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The McDermott Scholars Award covers all expenses of a superb four-year academic education at The University of Texas at Dallas, in concert with a diverse array of intensive extracurricular experiences, including internships, travel, and cultural enrichment.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lye-Ching and Lewis in China

It's nearing our fourth week in China, and needless to say, the experience has been nothing short of spectacular. We're on the bus right now in the middle of a seven-hour bus ride back to Dali from Shangrila, with our fellow intrepid travelers asleep around us. Looking out the window, it seems as though we were plucked from Dallas and sent on a journey through a post card, with gorgeous landscapes rolling past as the bus careens around curves and up mountains. Our bus driver handles his bus like a Nascar speedster, and oftentimes we feel like we're riding a rollercoaster.
Our first few weeks were a combination of exploration and classes. During the week, our daily regimen included morning Taiji with a twenty-four style master in the small park next to our hotel. After thorough exercise of our Qi (often with locals stopping to gawk at the foreigners or other tourists stopping to take pictures), we go to the TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) Hospital to have our language classes. Our classes are small and are geared towards the level that our Chinese is at-I (Lye Ching) am in a class of two and I (Lewis) am in a class by myself. Chinese is immediately followed by morning lecture, a lunch break, and then afternoon lecture. Our lectures have covered ranges of topics, including basic theories of traditional Chinese medicine, Daoism, massage, maternal and child healthcare, HIV in Yunnan, and the Chinese healthcare system. Our lecturers are doctors, professors, and researchers, and their knowledge about their subjects has been a wonderful resource. Afternoons after lecture generally involve going out to explore the city, trying to find yet another amazing restaurant for dinner, and then settling down for the evening-whether it's hanging out at the hotel, chilling at a bar near Green Lake Park, or heading out for clubbing.
Of course, one of the biggest things we have to mention is the food-the food here is amazing, and the group that we hang out with has been blessed with an adventurous palate, making meals both simple and exciting. We've explored hole-in-the-wall restaurants as well as nicer ones recommended by locals, and we have never been disappointed by the cuisine. Many of the restaurants we've explored are run by different minority groups (there are 26 different minority groups in Yunnan), so we've been able to taste all sorts of styles of cooking. Food is cheap too-it's possible to get full meals complete with a drink and pay less than the price of a vending machine soda in the United States. Insane. Vegetables and meat are also fresh and not processed, making dishes remarkably delicious and our stomachs happy. Going back to the U.S. and paying "normal" prices again for meals is going to be both unfortunate and depressing. Our visits to restaurants are supplemented by visits to convenience stores and different bakeries to stock up on snacks, carbs, and water. We also raid fruit markets, buying mangoes, peaches, plums, bananas, liches, dragon-eyes, oranges, apples, and pineapples-amongst other things. Our stash of food becomes late-night snacks while working on Chinese homework or hanging out.
Kunming is an enormous city-the population has tripled in the past ten years and it's pushing a population of 8-9 million people. Our hotel is in an extremely convenient location-five minutes from the hospital and from both the Bird and Flower Market and Green Lake Park. Whether we haggle in the market or ride bumper cars at Green Lake Park, there hasn't been a shortage of activities for us to do. One thing that has been a great experience is English Corner-a spontaneous gathering of locals, students, and travelers on the outside of Green Lake Park on Thursday evenings. Essentially, it is a coming-together for people who want to practice their English with whomever, and when our group of twenty students arrived the first night, we became magnets for the Chinese. It was as we were told-the foreign-looking students would be "pop stars," and those who could speak both Mandarin and English were "treasures." We chatted about anything and everything-from books and movies to America's economy and politics, and sometimes even random questions such as, "Does Lady Gaga wear trousers?" or "If you slept with multiple women, would your girlfriend break up with you?" One of the other activities that we were given to explore Kunming was a drop-off activity on our second day. The group was divided into five teams of four, with the captains being those with Chinese proficiency (we were both leaders of our respective groups), and then handed some money as well as a slip of paper with a location on it (written in Chinese of course). Each group was then sent on its merry way to find its way to their mystery destination, and we reconvened back at the hotel later in the afternoon to share our adventures. It was certainly an experience, and both of our groups had a great time figuring out how to enlist the help of locals in determining how to get where we needed to be as well as spending time at our final destination (The ancient city of Guan Du and the Bamboo Temple).
We haven't limited adventures to Kunming, however. We've explored the Western Hills near Kunming, walked through Hua Ting Temple and climbed up to the Dragon's Gate and even further to the Sky Pavilion, where we could see the vast expanse of Kunming from above. We've visited Shi Ling (The Stone Forest)--climbing up, around, and through enormous rock pillars and formations, the remnants of an ancient seabed. The second weekend, we visited Jiu Xiang, caverns near-ish to Kunming (and by near we mean two and a half hours by bus and shady van transportation). The caverns were stunning, and we hiked a trail through the caves and amongst the stalagtites and stalagmites. Everything was lit with rainbow lights, making the formations look both beautiful and eerily odd at the same time.
Apart from our Kunming adventures, we also went on a week-long excursion following our midterm, which has been amazing. We went to Dali, Lijiang, Shaxi, and Shangrila. We have had adventures with bargaining, delicious food, and beautiful landscapes. We witnessed the commercial tourism that swallowed Lijiang, the calm and picturesque rural town of Shaxi, and had yak butter tea in Shangrila. Our adventures included a homestay with the cutest host families ever, looking at stars underneath the Shaxi sky, watching a pig get slaughtered by a rural family before morning market, and watching a Dongba ceremony. The past week has been a whirlwind of activity, and the excitement has yet to subside. At the moment, however, everyone is worn out and passed out on the bus, though doubtless everyone will be up and alert soon once we stop for lunch. This trip has been amazing thus far, and we’re only halfway through! Stay posted for another update!

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