I figure it’s about time for an update, especially with some of the traveling I’ve done recently. Last week the university hosted a two-day, all-expenses-paid outing to Huanren Manchu Autonomous County, where we hiked Wunu Mountain, explored a cave, and took a boat to a Buddhist island, among other activities. Having remained in the busy (and polluted) city of Shenyang since my arrival to China in August, it was very refreshing to get some fresh air and witness some of the most gorgeous scenery I’ve ever seen. (The pictures below inevitably fail to convey how it felt to see these sights in person.) It was also a good opportunity to know my colleagues a little better, good sides and bad. Although there were two other native English speakers on the trip (from Canada and the U.K.), I was the only American present, something which I’ve already become quite used to in Shenyang. Despite the presence of the two English-speaking gentlemen, I ended up enjoying a lot more the company of the teachers from Japan, China, and Germany, sharing teaching strategies with each other or simply discussing our differing cultures.
When I wasn’t conversing with my fellow travelers, I was having just as much fun wandering by myself and marveling at the fact that I’m actually living in this beautiful country. Although a tour guide was often hired in the various places we visited, I tended to trail behind the group or leave it altogether, preferring to take in the scenery on my own, even if this meant knowing less historical details about some of sites. The cave, with all its labyrinthine corridors and multiple pathways, was a particularly fun place to explore independently. As the pictures below show, I mainly found myself distracted by the occasional a dew-soaked spider web or animal—I was even late in returning to our bus due to my preoccupation over a butterfly, whose picture I showed to the teachers in order to defend myself after returning. I also enjoyed sampling the various items being sold by the cart that we encountered, including dried fruit, tobacco (it was my very first cigarette, and I rolled it myself!), and dried grape jelly, which I loved so much that I paid five yuan for a bagful and promptly ate the whole thing for breakfast the following morning.
The university was incredibly generous, too. Not only did it pay for every activity on the trip, but it also put us up at an incredibly nice hotel—complete with our very own rooms and free breakfast—and took us to some delicious (and oftentimes very unique) restaurants. My favorite place was a pretty little shelter near Wunu Mountain, where we drank beer and ate fish freshly caught from the lake beside us. The oddest thing I sampled was silkworm cocoons, which were set before me on a plate on the last night of our trip. The cooked larvae inside was quite edible (it tasted like slimy rice), but the cocoon itself was too rough to swallow, so I spit it out once I swallowed its interior. The best food I ate was at a nice “hot pot” diner, where my companions and I shared a variety of delicacies (beef, vegetables, shrimp, etc.) that we cooked ourselves in the boiling pot set at the middle of the table.
Overall, the trip was a wonderful way to begin China’s national holiday break, which I’m currently enjoying. Since returning back “home” to Shenyang, I’ve been enjoying the vacation time, especially since discovering a local DVD shop that is stocked with movies from America, France, Russia, Japan, and, of course, China. Last Monday I found one of my very favorite Chinese films, Stanley Kwan’s Centre Stage—a heartbreaking and very self-reflexive biopic about Ruan Lingyu (played with porcelain-like grace by famed Hong Kong actress Maggie Cheung), a film star from the 1930s who committed suicide when she was 24. Other movies I was thrilled to purchase include the second feature in the OSS 117 series (France’s answer to Austin Powers, but much, much funnier) and a hard-to-find film by Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni. The store seems to restock very often, so I’m bound to return a lot in the next year, especially since it only charges about 10 yuan (roughly $1.00) for each DVD.
Other than watching movies, I’ve spent the last few days meeting with Chinese friends (those who are not visiting their families, that is), playing guitar (always relaxing), and exploring the city. It’s become much colder here in recent days, to the point where I’m now wearing multiple layers along with my new scarf, which you can see in the photographs below. On that note, I will let my pictures take it from here! Feel free to comment if you have any questions about them.