Tuesday, January 28, 2014


I am sure you are not aware of this, but at the end of this week is Chinese new year. I have successfully put off all of my memorization homework to pack for my very exciting trip, which I will be starting tomorrow. My old host family from my first trip to Kunming invited me to come with them to their home village in Luxi County. I am extremely excited to experience a REAL Chinese new year. I am putting real in all caps, because I am pretty sure that I will be the only foreigner in the village. I was told there are limited shower options, which really just adds to the excitement. This being said I won't bring my computer with me and fully immerse myself into this wonderful culture.
I have absolutely no idea what to expect...

I will post pictures and write more when I am back next week. Until then I am going to eat A LOT and think of all of you. I wish you a great start into the year of the horse. It is a year that promises to bring many great things.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Scavenger Hunting Kunming

Our Program asked us to complete some tasks in Kunming by giving us hints about certain places. We had to document everything with pictures and I thought I would post the best ones here.

1- Working Out! These "playgrounds for adults" can be found all over Chinese cities. In the early morning hours you will find mostly older people spinning the wheels, pushing bars around, or simply swinging their arms around and slapping their limbs. Its truly a great scene to watch, because as silly as it might look, it keeps them fit!

2- Yuan Tong Temple! One of the oldest ones in Kunming and truly beautiful.

3- LaDuzi Medicine! (Diarrhea Medicine) It had to be from a traditional medicine store so I walked in and ask if they could write me down some prescriptions.

4- Goat Cheese! This stuff is simply amazing. Gets me every time. Slightly crispy on the outside with a mild taste. Simply dipped into salt with a little bit of pepper and its perfect!

Friday, January 24, 2014

One of the reasons why I love Kunming

Whenever something doesn't work or simply is too good to be true foreigners have the habit to simply say "TIC" (This is China) 
And its true. Rather than getting frustrated about things its easier to just say TIC, because it really concludes the problem. 
Mainly because it is true. It is China. Many forget the history of this place and come with similar expectations to life that they have in their home country. This is simply not possible here. 

However, TIC also includes hilarious things like this picture I took on my way to a shopping mall. Its a guy on an E-Bike transporting two small bushes. He placed one in front of him and one in the back. The fact that he can't see most of the things that are happening around him doesn't seem to bother him. What a trooper. 


A day in the life of a foreign student in Kunming

Classes have started!
I am stressed out already, because my Chinese class is way too hard for me. Yes, I can easily keep a conversation with people on the street, but I am not yet ready to talk about bank loans and argue about the beauty industry. Despite all that I have finished my first very stressful week. It started with snow fall and ended with a comfortable 20 degrees Celsius today.
Yunnan has no indoor heating and it was truly freezing. The worst part was to get out of my semi-warm bed in the morning and take a moderately warm shower in my broken bath tub.

But I treated myself to a massage today and just had a whiskey so the world is already a much better place. I truly love this place. Kunming is just absolutely great. I think the best description is that its the California of China. Everyone is chill and easy going. There is a prominent punk and artist culture that keeps this city special. I wouldn't know a better place to spend my next 5 months.

Here is what a day last week looked like for me:

1- (6.30) Good Morning! First order of business is getting myself to undress in the cold and take a shower. I was moved a couple days ago because my tub apparently was about to crack in half....

2- (7:00)Getting dressed: Here is what I wore on Monday, which was the coldest day. It reached just below freezing for most of the day. There was snow fall and sitting in a cold room for 4 hours is truly no fun. But we got one heater so now class is much more enjoyable.

3- (7.30) BREAKFAST! Mixian with chicken and Tofu skin. Absolutely amazing and lasts for a surprisingly long time. The great thing about Chinese food is you never feel full, but it lasts for much longer than western food does. (I usually eat in the dark, since I get up before sunrise)
4- (8.30)Class! Chinese Class and then regional development class. all together 8.30 - 12.30 with one hour time for lunch. (Don't judge my essay. I am hoping my Chinese will get better)

5- (12.30) LUNCH. Food is simply amazing. I took this picture in Dali, but Lamian (pull noodles) are just as delicious in Kunming. Freshly pulled when ordered they are simply amazing. I usually get them with fresh vegetables and meat. AMAAAAZING.

6- (2.30) After another hour of one-on-one Chinese I head to the nearest cafe to get some work done. Right now it takes me about 4 hours to completely memorize 70 characters. (With writing of course) On top of that usually come Chinese Homework and around 60 pages of reading.

7- (7:00) DINNER! Best Dumplings I have ever had. Also freshly made when ordered these are simply amazing. The restaurant looks like you will get intense food poisoning, but in China you usually get the worst stomach problems from restaurants that appear super clean. These dumplings are killllller.

7- (9:00) Hot chocolate and more studying at the local (totally hipster) bookstore. But the hot chocolate is also simply amazing. Plus they have a giant heating lamp and its the only place that has good (if not any) heating.

8- (10:00) Going back to my room to do more studying in the cold. I try to be in bed by 11.30pm, because it simply got too cold afterwards.

Bonus Picture:
I LOOOVE lotus root and this restaurant knows how to do it right: With pickled vegetables and chilly panfried to perfection.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Starting My Semester

I have to get used to the new intense schedule... I had my first Chinese class today and realized that whatever I was taking at Northeastern for the past 3 years was not Chinese. Classes are hard and demanding and I first have to get used to learning 60 new characters per night, prep a Chinese text for class, read 70 pages and review my notes. All this while I can see my breath indoors.
I will post something new hopefully this weekend.
That's me and Tom trying to take a picture of our breath. You can't see it in the picture, but I PROMISE you could see it.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Russian Roulette with Chinese Vegetables

I really try to support local food wherever I go. I don’t as much care about the organic aspect of it, because as I saw today there is nothing growing here that could ever be called organic. I will truly try to keep this as short and informative as possible so hang on tight. It will be a depressing ride:

First some general facts that might be important to know before going into details.

Farmers still make up 36.7 percent of the Chinese labor force
Great that was the fun part and now it gets depressing.

Here some excerpts from my thesis I wrote last year:

Since 1978 China’s use of chemical fertilizers has increased sixfold from 8,840,000 tons in 1978 to 57,470,000 in 2007. Despite this immense increase, only 30 percent of fertilizer applied to agricultural crops are used effectively.
The International Cooperation on Environment and Development found that approximately 1.23 million tons of nitrogen are being discharged annually into Chinese rivers and lakes.
China’s average fertilizer consumption on cultivated land is 356.7 kilogram per hectare, which is twofold of the maximum amount of fertilizer consumption in developed countries.
BASICALLY a lot of nitrogen and other chemicals from the really terrible fertilizer runs into rivers and lakes without getting any treatment. This is a vicious cycle since it decreases the nutrients in the soil, will produce a lower yield, which will lead to farmers using more fertilizer. Not included in this mathematical equation is all the waste that gets into the plants from the ground water. (Pictures can be seen below)
So based on this research I did I knew that I should not expect anything too exciting from a so called organic farm near Dali and rest assured I was not wrong.
The family decided to be one of the first families in the valley to not use chemical fertilizer. However, everything really did not add up all that much.
1.) Their crops were planted right next to a runoff from other farmer’s field, which was so polluted you could smell the chemicals. Here a picture I took of this problem:

 Here another stream right next to their crops:

2.) The family bought the fields a year prior from a farming family that had used chemical fertilizer. This had decreased the biological matter in the soil so much, that plants had little chance to grow strong without the use of it. Here a side by side comparison of the two.
 (The left ones are without fertilizer) 
By the way: the USDA requires the soil to rest for 3 years before vegetables can be planted on the fields if they should be organic. 
 I really loved their enthusiasm about the whole thing and it is definitely great that locals start to realize the issues surrounding chemical fertilizer. But sadly I doubt that this will go anywhere. The plants on their fields are just as polluted from chemicals as their neighbors’ vegetables that do use fertilizer. I think they underestimate how far a watershed spans and what that means for their plants.
 Needless to say I helped them harvest carrots and I ate one despite everything I saw. I eat vegetables in China almost everyday and I know what I am putting in my stomach is not too good for my health, but what should be the alternative to that?
This is where the Russian Roulette aspect comes in.... you never know what will happen when eating Chinese vegetables. 50 percent chance of your stomach being nice to you. 

My only advice is to check the origin of your food when you are at the super market the next time. Make sure that it doesn’t come from China…. Sounds crazy, but trust me….. especially the garlic.

Next post I will post some pictures of a failed attempt to clean the Erhai lake. It’ll be just as unsettling as the agricultural crisis. 
Fun Fact of the day: Government Officials have their own designated farmers who will only grow veggies for them. Those veggies are 200% organic with no chemicals in them and watered only with the best water. The officials know whats up and don't want to eat "peasant vegetables" themselves. ... Pretty terrible if you ask me. 

To end things on a good note: A dog with puffy PJs on! 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Whiskey A Day Keeps The Parasites Away

I was in Shenzhen in 2012 for 6 months and became the lucky person to host not one, not two, but three different kinds of parasites in my stomach. I believe there are different causes for this:
1.)  Firstly I was eating gutter oil (yes, people open the sewer and suck off the oil that swims on top of the sewage) for 6 months probably twice a week.
2.)  Someone successfully made me drink water from a mountain spring and after writing my thesis on ground water pollution the following semester I realized that I am lucky I didn’t land in a hospital with dysentery.
3.)  I drank a ton of freshly squeezed fruit juice, because I am addicted to that goodness and there was no way that Shenzhen would also take that happiness from me. But fruit juice is made by dropping the entire fruit with skin into the machine.
So basically I am a bit naïve when it comes to food safety. I believe that one experiences culture best through the stomach and I still stand by that. However, this time I prepared myself the right way:
At the duty free store at the airport in my hometown I treaded myself to a bottle of Glenfiddich single malt scotch. I have been hearing rumors that it apparently sterilizes the stomach and makes it easier for the food to be digested. (Really not a hard conclusion to make based on the alcohol content) But, the food in Yunnan is also a lot better than anywhere else in China so it generally is safer to eat whatever you want.
Diarrhea (or in China called Laduzi = pull stomach in Chinese) is the passionate travelers best friend and is sure to follow you everywhere you go. It can have many causes and does not necessarily always mean that the quality of the food is bad. It can simply be because of the different spices.
My stomach did feel funky after my first two meals, but rest assured the sipping of my loyal whiskey helped clear up the problem! The past days I have had a sip (and I mean a sip…. No need to get drunk after breakfast) after every meal and I feel actually REALLY good. I think I have never had such a smooth transition into Chinese food in China before. But I have only been here for 2 days so we will see how it will continue.
For now I am satisfied with my attempt to make my stomach happy. And who doesn’t want an excuse to sip whiskey from a beautiful flask handed down by ones father?