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China letter

Monday, 24 March 2014 00:00

Hello Friends,

First  of all, Happy New Year!!  

What an adventure we are on! We are having so much fun!

It is very easy for me to paint a picture in a few words of a life not so dissimilar to ours in the USA - went to buy groceries, got a cell phone, etc., etc, but truly it is quite foreign in so many ways. So I thought maybe I would describe some of the situations that are far more involving then might be imagined, and share a little of life here, so far.

The lack of the Chinese language complicates our lives immensely. So,  having Chinese friends is invaluable!! Our Habitat family is out of town for the Christmas holidays, so we have had to search out other people. Susan has done the most in this department, as she goes to the park regularly and sits there.  She has become as a magnet for people who want to speak and interact with foreigners. (There seem to be many!)

Buying a cell phone, offered so many choices, it took two hours - even with Jane as interpreter. After we purchased two basic models we had to buy a phone "chip" for another 100 Yuan which actually gave us phone time. Then every month we drop by our bank, and deposit another 100 Yuan  ($12US) onto each phone number to keep the service going for another month. Cell phones allow us to communicate with each other, if we split up into two groups, but more importantly, if we get in a bind with a taxi driver, or at the bus station we can call Angela, explain the situation to her and hand our phone to the Chinese person standing confused in front of us!! Always hopeful, (it's really not that expensive to call us!) I will give you our cell number as dialed from the US: 011 86 132 1161 2042 

Our home is a flat on the 6th floor. It's a walk up, of course. We live in what is called Lulu Gardens. One of the nicest condo complexes in the city, apparently.  The complex itself is made up of buildings varying in size and height, in the shape of an eye, with  beautiful gardens (Lulu's, I suppose) filling in the interior almond shape.   A stylize stream begins from a stoney 2 story high waterfall (at our end of the complex garden and right across from our flat) and winds the length of the complex garden, where lazy goldfish bask in the sunlight.  There is lush green grass ( not for sitting or walking on!!), flowering shrubs, tropical ferns, benches and pebble paths. The many large trees are still surrounded by scaffolding and netting to protect them from the possibility of a cold snap.  There is an inside swimming pool covered by a glass gazebo, and seemingly not heated! From one end of the complex to the other would be about a nice block long!  All buildings are accessed from the inside garden area, and through four gates coming in from the street. 

Our flat is very convenient and modern. We are very comfortable here with so much to be grateful, and no complaints whatsoever.  The living room faces south with one large picture window. If it weren't for that unfinished building across the street, draped in green net, we would have a perfect view of Green Lake Park. The flat is nicely furnished with white leather sofas, TV, vcr, tables, and kitchen things, beds, live plants and vases, which we just can't help filling - when roses are maybe $1US for 2 dozen beautiful roses!  We have DSL so we can E-mail you, and hopefully even call you soon.

This morning, as I looked down to the street from our 6th story window, I again noticed the waiters and busboys all lined up in  two neat and very serious rows on the sidewalk  in front of "Happy Times" restaurant getting their daily talking to, just before their shift begins. I've seen this happen as a regular custom, all over town.

Another interesting thing I've noticed is that dentist offices and massage places have many "work" rooms at street level and visible to the street. One could easily watch a whole root canal, or observe complete massages from the sidewalks!

So many other things happen on the streets here, as well. In the evening people sit and play cards together, sales women chat and knit fervently together in the middle of quiet streets while they wait for customers, badmitton games take place, and vegetable vendors prep their veggie wares. Of course, street food of all sorts line most busy streets. The smell of fermented, skewered  tofu grilling on a half-barrel-grill is not one I will forget soon. (The people here seem to love skewered food, and there are endless varieties, from crab apples to hot dogs.)

In a way it seems that Kunming is a very unusual Chinese city. I had heard horror stories about unsanitary conditions, bad food, no English speakers, etc., etc. So far little of that has shown up. Kunming in a very beautiful and clean city. On some of those first mornings when our internal clocks hadn't adjusted themselves,  I would look down on the streets, in the wee hours of the morning, and many times there were people sweeping the street.

As for the food,  I think this must be the City of Restaurants. There are restaurants everywhere! With a little help from our Habitat friends, the food experience has been fantastic, and we are bravely exploring more choices, with Jim even risking street cafe food! A market with plenty of fresh fruit, and vegetables is right out side the complex gate. Two blocks from us is Roco's Pizzeria, where we have delicious vegetable soup and pizza, and get hot whole wheat bread to take home, as often as we need. Salvatore's has ice cream and cheesecake, and wonderful pasta dishes and cappuccino!! Paul's western grocery store is a few more blocks away but walkable and stocked full of many of our favorite staples and spices. 

Speaking of blocks, we are certainly getting our exersize here. Walking to the bus is a brisk and enjoyable 20 minute walk.  Downtown to the old section is also about 20 minutes, and we can wander for hours through tight corridors of the old Kunming, or Kway Min, as they would pronounce it, looking for antiques or photo opportunities. Taxis are fine and buses cheap, but this is a great neighborhood to explore on foot. Even a walk around the park takes most of an hour.

I have been very fortunate to meet a woman named Angela. She is my Chinese teacher and becoming a good friend. She is very patient with me as I navigate this world of "dz" sounds, all the variations possible with  the" sh, jsh, and ch sounds, try to find the exact spot way back on the roof of my mouth, to be able to pronounce words that look like they begin with a "zh" but are actually pronounced as a "j". I have to admit it, though. I love it!  Angela comes from the village of Li Jiang, and is Naxie, which is a minority group here, similar in looks and some customs, I've noticed, to the Tibetans. She is very sweet and has invited us to visit her family when she goes home next month.  I am looking forward to it. 

Today as I sat in Green Lake Park, I wondered what I would look back on and remember the most about our visit here. Would it be the sweet people we have met, the silly mishaps over language miscommunications, the fantastic food we've eaten,  or the beauty of landscapes we have yet to experience? I imagine it will be a combination of all these things.

Prisma says this letter is way too long and reminds her of a certain friend who also writes long E-mails, that she sometimes cannot quite digest. Well, you got me on a roll!!

From the gang of Four, as we are now known! 


Much love to you all,