This past week was our excursion week in Yunnan and it was the first time our Duke Engage group was able to reconnect with each other without the presence of students and bustling host family life. We flew out of our Zhuhai bubble into Kunming on the first day and explored the city with a few high school students at a nearby international school via scavenger hunt. One of the student’s names was Jonathan and even though he could barely understand the English we were saying, we ended up having a long conversation about League of Legends and the various game characters via the multitude of sound effects that exist in that phone game (courtesy of Aditya and Daniel’s prolific gaming experience). It was funny to see that though neither of us could really understand the other person’s language (and I’ve never actually played this game before), we were all able to communicate our ideas using the universal language of onomatopoeia.
The next day, we immediately flew to Dali. Unlike Kunming, which seemed very commercialized and comparable to Zhuhai, Dali was extremely rural and seemingly untouched by Western influences. When we first arrived from the airport to the hotel, the road that led up to the hotel front was not even wide enough for our bus to go through and could only be accessed by foot. We had to hop off the bus and walk a couple minutes through a quaint, slightly narrow village road to get to our hotel. Our hotel, called the Linden Center, was more of a fusion of living space and cultural preservation/immersion. It was a renovated version of an old, wealthy man’s large house, so it had a much homier feel than a hotel. There were only two floors, with outdoor walkways that overlooked the central courtyard. Though it wasn’t a typical modernized hotel with shiny lobbies, the Linden Center had its own charm in its preservation of the original beauty of the house that represented the beauty of the minority culture that still existed there. Since we were the only group staying at the hotel, it really felt like a big family living in a big house: we ate our breakfast together in the common dining room next to the kitchen, we sometimes gathered in the courtyard to enjoy the crisp cool air outside, our bedrooms were only few steps away from each other, and at night we would gather in the upstairs TV room for classic “bonding” game shenanigans (without the use of technology) such as mafia (still salty about the fact that Aditya impersonated the doctor when he was mafia all along and the fact that I believed him smh).
We walked around the village (Xizhou area) and were introduced to the architecture and culture of the minorities that lived there including the Bai and Yi minorities. The buildings seemed to be rather short and quaint and the road was made of blocks of stone. Sprinkled all over the village were rice fields that seemed to stretch to the horizon line. There were only a few cars since people more often rode motorcycles, bikes, or even horses. The villagers that strolled around sometimes wore their traditional cultural clothing and almost all of the time, smiled at us when we smiled at them passing by. Some would even bravely wave and give us a hearty hello when we walked past. Unlike the hustle and bustle of the night in Zhuhai, the village in Dali retreated into sleep around 8-9 pm and seeped into nature’s silence. It was incredibly refreshing to finally have a genuinely peaceful and quiet atmosphere in contrast to the commercial noise of Zhuhai.
One of the highlights of the excursion was climbing the Wei Bao Mountain. This may seem ironic to those who know me know that I’m probably the most pitifully athletically challenged human being. But even my potato self really enjoyed slowly ascending the mountain to see the beautiful Daoist temples that lined it. There was some sort of serenity in the air (which belied my rapidly beating heartbeat from the exercise) that finally drew me away from the chaos of constant worry about what I was accomplishing. The constant thoughts I had in Zhuhai and even back at home in America of “am I teaching this the best way? Will the kids find this interesting? Will they learn the lyrics before the final performance? Will my kids forget the hand motions? What will I do with my host family today?” etc. immediately dissipated as the clouds and the sky became closer and closer within my reach. When we finally reached the top, the sight was breathtakingly beautiful and I could almost touch the fluffy white clouds.
When arriving back in Zhuhai from a week-long vacation, my host mom and sister were patiently waiting at the school gates. They enveloped me with a big hug saying that they had missed me so much and that they had soup ready for me when I got home. Even my host sister who normally doesn’t say much, seemed to be full of words and chattered all the way home on the car, asking me how the trip was and what I did. She was also excited because she had gotten her braces off and the retainers in her mouth made her sound funny. When I came back to my room in the apartment, I had a relieving wave of emotion. “I’m home.” It startles me to think that this will no longer be my home next week and that I’ll have to leave my host family who have treated me with such great hospitality.