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108 braids... the devotional representation of a sacred Tibetan number. Photo by Rebecca Thom, China Semester.

Five Days in Shaxi

After spending a serene 36 hours in the Shibaoshan temple our group headed out for the historic village of Shaxi. Along the way we trekked over breathtaking and lush mountains, saw thousand year old grottos, took a nap break, and were able to strike up conversations in Chinese with tourists. The six hour journey culminated with a much needed ice cream hiatus that temporarily satiated our cravings for western sweets. Our high spirits were further heightened when we found out the hostel we were spending the next five days in had familiar amenities like showers, toilets, and wifi. For our first meal in Shaxi our instructor Jesse took us to his favorite restaurant in town where we all enjoyed a bonafide feast full of ribs, cured meats, and numbing goat’s cheese. Taken as a whole our stay in Shaxi has been a similar combination of familiarity and intrigue. On our second day we all participated in a four hour scavenger hunt which forced us to communicate with locals without the help of the instructors. Given our successes without the crutch of the instructors many of us were encouraged and hopeful for our Chinese language abilities going forward. On the second night we watched a Forest Gump-esque Chinese classic that chronicled the life of Fugui, a man who transitioned from a gambling addict in the 1940’s to a hopeful grandfather in the 1980’s. The movie was captivating and heart wrenching (RIP Youqing) but it also exposed us to historical events that many of us had previously appreciated only in abstract terms. On the third day we made a total of 200 dumplings with the help of Yinjie, the friendly manager of the hostel we’ve been staying in. Despite our best efforts we fell short of finishing them all, however we felt proud of having been able to make the dumplings, even if some of us reverted to making empanadas. On our fourth day we biked to a nearby village to visit the guesthouse of Chris Barclay, an expat who’s been in China since the late 80’s and is currently working on a number of restoration projects. We ate dinner at a vegetarian restaurant in a temple he had restored. Chris is a very knowledgeable and interesting person and everyone was captivated by his experiences in China. Shaxi has been a nice balance between the hustle and bustle of Kunming and the remoteness of our upcoming rural homestay. Personally in just five days I’ve started to feel like a local in the relationships I’ve built with the food vendors in town and I’m eager to build similar relationships in my rural and urban homestays.