My voice was still gone at the beginning of my third week in China. I missed a few of my classes and spent most of the first half of the week in bed. Our midterm was June 29th, so the end of the week was occupied with studying. Although I did not meet my goal of participating in two events per week, I perfected my noodles at breakfast and learned a lot about my classmates.
I ran into one of my classmates while they were dealing with personal things at home. Later that day, I bought them a small gift as a nice gesture. As a result, they were extremely appreciative and felt comfortable to vent to me. My intention was to provide some relief while they were dealing with their problems, and I hope I succeeded.
Spending extensive periods of time with complete strangers has been interesting thus far. Halfway through the program, we are comfortable enough to sing karaoke late into the night, yet have only scratched the surface of who we are. Furthermore, our perceptions of each other are constantly changing. Eni, Lizzy, Karima and I joke that everyone on our program is a character because we all have defined personalities and are often in our own worlds.
This week I spent more time exploring Kunming on my own. I have grown to enjoy the sounds of the city: vehicles honking, chatter and even people spitting. Despite how annoying these sounds can be, they are the sounds of Kunming and listening to them creates a sense of mindfulness and comfort. When I am without people that speak better Chinese than me, I am forced to speak more Chinese. I often get stuck, but also often surprise myself. I have found reading body language and hand gestures to be excellent ways to understand Chinese speakers. This method is often more effective than translations or my more advanced classmates.
On Saturday June 30th, I ate at Salvador’s, a Western cafe with three classmates. I was the only one with prior Chinese experience, so the responsibility of communicating to our servers fell heavier on me. After two other friends joined us, we had an in-depth conversation about the use of the “n” word. The discussion was profound in many regards. In addition to listening to my friends’ experiences as black women, having an open dialogue with people that do not share our experiences demonstrated the importance of compassion towards others.
Next week we are going on a 9 day excursion to northwest Yunnan, the home to many minorities. I am excited to learn how life differs for Chinese minorities and they ways they preserve their culture.