Today was the first day of classes after coming back from our trip to Dali and Lijiang. It was a relief to be back at school after driving for 12 hours yesterday. We had a brand new schedule today, so all of us 20 students were in all of the classes together. For sports we were split into 3 teams of ten people each: team A, team B, and the teacher team. We had to collectively run 30 laps of the track as a team, and team A (the team that I was on) won!!! It was a nice change-up for sports today, and I’m so glad to be back in Kunming!
Today we woke up and had a semi-western breakfast at the hotel, including sunny-side up eggs and coffee: things we hadn’t had for weeks. Then we all met at nine o’clock in an inner courtyard (still in the hotel) and decided that the day’s adventure was bike riding to a nearby town. So we all put on sunscreen, grabbed some water, and took a few taxis to a bike shop. Several of the students were put on two-person tandem bikes to pair a couple of students who couldn’t ride bikes with others who could. Almost no one had ever ridden a tandem bike before, and we were riding from inside the busy city, but it all worked out safely. After leaving, we made a few stops: one at a reservoir and two or three others for water breaks. After a couple of miles, we made it out of the city and onto a wide field in-between tall, beautiful mountains. It was pretty hot and the sun was beating down on us, so most people were sweating before we arrived at the nearby town.
The town was simple and focused much around tourism, although unlike Lijiang, you could actually get a great sense of some of the native customs. We perused the main street of the village, looking at little boutique and antique stores, and after half an hour we sat down for lunch. The cute restaurant we ate at had notes for foreigners around the world pinned to the walls, and it was the first time there wasn’t a lazy Susanne (turntable) for the dishes during lunch!
Once lunch was over, a nearby thunder storm threatened to drench us, so we decided to return the city. The trip back was similar, but after we got to the bike shop, the teachers gave us 100 RBM per language-partner pair for lunch and everyone split up. From then on there was free time for everyone, and several groups did several different things, but most people walked around the streets of Old Lijiang. The students all walked to Square Street, a popular open marketplace in Old Lijiang, where a long row of open food-venders sold assorted foods such as tofu and yak meat kabobs. Some students walked back to the hotel and looked at the variety of bongo, jewelry, clothing, food, and “native craft” stores on the way. It rained during the mid-afternoon for under an hour, but that didn’t seem to stop anyone.
For dinner, most of the students ate in or near the Square Street marketplace. Unfortunately, we found out the next day that several of the students felt sick and were suspicious of having food poisoning. After dinner, everyone met in the hotel lobby and we walked, once again, through Square Street (over a mile walk each way) to a concert hall. Here, we saw concert of traditional Chinese instruments, which lasted for an hour and a half. I didn’t recognize any of the instruments and I still can’t correctly pronounce their names. The concert was performed by many septuagenarians and other people around that age – the oldest musician was ninety! But they all seemed fantastic at their own instruments, and the music was definitely authentic and traditional to this region. After the concert, we all walked back to the hotel and, exhausted, gladly got some well-deserved rest.
Today we checked out of the hotel in DaLi and drove to LiJiang. On the way, we stopped at a nearby lake to see the effects of water pollution first hand. This lake, Lake ErHai, is one of the biggest in China. Although it is significantly cleaner than Lake Dianchi, the lake we visited last week, the inland areas of the lake are severely affected to the point where the entire surface is covered in algae. Although this appears as green and flourishing, we have learned that overgrowth of algae resulting from too much nitrogen and other pollutant nutrients in the water has numerous negative effects on the water ecosystem and the larger environment. We arrived at the hotel in LiJiang around 5pm. After settling into the new hotel, we were given free time to spend the night exploring LiJiang old town. After enjoying dinner and shopping on the old streets of LiJiang, everyone returned to the hotel to celebrate Matthew’s 18th birthday with cake and a dance party. Attached are pictures from the day.
Saturday, July 27
Surprised Matt yesterday with the full bus singing “Happy Birthday” at noon yesterday just as he turned 18 in the US, then with a cake at check-in time that night. Picture from today’s bike ride from Li Jiang to White Sand Village, with the famous Jade Snow Dragon Mountain in the background , hidden in the clouds. Off to a Naxi dance performance tonight, and the bus trip back to Kunming tomorrow.
Sunday, July 28
Just got back to the hotel after an all day (left at 8:30 am and got here at 8:30 pm) bus ride from Li Jiang. Everyone got out to see the old town, the countryside, hiking or biking, and Saturday night we attended a fine performance of classical Chinese music presented by an orchestra of 40 or so, average age around 70. The music, some of it from a local minority group, the Naxi, was ethereal, and all of it as new to the students from China as to most of us. Almost all of it was water-themed; great for the focus of the next part of our classes.
Today was the day for many in the group to get sick – the altitude, the street vendor food, who knows… In any case, we dug deep into our supply of Pepto and Immodium. All the students ate dinner, so those affected seem well on the mend as well.
We are getting better at finding ways to consult with our colleagues, and we are making some changes we all think are promising. The new roommate assignments based on Language Culture partners and the rotating evening check-in roster of faculty seem to be working fine, and they will stay in place for the rest of the program. We will be adjusting the morning class schedule starting tomorrow to bring both A and B groups together. This will standardize and open up the day nicely for more time to do things like washing socks…We also will have more routine contact with all subjects. To start each day will be the Language/Culture session with special attention to new terms in science, economics, and philosophy, which will follow in that order. We will keep our mid-morning Tai Chi session, loved by all, and our afternoon seminar focus will be on the case studies. Sports will remain a staple in the afternoons not devoted to field trips. The competition between the A and B teams in ultimate and soccer is tightening up, and friendships continue to deepen.
With days filled with hiking to the top of Xi Shan, visiting the very polluted Lake Dianchi, and then touring the historic old Kunming, I haven’t been given a chance to be bored yet. The acquisition of knowledge combined with a hearty blend of enjoyment makes each day something to look forward to. As we drive to our next destinations, I know that I’ll see something that I did not see the day before. For that reason, I carry my camera everywhere so that I can the places that we go to. Even on the drives to our destinations, there are farms, fields, and unique architecture that I can take photos of. Knowing this makes each trip more exciting
Bright and early at 8:30 this morning, we gathered as a group not in our usual classrooms at school, but piled into the conference room in our hotel for short introductions from Mr. Hodgson and Yan Laoshi about Li Jiang and Da Li. With only about a third of the students and teachers combined having been to these two spots before, there was much for us to learn about these two culturally significant destinations. “The Na Xi people work like ants but live like butterflies,” Mr. Hodgson said, before describing how the Na Xi lifestyle is closely intertwined with nature. He urged us to look beyond the colorful costumes, crowded shopping streets and obvious tourist attractions; the true beauty of the area, he said, lies in the ancient architecture, the mountains, the lakes, and the true nature of the people. Suitcases in hand and plastic Walmart bags (despite Mr. Hodgson’s opposition to “the worst store on the planet”) of snacks in hand, we boarded the bus for the long trip ahead of us.
After a few hours on the road, we arrived at our first stop of the day: “Dinosaur Valley”. Despite almost being like a theme park, with a zip-line and brightly colored plastic dinosaur statues throughout the park, the museum housed the largest collection of dinosaur bones I have ever seen. The bones were strung together to form completed skeletons in various poses that filled room after room, finally cumulating the original mountain wall, which was embedded with bones not yet excavated. The display was breathtakingly well-done and comprehensive, despite its rustic location.
In the next five hours on the bus, time was split between sleeping, looking out the windows at the famous Yunnan rice terraces contrasting with bustling towns, watching movies and playing card games. Finally, welcomed by the torrential rain that seems to be endemic to the area, we pulled into a tiny restaurant on the side of the road for dinner in Da Li. Food disappeared seconds after being placed on the table, and soon after we were dragging our bags through the rain into our quaint courtyard-style hotel. We were free to rest in our rooms or explore the pedestrian shopping street for the rest of the evening, and I enjoyed wandering the surprisingly lively streets full of the infamous Na Xi tie-dye, crafts, silver, and barbecue with both Andover and Chinese students and teachers.
I am exhausted; from hours cramped in a bus to struggling through the rain, I think our trip pushed limits for everyone. However, I think that it was a refreshing taste of a different side of China that even I, despite having lived here for seven years now, have not seen before. I look forward to learning more about the local culture, seeing how the tourism has affected this environment, and enjoying the rest of our trip with my friends.
We got some good responses all around and on all accounts in answer to the questions on our mid-program evaluation. Lixia has promised to translate from the Chinese. We will hand along all responses to the midterm and to the final evals when we return. Good to remember that we’ve been at this, intensely, and on the fly for only two weeks. Our colleagues fully approve what is happening, and are enthusiastic about the prospect of offering more of their expertise to the classroom. We are working with this successfully, but you can imagine that it requires extra conversations and many adjustments to curricula, especially for the science piece.
For all but one of the students from China, this is a totally new experience, and all their comments reflect a deep and even moving appreciation for all aspects of what is taking place. For our students, much is new, but some things – small, discussion-based classes, sports, and field trips – are not new, and the integration of the subjects should be most evident as they engage with the case study challenge and its aftermath. For a few of the more science and academically oriented of our students, and for Willa, the language differences as they affect level of comprehension and pace of learning, and the differences in the ages of the students from our two countries have noticeably and unavoidably somewhat reduced our ability to do high level environmental science. But the compensating factors are real and increasingly prized. What coherence we have been able to engineer into the program overall as it has developed- and it is considerable – will also, I suspect, be more evident to them when all is done and said.
Boredom is not even close to an issue! If anything, the students all feel fully engaged, delighted, and stretched to the limit in every way for whaich one could reasonably hope. They were thoughtful on the evals, but I wouldn’t expect day-to-day blogging, even if shared, to reflect more than brief comments on what they decide to report they remember at the time they sit down to write. I am glad there is interest, but the PR piece will need to be kept in perspective. We will do what we can with the virtual, consistent with keeping the actual in the best possible shape. I promise you will have plenty to satisfy your curiosity about the various kinds and levels of learning that are taking place when we return. I counsel patience.
We began the day with a presentation by me on Naxi culture, and by Yan on Da Li and Li Jiang. Environmental themes surfaced everywhere. The bus ride and visit to the Lufeng Dinosaur park went well, and the bus ride, surrounded by mountain majesty, and dinner and check-in in the pouring rain were all cheerfully experienced. Tonight we explore the old town of Da Li, and our students begin the new era of language/culture partner roommates. Tomorrow, off to Li Jiang!