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Princeton Bridge Year: China 2016-17


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    [post_content] => Dear all,

After what can only be described as a 'whirlwind' of an eight months, tomorrow we will be setting off from Kunming Railway Station on our X-Phase! This month-long expedition into the Middle Kingdom will be entirely student-led; it is our chance to put the skills and knowledge we have acquired since September 1st to work.

The plan is as follows;
  • 27th April: Meet at Kunming Railway Station; take the train to Chongqing.
  • 28th - 30th April: After arriving into Chongqing, we will head straight to Erfo Temple near the city of Hechuan. Led by a local contact at the temple, we will partake in some sessions on meditation and Buddhism, possibly including a day of silence. We will use some of this time for reflection, journalling and re-adjusting to the pace of expeditions.
  • 1st - 2nd May: Leaving from Erfo Temple, we will make our way back into Chongqing city. This bustling metropolis is steeped in history, especially as the provisional capital of Chiang Kai-Shek's Republic of China. Excursions will include a trip to the Joseph Stilwell Museum to learn more about this city's role in World War II, a visit to the Ming dynasty Ancient City Gates, and visits to authentic Sichuanese restaurants.
  • 3rd - 5th May: We'll departe for Emeishan on May 3rd, the tallest of China's Four Sacred Mountains. We'll spend some time hiking up and down the mountain, visiting temples and shrines along the way; we'll also be trying our best not to be attacked by the stealthy monkeys along the route that have a certain penchant for stealing anything they can get their hands on!
  • 6th May: After spending the night, we'll head over to Leshan to spend the day visiting the Grand Buddha. At 71 metres tall, this is the tallest statue of Buddha in the world, and the largest pre-modern statue in the world by some margin! Then, we'll jump back on the train to head up to Chengdu.
  • 7th - 8th May: Arguably Western China's most important city, Chengdu will be our next stop. A chance to rest after an intense trek, the 7th will be a day for us to visit the city's various temples and attractions, or a chance simply to join the locals in kicking back and relaxing at a teahouse.
  • 9th - 13th May:  We'll take a bus and head to Qinghai Lake. Living with nomadic families just off the lakeside, we'll be shadowing homestay family members, engaging in service work and doing mini-hikes in the area. We'll leave there on the morning of the 13th to head back to Xining, ready for our train in the evening.
  • 14th - 16th May: We'll arrive into Dunhuang, an oasis in the middle of the Silk Road. A trip out to the Mogao Caves, a World Heritage Site made up of 492 different caves, will be on the cards, as will visits to the Singing Sand Dunes and night markets.
  • 16th - 17th May: We arrive into Turpan, a place popularly known as 'China's Death Valley'; it's the second-lowest depression in the world after the Dead Sea.  If we haven't melted under the baking heat, we'll be visiting the tallest minaret in China, the ruins at Jiaohe ('one of the world's largest, oldest and best-preserved ancient cities', according to Lonely Planet), and make a visit to the night market to try out some Xinjiang delicacies (can you sense a theme here?).
  • 18th - 22nd May: Kashgar will be our final stop of the student-organised portion of the trip. We'll head out to Karakul Lake for its mirror-like water and stunning mountainscapes, and spend a night on the banks of the lake with a Kyrgyz family in a yurt. Heading back on the 20th will give us ample opportunity to visit the Bazaar, purported to be Asia's largest market, the Id Kah Mosque (China's largest mosque) and engage in yet more eating in Kashgar's food markets, to celebrate the end of the student-planned leg of the trip!
  • 23rd - 27th May: We will remain in Kashgar for another four days for transference. A chance to wrap up our experience in China and to reflect back on the nine months as a whole, our two wonderful instructors will be leading a variety of sessions to prepare us for moving on from Bridge Year (although I dare say we won't want to!).
  • 27th - 29th May: We'll begin snaking our way back to Kunming.
  • 29th - 31st May: Back to our adopted home for all too short a time, we'll be saying one final goodbye to NGOs, teachers, homestays and friends before leaving Kunming for new adventures on the 31st.
We apologise in advance if occasionally we are unreachable via internet or telephone; seeing such a variety of remote places and being quite so busy all the time will likely mean we'll be less responsive than usual. We're all so excited to see how this trip will turn out; after months of hard work, we can't wait to jump see even more of this great country! With love, BYP China 2016-17 [post_title] => Is it really that time, already? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => is-it-really-that-time-already [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-05-02 09:22:49 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-05-02 15:22:49 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://my.wheretherebedragons.com/blog/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 574 [name] => Princeton Bridge Year: China 2016-17 [slug] => princeton-bridge-year-china-2016-17 [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 574 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 263 [count] => 19 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 3.1 [cat_ID] => 574 [category_count] => 19 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Princeton Bridge Year: China 2016-17 [category_nicename] => princeton-bridge-year-china-2016-17 [category_parent] => 263 [link] => https://my.wheretherebedragons.com/category/princeton-bridge-year/princeton-bridge-year-china-2016-17/ ) ) [category_links] => Princeton Bridge Year: China 2016-17 )

Princeton Bridge Year: China 2016-17

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Is it really that time, already?

Jack Allen,Princeton Bridge Year: China 2016-17

Description

Dear all, After what can only be described as a ‘whirlwind’ of an eight months, tomorrow we will be setting off from Kunming Railway Station on our X-Phase! This month-long expedition into the Middle Kingdom will be entirely student-led; it is our chance to put the skills and knowledge we have acquired since September 1st […]

Posted On

05/2/17

Author

Jack Allen

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For our March excursion, we will be going to Xishuangbanna, an autonomous prefecture in southwestern Yunnan, known for its distinctive Dai culture, tropical rainforests, and sweltering heat. Our intended itinerary is below:

Friday, 3/10 – Take the 9pm night bus from Kunming South Bus Station. The bus ride is expected to last 10 hours, so we will arrive next morning/afternoon.

Saturday, 3/11 – Upon our arrival at Jinghong County, Xishuangbanna, we will take the public bus directly to drop off our luggage at Caffy and Ken Backpacker’s Youth Hostel. Then, we will take the bus (every hour one bus) in Xishuangbanna bus station to the Tropical Botanical Garden in Menglun. This bus ride will last approximately 1 hour 15 minutes. We will spend the whole day at the garden. At approximately 7pm, we will ride the the bus back to Jinghong. We will spend the night at Caffy and Ken Backpacker’s Youth Hostel.

Sunday, 3/12 – We will meet with our local contact (Ye laoshi) and she will give us a presentation on tea. Afterwards, we will go to the local market, Zong Fosi (temple in Jinghong), and then at around 4pm, we will go to a village called Mengyang manzhang cun (猛养曼掌村). We will spend the night at the homestay there.

 

Monday, 3/13 – We will bike to Mandian Water Fall (25 km away). The cycling will take about 2 hours one away. We will ride the sleeper bus at 9 pm. We will arrive at Kunming the next morning.

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Princeton Bridge Year: China 2016-17

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March Excursion to Xishuangbanna

Group,Princeton Bridge Year: China 2016-17

Description

For our March excursion, we will be going to Xishuangbanna, an autonomous prefecture in southwestern Yunnan, known for its distinctive Dai culture, tropical rainforests, and sweltering heat. Our intended itinerary is below: Friday, 3/10 – Take the 9pm night bus from Kunming South Bus Station. The bus ride is expected to last 10 hours, so […]

Posted On

03/14/17

Author

Group

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    [post_date] => 2017-01-23 13:09:39
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    [post_content] => Dear all,

It feels like only a couple of days ago since we said farewell to you all at Princeton and headed on our intrepid adventure. Amazingly, though, it is already time for us to embark on our mid-year retreat - a chance for us to see more of northern Yunnan and Tibetan culture, as well as to reflect on the last four and a half months. With a mix of homestays, hiking and sightseeing, our entire itinerary has been planned by us students.

We're booked onto this evening's (21st January) sleeper train up to Lijiang, where we will spend Sunday at an artists' co-operative and the evening exploring the old town before spending the night just outside the gates of the old town.

We have two day hikes planned for Monday and Tuesday, one in Liming and one in Shigu - two towns to the west of Lijiang renowned for their stunning scenery. Shigu is host to the first bend of the Yangtze River, a geological formation which causes the river to bend almost 180°, whilst Liming was recently featured in the New York Times for its 'soaring sandstone cliffs'.

On Tuesday evening we will head up to Shangri-La, and spend Wednesday exploring the city, which plays host to a number of important Tibetan temples (one of which has the world's largest prayer wheel). We'll be taking it slowly, though; by this point, we will be over 3200m above sea level!

We'll be heading up to the city of Deqin on Wednesday afternoon, and heading straight out to Feilai Si to spend the night and catch what is purported to be one of China's most incredible sunrises projected onto Meili Snow Mountain (on which rests Kawagarbo, one of Tibetan Buddhism's most sacred peaks).

Having caught a little more sleep, we'll take a bus up to northern Diqing Prefecture where our mid-course homestays are located. At noon, the village will host a welcome ceremony to introduce us to our new families, with whom we will spend Friday, Saturday and Sunday, marking Chinese New Year. We're particularly excited to see what Tibetans make of Chinese New Year and how their traditions and practices differ to those of China's Han majority.

Monday to Thursday will be taken up largely with mid-course activities, both instructor- and student-led. We'll be reflecting on the first half of the trip in all its guises - NGO work, homestay family relations, language study and IEAs - and thinking about how we have developed since leaving for Kunming all those weeks ago. We'll also be looking at ways we can improve in these areas to maximise what seemingly little time we have left. Aside from experiential education, we will also be spending some time talking about human rights in China - our learning focus for this month. Nikhita land Jack, our leader and educator for this month, will be delivering sessions on topics such as foreign attitudes to China's human rights record, Tibetan minority rights and the One Country, Two Systems principle. We will also be using the holiday as an opportunity to rest after a busy four months!

We will begin snaking our way back down to Kunming on Friday morning, arriving back into the city sometime on Saturday 4th February. We are certainly hoping to have access to the internet for all fourteen days of the trip, but it's possible the village we stay in might not have wifi or too good of an internet connection - apologies in advance if we become incommunicado after Wednesday!

Wishing you all love and luck in this upcoming year of the rooster,

Bridge Year China 5.0 x
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Princeton Bridge Year: China 2016-17

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Mid-Course Retreat!

Jack,Princeton Bridge Year: China 2016-17

Description

Dear all, It feels like only a couple of days ago since we said farewell to you all at Princeton and headed on our intrepid adventure. Amazingly, though, it is already time for us to embark on our mid-year retreat – a chance for us to see more of northern Yunnan and Tibetan culture, as […]

Posted On

01/23/17

Author

Jack

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    [post_date] => 2016-10-03 10:37:24
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    [post_content] => Six hours.

Thirteen challenges.

Three teams.

One winner.

A number of take-aways...
  1. The Kunming subway doesn't really go that far - or that quickly - and you might very well spend longer trying to walk to the station and back than you would have walking straight to your destination!
  2. You can feel like a king for a bargain getting your hair massaged, washed AND styled! The price - 30¥. The experience - priceless.
  3. Chinese people oftentimes think their English is much poorer than it really is. Woe betide the fool who has to try and struggle through our hapless Mandarin...
  4. You can buy ANYTHING in Kunming, so long as you get creative enough! Tyrells? Sure! Korean fish-shaped crips? Why not! Authentic tortilla chips? Now you're pushing it...
  5. A pout, a bit of arrogance and a puffed-out chest goes a long way to getting across the road without being knocked over by an E-bike, crazy taxi driver or an elderly woman pushing a sweetcorn cart.
  6. Pomelos can actually serve as a whole meal. Or a footlong steak and cheese Subway. On second thoughts, always go for the Subway. Healthy food can wait.
  7. Not much moves faster than giving three hungry, consumerist, easily excitable teenagers ¥180 - and don't expect any change!
  8. 'A South Korean, an American and an Englishman walk into a sim card shop' could very well be the start of a bad joke, until it takes five different shops to actually understand you don't have a Chinese ID card, or an address, or a Chinese mobile number - then it's a bit less funny....
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Lessons from Three Kunming Scavengers

Jack, Joanne and Jasmine,Princeton Bridge Year: China 2016-17

Description

Six hours. Thirteen challenges. Three teams. One winner. A number of take-aways… The Kunming subway doesn’t really go that far – or that quickly – and you might very well spend longer trying to walk to the station and back than you would have walking straight to your destination! You can feel like a king […]

Posted On

10/3/16

Author

Jack, Joanne and Jasmine

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    [post_content] => September 16th, 2016.

As we left the guesthouse packed in two small vans, we waved our goodbyes to Aluo, his family, and our two other hiking guides. Joanne suddenly mentioned as we pulled away that sadly, we probably would never see any of them again. And it hit me – all the trekking we had done over the previous four days, the challenges we faced and the triumphs we achieved together as we climbed up and down mountains, and the laughs and meals we shared were in the past. We had spent less than 96 hours in the area, and even less than 24 hours in Dimaluo, but I had already grown a fondness for the people and the natural surrounding.

I stared out the window and tried to etch as much of the passing scenery into my mind as I could: bright, pastel buildings and wooden homes juxtaposed against layers of trees hidden behind clouds. Trucks shoveling dirt and people working hard along the roads. Mothers walking through narrow streets with their babies and chickens haphazardly crossing in front of moving vehicles. The van maneuvered around every obstacle and we swerved around cars and people alike as if we were in a video game. As I watched the outside world whiz by, I accepted that Joanne was right – we probably would never see Aluo or the people we had dinner with the night before ever again. And even if we had the chance to come back to the village, I realized it would be completely different.

The exact same day we left, the new road connecting the village to the city had opened, making the commute significantly shorter. What will happen to Dimaluo is something familiar to many villages in China: as more and more people have access to these villages, the more these villages will change. And it is only one road of many to be constructed in rural China.

The last day of the hike, Aluo told us about the rapid growth in the area. The new roads and concrete buildings would change the lives of the locals in uncertain ways. He believed that the people of the village and the ways they lived had something authentic about them and the construction and development occurring would most likely affect that. Change was already evident when we left, as trucks and mounds of dirt indicated the oncoming construction projects. Aluo hoped that perhaps both concrete buildings and the traditional wooden ones existing could be used once the changes were implemented. The answer to whether Aluo's wish will come true and whether the mountains we hiked and the villages we passed through will be recognizable in the future is something that we will have to wait to find out.
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Aluo, Goodbye

Christina Moon,Princeton Bridge Year: China 2016-17

Description

September 16th, 2016. As we left the guesthouse packed in two small vans, we waved our goodbyes to Aluo, his family, and our two other hiking guides. Joanne suddenly mentioned as we pulled away that sadly, we probably would never see any of them again. And it hit me – all the trekking we had […]

Posted On

09/29/16

Author

Christina Moon

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    [post_date] => 2016-09-26 15:25:33
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    [post_content] => 

One of the most important things I've learned since coming to China is that sometimes, the temperature markings on faucets are all wrong. On shower nights, one may expectantly turn the faucet to 'hot,' only to get a faceful of icy cold. So you stand there a few minutes, wait for the water to warm up, then feeling guilty about wasting water, resign yourself to sudding up in the well-deserved chill. It can be bewildering.

And as our group begins its first homestay in Bangdong Village, sometimes it seems like it's not only the faucets that are out of whack. Surrounded by cultural changes and eating three to four times the recommended caloric intake at every meal, one can begin to feel any sense of stability begin to slide.

All of a sudden, you are distinctly aware of every possible faux pas you could make (and more bothered by the ones you suspect but don't know) and your body, your words, seem more unwieldy than before (when you still considered yourself a lithe, graceful creature). You can't understand anything that's said to you, and the SAT vocab that everyone promised would be so useful is for naught, certain things can't be hung on clotheslines, and bathrooms become a very loosely-defined concept.

At this point, one could respond in a variety of ways—anger, dejection, insanity. Or perhaps you may recall something from that home-ec class you took as part of the long downwards spiral of senioritis and realize that really, the colors for hot and cold are arbitrary and somewhat nonsensical.

And you realize that it's not about knowing everything, what the character for sneeze is or that blue means hot or that seven is pronounced as four in a certain dialect. No—it's about the smile that breaks out on your homestay mother's face when she sees you walking through the door. Or a cup (or four) of tea in the kitchen, sipping quietly as the murmur of rain and unknown words wash over your ears. Or making a fool out of yourself at the village dance and still having a good time. It's just about stepping into the water with no expectation and finding it to be pleasantly warm.

That, or this group sage is reading much too deeply into a few shower faucets. [post_title] => Hot and Cold [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => hot-and-cold [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-09-26 15:25:33 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-09-26 21:25:33 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://my.wheretherebedragons.com/blog/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 574 [name] => Princeton Bridge Year: China 2016-17 [slug] => princeton-bridge-year-china-2016-17 [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 574 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 263 [count] => 19 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 3.1 [cat_ID] => 574 [category_count] => 19 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Princeton Bridge Year: China 2016-17 [category_nicename] => princeton-bridge-year-china-2016-17 [category_parent] => 263 [link] => https://my.wheretherebedragons.com/category/princeton-bridge-year/princeton-bridge-year-china-2016-17/ ) ) [category_links] => Princeton Bridge Year: China 2016-17 )

Princeton Bridge Year: China 2016-17

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Hot and Cold

Hyunsung Yun,Princeton Bridge Year: China 2016-17

Description

One of the most important things I’ve learned since coming to China is that sometimes, the temperature markings on faucets are all wrong. On shower nights, one may expectantly turn the faucet to ‘hot,’ only to get a faceful of icy cold. So you stand there a few minutes, wait for the water to warm […]

Posted On

09/26/16

Author

Hyunsung Yun

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    [post_date] => 2016-09-23 17:54:27
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    [post_content] => 

Looking back on the last 2 weeks of our time in China, it's crazy realizing how much we have gone through, how much we have experienced, and how much we have grown in ways that we couldn't have imagined. We have seen the most breathtaking scenery from atop Biluo mountain, we have traveled through steep muddy slopes with leeches strapped to our ankles (though we tried in vain to pull them off), gotten our bag of sunflower seeds stolen by a rather aggressive pack of monkeys at Baoxiang Temple, and have tested our physical and mental capacities as we backpacked from Cizhong to Dimaluo in the course of 4 days. So much has happened within such a short period that it was honestly very difficult deciding which memory to call upon for my field note.

However, the memory that has constantly resurfaced in my mind, a memory I now consider to be the most thought-provoking moment of my time here, was actually just a casual late night discussion with our group and our host Lu Shu Shu at the Shaxi Cultural Center. It had all seemed like such a commonplace incident back then as we heard him speak and watched his cigarette smoke lazily circle the air and eventually fade into nothingness. However, this late-night discussion has become seared in my mind as one of the most transformative memories that has forced me to critically reevaluate my role and responsibilities as a traveler in a newly urbanizing town like Shaxi.

As societies develop, villages urbanize, and the once-isolated regions become connected by new highways, many things are undoubtedly gained, but many things are inevitably lost. During the last couple years, Shaxi has changed at an incredibly fast rate and has shifted from an agriculture-based economy to an economy catering mostly to domestic and foreign tourists.

In order to maintain China's current rate of rapid economic growth, the government is actively pushing tourism in towns like Shaxi as an “artificial,” short term solution to make money change hands, lower unemployment rates, and spur the economy. However, as the town caters to foreign and domestic tourists and opens its doors after years of isolation, there is not simply just a shift in the town economy. As farmers shift from producers to consumers (e.g. many farmers gave up farming to work in guesthouses) there is an inevitable shift in shared values, shift in the sense of community, and a shift in the vivid hue that has once made Shaxi so special and unique.

According to Lu Shu Shu , tourists in Shaxi long time ago were mostly backpackers who were interested in the culture and history and have come really far to learn. Despite the lack of roads and cars, they were willing to hike across mountains to visit Shaxi and learn about the people and its culture. But now, after new roads were paved and new highways are being built, the tourists are mostly consumers who come to play—lay back, relax and take a break from the outside world. There just does not seem to be the same desire and hunger for the cultural understanding as there used to be.

Our discussion allowed me to have a better understanding of Shaxi's ongoing history as well as force me to reevaluate the level of impact a single tourist like me can have in a small town like Shaxi. However, despite gaining a deeper understanding of the complexity of urbanization, it left me with more questions than ever. Is tourism good or bad for the preservation of a culture? Should we put an effort to isolate the town so as to preserve the “purest, undiluted” version of the town? What responsibilities do we have, as tourists, in protecting a culture? Is urbanization and change inevitable?

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Princeton Bridge Year: China 2016-17

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Late Night Reflection in Shaxi

Wha-Eum (Joanne) Lee,Princeton Bridge Year: China 2016-17

Description

Looking back on the last 2 weeks of our time in China, it’s crazy realizing how much we have gone through, how much we have experienced, and how much we have grown in ways that we couldn’t have imagined. We have seen the most breathtaking scenery from atop Biluo mountain, we have traveled through steep […]

Posted On

09/23/16

Author

Wha-Eum (Joanne) Lee

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    [post_content] => A common feature of the mountain valleys that we trekked through was livestock. Between their tramping around limiting plant growth and all the water flowing into the valley from the mountains and the sky, trekking was often a constant search for footing in a muddy mess. Of all the terrain features in these areas, rocks were the most prized, providing a guarantee that what one was about to step on was neither a) poop nor b) mud of indeterminate depth. Thus, to the detriment of speed, I tiptoed from rock to rock whenever possible to keep my boots as clean and dry as they could be.

During a particularly treacherous area, when the rocks were few and the mud plentiful, I was using the narrow strip of plants on the edge of the path in conjunction with whatever rocks could be found. I should mention that flat rocks are particularly prized, as the odds of slipping on a flat rock are slim to none, whereas the tilted ones (especially the moss-covered tilted ones) can be...dicier. When I saw a flat rock just as the plants were beginning to run thin again, the path to the next spot of plants became apparent. I put my foot forward, ready to spring off that rock into the plants, and...squish. My boots went an inch or so farther than I expected them to, and I realized that my perfect record had been broken. Alas. With a wry grin (or what I imagine was one) on my face, I lifted my boot out of the cow pie, and kept trekking. However, it quickly became clear to me that I now had an excellent event to whip out as a metaphor for something later on down the road. Which brings us to now, and my rural homestay family.

While we were trekking, and then afterwards while we were traveling by motor vehicles of various types (a welcome change from the “shoe leather express,” as my AP Bio teacher called walking), I was looking forward to the stability of a room of my own that didn't change every day, somewhere where I could set things down, regroup, reorganize, and not have to live out of the top six inches of my hiking backpack (any further just meant an earlier wake-up to repack everything, and sleep is a precious resource). Upon arriving at my rural homestay though, new challenges presented themselves, and what I had looked forward to as a nice, comfortable rock quickly presented a few squishy spots.

To be sure, I've certainly appreciated having those “rock” qualities I was looking forward to – the food has been excellent, I'm quite happy with the accommodations, and my homestay family is wonderful. The squishy spots are places I knew would be a bit slippery, to continue the rock analogy, but that have proven more difficult to navigate than mere slipperiness. The main one, and by far the most significant, is language. I knew language – Mandarin, officially, though every place has a local dialect with varying degrees of similarity to official Mandarin – would be slippery, as the bulk of my Mandarin education had been the two weeks prior to arriving at the homestay. However, until I arrived and could understand virtually none of what anyone was saying and vice-versa, I hadn't realized how much of a challenge the language barrier would be. No one ever learned to find firm footing everywhere by only stepping on rocks, though.

There has been plenty of (justified) laughing at my pronunciations, and it usually takes a few times to get across what I'm trying to say, usually through a combination of gestures and poorly said phrases. And I've certainly eaten much more than I've intended to, as I'm not sure exactly how to refuse food politely or just forget how to in the moment (much easier to just nod than form the proper phrase), but I'm starting to be able to portion size a bit better. Most things are just well beyond my reach at this point, like conversations about the schooling system and what my homestay siblings think about it, or how the village has changed over their lifetimes (or their parents'). Still, between my language classes and the practicing that is necessary to eat and get things done, spoken language is rapidly becoming more comfortable for me, and that squishy spot is firming up a tiny bit. Before the end of this homestay, I hope to be able to hold a short conversation that doesn't have me reaching for my notebook or English-Chinese dictionary every other word, but that remains to be seen. Until then, I'll enjoy everything this village and homestay family has to offer, which is quite a bit.
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Sometimes a Rock is a Cow Pie

Stephen Polcyn,Princeton Bridge Year: China 2016-17

Description

A common feature of the mountain valleys that we trekked through was livestock. Between their tramping around limiting plant growth and all the water flowing into the valley from the mountains and the sky, trekking was often a constant search for footing in a muddy mess. Of all the terrain features in these areas, rocks […]

Posted On

09/22/16

Author

Stephen Polcyn

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Hello from Bangdong!

From scavenger hunts to market bargaining, language lessons to dinner parties and much much more, the last fortnight has been an exciting introduction to what awaits us over the next nine months! Let us share a little of what we have been up to...

After traveling for just over 24 hours from Princeton, the early hours of September 2nd greeted us with a mixture of excitement and trepidation for the months ahead, as our flight touched down in Kunming. On the bus to our guesthouse for the night, we got to know our second instructor, Longyun, as she informed us of the plans for the days that lay ahead. Our third instructor, Luke, joined us at our guesthouse for a short (though well-deserved) rest. Orientation activities began in earnest later that morning in the picturesque surroundings of Yunnan Normal University. Despite being a city of almost seven million, many of us found ourselves surprised by the fresh air, open green spaces and tree-lined pavements that adorned the Kunming boulevards. Lessons in cultural awareness, survival Mandarin and China's ethnic minorities were interspersed with a visit to the fruit market (where even those with no Mandarin prior to the start of the trip found themselves bargaining with confidence), a city temple, and Green Lake, Kunming's beautiful city park. The group even found the time to practice a couple of Tai Chi moves, as well as show off their best dance moves to a group of Chinese ladies. This, rather surprisingly, managed to create somewhat of a interest from the local population, who took to filming the impromptu performance on their mobiles (though whether this be for the next series of China's Got Talent or for some comedy show, you decide). Nevertheless, we look very much forward to returning to, and discovering more of, Kunming in October.

We left for the temples and grottoes of Shibaoshan a couple of days later. This picturesque temple, carved into the side of a mountain, offered a taste of village life, as well as opportunities to learn more about Buddhism, China's most prevalent faith group. 'Cheeky monkeys' (in all senses of the word) were dotted around the temple, prepared to try and snatch almost anything they could lay their hands on. Watched over by the tall golden Buddha, perched just above the main temple, Shibaoshan allowed us to reflect a little more on our reasons for coming to China and participating in Bridge Year, as well as getting to know one another a little better. We discussed our pet peeves, things to make us feel better, and even managed to have a couple of rounds of a game that can only be described as bizarre. In this game, one had to call out fruit (in Mandarin, of course), though with one caveat: one could not show their teeth to the rest of the group, leading to general hilarity, wackiness and Joanne being the eventual victor. By the end of the activity, with all the giggling, weird facial movements and struggle to keep upright through desperate laughter, I do wonder whether the distinction between us and the monkeys had blurred somewhat...!

Onwards, then, it was to Shaxi – though, this would not be via comfortable bus with air-conditioned seats, televisions and phone chargers. No, this time, it was to be via good old-fashioned foot-power; the group, hiking bag-laden, set off over the hills toward our destination. Indeed, this led to stunningly panoramic vistas across chess pavilions, bamboo-lined hills and much much more. On arrival in Shaxi, we met with the enigmatic Lu Shu Shu, the owner of the Shaxi Cultural Centre which we made our home for the following four nights. His wisdom on the effects of tourism in the village was invaluable as we explored the village, which has experienced a revival of both domestic and international tourism since a Swiss-led architect team came to restore the village to its former glory in 2006. Our scavenger hunt took us on a tour through the old theatre, market day, tea shops and across the famous stone bridge. On top of this, we had to use our survival Mandarin to ask where things were, to use phones and to find out a bit more about the Bai language, which the predominant ethnic minority use. Matthew and Jasmine won with a four point lead (although the scoring system was certainly, err, interesting, including points for future actions) though Nikhita and I refused to be beat on style points, taking some extremely funky selfies along the way! That night, all of us sat down to make dumplings under the watchful eye of Lu Shu Shu, who would settle for nothing but perfection in his household. The odd person caught on straight away (lucky you, Christina!), but for most of us, the squidgy, over-filled blobs had to do. Despite this, however, dumpling making was not the most interactive meal we had in Shaxi. One must understand that, after around 9pm in small rural villages, very little is open for food or shopping. So, venturing out at 9.30pm, we were in for a losing battle. We, however, came across Mei Mei's, a charming restaurant just a little up from the hostel we were staying at. We sat down in the normal way, expecting a fully cooked meal to appear on the Lazy Susan straight before our very eyes. Instead we were greeted with, 'I'm really sorry, but all my chefs have gone for the night.' Refusing to be beaten, we instead rushed to the owner's side, offering to make the meal ourselves! Under her cautious guidance, we got straight to peeling vegetables, chopping up potatoes and even saw Luke bring an extremely strong wok game to the fray! Whoever said don't play with your food was severely wrong, as that Friday was certainly up there as one of my favourite meals! We worked through each other's strengths and weaknesses, taught skills to one another and did all of this with huge smiles, cheesy grins and copious amounts of laughter. I could not highly recommend the experience enough. The same night, we celebrated Nikhita's birthday with fruit, candles and even some American snacks that we had found during our market day on the streets of Shaxi. Despite only knowing these six other students for just over a week by this point, I could already see that the year was going to be heading in the right direction.

 

I'll let Joanne fill you in on the events of the last week, but will make one final request – if you have not already, please do follow us on Instagram (our username is bridgeyearprogram) to see even more of our beautiful pictures and know how we're getting on!

For now, Jack [post_title] => Group Update - Week One! [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => group-update-week-one [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-09-21 15:25:58 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-09-21 21:25:58 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://my.wheretherebedragons.com/blog/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 574 [name] => Princeton Bridge Year: China 2016-17 [slug] => princeton-bridge-year-china-2016-17 [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 574 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 263 [count] => 19 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 3.1 [cat_ID] => 574 [category_count] => 19 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Princeton Bridge Year: China 2016-17 [category_nicename] => princeton-bridge-year-china-2016-17 [category_parent] => 263 [link] => https://my.wheretherebedragons.com/category/princeton-bridge-year/princeton-bridge-year-china-2016-17/ ) ) [category_links] => Princeton Bridge Year: China 2016-17 )

Princeton Bridge Year: China 2016-17

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Group Update – Week One!

Jack Allen,Princeton Bridge Year: China 2016-17

Description

Hello from Bangdong! From scavenger hunts to market bargaining, language lessons to dinner parties and much much more, the last fortnight has been an exciting introduction to what awaits us over the next nine months! Let us share a little of what we have been up to… After traveling for just over 24 hours from […]

Posted On

09/21/16

Author

Jack Allen

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A thing about me: I have the balance and grace of a hippo attempting to ice skate. Clumsiness is spelled out in my DNA. I can hardly walk in a straight line. I pale at the notion of having to wear high heels. I'm pretty sure my personal blind spot takes up 80% of my field of vision. Luckily, in the States, I had the luxury of flat roads to mask my awful balance (although occasionally I still manage to stumble on a perfectly-paved sidewalk). But this four-day hike through Biluo Mountain trained a blinding spotlight on my clumsiness, shoving my flaw before the world, front-and-center.

Day I started off smoothly. Not too bad. Still had a pulse and steady blood pressure by the end of the first hour. We stopped from time to time to enjoy the breathtaking scenery, peering down at the little village from which we ascended. But as we climbed, I felt an uneasiness building from within my gut, mewling at first but climbing in volume with each step, reaching a scream when we hit a seemingly tropical part of the mountain. My calves and quads were screaming at me to call for an evacuation helicopter to lift me out of the wilderness, but I goaded myself to forge onward. My strength withered with each step, as if the mountain was slowly sucking away my energy. Feet wobbling and ankles shaking, my balance wavered. Soon, I found myself nearly faceplanting left and right, victim to traitorous rocks that slipped unexpectedly. My feet didn't seem to know how to walk anymore, and several times, I found myself sitting in the dirt, dazed for seconds before realizing that my legs gave out under a heap of unsteady rubble. With each trip, each fall, each stumble, my breath hastened. My paranoia mounted. The jungle path began to narrow, and every five steps I took, I stumbled at least once. I suddenly realized that I was hyperventilating, heaving in deep gulps of oxygen in hopes of calming myself down. My legs froze. I clung to a mossy rock for support as I tried to steady myself—and then it hit.

I looked down.

White, frothy water. The roar of a stream. The darkness of a deep abyss below. Potentially my grave.

Ahead, everyone else was snapping pictures of the wilderness, wowed by the beauty of nature, in awe at the distance they had traveled up the mountain, but right there, I clung to that rock, unable to move another muscle. While my friends saw beauty and achievement in those depths, I saw a ferocious adversary licking its chops in preparation for my certain plummet into its jaws.

I never realized that acrophobia, the fear of heights, was a genuine problem until that moment. Frankly, I used to laugh at the idea of phobias. Arachnophobia (fear of spiders), trypophobia (fear of holes), coulrophobia (fear of clowns)—they all seemed like fun words we glued together using Latin and Greek roots. But as I inched down the hill, teary-eyed and gasping, acrophobia, the fear of heights, waved hello.

My group members, patting my back and offering words of encouragement, managed to rein in my erratic state of mind, but that moment of panic jolted my entire approach to hiking. From that point on, I trailed in the back, separated from the rest of the group, mired in a cloud of my own distress. Each step I took went through a mental algorithm that started with assessing the terrain for a possibly-stable foothold. Upon finding a candidate, I would gently tap the spot, testing for structural integrity, and then I'd follow up by applying a bit more weight to see if it would hold. Finally, after running a few more trials, I'd step forward. Meanwhile, I went through a great paint to keep my eyes on the ground ahead of me. A single stray glance over the edge would drag me back into that whirlpool of fear.

This went on for essentially the entire hike. Up rocky stretches. Down grassy plains. Through pine forests. Along riverside wetlands. Past deciduous groves. Not for a second was my mind at peace.

On the third day, we ran into another traveler making his way uphill. The shrubs beside him rustled, and out popped his little son. He wore a puffy purple jacket, and he had the elastic strap of a slingshot wrapped around his forehead like a headband, a wooden cross around his neck. Our mountain guide, a soft-spoken but deeply knowledgeable man by the name of Aluo, agreed to take the kid back to his home village.

Tagging alongside Aluo, the kid, named Xiao Ruo Wang, zipped up and down the mountain, bounding nimbly when the ground decided to give out. He played hide and seek with us as we plodded down. He concealed himself in tall grasses, up evergreen branches, and behind dense shrubbery. From time to time, Xiao Ruo Wang would skip up to us, carrying in his arms a plastic bag brimming with mushrooms and other mountain plants he'd gathered from the wilderness. Digging into the bag, he'd procure a great white mushroom, hand it to us, and ask if we'd like a bite. Warily, we warned him to be careful, seeing that our emergency medical kit didn't exactly contain any antidotes for fungal poisonings, but before we could finish our thoughts, he had already taken a bite out of the mushroom and sprinted down the hill.

This kid was the polar opposite of me. While I was a hippo on ice skates, he was the human manifestation of a mountain goat*: sure-footed with each step, agile with each leap. And not only was he nimble and quick, but he also took his time on the mountain. He took detours into the bushes, in search of edible plants. He picked leaves, feeling their textures and shapes in his fingers. He whipped out his slingshot, taking aim at an insect that dared to hover too close to his face. He paused occasionally to glance across the horizon, taking in the beauty of the place he called home.

As I watched this kid somersault down the mountain, I looked back at the peak that gave me so much grief in the past day. I saw it as an ugly enemy, while this kid saw it as a treasure trove of nature.

Certainly, I'm glad that I'm on lower elevation as I'm typing this update, but a part of me is deeply disappointed. After seeing off Xiao Ruo Wang, I began to view the mountain through his eyes. I started seeing cool plants and mushrooms rather than menacing abysses, dazzling ecosystems rather than nefarious roots seeking to trip me. Before, each step was fueled by fear. After meeting that kid, each step was fueled by fascination. While my eyes were buried to the ground, running that algorithm of acrophobia, I missed out on the wonders around me, the jewels of a region brimming with biodiversity. Shoving out acrophobia to make room for curiosity brought me more confidence and purpose on that mountain, and I wish I met Xiao Ruo Wang from the start.

(Photo: A pic of Xiao Ruo Wang showing me how to craft a wig out of a willow-like tree leaf. He ended up using the leaves to weave a bird's nest, which he placed on the lower branches of a pine tree.)

*Credits for this phrasing goes to a short-ish backstory from my high school calculus class. In that classroom, photos of mountain goats were plastered everywhere along the walls. Goats standing along sheer cliffs, gazing commandingly across the horizon. Goats grazing along green pastures, exuding a sense of overwhelming wisdom in mid-chew. Goats tromping down slopes, unfazed by the possibility of certain death that comes with a single misstep. “Okay, what's the deal with the goats?” was our first question when we sat down for Algebra II as freshman. However, we had to settle for a cryptic reply from our soft-spoken teacher: “Be the mountain goat.”

Years later, after months of glazing over these weird squigglies called “integrals” by those who can actually handle the vaporizing intensity of mathematics, I finally received the second half of that adage, which went something like:

“Be the mountain goat: sure-footed and agile.”

In math, we need to be sure-footed, making each calculated with careful thought and deliberation, cutting out any hint of BS. Yet when those methods lead us into obstacles, we must also be agile enough to stretch, twist, and adjust our plan. This whole mountain goat metaphor was something that I've carried with my since graduating from high school, serving as my guiding principle to everything in the academic sphere.

But with a “multi-day trek” through the mountains on the itinerary, Dragons gave me a chance to see this metaphor through a more literal sense.

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In Which an Elephant and a Mountain Goat Cross Paths

Jasmine Lu,Best Notes From The Field, Princeton Bridge Year: China 2016-17

Description

A thing about me: I have the balance and grace of a hippo attempting to ice skate. Clumsiness is spelled out in my DNA. I can hardly walk in a straight line. I pale at the notion of having to wear high heels. I’m pretty sure my personal blind spot takes up 80% of my […]

Posted On

09/21/16

Author

Jasmine Lu

1 2