You may have heard that I went to China over my winter break (and I’m just now writing about it. Without the weekly update requirement like I had at NDFH, it’s easier for me to slack off! Plus, I didn’t have my computer with me half the time, which doesn’t help anything.) China isn’t a top winter destination – especially considering the big sights are absolutely freezing this time of year. My family and I went because my brother, Jon, is doing his senior year of high school abroad in Beijing (the big city outside of which I was at this summer), and we wanted to spend Christmas with him. So we did. Not everything went as planned, though…
After taking my last final exam at school on Thursday, 12/18, I finished packing and a lot of other last-minute things before I got on a plane – a direct flight headed to the Beijing airport. I flew Hainan Airlines there, which was alright except literally everyone was 100% Chinese… let’s leave it there and just say they don’t especially cater towards non-Chinese people. I arrived in the evening. From there, I took a taxi to the serviced apartment that my family was staying in. (A serviced apartment is half-hotel, half-apartment – you pay rent and then you can come whenever you want and they’ll clean for you if you like. Pretty sweet deal!) The rest of my family had gotten in a few days earlier, because my two younger brothers don’t have final exams. Anyways, a little after I arrived and found the apartment, the rest of my family came back from an event at Jon’s school. Lots of hugs ‘n stuff. Well, all I unpacked was my pajamas, because the whole family was hopping on a plane the next day.
The plane was headed to KunMing, the capital of YunNan province, which is in southwestern-most China. Don’t be deceived by the ‘south’, though – dependent on where you go, it can still be very cold. We were headed to Wenzong, my parents’ missionary friend’s, village. His village is in the remote mountains of YunNan. We hadn’t been to the village in some time, and since Wenzong is good friends with my family, we wanted to see how he was doing too. Some friends came with us, wanting to spend some time learning in a very different version of China.
One of the things that I’ve started learning about is that China has changed so fast. Not even 100 years ago, Chinese men were wearing the half-shaved head braid and being ruled by emperors. We went on a lot of walks – looking around, visiting homes in the village or going on hikes – and Jon and I got to talk a lot. We talked about all sorts of things, but we also talked about China’s strange-but-true history – the crazy Cultural Revolution, the changes, how Western cultures often overlook China’s history, and now everyone’s shocked that China’s economy is going to overtake America’s in just a few years. Quite honestly, I don’t know that much about Chinese history. Jon has been learning a lot of it in his classes, so he shared with me about the Long March, the Cultural Revolution, and how is was so, well, revolutionizing. I realized that it was not simply a cultural, but more like an Every-aspect-of-life Revolution. We later brainstormed up an idea – that one summer when we’re both in college, we should go on a two-month-long or so trip to China, taking the public transportation to just about everywhere, and exploring real China – finding China for what it really is. As we talked about this, we walked by mountains and small cement-if-you’re-lucky houses, on the main road that had just recently been paved, in a village that had just gotten running water. This was real China.
We spent a total of three days in Wenzong’s village. Meals were simple, and life wasn’t complicated. My parents had thought spending Christmas in the village would be nice, since it came very close to what the first Christmas had been like: in a barn, with animals, without the glamour that we put on it today. The one thing was that it was so. dang. cold. Every day we put on all the layers we could fit under the biggest jacket we brought. It was below freezing, all the time. Staying inside wasn’t any better, because there were no heating systems. Radiators weren’t great either, since you could only feel any of its warmth when you were right over it. My first night, I was shivering because I had thought my normal pajamas would be okay – I would have to put on socks, long sleeves, with three blankets covering even the top of my head, to be okay. The entire time was below freezing. People around me lived in these conditions, though, so it is humanly possible to live like this. Sometimes I appreciate being in places like this, because it makes me appreciate where the Chinese have been, and where they’re coming from. Sometimes I feel like I’m not getting the whole China experience when I’m staying at a Marriott and drinking apple juice with breakfast. I feel a bit cheated of my China experience, because I know my experiences don’t align with so many of the Chinese people’s. This time in the village, though, definitely came much closer to that experience.
The teachers at the school that Wenzong had started were interim teachers – they would probably only stay for a couple years. We got to see class in session, and take a group photo. One girl had the same Chinese name as me! After three days, it still wasn’t Christmas, but we so cold that my parents decided they’d spent enough time in the village, and our friends agreed. My youngest two brothers, Peter and James, got the chance to herd goats and ‘be farmers’ with some nice villagers for an entire afternoon. At dinner that night Peter told us about their day, adding that the goats would need them tomorrow. My dad told us about XiShuangBanNa – a county in the ‘state’ of YunNan, if you will. Oh, and it’s tropical and warm. “The goats really need me tomorrow – wait, good thing I brought my swimsuit!” – in the same sentence, Peter had totally changed gears. We were fine with that. We were going to XiShuangBanNa the next day, and we prepared ourselves for anything warmer than what we felt at the moment. Sometimes I’m glad that China’s westernized, but I’m thankful I got to experience ‘real China’, at least for a few days.
(Note: It is with great sadness that I write about the one tragedy of my China trip: my phone, forgotten in a taxi ride. Just so you know, the pictures that I have of China are not my own – they’re going to be from someone else. 😦 )