Dragon Gate, Western Hills Kunming– July 11, 2015– by Anzdu Schaefer (Mathematics major, ’17)

We step out of the van into the dark corner of land that lies under a freeway overpass. Jia laoshi and Dan quickly confirm that yes, this is the trail to the dragon gate. A small path, which must have once been mostly stone, but is now mostly earth, ascends to the greenery growing on the side of the overpass. A few vendors have set up their stalls here, which is a good sign-this place isn’t completely abandoned.

In the greenery the trail changes dramatically- here the maintenance of the stone stairs has been much better. We begin to encounter other visitors. As we climb,we continue to see people selling trinkets and snacks- the constant presence of unofficial vendors, regardless of location, is a stark difference between the US and China. Their presence is not unwelcome- water is cheap and heavy, and it’s much more convenient to just purchase some when you’re running low, than carry a full day’s supply.

Dragon Gate from AndzuAt times, the path narrows to the point where even two people can’t walk abreast. I’m glad I’m not descending, since the path is steep and at times only the side furthest from the mountain has a handrail. Continuing in the face of these obstacles requires a certain assertiveness. I make the mistake of waiting for the stream of people to die down, and I don’t move for five minutes. I discover when I enter the stream, people make space for me and occasionally wait for me to pass. Drivers in China don’t hold the formal rules of the road to as high a regard as we do in the US. Rather, as long as something is not aggressive and dangerous, people will work with it. I think drivers are much more aware of the road here, and the same is true for foot traffic.

Later in the day, we reach a point between several peaks. We’ve been ascending so long,and we’re so damn close. The trail doesn’t take us to any of them, so we decide to leave the trail. As we scramble over rocks, the evidence of human presence is notable- trash can be found caught between stones, and the top of boulders are red with dirt that could have only been carried by human feet. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, This is evidence that going off trail is not as taboo as it would be in other areas, which is comforting. However, it’s obvious that our presence is not beneficial to the wildlife. How many people justify leaving the trail because others do so? The problem of humanity coexisting with nature seems especially relevant here. I ponder these questions as we return to the trail and begin our descent.

Getting Invited to Dinner –by Michelle Christy (Asian Studies major, ’17)

The stereotype of American Grandmothers pushing food upon guests can’t hold a candle to a Chinese household.  Being either invited out to a restaurant with a Chinese family or being invited over to their house in both an honor and an ordeal.  From my understanding, having excess food at a dinner table is always respectful to the guest and a sign of status that they can afford so much good food.  I am also under the impression that is the goal of the family to make sure that you are as full as physically possible when you leave dinner table.

Michelle and Wu Xiaoqu (Language Partner) after dinner

Michelle and Wu Xiaoqu (Language Partner) after dinner

Let me tell you about my experience going to my language partner’s house tonight.  My language partner is someone whom I meet with a few times a week and we do various activities around Kunming while practicing Chinese.  Tonight she invited me over to dinner to meet her mother, two-year-old daughter, and husband.  The menu was a variety of Yunnan specialties including salty pork, mushrooms, slightly spicy potatoes, a green veggie of some sort, a red flower dish, a deep fried beanstalk, a red bean chili like thing, and rice.  In short, there was no shortage of food for four people and a toddler.  Soon after walking in the door, my language partner’s husband offered me cup of green tea, also pouring one for himself.  After trying to talk to the toddler for a few minutes, which was difficult because the toddler is learning a Chinese dialect and not mandarin, we sat down for dinner.  I had mentioned early that I didn’t eat too much spicy food.

The meal began by the grandmother making me try every dish, making sure that I thought that it wasn’t too spicy.  Most of the dishes had a little bit of spice, but not too much to handle.  After trying all of them, I told the family (using Chinese) that I thought it was all-great and we all started to dig in.  After eating my fill, I started to slow down.  But that was when they started to feed me.  I kept taking small portions of food long after everyone else had stopped.  As I stopped taking food, the Grandmother started grabbing portions and putting them in my bowl.  After telling her politely “wo bao le” (I’m full), she told me I ate like a bird and should eat more.  I took a few more rounds of my pronouncing that I was full and her filling my bowl with more delicious food to get her to ease up.

My real relief came when the toddler fell asleep in her chair and the grandmother picked her up to put her to bed.  After that it was just my language partner, her husband, and I.  They asked me again if I was full, and after emphatically telling them that I was in fact very full, they cleared began clearing the table.  I tried to help and was promptly told to sit back down and make myself comfortable.  I thought I was in the clear when all of the food had disappeared into the kitchen, but then they brought the teapot back out.   As we chatted for the next hour in Chinese, they kept refilling my tea.  Telling me that I had to try it again and again to taste the different mini brews of tea.  And the barrage of tea didn’t end after I said I was full.  As we chatted more and more tea just kept coming.  When I took a small sip of tea, more immediately replaced it.  It only ended when I had to take my leave and head home to study for my test in Chinese class tomorrow.

Highlights from Kunming — by Caitlin Foster (History major, ’16)

We’re a bit more than halfway done with our trip to Kunming, so this seemed like it would be a good time to put together a list of updates from China! I’ve always loved lists, so rather than putting together an intimidating wall of text, I’d like to share some snippets with you in list form instead.

Whitman students along the Bund in Shanghai during briefing by architect Spencer Dodington

Whitman Summer Studies in China students along the Bund in Shanghai during a briefing by architect Spencer Dodington

First impression of Shanghai

  • The thing that really struck me when we arrived in China was how different the flow of traffic is than the United States. Yes, it’s a bit more hectic—lots of honks, abrupt lane changes, and dashing pedestrians—but really, the whole thing seems like much more of an organic system. Unlike the stringent traffic laws of the U.S., which allow drivers to turn their brains off a bit, drivers in China have to be a lot more engaged. A steady stream of scooters and taxis makes for a bit of a stressful time, but I haven’t seen a single accident since I arrived.




Caitlin with her language partner in the Stone Forest

Caitlin with her Chinese language partner in the Stone Forest

Classes at Yunnan University

  • I’m not going to lie—I was a bit terrified when we first began Chinese classes. The prospect of two and a half-hour long language classes (with only one other student) were quite intimidating. Despite my fears, our classes pass by quickly, with interesting and challenging subject matter. Our professor keeps us engaged with snippets about Chinese culture, such as the Cultural Revolution’s influence on modern dating culture.



Whitman students at Bell Tower of Golden Temple

Whitman Summer Studies in China students at Bell Tower of Golden Temple

The Golden Temple and the Tea Market

  • For our first excursion, we went to the Golden Temple in the outskirts of the city and the tea market. I was a bit taken aback by the commercialism at the temple. Each section was surrounded by food stands, vendors, and even booths where tourists could dress up in minority outfits and take pictures






  • WSSC student learning about tea production at Xiong Da Tea Market_Kunming

    Whitman Summer Studies in China students learning about tea production at Xiong Da Tea Market in Kunming

    The tea market, on the other hand, was exactly what I had expected and hoped it would be. I love tea with a passion, and I usually drink at least two cups a day. I did learn, however, that my favorite tea—jasmine green—is regarded as a cheap and relatively mediocre strain in China. I still managed to buy some delicious jasmine pearls at the market, and I maintain that it’s delicious!



Caitlin and Anna Melville with their Friendship Family

Caitlin and Whitman classmate, Anna Melville, with their Friendship Family

Visiting the Anning

  • Last Sunday, my classmate Anna and I went to Anning with our friendship family. They are devout Buddhists, and they took us to see an absolutely breathtaking temple complex, with four branches of Buddhism coexisting within the same facility. At an adjacent table, a woman sat making shoes for the monks. While we were drinking tea at one of the temples, the woman kept bringing us various kinds of fruit, to the delight of Zoe, our host sister. As we were drinking our tea, a boy asked to take a picture with me, and I invited the woman to be in it. Afterward, she insisted that I try on and keep a pair of shoes she had made and embroidered. Shoes in China are almost always far too small for my size 7 feet, and I haven’t seen anything above a U.S. size 6 so far, so I was absolutely astonished when they fit perfectly.

This trip has been an incredible experience for me. It was the first time I had ever been out of the United States, and it’s been everything I hoped for, from the fantastic cuisine to improving my Mandarin skills by chatting with locals.