Hello everyone! My name is Michael Garcia. I am from Cochranton, Pennsylvania, but, as I write this, I am sitting in the Lost Garden Hotel in Kunming where we have settled in nicely!
The past few days have been filled with excitement, exhaustion, and wonder. We arrived in Kunming on Friday morning, took a bus to our hotel, and began to settle into the city. We sat down for lunch at HongDouCan (红豆餐), a nearby restaurant, where we learned Chinese customs surrounding meals. Afterwards, we walked through the lush Green Lake Park and sat down to meditate. Unfortunately the rain pushed our mindfulness session into a pagoda. After returning to the hotel, Jesse led a crash course in Mandarin, which transitioned into a conversation about staying healthy. Fighting jet lag and the rain, we then walked to a restaurant in the neighborhood where we tried across the bridge noodles—a dish of boiling water, local veggies, and other meats, named after a legend which says that it was created after a wife realized she could keep the soup’s contents hot if she made it on the spot rather than bringing the soup completed (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossing_the_bridge_noodles).
After nearly falling asleep at dinner, we rushed back to the hostel to rest for the night.
On Saturday, we took to the city to continue exploring its cuisine, culture, and layout. We began by having noodles for breakfast, then a Chinese speciality called ěrkuài (饵块), which is a rice tortilla wrapped around a yóutiáo (油条) (a strip of fried dough) and fresh peanut butter. We spent the rest of the morning at a local Buddhist Temple where we explored then discussed the idea of being present in our travels. Afterwards, we walked to a dumpling restaurant where we shared numerous pork and vegetable dumplings (饺子) in dumpling sauce we each made ourselves. With the help of our instructor Mark, we also tried Chinese yogurt for dessert. Feeling full, we walked to Green Lake Park again where we each spent an hour journaling about our initial observations. After sitting in the pleasant afternoon sun, we went to a Kung Fu Studio where we learned the basics of JKD, the style of Kung Fu pioneered by Bruce Lee which combines numerous forms of martial arts. After learning a new style of expression, we tried a new style of Chinese food from Southern Yunnan for dinner.
On Sunday we got out of the city to tackle the wilder side of China. We first ate breakfast at a different noodles restaurant, then packed our bags for a day hike. On the way, we stopped at a local market where (using our Chinese!) we bought tofu, baozi, and fruit for our lunch on the hike. We then went to a mountain on the north side of Kunming, Changchong (长虫山), and began our trek. After hiking in the blazing heat, we stopped to eat lunch (and to get out of the surprise thunderstorm). When the rain subsided, we continued to the top of the peak where we had a stunning view of Kunming which wrapped around the mountain. After making it back down, we took our first public bus to dinner again at HongDouCan where we dried off and enjoyed even more new and exciting food (squirrel fish, for example).
After a restful night, we began our last full day of orientation in Kunming. I, like many of my fellow participants, began the day with a morning walk in Green Lake Park, where it was bustling with runners, students, and older women doing tai chi. Afterwards, the group took vans to the program house and then bought bāozi (a steamed stuffed bun) and more ěrkuài, a group favorite! We then had our morning meeting at the program house, where Luke facilitated the meeting, Harry taught some helpful basic characters, and Michal led a group meditation. Next we grabbed a quick lunch of noodles and rice and rushed across town on a bus to finalize our visas. Once this was done, we returned to the program house where we enjoyed some tea and watermelon, learned about medical safety, and reviewed program rules. Feeling tired after some busy days, we got dinner at a small nearby restaurant where I ate niúròushāolāmiàn (牛肉烧拉面), a delicious meal of noodles, zucchini, and rich Chinese beef. Finally, we took the bus back to the hotel to do some last minute packing for our next month of travel.
The past few days have been incredible for me! I have been loving the food, landscape, and culture, as well as the fantastic members of our group. It truly feels like a wonderful community already, and I am incredibly excited to see what the coming months bring!
Tomorrow we are leaving Kunming for a month of travel! Our first stop will be in Dali, Yunnan, where we will be at the Bai Song Festival. As much of our travel will be in rural areas where connection is extremely limited, the group has decided to take a fast from our phones for the next four weeks. As such, you will not be able to contact us directly.
The past few days in Kunming have been fantastic, and I think I speak for the group when I say we are incredibly excited for the next month of exploration!