned that no matter where we are, and regardless of the type of toilet (or even lack thereof), a smile goes a long way. [post_title] => Scavenging for smiles [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => scavenging-for-smiles [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-01-20 12:00:04 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-01-20 19:00:04 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://wheretherebedragons.com/?p=125010 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 112 [name] => Princeton Bridge Year China 2015-16 [slug] => princeton-bridge-year-china-2015-16 [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 112 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 263 [count] => 26 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 3.10002 [cat_ID] => 112 [category_count] => 26 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Princeton Bridge Year China 2015-16 [category_nicename] => princeton-bridge-year-china-2015-16 [category_parent] => 263 [link] => https://my.wheretherebedragons.com/category/princeton-bridge-year/princeton-bridge-year-china-2015-16/ ) ) [category_links] => Princeton Bridge Year China 2015-16 )
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Scavenging for smiles

Natalie, Coby, Soyeong,Princeton Bridge Year China 2015-16

Description

A smile is worth ten thousand words. As we perused the streets of Shaxi yesterday, we were forced to communicate with people who could not speak Mandarin, let alone English. Through our confidence in the kindness of strangers and a healthy dose of enthusiasm, however, we were able to connect with the people around us. […]

Posted On

09/9/15

Author

Natalie, Coby, Soyeong

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First day morning in Green Lake Park, Kunming. [post_title] => First day in Kunming [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => first-day-in-kunming [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-01-20 12:12:16 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-01-20 19:12:16 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://wheretherebedragons.com/?p=124927 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 112 [name] => Princeton Bridge Year China 2015-16 [slug] => princeton-bridge-year-china-2015-16 [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 112 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 263 [count] => 26 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 3.10002 [cat_ID] => 112 [category_count] => 26 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Princeton Bridge Year China 2015-16 [category_nicename] => princeton-bridge-year-china-2015-16 [category_parent] => 263 [link] => https://my.wheretherebedragons.com/category/princeton-bridge-year/princeton-bridge-year-china-2015-16/ ) ) [category_links] => Princeton Bridge Year China 2015-16 )
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First day in Kunming

Long Yun,Princeton Bridge Year China 2015-16

Description

First day morning in Green Lake Park, Kunming.

Posted On

09/6/15

Author

Long Yun

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    [post_content] => To kick off our year in China, we started out by acquainting ourselves with Kunming for a day and then taking a bus to Shaxi, a small village in Yunnan province. After a rousing lunch of scrambled eggs and fish eyeballs, we explored the culture of Shaxi by going on a unique scavenger hunt. We knew this would be a chance to explore the town and culture, but we didn't realize how much we'd be interacting with the locals, and how much the culture truly resides with them.

At the start of the scavenger hunt, we decided to take it slowly, even though it was a competition. This was our first chance to explore the town on our own, so we didn't want to rush our first impression. Almost immediately, we walked past a group of old ladies knitting in front of their shop. One task was to find a locally made Shaxi good, so this seemed the perfect opportunity to scratch that item off our list. We approached her to ask what she was making; she laughed at us the entire time because of our broken Chinese and our childlike enthusiasm, still knitting a sweater as she spoke. When we wanted to take a picture with her, she insisted we wore one of her hats. Even though we ultimately didn't buy anything, she still seemed excited to be able to share her craft with us.

Perhaps the most challenging task was to find the oldest person and youngest person in Shaxi. We were confused by the question, as were many of the locals. It seemed impossible to expect anyone to know the answer to such a seemingly random question, but if we asked one person that didn't know, they were quick to ask their friends or direct us to someone that might. Eventually we were led to an old woman reading a scrap of newspaper on a stool. After we asked her our much-repeated question, she told us that her father was the oldest person in Shaxi at 93 years old. We tried to get her to write down his name on a piece of paper for us, but she was unable to recall the last character. Although we didn't ever quite find his name, it was still meaningful to speak with the daughter of the eldest man in the village.

Finding the youngest person was equally challenging. We went up to every mother with a child and every children's clothing shop we passed, asking if they knew the youngest child in Shaxi, but in the end it was a restaurant owner who pointed us to a young woman standing in front of a building across the street. When we asked her, she broke into a gigantic smile, and proudly stated that her 11 month old son was the youngest child she knew. We found it amazing that the community was close enough to be able to identify the youngest child and oldest person in Shaxi in just one afternoon.

Our most fun interaction was with a local Bai woman. One of our tasks was to learn the age of the big tree in Shaxi's main square, so we walked up to her candy stall, gesticulating at the largest tree. She got out from behind the stall and dragged us towards the tree; her excitement was palpable through the language barrier. After learning the age of the tree (316 years old) we asked her how to say several words in the Bai language: hello, thank you, and dragon. Immediately, she led us into another shop and picked up carved zodiac figurines, saying each of their names in Bai. We're not sure we can accurately convey the pronunciation of the words, but they all sounded like a very guttural NE DEWe definitely butchered the pronunciation, but she graciously complimented our Bai. She was then excited to tell us about the area, including the pagoda next door and her home village, not far from Shaxi. When we took a picture of her, she proudly changed into her traditional Bai outfit and showed us a picture from her youth, wearing the same garments.

Traveling to a new place brings powerful first impressions, full of overwhelming sounds, sights, food, and language. We didn't expect to make very many meaningful connections with people because of this bombardment of information, but everywhere we went, we found someone more than willing to talk to us about their lives and Shaxi. Today we discovered that it's the people that truly define a culture.
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Princeton Bridge Year China 2015-16

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NE DE

Ben Parker & Sofie Kim,Princeton Bridge Year China 2015-16

Description

To kick off our year in China, we started out by acquainting ourselves with Kunming for a day and then taking a bus to Shaxi, a small village in Yunnan province. After a rousing lunch of scrambled eggs and fish eyeballs, we explored the culture of Shaxi by going on a unique scavenger hunt. We knew […]

Posted On

09/6/15

Author

Ben Parker & Sofie Kim

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