An American Abroad

Goodbye Yuxi

Goodbyes are hard. I tend to make them brief and not to linger.

In the last week of June, I said farewell to many good people. I can’t list them all here, but I do have photos to remember some of them by.

I’ll miss Rachel for her spirit, her generosity, her insight into culture and psyche, and her family which she so generously shared with me in Xishuangbanna.

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I’ll miss Xulu for being my tattoo angel and friend, for playing frisbee on the beach, and for all the help she gave me as I tried to navigate in an unfamiliar culture.


I’ll miss Sunny for being so much like her name: someone who is always cheerful, who puts a smile on my face every time I see her, and who’s a terrific TA as well.

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My student Anne was the sweetest six year old imaginable. It was lovely coming into class and seeing her so obviously glad to see me.

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Paul is a fearlessly verbal student, a young man who constantly brought new words and phrases to class to try out. At his suggestion, I took the whole class to see Godzilla before I left town. And as a parting gift, I gave him a book about the Marvel Comics universe, something he knows a great deal about already.

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My colleagues at Shane English Yuxi held my goodbye banquet on my second-to-last day of teaching. It all happened so quickly — it seems like only a couple months ago I was attending my own welcome banquet. I will very much miss my teaching colleagues, who were my friends, mentors and teachers.

Paul, my boss, taught me how to teach and the connection between instruction and performance.

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Matt taught me to love Swansea soccer.

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JJ showed me that music is an international connector; some of my happiest evenings in Yuxi were spent listening to him sing and play guitar at a local music bar. Luciana taught me to understand her strange Yorkshire dialect (which apparently has a critical shortage of consonants) and how to make a comfortable home wherever you are.

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David was a terrific friend who regularly reminded me that the world is full of the bizarre, the wonderful and the fascinating.

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I didn’t get good banquet photos of Daniel and Silas, but the former renewed my own idealism while the latter taught me how important it is to have a quest.

24 hours after my farewell banquet ended, I was on a plane bound for Vietnam thinking of all the good people I’d left behind. I hope very much to see them again.


This is NOT a new pair of shoes.

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They are actually about 18 months old and have seen much use. They were stained with mud, tar, road dirt, and food (from where I cleverly dropped a bowl of greasy noodles on my feet).

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I was on the verge of getting rid of them and shopping for a new pair when a friend told me about a hole-in-the-wall store near Yuxi People’s Hospital where an old woman worked magic on old shoes. So I gave it a try. This is the result.

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The cost? ¥3, or about $0.54. Sure beats laying out 100 times that for a new pair!

Nighttime at Yuxi Beach

There is a large park in Yuxi called Nie Er Square which features, among other things, a small lake with a sandy beach. I went there two nights ago and met up with my colleagues David and Daniel, David’s girlfriend Xulu, and our mutual friend Emi. Emi was shooting black and white photos in the fading evening light and captured these images, which she thoughtfully sent me:



David brought a Frisbee his mother had sent him, and we had a great time playing on the beach. It reminded me of when I went backpacking in Europe many years ago and packed a Frisbee. Bringing it out often helped me to meet people. I think I’ll take one to Tunisia.

Return to Fuxian Lake, Part 2

[Read Return to Fuxian Lake, Part 1.]

Further along the canal was a beautiful wooded park with a few pavilion-type buildings.

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There were some temples and shrines there dedicated to a god I couldn’t identify.

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By this time it was mid-afternoon and we were all hungry. We found a lakeside restaurant that was devoid of customers; the tourist season here opens with May Day. The lake was window-clear, though the skies were hazy there due to the numbers of field fires that the local farmers had set to clear their land.

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After a delicious lunch of fish and pork, we saddled up and headed back to Yuxi.

Return to Fuxian Lake, Part 1

I had such a good time last week motorcycling out to Fuxian Lake that I thought I’d do it again.

This time, I narrowly managed to avoid going to the hospital and going to jail.

And I took photos at some of the villages that are built on canals that run into the lake. It was another great day.

My colleagues Paul Rushton and Daniel Dugger accompanied me. Our first stop was a motorcycle supply shop here in Yuxi to get Daniel a helmet. This proved to be a wise investment.

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It was a beautiful windy day. We got out of Yuxi quickly and zig-zagged our way up and down the switchbacks and into the countryside. The villages we passed were alive with people drying straw on the roadways, with families breaking up huge slabs of coal into usable-sized pieces, with farmers tending their fields, and with trucks hauling produce, boulders, coal, building supplies and foodstuffs along the narrow village roads.

We were going through the second village, me driving and Daniel riding bitch, when two trucks converged on us from both directions. I was forced to the side of the road where there was a lot of loose gravel and sand. Once I’d cleared the trucks, I pointed Zippy back toward the center of the road.

At that moment, the rear wheel slipped out from under us and down we went. Daniel jumped clear, landing in a crouching position. I fell onto my right side with the bike on top of me and slid across the gravel, picking up some pretty road rash, a few nice bruises, and a severe blow to my pride.

Daniel was uninjured. (Of course, he’s thirty years younger than me. He bounces.)

Zippy broke a front turn signal and had his crash bars bent a little. We hurriedly remounted, anxious to be away from the big trucks on narrow village streets. We stopped at the next village and I cleaned up my boo-boos with a bandana and a bottle of water and took a few pictures.

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At Fuxian Lake, we got onto the divided highway that runs around its perimeter. We hadn’t gone more than two kilometers when a cop at a police checkpoint motioned us over to the side of the road. There was much discussion about motorcycles not being allowed on this road because it “wasn’t safe.”

We were also concerned about potential and multiple irregularities in our licenses and motorcycle registrations. In such cases, the police have been known to impound motorcycles, which would have been pretty bad for us, being 50 kilometers from home. I found myself wondering if Chinese jails have cable.

After getting a stern talking-to by the head cop about how we were in China now and the rules were different, Paul abruptly changed the subject to lunch (a favorite subject for many Chinese). Suddenly, he and the cop were talking about local restaurants instead of local jails, and I breathed a silent sigh of relief. We were let go with a warning and told to get off the divided roadway as soon as we could.

Soon we were riding along a canal that first went through a small village with both a road bridge and a foot bridge over the waterway.

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[Read Return to Fuxian Lake, Part 2.]

By Motorcycle to Jiangchuan

On the map, the town of Jiangchuan looks to be only about 20 kilometers east of Yuxi via the Yujiang Expressway.

But when you avoid the expressway and follow the back roads through a dozen villages, ride up and down mountains, and savor the twisties of rural Yunnan, the distance is easily twice that. I rode there yesterday with my Shane English Yuxi colleague and boss Paul Rushton, who after seven years here knows the geography of the region in great detail.

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Zippy struggled up the hills and topped out at 70 km/h on the straightaways (and makes disturbing noises at that speed), but he floated over ruts and potholes and was very sure-footed on sand and loose gravel.

Out in the countryside, farmers worked their land by hand, oxen grazed in the wetlands, and rural graveyards stood silent on the mountainsides.

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In one village we discovered an ancient outdoor theater that’s been converted to a restaurant and junked up by more recent additions — but I can still imagine what it must have looked like back when it was the only source of entertainment for miles around.

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At another hamlet, we were welcomed by a group of older men who here hanging out outside what looked to be an old temple. They were friendly and curious; I doubt they see many laowais (foreigners) there.

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Jiangchaun stands on the shores of Xingyun Lake, a pretty body of water that’s being developed into a tourist area. We skirted Jiangchuan itself and opted instead to loop around the lake. Some of the villages that dot the shore have old canals running through them, with houses built right to the edges.

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We passed by steeply arced stone footbridges faced with dragon gargoyles, but by that time we were headed back to Yuxi for dinner, so we didn’t stop. I hope to explore these at a more leisurely pace next time.


Although Beicheng is a village just 20 minutes north of Yuxi, I’d never been there before yesterday. I now regret not seeing it earlier.

The buildings there are lower and older than those in Yuxi. Apparently the Chinese mania for tearing down their architectural history has not made it there yet.
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There is a large pagoda in the center of town. It was originally built in the Ming Dynasty, but was rebuilt more recently during the Qing Dynasty and it now bears the colorful excesses of that period.
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That large sign on the second level with three Chinese characters helpfully identifies the structure as “old tall building.”

I climbed up into the pagoda and was struck by the Escheresque internal views.
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Other details, such as the wood carvings on the shutters and the temple bell, made this pagoda one of the more interesting ones I’ve been to.
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Yuxi In Bloom, Under Construction, On Guard

Spring has arrived in Yuxi and the public gardens are in bloom.

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Other parts of town are considerably less scenic right now. There is a new mayor here, known to everyone as “Mr. Finger”: he points at a building and BOOM, it’s gone the next day. There are enormous highrise shopping and residential complexes being built in two different locations and an underground shopping plaza being put beneath one of Yuxi’s major commercial streets. There is a new outpatient care building being added to Yuxi People’s Hospital and numerous other medium-sized buildings sprouting up all over town.

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Meanwhile in the wake of the Kunming terror attack two weeks ago, there are still armed police and soldiers stationed around the schools and near shopping centers. They aren’t keen on being photographed, but I managed to snap this pic of them near a school.

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After the Funeral Procession

I was working on one of my MOOCs this morning around 10:00 when I heard a lengthy round of firecrackers going off down in the street. I peered through my window and saw that the firecrackers were being tossed off the back of a three-wheeler. Behind that were people parading down Zhuge East Road. They were carrying floats decorated with a model of a Chinese house and many flowers. By the time I got my shoes on, grabbed my camera, and took the elevator down 18 floors, the parade was over and the floats were being packed up into a truck. The people stood around and chatted, many of them with their heads wrapped in white turbans and their bodies covered with white tunics. They seemed to be in a good mood and gladly acquiesced to my request to take their photos.

Later I learned from some Chinese friends that this was a funeral procession. White is the color of death and mourning in China, which explains the tunics and turbans.
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(I was cautioned never to give white flowers to someone outside of a funeral.) The model of the house and the flowers are to symbolize the possessions of the decedent.
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If the person who’s died is old, then the funeral party is generally a more festive one.

Daytrip to Mengzi

Today I took my first-ever train trip in China and, at the suggestion of a Chinese friend of mine, went to the town of Mengzi. I was about two hours southeast of Yuxi:

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The train was old and a little worn, but it was right on time and and traveled at a good clip. I was accompanied by Silas, a new colleague of mine at Shane English Yuxi.

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When we got to Mengzi, we took a taxi to Nanhu Lake, which lies in the center of town. The lake is supposedly the place where over-the-bridge noodles were invented. It has a beautiful park around it that features many classic Chinese buildings.

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After walking around the lake, we went into the older part of town. Today was market day, which brought throngs to the town center. At times, the narrow streets were so crowded with foot traffic that it was impossible to move. Many of the people there were Yi and Miao people. I was reluctant to take their photographs as if they were some kind of exhibit, but I did snap these candids:

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Mengzi has many more older buildings than Yuxi does. They’re not in very good repair, but they provide a glimpse of the China that was:

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Now that I have some train experience, I may do more daytrips around Yunnan. It’s a pleasant way to travel here.