Wednesday, January 28, 2015

China Today: A wondrous place



I enjoyed the short walk through town and getting my first glimpse at a real Chinese city. The breakfast we had was delicious, but a little bit too much food for what I’m accustomed to eating in the morning.

I was glad that I waited to withdrawal money until we got to Kunming, because using the ATM was quick and painless. The welcome banquet was a wonderful experience! I loved how everyone sat together at one big table and all of the food was easily accessible just by spinning the lazy-susan. And the variety of flavors, colors, and smells were all wonderful. I was proud of myself that I tried a little bit of every dish, and I enjoyed almost every one. The grasshopper wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, and the seasoning on it helped. I’m amazed at how much food is always provided for us, and even though it seems like I eat a lot there always more leftover. It pains me that the food would go to waste, but maybe they use it for their livestock or to fertilize their crops?

The bus ride to Hekou was a definite change of scenery. Although I couldn’t keep my eyes open for the entire trip, because of the jetlag, I still enjoyed every bit that I did see. It’s so interesting to me how they farm, irrigate, and create their lifestyle. For such a hilly and mountainous country they really are effective and efficient at what they do. They cut in to the side of the mountain and form these perfect and seamless rows of crops and vegetation. It makes for a lovely photograph, but I can imagine the hard work it must be to keep up with something like that and harvest all that they can.

On the bus ride to Hekou we learned a little bit about the customs and the way of the trade that happens everyday at the Vietnam border. We were able to see the incredibly long line of trucks and civilians that walked across with their goods to sell and trade in China. It’s amazing how their system works, and I admire their patience to do that every single day!

It was here in Hekou that I started noticing many different textures and patterns in their architecture as well as in nature. As we walked along the old railway station, and learned some of the history, I became more and more fascinated by the way time had altered and changed the environment. I liked taking really close up pictures of the different textures and patterns so it’s seen out of context and can be viewed as just lines and colors.

But I also found it very interesting, and quite overwhelming when I was told that each of those railway ties representing someone that died. Just thinking of the labor put into building a railroad is one thing, but then having that significant meaning behind each of those wooden ties…I stood there in a moment of silence and awe.And even though I have photographs of it, it’s not the same as being in the presence of something that impressive.

The Border Trade Market and the local farmers market gave me great opportunities for close ups of vibrant colors and the variety of textures found in their products. I saw lots and lots of different fruits and vegetables that were unfamiliar to me, but I love the whole experience of learning about their culture.

The Yuanyang terraced fields are an amazing sight and beautiful to look at. I can’t imagine the labor that was put into building these terraces. They seem to go on for miles and miles! The curvy lines and repetition of these fields makes it almost look like they were formed by nature instead of man. But after seeing all the women carrying huge bundles of branches, stones, etc. on their back I know that these were indeed made by the people of the mountain.

I found it really interesting that even though these people are all working towards the same goal and maintaining the terraces, the mountain is made up of many different types of ethnic groups. We spent the most time in the Hani and Yi villages, which is close to the top of the mountain. When we were in these villages and taking pictures we soon realized that taking their pictures was not for free and they expected some money. Even though some people might think they’re being greedy, I think it’s smart on their part. They become accustomed to tourists coming through their villages and taking their pictures, so they figured out a way to make money from it. Though it is possible to be sneaky about and get a quick snapshot of their beautiful handmade ethic clothing when they’re not looking.

We got to do a little shopping, and of course I bought some little trinkets as gifts for family back home. I’m always a sucker for handmade quality crafts, and they made some beautiful things. Everything there is handmade, even the roads that wind along the terraces. I have a huge respect for these people and the way they live. It’s not an easy life, but I’ve noticed that not one of those village people were overweight. They remain in great shape because of all the exercise they get building their village and maintaining the fields. We traveled further up the mountain to get more of a birds-eye-view of the fields, and to watch the sunset. The view was breathtaking, and an amazing experience that every photographer should have.

Yuanyang is indeed a wondrous place.

Today we saw more of the terraced fields of Yuanyang, but in a different location. We went to the Douyishu scenic spot where they have an international art and communication center building, including a restaurant and some history about the terraces. The shape of the building and the observation decks below have a great resemblance to the shapes of the terrace fields.

Although today was a little foggy and we couldn’t see much reflection on water it was still a beautiful sight. After taking a couple more photos I had to remind myself that not everything can be captured within a square frame, so I just stood there and admired everything trying to retain it in my memory forever.

Driving back to the hotel we got in a couple traffic jams, because the roads are so narrow and there aren’t any traffic laws. Many people drive mopeds or bikes, so they’re easier to navigate through the smaller roads and around any cars that can’t get through. Considering the size of our bus I’m amazed at how well the drive has gotten through such tight situations. Sometimes there would only be inches on either side of the bus, but we have a great driver and he certainly knows what he’s doing! After finally making it through all the tiny villages and down the mountain we walked around the town we were staying in to see some of their shops, and they had music playing for the New Year. It was pretty crowded, but soon we left and were onto our next destination – Mengzi.

On the way to Mengzi we stopped at a farmers market where they had stand after stand of fruit! I love fruit and we haven’t had much on the trip so far, so this was very exciting for me. We got to try their version of grapefruit, which was delicious, and a lot less tart and sour than ours back home. It was also twice as big and more yellow than pink. We also tried tameron, and jackfruit. They were both very good. The tameron reminded me of a fig because of it’s stickiness, and the jackfruit seemed like a combination of flavors of banana and pineapple. I love both so this was a great new find for me. Arriving in Mengzi we had our New Years dinner and the food seemed never ending, but it was all delicious of course! Mr. Li gave a lovely toast, and it was a nice relaxing dinner.

Mengzi is known for it’s old French buildings and railway station from when the French went into Yunnan in early 20th Century. We visited Bisezhai, which was the former French railway station. The government maintains these buildings so people can visit and learn about what happened in their history, and there were plenty of Chinese people there visiting for the day just like we were.

Everyday I learn a little bit more about segments of China’s history and it’s very interesting to me, because their country is so much older than ours so they have a lot more to tell. Its fascinating how they have developed their culture and customs throughout their history, and they seem very proud to be a part of that culture. Even the stationmaster, which is now a retired old man, of the old French railway has worked there for over 15 years and he still sits there.

Next we moved on to the Honghe Minority Museum, which was very appealing with it’s displays and artwork, but I wish I could’ve understood more of what was written on the walls about each picture. I would’ve enjoyed that experience more I think, but it was still nice to walk through. Lunch was a whole experience in itself! We had the traditional “cross bridge” noodles. Each person got two tiers of plates that were filled with little dishes of different meats and vegetables, one bowl of noodles, and one huge bowl of steaming hot broth.

The story goes that the wife of a scholar sent his lunch over to him, but by the time it reached where he was studying all of the food was cold. She then came up with a way to keep everything hot and fresh by sending the broth over too. So that’s what we had to do to eat our lunch. First we added the quail eggs, raw meat, already cooked meat, vegetables, and the noodles were added last to this hot hot broth. After a couple minutes everything was cooked through and ready to eat.

It was very interesting, very tasty, but a little too much food for me. I ate what I could but it didn’t even look like I made a dent! The Nanhu District was more of the old French government buildings, but we couldn’t go in some of them because they were being remodeled, or were no longer there. Here was where we got to see the house of the scholar and the infamous bridge that the “cross and bridge” noodles came from. I especially loved all the traditional Chinese architecture we got to see.

This morning was our first class of the trip. A couple of us presented our articles about China that Dr. Luo gave us. I also presented today. My articles were interesting to me because they were about the shift in fashion trends throughout the decades, the increase of infrastructure, and developing roadways, the norms and expectations of family life in the city vs. the country, and the different festivals they celebrate throughout the year. Each of them were short articles and only covered the basics of each topic, but at some point when I have time and definite WiFi I would like to research these topics more.

After class we were allowed free time, which was wonderful, because everyday since the beginning of the trip every minute has basically been planned for us. Now that we’re in more of a city environment there are more things to do such as shopping and trying different restaurants. I’m not gonna lie that I’m happy about being in the city for once. Usually I’m more of a country girl because of all the fresh air and open space, but after eating rice and noodles every day for every meal I have grown a little tired of it and was looking for some different food. In the city they have more options, and offer some international foods. Last night for dinner we went to a French restaurant, and today for lunch we tried the Australian place.

Both were delicious, and more of the types of food I’m used to back home. It was a nice change of scenery.

During our free time I did some walking around town and noticed murals on some of the walls. They depicted scenes or characters from some popular western animated movies. I thought this was interesting, because you often hear that China doesn’t concern itself with the rest of the world, and tries not to let it influence their culture. With how much the government tries to control and keep out, it’s inevitable that some things slip through the cracks.

— Brett Guldin, art studio major #HuskyAbroad

Led by Vera Viditz-Ward, professor of art and art history, and Jing Luo, Ph.D., professor of languages and cultures, a group of Bloomsburg University students spent three weeks in China studying language, culture and photography. The group, hosted by Yunnan Normal University, traveled to Kunming, Hekou, Yuanyuang, Mengzi, Dali, and Lijiang, where they had close contact with a variety of ethnic groups and learned about their lives and cultures.

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