I came home to Nanchong tonight. It’s raining (and a bearable temperature, finally!), the campus is bustling with students back from their summers, and it feels right. This summer has been so busy, and so amazing. I barely spent more than a few days in one place, at most a week or two; it’s been what’s-the-next-experience since June. I’ve barely had time to think. So coming back tonight, to my own space and what I can actually sort-of say is my own community, is (a bit surprisingly) a relief. Classes supposedly start on Wednesday but I still don’t know my schedule so I’m taking this moment, between roadroadroad and teachteachteach, to pause and savor. It feels great.
So despite my best intentions, I’m just going to have to do one grand recap of the whole summer- hit the highlights instead of the full play by play.
It all started with a couple weeks up north to Gansu province, home to desert, sand dunes, lots of old Silk Road related things, some Tibetan areas and, of course, friendly, smiling PCVs! We saw some great friends, ate Amazing Chicken in Wuwei (seriously, go see Tye and Greta and eat the chicken. One of the best things to ever happen to me), danced in the square in Zhangye with Yiannis, explored a really unique temple built into a cliff in one of the most gorgeous areas I’ve ever been to, rode camels in the sand dunes in Dunhuang, saw thousand year old Buddhist art, walked the kora and spun prayer wheels around the largest Tibetan monastery outside of Tibet, climbed and slid down into a cave with a crew of monks and listened to them chant and pray, and ended in Lanzhou with a crew of PCVs for 4th of July, complete with bacon cheeseburgers, peach pie, potato salad, beer pong, and fireworks that some lady in a stationery store sold us very hush-hush style. It was perfect.
Next up was summer project back in Sichuan- two weeks of teaching middle school teachers. It was pretty exhausting, with 5 hours of class a day, but fun, too. I got to try out some different lesson plan ideas, and the “trainees” were enthusiastic and generally happy to be there, despite the fact that it was supposed to be their summer vacation. We didn’t get out much past the campus where we were staying, but over the weekend some teachers from the university took us to an area in Guizhou province to see some waterfalls, which were beautiful. The most exciting thing I can say about that portion of the summer is that I fought a spider the size of my palm in my dorm room on campus, and won.
Onward: after summer project i got to go home and chill hard for a couple days, then went into Chengdu to celebrate my birthday weekend with my favorite ladies, Sydni and Heidi and Mira. The only thing I can say about that is: PIZZA. We discovered the best pizza around (good even by 美国 standards), and ate it. hard. This thing was cheese on cheese on cheese, which combined with giant and delicious margaritas meant serious food coma.
THEN: my mama came! I stayed in Chengdu to meet her at the airport, and after a night in a great hotel (and an afternoon poolside waiting for her flight to get in…) I whisked her off to enjoy the pleasures of my 中国 hometown, Nanchong. She handled the heat like a champ, especially after I introduced her to 沙冰(china style shaved ice). I introduced her to my counterpart teacher and my tutor, and showed her the sights as best I could. Then it was off to Yunnan! An overnight sleeper train and an interminable bus ride later and we were at Lugu Hu, a beautiful lake on the border of Sichuan and Yunnan, home to the Mosu minority group, which is the last practicing matriarchal society in the world. We rode bikes around the lake one day through some of the little villages, and although the lake has become quite a tourist destination and was full of Chinese tourists it was super charming nonetheless.
Then it was on to Lijiang and Tiger Leaping Gorge. We found a super charming guesthouse just outside of Lijiang to stay in, with a wonderful Ayi to take care of us. We basically shopped till we dropped in Lijiang, then took off to hike the gorge. Amazing. The perfect little two day hike. We made some Dutch friends along the way (never met a Dutchman/woman I didn’t like…), crashed in the guesthouse with The View, and although it was a little rainy on us on day two, it was beautiful. Maybe it’s the Pacifica girl in me, but the fog and clouds around the peaks on the other side of the gorge were perfect.
After drying off and warming our toes by the stove at the end of the trail we hopped a minibus to Zhongdian, aka Shangri-la, on the edge of the Tibetan plateau. There we got a little taste of Tibet (although it didn’t quite compare to my experience in Xiahe, in Gansu, earlier in the summer). But we had some tasty yak/tibetan food, visited the nearby monastery (after being indignant about having to pay over 100 yuan to see it) and danced in the main square with a crazy mix of Tibetans and Chinese tourists, with a few Westerners thrown in. I think the dancing in the square is usually my favorite part…
(Almost done, I promise, this is too long and it’s late!) So after about 10 days on the road we caught a flight back to Chengdu to pop in on my host family, who were adorable as ever. We had some good home cooking and caught up a bit, and my mom got to have a taste of what my life was like with them last summer. She even went off with Grandma early in the morning to do tai chi with her…So even though she was here for almost three weeks, it was pretty nonstop and the time really flew by. A few days here, and few days there, and all of a sudden it’s time to go to the airport again. Having her here put things in perspective a bit- made me realize how much I’ve gotten accustomed to over the past year and how much my life has changed.
Final adventure of the summer was going to Guilin for two weeks of Chinese classes with some Peace Corps 朋友们. I have to say, it was great having my mom around and travelling with her, but it was also great to be back hanging out with PCVs, who just…get it. We had a great time studying and hanging out and finding good 烧烤 and relaxing. Over the weekend we went to Yangshuo and rolled around in mud, soaked in cave hot springs (maybe the coolest hot springs I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been to my fair share…), rode bikes, and swam in the river under green limestone peaks… It was the prefect amount of relaxation and friend time to get me energized to go back to site and start the year.
New students, new sitemate, maybe new classes (who can really tell? still no teaching schedule…) but same house, same campus, same town. There are plenty of wildcards still (I’m still in China, after all), but it’s really nice not to be a newbie anymore. Round 2, let’s go!