Sunday, March 18, 2007

I Changed My Mind

I've decided that if I leave this internet cafe not having completed either of my objectives (write in my blog, download Skype) but having been online for a signficant amount of time, that just won't do. So I'm going to write at least part of the entry the internet just sucked into oblivion and I'll write the rest in the next couple days.

So. This week hasn't been that interesting, but it has been very busy, which is my excuse for not updating my blog in so long. Also, one of the internet cafes I go to regularly refuses to load blogger, which makes writing difficult. Anyway, there is a definite routine in the pipeline. Lots of work, lectures, occasional hanging out. I spend most of my time with Tania, John, and Diana (it's so wonderful to have her living down the hall from me.) This week we had our first test, on religion and history, but it was take home and our collaboration was expected, so it was nothing too strenuous. My Chinese class went from being just me to having 3 people in it, but I'm not complaining. I'm learning lots and my teachers are adorable and very sweet. This next week is only a part-week because on Wednesday we set off on our 5-day "Yunnan Exploration Projects." I'm going to Xishuangbanna, a subtropical area at the very southern tip of Yunnan, bordering on Myanmar. I'm pretty nervous, as I'm travelling alone, but it will be good practice for May when I'm alone all the time. And I'm getting excited planning the trip-- if it works out, it should include a bike ride along the Mekong River through minority villages and a stay in a treetop hostel above wild elephants (This last part will set me back some moneywise, but I'm willing to sacrifice for wild elephants.)

For our Day Out (we have one every week) we went to a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) hospital. We saw doctors performing acupuncture, cupping (more on that in a minute), and massage, and got to see the enormous herb vault where they make up prescriptions (they use cicada shells! And ground up lizard skin!) I thought the most interesting part was the complete lack of privacy in the hospital-- it seemed to be the norm. There were lots of patients being treated in one room and no one batted an eye when 17 foreigners trooped in to watch them being worked on.

John, Diana, and I came back to the hospital the next day because John has a bad back and he wanted to try out acupuncture. It wasn't the best way to spend a Friday afternoon, but it was an interesting cultural experience. John had to jump through a bunch of hoops, going from floor to floor to different offices, before he could get treated. The doctor then interviewed him for awhile and determined which part of his qi (body energy balance) was out of whack. He then applied about 7 or 8 tiny acupuncture needles to John's lower back and the back of his knee, attached some herbs to the needles and lit them on fire (a la incense), and left him there for awhile. Diana and I entertained him with funny stories. After awhile, they took the needles out and did some cupping-- a practice wherein the doctor lights the air inside some glass cups on fire, sucking out all the oxygen, and then applies the cups to the skin, creating a vacuum seal. This part was very entertaining, because whenever Diana or I said something funny, John would laugh, his back would jiggle up and down, and the cups would clink together, making us all laugh more.

After the hospital trip, Tania and I wandered around Old Kunming, an area that has escaped the rapid modernization of most of the city and looks very traditional. We made friends with an artisan while he made Tania a homemade seal for her boyfriend's birthday present, looked at lots of stalls and a street market. At one point we stumbled on a street full of people selling tiny kittens and puppies in cages. In a way it was very depressing, but personally when I'm faced with a cardboard box full of 7 squirming, cuddly, mewling puppies small enough to hold with one hand I can only think about the enormous amount of cute.

The other exciting thing about this week was our trip to the Stone Forest and our previous trip to the Saturday market in Lunan. That will have to wait until next entry, but stay tuned for stories of beautiful minority costumes, the colorful chaos of market day, the rickety-est pedicab ever, new Thai friends, anoxia (altitude sickness), and incredible geological phenomena.

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