July 6th was definitely a day to be remembered on our SEAS trip. Arriving in Kunming China, I realized I was in a place where for the first time I couldn’t understand anything. Though Dan had kindly provided us with Chinese lessons in Singapore (which helped a lot when bartering with the local vendors), most of us knew little more than the numbers and greetings. Even though we might have recognized hearing a number here or there, the Chinese characters in which all of the signs were written appeared completely foreign to me. From what I was told, this must be one of the reasons that Kunming has a large tourism industry for those within China but little from those outside.
However, despite the language barrier, many of us immediately liked Kunming due to its drastic differences from anything we’d ever encountered. For one thing, people are everywhere! I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people in my life! The streets are completely filled with cars, trucks, bicycles, and motor bikes making it seem like everyone is always on the go. Hardly anybody wears a helmet which worried us as the people on bikes swerved in and out of the honking cars. That night, we took a tour of the Yunnan University campus, which was a lot like UNC to my surprise. There were basketball courts, buildings with columns, and greenery which gave it a peaceful suburban feel, despite its urban surroundings. A Carolina staple that was missing in China was the Carolina blue skies, which don’t occur, probably because of the amount of smog. We walked around the outside of the campus and got a glimpse of the nightlife. Daytime activities do not seem to stop once it gets dark as the city is lively and bright with neon lights with people continuing their lives. I loved the active feel during the night and how all of the street vendors that come outside to sell their wares and food. It would be extremely difficult to stay hungry in Kunming since everywhere you walk there is a street vendor or restaurant.
After our first night in Kunming, we were given a lecture by a YU professor who said some very interesting comments about the Yunnan lifestyle. He told us how most men in Chinese culture smoke, while most women do not because it gives them a “bad” image. I joked and said “Maybe it’s because the women know it’s bad for them” and the professor went on to say that there wasn’t any explicit evidence that smoking was harmful to one’s health. He then went on to say that tobacco was a main product of the Yunnan province. Hmmm….see a connection?
After our lecture, we went to the Stone Forest, a natural geopark made of limestone. Who knew that a park made of rock could be so beautiful? The rocks jutted towards the sky, some of them named for animals or people that they look like. Though I thoroughly enjoyed the park, one of my favorite things of the day was actually the ride to it. The Yunnan countryside was absolutely gorgeous! Its rolling hills appeared rugged and misty, making for extremely picturesque scenery. I think an important part of our trip was to not only take in the planned sights, but also the views which we passed in order to get there.
I’m glad that we were able to travel to Kunming, especially after Singapore, because they provided two great countries for comparing and contrasting different cultures. After being in China for only a few days, we were able to see many of the reasons which make it such a unique place.