Guest Post: Kunming, China

June 26, 2011

I can’t believe I’ve only been here for a little over one week, so much has happened!

So in doing my research about Kunming, I never realized that it is at such a high altitude. Apparently, the altitude here is over 6,200 ft above sea level, which is higher than the altitude in Denver, CO. Needless to say, this has made walking up the stairs and working out somewhat difficult. My apartment is on the fourth floor of the hotel, and our classrooms are on the fifth floor of the Yunnan University College of International Students building, so even though we’ve been here for over a week, when we get to the top of the stairs, we are still all out of breath. According to Wikipedia, Kunming has been “China’s national high-elevation training base for more than 30 years,” and many Chinese and international athletes come here to train.

Running has also been difficult. My roommate and I have decided to go running several times a week, and the morning is much better than the afternoon. Kunming is a horrible city for running. The streets are so crowded with vendors, pedestrians, cars and motorbikes that we didn’t even attempt to run through that chaos. In fact, it’s more dangerous to move quickly through the streets. Walking slowly is better because then the cars and motorbikes can see you. Luckily, the campus of Yunnan University is right across the street from our dorm/hotel. Even there, you have to maneuver around people, cars and motorbikes, but it is significantly less than in the streets, and we run in the morning, so it’s even less crowded.

Plus, the people here walk significantly slower than other cities in China. We were told during one of our orientation sessions that the pace of life in Kunming is much slower and more relaxed than life in the US or in other places in China. Personally, I don’t mind the change of pace, but if you’re in a hurry, maneuvering around everyone can be difficult. Especially when it’s raining and everyone has their umbrellas out. They also use umbrellas here when it’s really sunny. They use different umbrellas for sunshine, they usually have more lace and patterns on them.

On Friday after Chinese class, we all got on a bus and headed to the Lousi Wan market, 30 minutes away. It’s located in the new section of the city and is a whole sale shopping mall. It is literally the largest shopping mall I’ve ever seen in my life. There are 26 sections A-Z, but only A-F are currently open. There are five stories and it’s set up like a grid system, with multiple hallways. On each hallway there are 8×10 stores on both sides. There must be tens of thousands of stores or more in there. It isn’t really geared toward individual shopping, but more towards bulk sales for vendors.

After browsing around for an hour, we got back on the bus and headed out to the transportation college where one of our directors teaches. In the last three years, many of the universities and colleges in Kunming have opened up campuses at this mass college campus area 45 minutes outside of the old city. It’s all new buildings and it’s literally one campus right after the other. It is massive! When we got there, we listened to a lecture about the history of Kunming and the lakes there, and how the region has changed since the Cultural Revolution. After that, we played a game of basketball against some of the students. I didn’t play but it was fun to watch. There was a huge turnout to watch the Laowai (foreigners) vs. the Chinese students. So many people stared at us and asked to take our picture. I still haven’t adjusted to being stared at so much, it really makes me uncomfortable.

We only ended up losing by 4 points, and we had a few guys on our team who were significantly taller than the Chinese students. After the game and a bunch of pictures, we walked over to the cafeteria and learned how to make jiaozi (dumplings/potstickers). You could tell which jiaozi (pronounced jyao-zuh) were made by the Laowai and which weren’t because the ones we made tended to fall apart because they were too big. But they were still very tasty.

Brittany Williams is a senior from Chattanooga, TN. She is majoring in Anthropology with a minor in Religious Studies, and she is a member of the William and Mary Rowing Club. Brittany participated in the IES Abroad Kunming Summer 2011 program, which took her to China, Vietnam and Laos. Read more about Brittany’s time overseas at Adventures in Asia.

About International W&M

The Reves Center for International Studies promotes, develops, and supports the global dimensions of learning, teaching, research, and community engagement at the College of William & Mary
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