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

Day One in the City of Eternal Spring

With our destination in mind but our route unplanned, we hopped onto the 133 bus with hesitant optimism. In an attempt to find our way and practice our Chinese, we asked the woman next to us for directions to the “Golden Horse Jade Chicken Gate.”

She responded excitedly, “I’m going there too! Can I follow you? This is my first time in Kunming.” Though we had yet to reach our first full day in the city and our appearances were evidently not local, having another person entrust us with directions gave us a surging confidence that we could reach our destination. Yet, there we were, unsure if we had even boarded the right bus. We turned to the bus driver in search of further assistance, and he said he would point out our stop to us. About ten minutes later, we heard a loud “Xia che!” (Get off here!) and quickly departed the bus with our new friend in tow.

After a quick bubble tea stop reminiscent of a delicacy back home, we found ourselves in an urban square bursting with life; in plenty were the cries of salespeople announcing low prices, the roaring engines of motorcycles speeding through the streets, and the multilingual chatter of domestic and international tourists that came to visit during the National Day holiday. After a short walk, in front of us stood two prominent twin gates, whose carefully sculpted Chinese traditional architecture, navy blue eaves and maroon columns, and golden accents stood in stark contrast to the surrounding buildings reflecting western modernity. Spotting a golden horse and chicken on each gate, we knew we had made it, and were overcome with pride in having reached our first level of independence in the city.

After further adventures through downtown Kunming, where we visited flower shops next to decades-old stands selling communist memorabilia from the Great Leap Forward, stores filled with untouchable newborn puppies, and magnificent monuments celebrating a victorious China during World War II, we reached the gates of Yunnan University. We stopped for our third bowl of rice noodles within the last 48 hours, and headed out to accomplish the trickiest task of the day which we had conveniently left for last: getting a Chinese phone plan.

Once more, we sought out help from locals to find a “China Telecom” store. We chased down a young university student crossing the street and asked for directions. What we predicted would be a simple hand gesture in one direction ended up resulting in both a friendship and a generous guide, one willing to spend 30 minutes of his time to help us reach our destination. Thanks to Wu Ji An, the 18-year-old engineering student from Hunan province, we weaved through the intricate alleys and busy streets of the Kunming metropolis to finally arrive at China Telecom.

After a complicated, hour-long conversation with a cell phone service representative, we walked out of the storefront with a two-person family plan, priding ourselves in unearthing the best deal offered. With our unlimited data, we sent a Wechat message to Wu Ji An, thanking him for his generosity. He responded in under a minute, sending us pictures of his favorite spots in the university that he recommended we should visit during our stay.

Reflecting on our day now, we can’t wait to continue getting lost in Yunnan’s capital city, finding new friends along the way to help us uncover the most unique parts of our new home.