2015 Spring China External Programs IES Abroad Rachel Tristch

My First Week as a Laowai

It’s been nearly a week since my arrival in China, and I’m still waiting for the present to feel like reality. So much has happened; it’s difficult for me to cut down my experience thus far into a 500-word blog entry, but I’ll try my best.

Getting to Kunming was a lengthy 36-hour process—a little longer than anticipated. Flying from Philadelphia International to LAX was as expected. My troubles arrived, though, when flying to Beijing. After thirteen hours on a plane, I finally landed in Beijing a half hour later than planned, and with only an hour in between flights to begin with, I had nowhere near enough time to navigate the airport. I’d sprinted to the Customs line, taken a subway to the waiting area for my terminal, then a bus to get to the actual gate, only to be told that the gate for my flight to Kunming had closed just a few minutes prior. Those initial thirty-ish minutes in Beijing Capital International Airport were perhaps the most stressful of my life, but in hindsight, I’m glad that I caught a later flight to Kunming. The next plane left at 12:00 noon, which gave me around six hours to sit down and catch my breath.

I finally arrived in Kunming around 4:00pm, and discovered that my troubles weren’t quite over yet. After searching frantically for my checked luggage at the airport, and to no avail, I decided it was time to use whatever Chinese I could put together to explain to the Baggage Claim official what the problem was. They hadn’t yet found my luggage, and so I left the airport and headed to Yunnan University with only a backpack and the overnight bag I kept as a carry-on.

Despite the rough journey I’d made, or perhaps because of it, I was relieved and excited when arriving at my final destination. I was greeted by students who had already arrived at the IES Center, and who were as eager (and exhausted from two days of travel) as I was to start the semester. We went out to dinner at a local Yunnanese restaurant, and began the next morning with our week-long orientation. It was a pleasant surprise getting a phone call from the airport in Kunming that day—they’d found my luggage, the night before we left for orientation.

I’m writing this entry from Dali, the city we’ll be in for the duration of our orientation. Dali is an incredible place with beautiful scenery, sitting at the base of high mountains in the west of Yunnan. It’s culturally rich, with a lot of buildings and shops illustrating the many aspects of Yunnan’s particular style. If you ever get an opportunity to visit a smaller city like Dali, and you’re not Chinese, you’ll learn that the local people are very much interested in you. They don’t see laowai, or foreigners, much, and so you’ll find that everyone you pass on the street is curious about you. They’ll stare or smile when they see you, but only because you’re an unfamiliar sight. My favorite aspect of Dali and Kunming so far has been, without a single doubt, the food. I was incredibly excited to learn how many vegetarian options there are here; I’m surprised at every meal to see how many ways there are to prepare tofu and vegetables. There’s even tea served at each meal, so it’s a little like I’m in heaven.

I’ve only been in China for about a week, and I’m already in love. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the semester brings!

Xiaguan, or Old Town, in Dali lies at the base of mountains near Erhai Lake.
Xiaguan, or Old Town, in Dali lies at the base of mountains near Erhai Lake.
The view from my bedroom at our guesthouse in Dali.
The view from my bedroom at our guesthouse in Dali.
My favorite meal so far - lots and lots of rice and veggies!
My favorite meal so far – lots and lots of rice and veggies!

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