Sit back, relax, and let me tell you about what is probably my favorite week of my journey in China. We had to go to Yunnan Province for a week to explore a new part of the country while also getting hands on interaction with local students. Of course we were excited…until we got the news of the twenty hour train ride that was ahead of us.
After panicked snack buying, hastily packed duffel bags, and half-hearted complaints about being stuck in one place for an entire day, we were on our way to the train station. While I was a little down about the lengthy trip, I was mostly excited at the prospect. I’ve never been on a train before and our Chinese partners were coming on the short trip as well, so it was sure to be a good time.
And it was!
Instead of seats, our train car was filled with multiple sets of six bunks. This as great because we were able to walk around, sit with each other, and play around which made the trip much more enjoyable. It’s safe to say that for many of us it was our favorite part. We were able to spend time together and see the diverse beauty China had to offer.
It was definitely a bonding experience. We played so many rounds of Uno that I’m pretty sure we broke a record, but nobody kept count so the world may never know. I laughed so much that my face hurt from smiling and I got a ton of great pictures of my friends. See examples below:
There’s a lot more where this came from, but we’d be here all night. After we arrived to our destination there was a lot of hustle and bustle as we checked into our hotel before zooming off to the welcoming ceremony being held for our arrival. For the latter half of the week we would be collaborating with a local high school, Shilin Minzu Middle School, for cultural and language exchanges.
This was another school dedicated to the education and success of ethnic minorities. The morning was filled with speeches, performances, and more speeches. In fact, I gave a little speech of my own which was nerve-wrecking because no one mentioned that about 200-300 people would be attending the assembly. Lucky me. Everything turned out well though and we were all humbled by the amount of preparation and sincerity we were met with.
I’d have to say our time with the school was a popular highlight of the trip. Many of the students we worked with were learning English as a third or possibly even fourth language. Our classes were filled with dancing, singing, and stories about our life in the U.S. I even won a game of musical chairs and was gifted a strawberry milk in return.
I’ve always wanted to teach and this portion of our trip helped me finally decide that I would officially take a gap year to teach English abroad. This opportunity will allow me to grow personally and professionally which is important to me because self-growth is a constant personal goal. As I explore new cultures, I can simultaneously communicate in professional, multi-cultural environments and improve my skills relaying information.
Aside from our time with the school, we had plenty of opportunity to explore local field sites. The most memorable one is our visit to the Stone Forest. The giant stone pillars create intricate labyrinths that are beautiful and bustling with curious visitors. The ‘forest’ is divided smaller stone forests and features caves, waterfalls, valleys, and ponds. Altogether, it took us two hours to explore the area – and that was one of the smaller forests!
One of Shillin’s most famous attractions is the Ashima Stone, which legend says was formed after the beautiful Sani girl, Ashima, ran into the forest and was turned to stone after being forbidden to marry the man she loved. In June, the local Sani people hold the Torch Festival at Shilin, which features many “traditional performances such as wrestling, bull fighting, pole-climbing, dragon-playing, lion-dancing, and the A-xi Moon Dance.” Unfortunately, we won’t be there to see the celebrations, but our visit will be something that I always remember.
Afterwards, we ate dinner at a local Yi restaurant. Many of our meals in China are family-style which means the table, usually circular, is filled with a variety of different dishes and everyone fills their plates from there. Many of the Chinese students on our trip are a part of the Yi ethnic minority, so they were very interested to see how that identity manifested in other regions of the country.
At one point, a group of people came around to each table and sung a drinking song that is performed to extend welcome to valued guests before everyone takes a drink of wine (or water). It was a long day, but a great one which seems to be the continuous pattern during my time here. Bye for now!