So in my second weekend in China, I went on a bike tour with a group of hardcore Chinese bikers into Golden Temple Mountain in the outskirts of Kunming and nearly broke my toe after executing a beautiful double flip over the handlebars of my bike going down what locals like to call a “trail”. This trail is actually somewhat of a myth, since along the 15km path that twists up the side of the mountain, there are near vertical downhill/uphill slopes, unfinished foot wide paths through thorn bushes, and road obstructions that can be described as boulders. Basically, it was a bicycle obstacle course of death. Our history prof., that 72 year old ball of energy, invited us to this “beginners'” bike tour, and 3 of us showed up expecting a leisurely tour of hills, trees and flowers. It was actually a marathon led by a troupe of suicidal, chain-smoking, neon-spandex wearing Chinese bikers. It was by far one of the most physically demanding and emotionally taxing things I have ever done in my life. After braking too fast and falling with the bike on top of me, I am ashamed to admit I was ready to give up and camp out on top of the mountain rather than endure the rest of the 15km back. I have never felt such an interesting mixture of horror and exhiliration. The view from the very top of the mountain, and the twisting trail through trees blossoming with purple flowers, when we could see through the pain to notice it, was beautiful.
I had to get my foot X-rayed the next day since I was convinced my toe was broken, but turns out it was just sprained, and after a week it’s healed up nicely. If it isn’t already clear to most people, Chinese hospitals are not fun places to be in, especially when you actually need to be there. It would not be exaggeration to call them large concrete edifices of unhappiness. Fortunately one of the lovely language teachers Sun laoshi was there to help me walk the multiple treks across the courtyard from bone injury dept to emergency entrance to account office to x-ray dept and back.
We have a tremendous amount of Chinese language classwork and homework every day, with daily quizzes and end-of-week tests. My Chinese is improving rapidly, and I’ve discovered that my language skills are such that I can defend myself in an argument with a native Chinese speaker. Last night, I was sitting in a cafe with Alissa and her friend Theresa practicing vocabulary for the next day when a bald-headed Chinese man suddenly struck up a conversation with us, asking what we were doing in China, etc. It seems he was a Shaolin monk from Hong Kong who has been living in Kunming for some time. He noticed that Theresa spoke Cantonese fluently, and that I spoke some as well. He proceeded to criticize our knowledge of Chinese culture in Cantonese, called Theresa a failure because she didn’t know the principles of Yin and Yang, and said I was boring and useless for practicing my chinese vocabulary with pinyin, the pronounciation system for Chinese which uses the English alphabet. I have rarely been so angry in my life and asked him who the hell he thought he was (loudly in Cantonese, I’m proud to say), but Theresa said it was common for Cantonese people to say things like that, especially to people they feel familiar with. In the end, despite all his attacks and complaints against our ignorance of our Chinese heritage, he said he felt “chin chi gan”, a feeling of kinship with us, particularly with Theresa since she spoke Cantonese, and called us both “mei mei”, little sisters. When we got up to pay our bill, we discovered that he had already done so for us. I was pretty shaken up by the experience, both by anger and a little bit of shame, since I had been worried from the beginning since coming here that my identity and Chinese authenticity would be questioned. I didn’t expect it to come so forcefully and bluntly. In the end, I examined my feelings and found no hard feelings against the man. I feel like I have known people like him before, who’s friendship is blunt and borders on an offensiveness made possible only by familiarity and a need to protect others.
All in all, every day seems like an adventure, and my senses are always bombarded with new information, new experiences. Hope all is well with every one, and write back =). My number here is 13699127170, and mailing address is:
Yunnan Normal University Institute of Chinese and International Study,
#298 121 Street,
Yunnan Province, Kunming
Duke Study in China Program
Send lots of mail =)