Greetings from Chiang Mai, Thailand where we’ve joined Dragons Mekong and Indonesia instructors and Dragons Administrators for spring semester Instructor Training and Orientation. We’ve been thinking about you! And we’ve been busy planning and co-creating a great course for the spring….you have a lot to look forward to…very soon.
Thanks very much to all of you who’ve posted your self-introductions here. We’re still waiting on a few of you, so please keep them coming – we’re excited to begin getting to know you and hear where you’re coming from. Now, without further ado…
This itinerary will change – that’s why we call it “tentative”. The intended flexibility of the itinerary allows us to adjust to local conditions, happenings, and people we meet along the way. It allows us to travel to off-the-beaten-track locations that may not have fixed bus schedules. It also enables us as instructors to use the core curriculum and program components to create a course that is based on both our passions and your interests. As we get to know all of you, we will be able to create an educational experience that takes into account the unique nature of each group, rather than asking groups to adhere to an impersonal schedule of sites and activities. Expect and prepare to embrace times when you will not know the details of what you’ll be doing beyond the next few days, and trust that as we reevaluate and readjust the itinerary, it is with the intention of supporting an evolving you, and your increasing ownership of the course.
That said, we are excited to share with you a general overview for this spring semester! For families and friends following our journey from home, we’ll post updates to our itinerary throughout the spring as plans take shape and shift.
2/9 – 2/12: Orientation:
After arrival in Kunming, we’ll travel a short distance outside the city to the town of Tuanjie. We’ll be staying at a small guesthouse, where the bulk of our orientation activities will take place. Over the course of a few days you’ll get to know each other and learn what this Dragons course will be all about. We’ll give important information on staying safe, clarify your reasons for coming on this trip, and work to create a group culture that will both support and push each individual over the next three months.
2/12 – 2/24: Nanyao, Lashihai Homestay and Spring Festival Celebrations:
About an hour outside of Lijiang, Yunnan, beneath the majestic Jade Dragons Snow Mountains and above the shores of Lashihai (the lake that gives the area it’s name) is the village of Nanyao. People here are ethnically Naxi (one of Yunnan’s many ethnic minority groups whose cultures and history we’ll be learning much more about) and are mostly small-scale farmers. Homes are traditional, courtyard style and all in close proximity. Nanyao is an incredibly picturesque and welcoming place and it will be our home during the New Year holiday (also called “Spring Festival” 春节）。Happy Year of the Dog! The traditions that surround the holiday in a village like Nanyao are something many people in Chinese cities these days never get to experience and with almost everything shut down and massive numbers of people traveling home around this holiday, being in a village is much more relaxing and engaging than being in a city. Each student will stay in village home at this time but we’ll all be close by and getting together every day for activities and excursions. We’re really looking forward to celebrating with you and with the Nanyao community.
2/25 – 4/1: Kunming, Yunnan Homestays, Language Classes, ISPs:
After a taste of rural living in Nanyao and holiday celebrations, we’ll head back to Yunnan’s capital city, Kunming, the “City of Eternal Spring”. We’ll transition here into a month-long stay with local families who embody traditional values as well as lifestyles and perspectives shaped by modern living and China’s blistering pace of change. Our time in Kunming will be structured by morning Mandarin classes, afternoon group and solo lessons and activities around the city, and Independent Study Projects (ISPs) with mentors, organizations, or solo. You’ll fall into routine and get used to the pace of life in this comfortable metropolis, but also push yourself through ISPs and language classes to take ownership of your city experience.
4/1 – 4/20: Travel:
After saying goodbye to our homestay families, teachers, mentors and friends in Kunming – it’s time to hit the road! Because our spring semester travel takes place after a long period of relatively stationary time in Kunming, we’ll be working during the first month of the program to get to know you and your interests, explore ideas together, and finalize our group travel plans – a work in progress. Here are a few of the possibilities…tentative, yes, but to give you some ideas…
Chengdu and Surrounding Areas: Chengdu is known for many things, including its incredible food (it is one of only 10 cities designated by UNESCO as an official city of “food heritage”), and we will use food as our primary lens for understanding issues related to urban planning, development, and sustainability in modern China. There are also a number of incredible sites in close proximity to Chengdu, including Emei mountain, Qingcheng Mountain, Leshan, Dujiangyan, etc., and we have a unique network of guest speakers in Chengdu who may join our group as we learn about various aspects of life in this region of China.
Labrang, Gansu: Labrang Monastery is one of the most renowned Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the world, and home to the largest number of monks outside of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. We may have a short homestay here, in the Sangke Grasslands, living with a nomadic community, meaning that they live in different parts of the region in different seasons. Families in this community sleep in tents and spend much of the day caring for the sheep and yaks that they raise…students will participate with families in their daily chores and activities.
Eastern Qinghai Province: Most of Qinghai Province was historically part of the Tibetan kingdom of Amdo and there is so much to learn and experience here – including the dramatic scenery of Qinghai’s rugged mountains and the Tibetan Plateau. Here we may live with families in a Tibetan village, learn about the tradition tangka painting, Tibetan language, religious practices, and Tibetan culture. It’s also a great place for hiking and trekking.
Zhongnan Mountains, Shaanxi: The Zhongnan mountains, outside of the city of Xi’an (another place we may spend time) have been a popular dwelling place for Daoist hermits for over 2000 years. Centuries ago, these were the mountains that inspired Laozi’s Dao De Jing; in the past few decades, these ancient Daoist traditions have been revived by discontented city-dwellers in pursuit of a simpler life, giving a fascinating glimpse into modern China’s search for meaning and purpose in an ever-changing world.
Other possibilities include…the booming city of Chongqing at the confluence of the Yangzi and Jialing rivers…the bamboo forests of northern Guizhou…the historic capital and Muslim district of Xi’an, Shaanxi…and much, much more…
4/21 – 4/28: X-Phase:
After three weeks of traveling together, we’ll shift gears a bit and change the way we plan and operate as a group…This phase of travel will be participant-led; students will be responsible for all logistics and learning content during our travels. For this reason, our destination for these 7 days is yet to be (student-)determined… We call it “Expedition Phase” or “X-Phase” and we’ll be talking about it and building up to it over the course of the semester.
4/29 – 5/1: Transference and Departure for Home:
As we celebrate the end of our expedition, we’ll start looking back at this journey that has taken us across thousands of miles, through a diverse expanse of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and experiences throughout the Middle Kingdom. During our last few days, we’ll explore Beijing a bit, and then retreat to a small village on a remote section of the Great Wall, where we’ll set up in a family-run guesthouse to reflect on the days we traveled together, show appreciation for the people we shared the journey with, and set our intentions for integrating the lessons from China into our future selves. Then it will be time to head to the Beijing airport, where you’ll head home…or go on your next adventure.
Hope you’re as excited as we are. See you soon!
Kristen, Greg and Gong