Becoming localsKunming, Summer 2012
Kunming is not the place to be clean. The air is polluted, children use the sidewalks as their bathrooms, and it’s not considered rude to spit. Clearly, one shouldn’t expect a place like Paris in a developing Chinese city and that’s exactly why we came to this particular area. We wanted to answer how rapid development and growth is affecting the Mekong region in both positive and negative ways. And sometimes getting dirty is 95% of the fun.
IES definitely knows how to plan adventurous things because these past 1.5 weeks in Kunming have been a (dirty) whirlwind for sure. Our group may have worried for our safety at multiple points during these outings but, heck, it’s all part of the bonding experience. If you haven’t experienced the roads in China yourself, you probably wouldn’t be too surprised to hear that there are practically no traffic laws here. This isn’t America where pedestrians have the right of way! During our first week, we biked to a nearby water reservoir using the same major roads that cars use. Narrowly avoiding the deceptively quiet motor scooters and belligerent drivers, our 2+ hours of road biking felt like a video game. We were rewarded with a fantastic view and a delicious Yunnan lunch at the end, plus a better understanding of the (lack of) roadside manners that rule the Kunming streets. It’s a skill best learned the hard way.
Yesterday was another day of bonding through common struggle. After agreeing to what was described as an “easy 2.5 hour hike,” we all trekked up a nearby mountain to get a fantastic view of the entire city from above. The walk up was fine – the weather was good, everyone was chatting, and we had plenty of energy. At the peak, we saw just how large this medium-sized Chinese city really is and how quickly development was happening. From barren strips of land to brand new apartment complexes, the city is alive and growing. We even got to see rain clouds in action in the distance.
Little did we know that the hike back down would be a backwards rock-climbing mess. From grabbing onto trees, rocks, and eventually the muddy earth, we all tried our best to keep our balance on a near-vertical slope down the mountainside. One by one, slip by slip, we finally gave up on trying to keep clean and finished the long hike in good humor. As if we didn’t get stared at enough already being foreigners, we probably looked like homeless people who haven’t showered in a month on our bus ride back home.
Like I said, getting dirty is all part of the fun.
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