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Today is our third day in Kunming, and already I can feel my perceptions of China, its people and its culture quickly, quickly, surely changing. Coming from the US, I have absorbed many preconceived notions about this country. Before coming here, I saw it only as the next world superpower, the manufacturing powerhouse, the crowded land of sweatshops and human-rights abuses and ethically unsound development projects. Now that I have seen the real China, instead of the China of the American media, I realize that most of that is still the case, but that there is so much more to the country beyond that. This is an intensely complex, vibrant, energetic place filled with people who are NOT the Chinese government, who live their lives as best they can, just like us.

Kunming is an incredibly interesting, lively and beautiful place. Because there are so many people here (equivalent to the whole population of Lao!) in such a smal(ish) area, there is no dull place, no corner left unfilled with living, dining, shopping, working, leisure space. It is all so colorful and shiny and it is constantly moving. Because the government has power and money to get anything they wish done, the infrastructure and public spaces are plentiful, efficient, and in incredible order. The downtown area looks like midtown Manhattan on a good day, only much cleaner and newer and even more crowded. The whole city is a bit unreal, definitely a little too controlled and fixed a manicured, giving one the impression that Walt Disney has taken up design of urban centers. The China of my former imagination is worlds away from this place.

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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China is a shiny place

Heather Lyon,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Today is our third day in Kunming, and already I can feel my perceptions of China, its people and its culture quickly, quickly, surely changing. Coming from the US, I have absorbed many preconceived notions about this country. Before coming here, I saw it only as the next world superpower, the manufacturing powerhouse, the crowded […]

Posted On

04/24/10

Author

Heather Lyon

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Up untill this very moment, I was going to write about how different China is from everything we have traveled through so far. And, it is. It's an acutal city. There are skyscrapers, paved roads, fashion districts, and apartment buildings. In this way, there is no comparison to Laos and Cambodia, where the life still revolves around the rice paddies. But this afternoon, as I walked back to the program house, a little old lady reminded me of the kindess that emanates from what seems to be most of Asia. I was keeping to myself, tired from the two or so hours of wandering around the city streets, and I was almost back to the apartment. From a glance, I noticed that a woman was scurrying across the street from the other side of the road. I thought nothing of it. A minute later, I get a light wack from a folded paper. I turn around, and there she is, all smiles. We're both a little out of breath as we climb the small hill, but nervertheless, she starts talking to me. In Mandarin. I would like to mention one funny thing about China here. Everybody you come across in China, no matter how young or old, expects you to speak Mandarin. And I suppose it makes sense. Why would you come to a country if you couldn't speak the language at all. But when you try to tell the person rambling on that you have no idea what they are saying, they will just keep on talking. I appreciate the determination of the people. And this was my experienc on the sidewalk with the lady as I was walking back to the program house. She was very kind, and from her hand gestures I sensed she was asking me where I was going. I pointed ahead, vaguely. I find sometimes copying what they are saying helps them think you know what they are saying. Sometimes you can get away with it. Sometimes. I was able to tell her one thing I remembered from Mandarin class with Alyssa, which was, "I'm American". It wasn't much, but she seemed pleased. We kept walking, she continued to talk and I continued to pretend to understand. Her words soothed my aching legs. I forgot all about how tired I was and was refreshed by this new challenge. In a way, she was my small miracle for the day. As I came up to the gate of the apartment complex, she motioned me to grab some of the small yellow fruits she was carrying in her bamboo bag. To be polite, I only took one. One was cleary not enough in her eyes. I ended up with several more by the time I departed from my newfound friend. She even waited untill she couldn't see me anymore. I don't know if she was more facinated by me, or I her. All I know is that I'm grateful she wacked me on the back with that paper.

O the simple joys of traveling.

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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City Life

Robyn Reeder,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Up untill this very moment, I was going to write about how different China is from everything we have traveled through so far. And, it is. It’s an acutal city. There are skyscrapers, paved roads, fashion districts, and apartment buildings. In this way, there is no comparison to Laos and Cambodia, where the life still […]

Posted On

04/24/10

Author

Robyn Reeder

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    [post_content] => Tonight we head off on a long sleeper train ride up to the E Village, which despite being more travel time, it will probably be awesome. Its pretty crazy the transition we made in one week, from temperature breaking 100 degrees frequently to chilly 60 degree kunming. So far China has been destroying my sterotypes. 
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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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kunming- Rampant Tai Chi.

Robin Bartels,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Tonight we head off on a long sleeper train ride up to the E Village, which despite being more travel time, it will probably be awesome. Its pretty crazy the transition we made in one week, from temperature breaking 100 degrees frequently to chilly 60 degree kunming. So far China has been destroying my sterotypes.

Posted On

04/24/10

Author

Robin Bartels

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    [post_content] => Hello everyone! Kunming has been amazing. My expectations of China have really gotten smashed since being here. We have had really interesting guest speakers and specialists. I am amazed by the people here in China, almost everyone I encounter is so friendly and happy. Also, the elderly enjoy much respect, freedom, and comfort in society, they are always out and about walking their dogs, doing tai chi, dancing, slapping themselves for good health, hanging out in the parks, picking up the young ones from school; the culture here is pretty special.. Yes things are great here, we are all very happy here!
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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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What are you trying to do? Compete with Shakespeare?

Paige Montgomery,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Hello everyone! Kunming has been amazing. My expectations of China have really gotten smashed since being here. We have had really interesting guest speakers and specialists. I am amazed by the people here in China, almost everyone I encounter is so friendly and happy. Also, the elderly enjoy much respect, freedom, and comfort in society, […]

Posted On

04/24/10

Author

Paige Montgomery

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My little homestay sister was a handful. I was warned about her in the beginning, that she was a brat and would only scowl at me. But when I first saw her I was greeted by the warmest smile ever. A smile which I will always remember as one filled with love and a little mischief

Leena was never far away from shenanigans whenever I saw her. Whether it was breaking into my room and stealing a little money or squirting elders in the face with a water gun she was always causing trouble. An only child and younger than most of her friends she was always picked on and treated as small. Whenever she and I would walk hand in hand people would always call out to her Gkai! Gkai! followed by laughs. She would always scowl and march right past them, with determination. She hated her nickname Gkai. It means little chicken.

In the beginning of the homestay I too was guilty of calling her Gkai. She would laugh at first but she soon began to shy away from me and scowl, something which I had never seen. After a day of no causing mayhem in my room or squirting me with water I began to worry what was happening to my friend. I tried playing games with her but no she would just scowl and walk away.

It was only when I began calling her Leena that the smile would return to her face and she would drag me on walks again always with the squirt gun and break into my room when I was in class. She was back to her old self and I wouldn't have it anyother way.

I think my homestay sister and I were perfectly matched. We are both free spirits who don't mind causing mischief. When we sprayed people with water on Lao New Year we wouldn't run when water was thrown at us, we would meet it head on bravely.

My favorite memory of the homestay is that of my little sister Leena rocking a massive super soaker in the middle of the street spraying passersby on moto screaming like Rambo. Sure she was acting like Gkai, causing mischeif and making noise. But whenever she went to refill on water and I caught a glipmse of her smile. It was the same one I got the first day, full of happiness, love and just a hint of mischief.

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Leena the Little Chicken

Gabriel "Chad" Maletta,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

My little homestay sister was a handful. I was warned about her in the beginning, that she was a brat and would only scowl at me. But when I first saw her I was greeted by the warmest smile ever. A smile which I will always remember as one filled with love and a little […]

Posted On

04/21/10

Author

Gabriel "Chad" Maletta

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    [post_content] => Any holiday that consists of a city water fight earns my immediate approval. As Taylor and I were walking through Luang Prabang in the crowded water soaked streets, we really wanted to get as deep as we could into this festival. So we asked over the bumping music and voices one of the girls riding the trucks if we could hop on. After an immediate yes, we hopped on and rode slowly through the main street. What a difference. Everyone is after you if you are riding on the trucks. We got soaked with water, dye, and tapioca powder. No mercy. We danced and super soaked whoever we could. We were a mess, and it was so worth it. 
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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Lao New Year

robyn reeder,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Any holiday that consists of a city water fight earns my immediate approval. As Taylor and I were walking through Luang Prabang in the crowded water soaked streets, we really wanted to get as deep as we could into this festival. So we asked over the bumping music and voices one of the girls riding […]

Posted On

04/20/10

Author

robyn reeder

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    [post_content] => Friday, April 16th - the last day of Lao New Year ("last" is a strong term, because technically the celebrations, family gatherings, and day long Beerlao fests will continue for the next week) and the rains do seem to have arrived. The banging of the shutters and front door woke me up in the late afternoon from my nap on the cold living room floor. The thunder is loud, it's very windy, and it's already beginning to pour. There's that sound again that I love of the rain on the corrugated tin roof, and the accompanying feeling of simultaneous security/comfort and fear/awe. I'm drinking a tall, sweet, green drink that is labeled "70% Coconut Juice with Coconut Meat," but that tastes like the winter melon drink I had with Taylor in Prek Pdao. The power's just gone out but I keep writing with strained eyes. My cousins giggle in excitement and come sit close to me where the light coming in through the doorway has created a small shaft. The storm's really on top of us now; I see the lightning and hear the instant reply of thunder. My little brother sets a flashlight - the wind-up by hand kind - at my feet and takes a second to look at me, not returning my thankful smile. I decide to stop writing and enjoy the storm. I take the flashlight to the bathroom, where I discover my brother kneeling near the squat toilet, throwing up. He gives me the same look again and I return to the cold living room floor to lie down. My older sister has shut the shutters and closed the front door, so there's darkness now except for the thin red candles she is lighting and setting on top of over-turned cups in the middle of the room. My other sister is already curled up in a fetal position blanket taco, and I only realize a breathing human being is under there when she says myname and slides a pillow over to me.I lie on my back with my arms and hands seat-belted across my chest and look at the corrugated tin. I close my eyes and try to imagine the roof breaking in and the rain suddenly drenching us in all its ferocity, but I get too scared and open my eyes again. I imagine the roof taking the beating of the rain like a boxer taking the punches of his trainer without once showing any sign of resentment toward him, and I'm grateful for the stolid strength of the roof. I think of the usual Thanksgiving toast - "I'm grateful to have food, water, and a roof over my head." My older sister lays a blanket over me, for the mosquitos she says. It makes me a little hot, but everyone else in the room is cuddled in blankets so I keep it on. My two sisters and two cousins are silently lying around the candles. In his blue briefs, my brother prances past us into the room he shares with his parents, and pulls on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt behind a curtain. Despite a half-hearted protest from my older sister, he then opens the front door and escapes into the downpour. He returns a minute later, soaked and smiling; nothing, least of all nausea, seems to slow him down. I return to the task of sharing the silent company of my lounging family while orchestrating my thoughts in sync with the storm. The rain lets up slightly after about forty-five minutes, but the power never comes back on, and after eating a dinner that is almost impossible to see, we spend the rest of the night lying on the floor. We go to bed at 8:30, and at 5 in the morning I wake up to the sound of the rain on the corrugated tin. 
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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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corrugated tin

Kimberly Kenny,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

Friday, April 16th – the last day of Lao New Year ("last" is a strong term, because technically the celebrations, family gatherings, and day long Beerlao fests will continue for the next week) and the rains do seem to have arrived. The banging of the shutters and front door woke me up in the late […]

Posted On

04/19/10

Author

Kimberly Kenny

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We just arrived back from our trek in Luang Namtah and it was in my opinion the most beautiful of the treks weve done. At times we would be walking on mountain ridges, crossing through banana groves and bamboo forest, with beautiful clouds and BLUE SKY (its been raining lately so the slash and burn ash hasnt been so dang overpowering). It was so beautiful, and our camping ground was amazing too...we did a lot of exploring, bathing in jasmine flower mountain water, making fires, eating bamboo soup, pretty sweet. During our tasty dinner, we were all assigned animals and such based on our essence (ex. my creatureessence is a cat... or a spider)Shortly after,it startedraining and lightening lit up the whole forestand we were all very happy. It was a very special two days. Things are good, we'regoing to China tomorrow, our guide Boughetwasa really amazing person. Mara, if you see thiswe miss you a lot and wish you were here

ps. sky potatoes

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Lightening and power animals

Paige Montgomery,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

We just arrived back from our trek in Luang Namtah and it was in my opinion the most beautiful of the treks weve done. At times we would be walking on mountain ridges, crossing through banana groves and bamboo forest, with beautiful clouds and BLUE SKY (its been raining lately so the slash and burn […]

Posted On

04/19/10

Author

Paige Montgomery

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    [post_content] => While at first glimpse the two week homestay in Ban Xieng Men might seem long, it 'straight up' flew by. Throughout the experience I kept questioning if my homestay families affection towards me was real, or forced..or probably a combination of both. It sincerely bothered me that I kept coming back to this, and that I couldn't let it go. On the last day, my Dad would squash those feelings like something very big squishing something very small. While we were heading off to the boats to cross the river to Luang Prabang, and ultimatley to leave to Luang Namtha he intercepted me, and not letting the two life jackets I was carrying get in his way, he hit me with a flipping fantastic man hug. That blatently kicked ass. ;=)
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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Two step, truffle shuffle.

Robbie "Oliver" Bartels,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

While at first glimpse the two week homestay in Ban Xieng Men might seem long, it ‘straight up’ flew by. Throughout the experience I kept questioning if my homestay families affection towards me was real, or forced..or probably a combination of both. It sincerely bothered me that I kept coming back to this, and that […]

Posted On

04/19/10

Author

Robbie "Oliver" Bartels

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    [post_content] => The stress of not preparing a delicious enough meal was setting in; it seemed as if everything that could go wrong, was going wrong. All of the electricity had gone out, I had a HUGE home stay family, and didn't buy enough ingredients for the western styled dish I was trying to make, and on top of that, I hadn't gotten back until 8 o'clock at night and everyone was waiting for my dinner. My monk brother, and pushy sister were trying to help me as much as possible, but I had never even made a home made sauce before, so them trying to help me, was just making my anxiety even worse. Time was ticking, and the tomatoes were boilig slowly. We were all just sitting around the the pot listening to the simmer, feeling the heat from the fire warm our cold bodies. Everyone inside the house was sitting, waiting for the food, trying not to be pushy, but it was 9 o'clock and all 10 of them were hungry. In the end the food was amazing, and even if THEY didn't enjoy the food as much as I did, they all ate and rejoiced with many "sep-ly's" (very delicious) We ate by candle light that night, and it was one of the best nights of the trip so far.
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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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candle light

Taylor Boucher,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

The stress of not preparing a delicious enough meal was setting in; it seemed as if everything that could go wrong, was going wrong. All of the electricity had gone out, I had a HUGE home stay family, and didn’t buy enough ingredients for the western styled dish I was trying to make, and on […]

Posted On

04/19/10

Author

Taylor Boucher

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