Friday, March 25, 2011

Fever Dreams in Kunming (then Dali, then Lijiang...)

"And Here My Troubles Began" — Maus, Title, Book II

About five days ago I returned from a nine-day trip to Yunnan Province in Southern China. Tasked with writing a blog post about the experience, I have no idea where to begin. The surreality of it all—or maybe surreal is the wrong descriptor? is unreal more accurate?—the otherworldliness is still too present in my mind for me to accurately describe just how it all went down. I'm waiting for the actuality to sink in, to hit me, but I don't know if it ever will.

It all began with a fever. The night before we left I topped 100 degrees fahrenheit, and I think I managed to break it on the plane. Three hours from Beijing to Kunming, and during the last leg, when the air pockets stagger over the mountains, we hit turbulence that just wouldn't quit. In a fever pitch, our group laughed and ooh'ed and I felt ill, and I developed a major sweat, and for the first time ever on an airplane I reached for the barf bag and said to my next-door neighbor, "Watch out, I might end up using this." But we came in for a landing and the turbulence was over and my pre-puke rumblings ceased, and I was left in a cold sweat feeling like, I don't know, a survivor, I guess.
I spent the night in Kunming at a hotel, and for the sake of readers who plan to study abroad, I will summarize the evening's events (that I missed, thankfully) in three short phrases: one minor knee injury, one missing student, one arrest. I was awoken in the middle of the night by Mao Shan, who burst into the room voicing concern over the troubles of our classmates. The next morning, Bing, our director and savior, instituted a curfew. Well deserved, I might add.

The next two cities passed in a blur. Dali and its beautiful lake, Erhai, were both stunning. We took a boat to an island or peninsula or something upon which sat an old temple and a pagoda, and there we drank tea and took pictures, and all was well. We took a bus to Lijiang the next day, and again the city was beautiful. We hiked Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, and my illness lashed out, twofold revenge on a body that tried to do too much. The temperature dropped (in the air) and I went to bed early each night, despite the lifting of Bing's curfew. Rest was simply more important. I ate at Pizza Hut with a friend, and the atmosphere was one of quiet romance, not the family bustle of the same chain in America. Zhang Yimou's impression show dazzled by sheer amount of spectacle alone, and Xuan Ke, a man imprisoned for only six years less than Mandela, discussed the show's fakeness. A representative of the Naxi minority, Xuan Ke was assuming and unassuming both, a timid way of carrying himself that masked a different personality—a justifiably upset man who only ever really wanted to play music that spoke to him.

Before a flight to Xishuang Banna, my cold lifted, but the surreality or unreality continued. However, that is another post. Two distinct travels took place: the trip of the downtrodden, bedridden, ill Joshua, and the warm-weather adventure of a spritely Bo Zhongzhi. More to come.

view from atop the temple in Dali

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