So it has been 2 weeks since my arrival in Kunming, at the Yunnan University of Finance and Economics (YUFE), and so far everything has been pretty good! It was quite an adjustment from everyday life in Penn Yan, and so I have gone into my study abroad with an open mind, and solid sense of adventure.
The first day I arrived, I was exhausted from my 31-hour trip from Rochester. I knew that the time change was going to be difficult, so I did everything I could to stay awake until the hours I knew I would normally go to sleep. I met up with one of the students who had studied at Keuka (KC) the year before, and together, he took me around, showed me the campus, and explained what to do, and what not to do. YUFE is huge!
Compared to small KC, YUFE has thousands of students, and sits on an area that is 5-to-6 times larger than what I was used to. Luckily, where I am staying is relatively close to my main academic building (roughly distance from Saunders Hall to Ball Hall). I am the only American student here, and so language, at first, seemed as if it was going to present itself as a huge challenge. Luckily, I was wrong. The students here speak English for the most part, and it isn’t very difficult to navigate through campus without Chinese language ability.
I got settled into my dorm which is titled “IBS Dormitory for Overseas Students” which is mostly composed of students from Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and other Southeast Asian countries. One of my neighbors, however, is a man from North Carolina, who is a professor here at YUFE for the Keuka-China Program. He has been tremendous help, providing me business cards of local restaurants where “westerners” hang out, and even so much, as to lend me a book to help me with my Chinese history class! There are a couple other people I have meet from North America. There is a lady here who teaches English, and she is a native of Ontario, Canada. It was shocking to find out that she lives near the Buffalo border, which upon finding this information out, I quickly told her how close Penn Yan was to that; it truly is a small world!! I have also become friends with some other English teachers here at YUFE. One is from Turkey, and the other is from Latvia…it’s like a geography lesson each time we talk about “home.”
I have had a couple adventurous nights here in Kunming. I went with some of the Chinese students to go eat, what they call “hot pot,” which is basically a pot of soup that is at a continuous boil, and it is up to the customers to order what to put into the soup. We ended up ordering beef, pork, bamboo shoots, potatoes, and rice noodles. At the first stage of the hot pot, it starts out with chicken broth, chicken (which the bone is not removed from the pieces—much different than America), onions, and some seasoning. I was hungry, so I dove into the hot pot with my chop sticks, and started “fishing” for chicken, which had settled to the bottom of the pot. I felt a big piece, and so being hungry, I picked it out, only to find that what I had hoped would be a piece of white meat (or something of that nature), was actually the head of the chicken-eyes, beak and all. Not being used to that, I picked the head out, set it on the table, and had a moment of thinking. I thought to myself, “Oh boy, this might be something I won’t get used to!” So, being in China, I had to regard that this is customary, and nothing out of the ordinary. The Chinese students knew I had a little issue with it, so they just threw the head on the floor, and waited for the waitress to come by and sweep it up. The soup however, was delicious. I am still adjusting to the use of chop sticks, but that’s something that comes with time!
Kunming is a great city! It’s warm, and the people are very friendly. One afternoon, after I had finished with my classes, I went to a place called “wang fu jing,” which is like a shopping center, mall, and area to eat. I took a cab from YUFE to “wang fu jing,” and when I arrived, I met up with one of my friends. Walking past the L.L.Bean, and Disney Store, we found our way up to the “Hollywood Cinema” where we bought tickets to see The Last Airbender. We went to watch it, and afterwards I took a cab back to YUFE, and my friend took a cab back to his home to pick up some clothes, and then eventually return to school later that evening.
This was one of the only times I had ridden in a Chinese cab alone, and so I was nervous, yet confident that I would be just fine! I had written down the Romanization of how to say YUFE in Chinese, and so when I got into the cab, I said “Yunnan cai jing da xue,” and the cab driver, nodded and off we went. It’s about a 15-20 minute drive back to the school, and so as we got closer and closer to the school, I started to recognize familiar shops. So, I texted my friend to let him know I was getting closer. Apparently, between the time it took me to look down at my phone, text out a message, and send it, we had driven past the school, and we kept going further and further, to a point where I had absolutely no idea where I was. Panic set in, and being a small-town kid, I have no city instincts! I of course thought of every bad thing that could happen, like kidnapping. I was getting scared, and even thought I would jump out of the cab when he hit a red light, and just start running (For those of you who don’t know me, I am rather dramatic at in some scenarios). I had my paper which had the Chinese characters of the school’s name written down. I flashed the paper to the cab driver, and he looked at me and just nodded. About (I’m guessing) 5-6 minutes after we had passed the school, he pulls over and told me the cab fare. I got out, and was all sorts of confused. I knew the direction the school was in, but didn’t know if I was on the same road. Anyways, I started walking…fast. I called my friend, and told him what had happened. I had no idea where I was, so I couldn’t explain what my surroundings were. He told me to just walk, and that to call him if I was truly lost. I followed his orders, and just kept walking (marching along in the same fashion as Dory, from Finding Nemo, I muttered “just keep walking, just keep walking”). I walked for probably 10 minutes before I still didn’t recognize anything, so I wandered into the China Mobile store, and nervously said “Yunnan cai jing da xue zai na li” (which I hoped meant “Where is YUFE?”). The store attendant laughed a bit (probably at my pronunciation) and pointed. I knew it was okay then. So I walked maybe 15 more minutes, and eventually I saw the building sign for YUFE!
Apparently what had happened was the cab driver thought I meant the Kunming College of Finance, not YUFE. It was just a misunderstanding…a scary/confusing/frustrating misunderstanding. But hey, what an adventure! Hind sight is 20/20, and so looking back now, it wasn’t a big deal. It was kind of cool walking through the city with a mission. People just kept staring at me, and I just kept walking. No big deal!! I am still here and I still love China!
So, those were just a couple stories from the adventures that I have encountered here in Kunming. Everyday something new happens, and I learn a little more about the city, and how to get around. Kunming is a great place, and I am fortunate to have been given this opportunity!
Hope all is well stateside! Until next time-
Oh yeah, just an “FYI”—seasoned chicken feet are amazing. Don’t hate on them until you’ve tried!