Sunday August 8, 2010

Thought for the day: “Nine-tenth of education is encouragement.” Anatole France

The morning is beautiful. Most mornings are, in Kunming. But, as Helene remarked, it has rained every day except Friday, and now today, Sunday. The statement s correct, but may be misleading. Better said, it has rained at sometime on every day except Friday. For example, we put off our departure from the hotel yesterday to go to the Yunnan Nationalities Village because it was raining. At midmorning, the rained stopped, and we enjoyed a beautiful day. Then, this morning when we awoke, the streets and sidewalks were wet. So, it has already rained today, but by dawn the sun was shining. Nevertheless, we have learned to always have our umbrellas at hand.

We met in the lobby at 8:30 for our prearranged ride with Chris, our teacher program manager, to the Stone Forrest. However, when the school van arrived, Sean, our young Chinese volunteer, and the regular school driver, were also present for the outing. The drive to our destination was one hour and 45 minutes. We first stopped in a stone village in the mountains near the Stone Forrest. We mean “stone village” literally. Only stone was used as a building material. Every structure, every fence, every curved and hilly road was of stone. The roofs were of handmade clay tile. The inhabitants were Sani, a subset of the Yi ethnic group. They maintain their own dialect, such that our Mandarin speakers cannot understand them. Life is simple in the village. The people, population 1,475 in number, are farmers. Interestingly, they appear to grow tobacco as their principal crop. Their transportation was either by the familiar motor scooter/truck or by oxcart.

We watched as one family tied tobacco leaves, one by one, to a six-foot pole, to be stacked in the kiln for drying. The six-year-old boy sat on the pile of leaves in the back of the wagon and handed the leaves individually to his father for tying. On the opposite side who appeared to be the grandmother was handing the leaves to the mother for tying. They were working next to one of the many kilns in the village, which were perhaps 15 feet in height. The small oven at the base of the kiln was fired with coal, a sack of which lay open near the oven.

We explored the small village on foot, and came to a compound which contained a larger building, which Chris told was a very small hostel for artists, who come to paint. There appeared to be no artists in residence at the moment. The proprietors were a nice-looking Saki couple, who were dressed in the bright, colorful working costume of the Sani. Her apron was hand-embroidered, in the now-familiar pattern and color, which she sells, along with scarves and other cloths.

To our surprise, Chris had arranged for them to serve lunch. We sat at a low table on a patio, on lower stools, as the couple brought dish after dish of delicious foods. We drank tea, but after we were first toasted three times with a corn alcohol drink, a whiskey, while they sang songs of welcome to us. It was a happy occasion.

I have noticed on my trips to China that when we go for lunch, whether in a nice restaurant in the city or in a countryside village, all the students who may be along and the driver join us for the meal. It is truly a classless society here.

The Stone Forrest is an immensely popular tourist attraction with a large parking lot and many tourist busses. We are among the few Caucasians in the crowd. The Stone Forest is a beautifully landscaped park in the mountains where tall limestone projections create a forest-like setting. It is the most popular tourist attraction in the Province, the kind of place surely National Geographic has featured in a photo article. We spent two hours walking along the laid stone walks through the largest stones. Our many photographs will have to serve to complete the description.

We had a wonderful outing today. I am glad that I came to Yunnan Province this year, for a different teaching experience and a different environment. I still haven’t made up my mind whether I prefer the program here or that in Xi’an. Perhaps I will know after we complete this final week, and then again, maybe I won’t be able to decide.

– Lee

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