Spring Start

Yay! Yuwen, my tutor, is back in town and we’re having a lesson tomorrow. She originally thought that she wouldn’t be back until March 6. That meant it would be another 3 weeks of no class. Yikes! But now I can squeeze in some class time before my parents get here.

Kunming is slowly starting to wake up from the New Year festivities. More store fronts are open today, although fruit and vegetable stands are still near non-existent. I saw one guy selling bananas. Finding fresh food has been impossible.

Walking around on campus today, I’ve seen so many new foreigner faces. It’s exciting, but also a little sad to see the constant revolving door of foreigners arriving and leaving. It’s been such a ghost town for the last few weeks, so I’ll be happy to meet some cool people.

A Week of Sundays

The Spring Festival continues here in China. I’ve never seen Kunming so empty. There are a handful of stores open. The buses are running. Pharmacies are open. The big box stores are open. But mostly it’s really very, very quiet here. Nights are still peppered with fireworks going off until the wee hours. Quite beautiful, but noisy.

Jeremy’s been on a few expeditions to some of the temples just outside the city. Not surprisingly, he’s produced a new movie!

Calm Down

Photo by Cybergabi.

Ok, I didn’t mean to scare you. The last couple of posts have generate an enormous wave of anxiety-filled questions. I just want to make it clear (Mom, Dad, and Jeremy’s Ma) that everywhere we stay will have a Western toilet. You will be able to sit on the porcelin, just don’t flush the paper. No other rules or troubles. We will bypass the squat toilet and all of your related questions about the procedures and methods. Calm down.

Mom asks:

Why is this the year of the Golden Pig?

Well, you know about the Chinese zodiac, so you understand pig part, but what you might not have known is that each year also has a related element: metal, water, wood, fire, and soil. This year is fire. Here’s a nice chart.

Mom also asks:

If someone was born in January would they be born in the year of the pig or the dog? How do January and February birthdays figure out which Chinese year they were born in?

The new year that begins February 18 uses a lunar calendar. So, just like Easter lands on a different day (of our regular calendar) every year, so will the Chinese New Year. Therefore it’s difficult to determine what Chinese year you were born in if you were a February baby without going back and examining both calendars. Here’s someone who’s done that for you.

Sarah asks:

…they don’t kill & eat pigs in honor of the year of the pig, right?

Um, I’m sure some people eat pork for the new year. Are you picturing some kind of elaborate sacrifice ritual? Or maybe church-picnic-style pig roasting on a spicket? No, I don’t think that happens.

Dad asks:

I read about the painting the ground thing. Kind of odd. How far away is that?

Hm… still looking into this one.

[UPDATE: According to gokunming.com, Fumin County is “about 40 kilometers northwest of Kunming.”]

That’s One Way of Putting It

This article, Officials paint mountain green, illustrates the insanity of the Chinese people:

green mountain

Local government officials in China have been criticised for spraypainting a barren mountain face green. Laoshou mountain, near Fumin in Yunnan province, was left an eyesore by quarrying. But instead, of re-foresting the mountainside, foresty officials hired seven workers for 45 days to spraypaint it green.

Nearby villagers have been driven from their homes by the strong smell of paint, reports City Times. They claim the workers told them the work was being done to improve the view from a newly-built government building.

Local businessman Huang said: “At first I was glad to see the green mountain, thinking the government was paying more attention to the environment. “But then I noticed the great contrast with the surrounding mountains.”

Another villager complained: “We thought the workers were here to spray pesticides before planting saplings. But it turned out to be green paint.”

Ok, well… the insanity of some Chinese people.

I also wanted to acknowledge the insanity of the… er… some American people. I believe this NPR story, Ban Thwarts ‘Year of the Pig’ Ads in China, is anti-China nonsense:

year of the pig

A ban on pig references in commercials illustrates problems with China’s advertising industry. The Year of the Pig begins Feb. 18, and many advertisers planned pig themes. The pig ban is meant to protect the sensibilities of 20 million Muslims.

This isn’t true. Or, at least, it isn’t happening here in Yunnan Province, where a huge percentage of the country’s Muslims live.

Yes, this Sunday begins the New Year here in China. It will be the Year of the Pig, and more importantly the Year of the Golden Pig. Anyway, it’s a very lucky year, and so the holiday is extra crazy this time around. It is by far the most important holiday season for the Chinese. New Year’s is the only day all year that some businesses close. So, of course, the holiday is about BUYING things and buying LUCKY things, like things decorated with pigs or advertised with/by pigs. This includes billboards, newspapers, and t.v. commercials. Really, pigs are everywhere.

Nice, Clean Squat Toilet


Originally uploaded by jstarrdewar.

Ok, while we’re on gross-out subjects… I have to prepare you for something important before you visit me in Kunming.

China’s bathroom technology has really progressed in recent years. First there was indoor plumbing and then bathrooms. Even so, you can still find apartments without these luxaries — so public toilets and showers are commonly available outside older apartment complexes.

On your visit here, you may not have to deal with public showers, but you may find yourself at a public toilet once or twice. These are unpleasant places: smelly and not so private. You usually have to pay 1 mao (1/10th of 1 RMB = $0.01), and if you forgot to bring your own, you may be able to purchase an overpriced pack of toilet paper for 1 RMB ($0.12).

You may already know about “squat” toilets. These are either holes or troughs that you squat over to use the toilet. All public toilets will be like this. The only exception to this rule is the token “western” toilet (the traditional throne) in the ladies room at the airport or sometimes at a university.

Most restaurants and coffee shops will not have a toilet. When cafes or bars have toilets, they are for urination (pee, number 1) only. You cannot poo (poop, crap, shit, number 2) in these toilets. There are often amusing signs informing you about this in multiple languages, threatening enormous fines for violators of this (very important) rule.

No matter where you go — outside of our home and your hotel room, you must carry toilet paper with you. It’s available at any convenience store in handy little packets.

Ok. Now here’s the bad part: You cannot flush toilet paper. Really. Not allowed anywhere. Not at the hotel, not at our house, not at the airport. The plumbing is just not good enough and you will instantly have a toilet running over. Yuck. Used toilet paper must be put in the trashcan beside the toilet. Wrapping is advised, but is a courtesy not always practiced in public bathrooms.