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Yunnan Day 1 – Day 3

"前里之行,始于足下" – 老子
"A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step" – Lao Zi

Like all great trips, ours began early. We left campus around 530am to head to the airport and catch a flight to Kumming, the capital of Yunnan Province.

For those unfamiliar with Yunnan here is a brief overview of the Province, which is one of the most diverse in China. It is bordered by Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam to the south and Tibet, Sichuan, Guizhou and Guangxi Provinces to the north. The center of the province is comprised of plains and hills, while the south houses rain-forests, and the north is home to the start of the Tibetan Plateau (think snow capped mountains). For centuries Yunnan was an independent kingdom, which traces its origins to the 3rd century BC. Kumming was the capital of the kingdom, and was visited by Marco Polo when he visited in the 13th century. It’s a pleasant city, and well worth visiting.

Day 2 – the Yi Village

彝 is a collective term for a large Tibetan – Burman group, formerly known as the Lolo. Chairman Mao came up with this character when the government was grouping its ethnic minorities. They are the largest minority group in south western China, with a population around 7.8 million. The particular village we stayed with hosts very few visitors every year, like most villages we stay with, its more or less just The Beijing Center. They are well known throughout China though, as they are the top Dragon Dancing Team in the nation (and they performed during the Olympics).

After lunch with our host family we drove up to the lake (in the back of a dump truck) to see performances of traditional song and dance. It was quite an evening.

Day 3

We spent our third day in Yunnan in Shiping, which does not receive a great deal of foriegn tourism. Which may be why a shop owner asked my roommate, Ray, to take a picture with his baby… We had the evening free and did what any fun loving college student in China would do – went to KTV (karaoke)!

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Year of the Rabbit

I leave my apartment to cross campus and its desolate. The East gate is no longer open, and most of my favorite restaurants are closed and boarded up. Its a strange time to be in Beijing.

The largest human movement is taking place right now, as people return home for the Spring Festival. According to the South China post, “The world’s biggest annual migration of people – which authorities estimate involves more than 2.8 billion person-trips on highways, railways and airlines heading home for family reunions from January 19 to February 27…”

This holiday makes Thanksgiving travel seem like any other weekend, with the average person in China making at least one round trip. Most of my Chinese friends are long gone from Beijing, and their semester won’t start again until the end of February.

With Beijing running as a shell of a city we will be heading to Yunnan province for two weeks. We could not have classes during this time period anyway, as most of our professors are also preparing to head home and celebrate the Year of the Rabbit with their families.

For anyone who is interested below is an overview of my trip, I will be posting photos when I return!
http://www.thebeijingcenter.org/undergraduate/yunnan/

Back in Beijing

I have been back in Beijing for a little bit over a week now, and three weeks back in the States really put things in perspective for me. During the four months I was gone from home, not much had changed; all of the streets and buildings looked more or less the same. In the three weeks I was away from Beijing a new bakery had been built around the block from my apartment; the convenience store I frequented had been moved down a few stores into a remodeled store, while a new glasses store had taken its old place. Countless renovations had occurred over the past few weeks.

I’m glad to be back in Beijing, and I’m looking forward to what I expect will be a challenging semester. My courses at The Beijing Center for the Spring term are:
1. Chinese 102
2. China in the World Economy taught by Frank Hawke (in the first group of exchange students after relations with China were normalized)
3. Modern Chinese History (from the Opium war to present) taught by Zhao 老师 4. Daoism taught by Dennis Deng (guided meditations at the end of class) 5. Political and Economic Reform taught by Russell Leigh Moses http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/tag/russell-leigh-moses/

I’m excited for the challenges of a new semester, and to engage with some amazing faculty.

In a week from Saturday I will depart for Yunnan province, for a two week academic excursion. We will have home stays with at least four ethnic minorities and I will be doing a research project on 茶 (cha; tea).

Enclosed is a copy of my term paper, on Chinese energy policy. It’s an incredibly interesting subject – I hope you enjoy the read.

Chinese Energy Policy .pdf

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving in China, was an interesting holiday. All classes, aside from Chinese, were canceled for the day. Some of the students organized a game of football, as there really weren’t any games we could watch. After three months of eating with chopsticks at nearly every meal it was a welcomed break to enjoy a fantastic traditional American feast. All of our professors were there (see the picture of most of my Chinese class), it was a nice break to have some traditional American food…

It was quite bizarre, but it will be a Thanksgiving that I never forget.

对外经济贸易大学

One thing living in China for the past three months has taught me is you cannot make broad, sweeping generalizations about a country as vast and diverse as this one. That being said, it is generally assumed that the nation’s top universities are in Beijing. My host school, the University of International Business and Economics (simplified Chinese:对外经济贸易大学 pinyin: Duiwai Jingji Maoyi Daxue), is ranked among the top institutions in Beijing. It hosts over 11,000 students from across the world, though most of those students are studying the language and taking courses in English. There are over 7,000 undergraduates studying here, and they will be the focus of today’s post.

UIBE is home to the largest dormitory in Asia,;10,000 girls live in one ten story building – five to a room. Generally they will have the same roommates all four years of study. Electricity is shut off at 11pm in the dorms, so you will find that many students are forced to leave campus to find a place to study; usually students take between 9 and 15 courses each semester. Every night as I walk home from class, going to my luxurious two person apartment I have to reflect upon how lucky Western students are. In my building live several professors, and Chinese students cannot believe how large our rooms are. As I walk home from class every night I see male students walking across campus to the shower building, most wearing only a bathrobe in the bitter cold.

Living in such cramped quarters does not afford students much, if any, privacy. Couples have very little opportunity to be alone together, especially as men are not allowed into the girl’s dorm. But in the entrepreneurial spirit that is so common across this country a solution has been presented; outside virtually every college in China are a slew of hotels – offering hourly rates. It’s rather funny seeing couples quickly walking away trying to make as if they’re coming form a nearby restaurant and not the hotel.

I have a number of qualms with the educational system in this country, but my biggest issue is how poorly students are treated. Even at UIBE, which is a top school, students are crammed into rooms that an American college freshman would turn his nose up at. Despite the poor conditions, every student I speak with considers themselves fortunate to be here. Many in China do not have the opportunity to study at the undergraduate level.

To get into college in China you must complete the Gao Kao, a three day exam covers every subject they have studied in high school, and your score determines to what schools you may apply. Even a single point deviation from a school’s score range destroys your chance of attending. Once this hurdle is passed your family must come up with the money to pay for school (about $2500 a year); China has no student loans, and mortgages are uncommon, if your family cannot pay out of pocket your chance at a college education is gone. Life as a student (high school and college) is extremely stressful, and its no wonder that suicide is the leading cause of death for that age group.

Life as an undergrad in China is challenging, to say the least. But I doubt a student would give up this opportunity for anything in the world (except to study in a Western University).

Single’s Day

November the 11th, 11.11, is an unofficial holiday to celebrate being single. The date was chosen because it has 4 ones, so I assume next year’s single’s day will be especially important (2011.11.11). As far as I can tell it is a time for single friends to go out to dinner together, and to enjoy the tasty treat known as pocky – a wafer stick coated in chocolate.

Translated from Chinese the name of the holiday literally means "bare sticks holiday".