You can read the transcript below or download here.
When I was a child I was told the ocean was blue because it reflects the color of the sky. Now that I’m older, I know that anyone who has taken a middle school earth science course knows that this is not the case, but what if I told you that deep in the mountains of south-western China’s Yunan province, there is a place with pools of water so pure you can watch the clouds passing beneath your feet.
In the summer of 2011 after just finishing my first semester at Beijing Language and Cultural University, I had one month left in China before a plane would take me back to my hometown in Nebraska. It was then when two worldly and adventurous Italian classmates of mine suggested backpacking through the mountains of Yunnan. This is my first time booking and purchasing a plane ticket on my own and what I saw as my first of many adventures. After school ended, we would leave Beijing before sunrise and a ride around noon and Kunming, the capitol of Yunnan.
It was here, we began moving from surrounding town to town and enjoying the rivers, lakes, mountains, and natural splendor that Yunnan had to offer. This is also where we eagerly use the mandarin we had studied the semester before, but more importantly, where we discovered the many dialects a country of 1.3 billion people has to offer. Somewhere between Tiger Leaping Gorge and getting into a waterfight with monks in Shangri-la. We came across the tickets for a mini bus, which promised to take us to one of the most beautiful sights on earth. Keeping in mind, this was 2011 we purchased three tickets for 10 US dollars each to take us to a small mountain town near the Honghe or the Red River.
As tourism has increased in the past eight years, the process has become much more streamlined than what I experienced, but the prices have also increased, as have the tourists. But I digress. My friends and I climbed onto a nearly empty mini bus, intended to seat 10 but over the course of our two hour rickety journey, through the narrow mountains almost 30 other passengers would climb in. Within the first 10 minutes of our journey, I gave my seat to a woman with a child less than one year old strapped to her back. The driver, seeing this, would offer me a seat next to him at the front of the bus. While I was curious as to why there was a large elevated mat on the floor next to him, I lacked the necessary language skills to inquire more. It wasn’t until a group of about eight children under the age of five
got on that I found out why.
There I was six foot two inches tall or 187 centimeters, pale American with shoulder length hair typical of a study abroad student surrounded by eight bewildered children staring open mouth, wondering who this strange alien was sitting on their bus ride home from school. As our rickety minibus jumbled through the mountains overlooking breathtaking scenery, trepidation gave way to curiosity as I felt a tiny hand running his fingers through my hair. It wasn’t long after until I was transformed into a human jungle gym for these giggly children to climb on. Eventually the bus stopped outside of a town called XinZie where we took a short break. It was there where we saw the woman I had given my seat to earlier, there we were two Italian women, one American man and one woman of the Yi ethnic group of Yunnan staring at each other inquisitively. She was wearing clothing typical to that of a woman of the Yi ethnic minority: a long black dress with incredibly vibrant embroidery covering her and a large black hat similar to that of a mortar board Westerners wear at graduation ceremonies but about four times the size. My friends and I, naturally curious, elected me to approach and initiate conversation. Eventually I asked her why she dresses in this way, what cultural significance or use does this outfit have? She shrugged and said, I dunno, I just dress like this. Suddenly her curiosity piqued and she pointed at my shorts and she asked, why do you dress like that? Is it your tradition? I shrugged and I gave the same answer.
And we both laughed.
Well, in university, I had a friend who would often say, one person’s normal is another person’s strange. One person’s strange is another person’s normal. There is no weird, only different. It was in this moment I truthfully understood what this meant after saying our goodbyes. It was but a short walk before we reached our destination, there were several mountains covered with hundreds of descending rice terraces with water. So pure, every cloud, every bird, every shade of sunset reflected like a mirror back into the heavens, miles and miles of sky as far as the eye can see. To this day, it is one of the most mesmerizing sites I have ever seen, but the most beautiful experience was not the destination, but rather the journey it took me to get there.
- Episode 2: Brian O’Shea, Social Media Influencer, Living in China
- Episode 1: Todd Williams, Associated Press Award Winner, on Living in Taipei
If you’re an expat and you want to be on the show, you have a friend that you want to be on the show, or you have topic suggestions, feel free to contact us and we will look into it!