Yesterday some of my program mates and I went to Stone Forest and Lunan, an area about 1.5 hours away from Kunming by bus. We were about 5 minutes late for the bus, but the driver was nice enough to wait for some foreigners who were foolish enough to forget the ultra-punctual Chinese bus system rarely is so kind to late-comers. Kunming’s main railway and bus station is an enormous plaza crammed with people, entire families camping out right on the floor with their suitcases piled beside them, complete with pillows, blankets and little makeshift tables for card or chinese chess playing. Our little group attracted stares wherever we went, and it was really an overwhelming experience. It looked as if some people had been waiting there for days, an experience I can’t even imagine, and made my demand for traveling in comfort seem very foolish.
We reached Stone Forest and caught a ride to Lunan, a small town nearby, in a rickety old van. With eight of us squeezed inside, every bump in the road felt huge. There doesn’t seem to be much of a suburb here in Yunnan, the division between urban and rural is quite clear. We passed by fields, terraced mountainsides and horsecarts that looked a hundred years old. The market in Lunan was an adventure. People lay out everything from vegetables, hardware, yarn, cloth, to every animal part known to man on the ground or on tables to sell. There’s also a large number of the Sani ethnic minority in Lunan, since many of the women we saw selling things were dressed in traditional Sani clothing and headdresses. Two old Sani women looked at me and Phil, one of my programmates, and laughed. A lot of people seem to laugh or smile when they see young foreigners in our group especially in the outer areas, as if they were seeing something like a strange baby animal. They seem to get pleasure from it. It made me smile to see that kind of reaction, and reminds me of something the Shaolin monk at Prague Cafe said to us the other night, that the people in this region are very “shan4 liang2”, relatively innocent and naive. It was an interesting thing to say, and I’d like to think that in general it’s true. I haven’t encountered much that would indicate otherwise. Kunming is a provincial city, and the general attitude here of the people is laid back and friendly. It’s easy to get people to smile at you here.
My language partner is such a sweet, easy-going person that I’m almost in love with her. We meet twice a week for an hour at a time so that I can practice my speaking skills and she can correct me. I tried to explain to her the movie “Science of Sleep” the last time we met, and we ended up talking about the connection between dreams and language. All in Chinese! It was wonderful.
That’s all for now. I will be meeting with my weekend host family today at 4pm. They have a 16 year old daughter who’s thinking of studying abroad in the States and I’m looking forward to making friends with her. I find myself getting tired pretty easily here and I’m not sure if it’s because of the amount of work we have. Reading and writing Chinese takes a lot of energy out of me since it takes so much concentration, so having to do our history readings even when they’re in English also becomes a burden. I’m re-reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being at the moment though, and I think as long as I keep reading things I love in English I won’t lose that part of me while being constantly submerged in another language.