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“Foreign People!”

Hello fellow collegiates! I hope Duke is treating you well, and your enrollment window for classes worked out all right! Luckily I was able to sign up for the classes I wanted, but I still have to take that darn stat pre-test before I can enroll… what a drag! It was a bit strange to enroll on a Friday night, while all of you were waking up painfully early to set up camp on your computers. I wish you all good luck!
I figured that since the majority of study abroad students’ stories typically comprise of big glamorous cities or gorgeous sunny beaches, why not give you an image of something completely different?
Because Duke has super awesome connections, while we were in the rural countryside of Xizhou, we stayed at China’s number one ranked hotel in the country, the Linden Centre. Known for its emphasis on cultural exchange and its establishment as a national relic, this particular hotel offered classes in calligraphy, Tai Chi, and Chinese, as well as tours to local attractions, and opportunities to interact with some really fascinating people. Our rooms were fit for a king, a complete change from the Buddhist Monastery I spoke about last week. Each room also came fully equipped with a Mah-Jong set. For those of you who have never heard those words, Mah-Jong is a Chinese gin rummy-like game, but played with decorative dominoes. I, the master of course, taught everyone how to play. Who would have thought that I would create monsters?! All of my friends in the program became complete addicts; when we had a 10-minute break in between activities, they would yell, “We can get in a quick game if we hurry!” If you only heard how eager they were to play, I guarantee you would have thought they were talking about getting a quick fix or something outrageous. Get ready for Mah-Jong to come back to Duke. It sounds nerdy now, but you just wait. They are going to create monsters out of all of you!

According to our tour-guide, during half of the year, instead than fishing, fishermen made the green by attracting tourists from all over Yunnan through “bird-fishing.” My friends Jason and Jesse defined this as throwing up fish into the air and catching birds with it. I was horrified! Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. We enjoyed a gondola boat ride out to Erhai Lake, where families in boats used trained birds to catch fish. These massive birds were so well trained that they patiently sat on the boat’s edge, never showing the urge to fly away free. Their vicious techniques to catch fish made for a thrilling show; they often fought one another in order to receive their own goodie treats. On the same note, we tried a few yummy treats ourselves. The only brave souls, my friends Jesse and Chantae, and myself, tried fried fish on a stick. And when I say fried fish, I mean they fry the entire fish, scales, head, tail, and all. While Chantae and I had mini fish on a stick, Jesse had a huge one. It sounds even more bizarre when you say it out loud. 

The most amusing encounter on this boat ride, however, was our boat rower. Our guide, an adorable old man, didn’t stop to take a breath as he sang old folklore songs from his childhood. After he joyfully sang a song, he encouraged us to belt out a tune in reply, in our own native tongue. So what did we sing? We sang the National Anthem. I didn’t think about this until now, but we probably looked so anti-communist singing about our free USA land (oops!) and probably super foolish too! Nothing we sang even came close to the glory and fascination of his voice. On the entire ride back to the dock, we took turns singing songs: him, with a song that sounded the exact same every single time, and us, with American classics like “American Pie,” the Beatles, and of course, Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” When we arrived at the base, an audience of clapping and smiling Chinese natives, who had been videotaping us from afar, welcomed us. Oh how we were the spectacle! 

That same day, we joined farmers out in the rice fields. Even though they meticulously taught us how to plow the field and how to plant the seeds, we totally and completely embarrassed ourselves. This older 70 year old woman could dig into the hard soil better than our strongest guy… it was so entertaining tow watch. After we planted seeds, the pros went back over our section and replanted the seeds. Awkward…

Apart from my vacation, this past weekend our director brought us to a completely different part of Kunming, an area free of honking cars and flashing lights. Strangely, its rural nature was rather comparable to that of Xizhou. As we stepped off the bus, 20 or more bright and smiling children greeted us. This was our first of many visits to China’s Heart to Heart Community Care Center, a facility located in the middle of an ethnic minority village. Dependent solely on donations and volunteers, Heart to Heart offered aid for the floating population and migrant workers from the countryside. It also provided tutoring services, clothing, and English and hygiene classes, and a safe and loving community for families.  After we toured the facility, and were introduced to the faculty and children, we took a walk around the village. Everywhere we went, families and children stopped doing whatever they were doing, stared at us, and proceeded to follow us wherever we went. Little boys yelled, “Look! Look! Foreign people!” Subtlety isn’t their forte, huh? They probably never see foreign people, ever, so I’ll give ‘em that. It was so weird being yelled and pointed at by people who looked like me, for being different from them. It was like an episode from the Twilight Zone. 

When we returned to the center, our director encouraged us to interact and play with the 6-8 year old kids. So, we participated in their jump rope game. I loved these kids. They were the cutest kids ever; always smiling and laughing, the children kept dragging me over to play with them. They also wore the most darling outfits – none of which matched of course. I’m pretty sure my mom dressed me the same way when I was young: outrageous patterns and colors coupled with images of Mickey Mouse, bunnies, and flower hairclips. At least I can happily say that when I was 2, I wore a diaper, and not a pair of these pants: 

Sometimes bathrooms weren’t rooms, but just out and about on the street! At least they are easily accessible, right?
Life in Kunming is always full of surprises. This past weekend I also joined my friend Ally and her host family for a rather fancy dinner and karaoke afterwards. Because I completely forgot to bring my camera, and I absolutely want to show you pictures of these ridiculously grand and glamorous places, I’m going to talk about this experience once I return there. Otherwise, I simply won’t be able to do it justice!
This Friday is one of China’s informal holidays, typically celebrated only by college students. November 11th is known as “Single’s Day.” Its on 11/11 because of the ones, which symbolize a lonely person. Haha cool but kind of depressing sounding. I’m planning on hanging out with my roommate and her friends all day though – most likely doing the usual girly stuff like getting manicures and going shopping. America totally needs to get on this.
I hope you’ve been enjoying my blog thus far! I’m basically half way done with living in China. I hope you all love your fall semester at Duke as well… and until next time…
Your bad-ass fried fish eater,

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