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Megan Ruan

A high school student writing about teen issues.

Interesting shenanigans at high altitude

In order to spare your attention span, I'm only going to write a small blurb about each of the most memorable things that have happened on this trip. Yunan is a province located in the south-western part of China, in the direction of Tibet. It's altitude is from 3000-4000+ meters above sea level.

First of all...Shangri-la. You may have heard of this city only as the name of a Chinese restaurant, but let me tell you, it's probably because the word rolls off the tongue well --not because the food is so great.

If I had to pick the two most unique and culturally distant aspects of Shangri-la, they would be marriage customs and the purposes of the five fingers on your hand.

In Shangri-la, there are three ways to get married. The first one is traditional-- a man and a woman. The second is a form of polygamy, in which one man marries multiple women. In this case, the women must be sisters. The third is where one woman marries multiple men, who must all be brothers. It's not as awkward as you might think. The woman isn't married to all the brothers at once! They kind of take turns being the husband, and when it's not their turn, they travel as nomads with their yaks and musk ox.

What does each finger mean in Shangri-la? THUMB: thumbs-up equals good job, just like in the US; INDEX: points out the direction of travel, but never at a person; MIDDLE: Shangri-lains like to eat a delicious paste made of highland barley, one of their three main crops. Supposedly, if the cook swirls her middle finger around in the pot while singing a special song, the dish will be extra tasty; FOURTH: Before taking the first sip of their first cup of wine, one must dip their fourth finger and thumb into the cup three times, flicking a drop of liquid into the air each time. The first drop is to honor the sky, the second the earth, and the third, God. And the PINKY: It is for picking one's nose. Just kidding!

Actually, I'm not. Strange as it sounds, that's really what your pinky is for! Many people leave their pinky nails long just for this purpose.

Next...LiJiang. This city was pretty uneventful, except for a shopping street called GuCheng (Old Town). It is an town which was destroyed by an earthquake in 1996 and then restored. The one thing I learned was that you can not buy something at the first store you see. You absolutely must sift through at least three before you make a purchase. Or else you WILL BE CHEATED! Like me :(

Lastly...Kunming. The Flower capital of China. It is also known for its famous and enormous rock garden. 

Q: Are these flowers real or fake?


A: They are real, dried flowers. Because they are specially dehydrated, they can stay in shape for seven or eight years. AND if you put them in water, they will turn into fresh flowers! Unfortunately, it only works one way; you can't dry them out again.

Here is a very unique rock formation we found at the rock garden, which formed from an earthquake. 

And now, we can test your observation skills. Do you see the baby elephant and its mother?

How about the dog howling at the sky/moon?

If you can see the dog, you have a better imagination than I do!

Anyways, I hope you enjoyed that teeny taste of China's Yunan province. Besides the risk of altitude sickness, it is a pretty cool place to go.

Beijing, where food is heavenly and driving is terrifying.

It sounds obvious, but my favorite thing about China is the food. Breakfast is to die for. Even though I wake up at 5 a.m. from jet lag, there are already street vendors busily cooking piles and piles of food to add to their already towering stacks. Breakfast here is no bowl of cold cereal or a simple slice of toast. It is a full meal with a variety of porridges, fritattas (sweet or salty), tea-boiled eggs, wonton soup and more.

People here think of meals in a different way than we do in the US. You probably already know that meals are shared family style, and chopsticks are the main utensil. But meals seem to signify more than just eating.

When you take someone out to eat in the US, generally you finish eating, and then go somewhere else for coffee and/or drinks, and that is where you chat. In China, people continue nibbling on dish after dish, during which time they hold their conversations.

On Saturday, we had been at lunch for over an hour when the waitress came over and said the buffet would be closed at two. It was barely one o'clock, and she seemed surprised when we told her we were just about done.

If you're wondering why the people in China are not morbidly obese, it's definitely because they do so much walking. Even though more people have cars now, most still walk/bike to school, walk/bike to the bus stop, walk/bike to work, the supermarket, the subway station, or a friend's house.

My footwear of choice, the flip flop, does poorly here. Yet, I see 75 percent of the women tromping around in high heels! It slightly confuses me... but they seem very comfortable.

On Friday night, my aunt and uncle took us to a Mongolian restaurant. It was more like a park than any restaurant I've ever been to. Instead of one building where everyone eats, there were many tents like round teepees which were like private dining rooms. Mongolian ethnic singers and dancers went from teepee to teepee entertaining, and the specialty of the house was gigantic roast lambs. The entire restaurant and its 69 teepees were so spread out that waiters typed orders into mini phones which transmitted to the kitchens, and bus boys brought huge platters of food on bicycles.

Afterwards, we were served a tangy orange drink made of Goji berries. It was meant to cut the taste of lamb.

Yesterday, we went to Tianjin, a city on the northeastern coast of China, to visit my cousin. We rode the famous bullet train that travels between Beijing and Tianjin in barely half an hour! It goes up to 350 kilometers per hour, which is like 200 miles an hour.

It's actually nicer to use so much public transportation because the driving here is absolutely insane. Here is an example of my experiences:

My little sister Emily: "Do you think you have to pass a driving test to get a license here?"

My mother: "Yes, I don't see why not."

Emily and me together: "But there's no point!"

As if to prove our point, a motorcycle suddenly comes barreling toward us going the wrong way in the lane.

It would have been funny if it wasn't so scary. But I have to remember that no matter how mad I get at those crazy drivers, I still need to get out of their way; my indignance is not going to make them drive more carefully. Besides, I'm convinced now that you wouldn't get anywhere if you did not drive like a madman. Everyone else would just cut you off and pass you by.

Next week we are going on a guided tour of Yunan, a province in southwestern China. It's supposedly beautiful and springlike year round, which will be welcome after the incessant heat here in Beijing. I'll tell you all about that!