Art Spaces, Umbrella Matchmaking, and Chinese KFC

Written by Hannah Casper-Johnson, (Georgetown University) Student Correspondent Middlebury School in China: Kunming, Fall 2017

This week in Kungfu class, I found myself getting out of breath in the first few minutes of warm-up and decided that it was probably time to start running again.  So that’s how I found myself lacing up my sneakers Thursday afternoon and mentally preparing to run for the first time in too many months.

Apparently the emphasis on exercise extends even into the animal kingdom.

I had decided to run to the nearby lake, called Cuihu, and there I ran past (or rather, was passed by) many fellow joggers.  Exercise is, I’ve come to realize, an important part of daily life here, and even includes the elderly, many of whom I saw running or using the playground-like exercise equipment built into the park at various points.

With next week’s midterms looming ever closer, it’s started to hit me that I’m hitting the halfway point of my study abroad, and I realized there’s still a lot I haven’t checked off the typical study abroad checklist.  Being in China and being on this type of language intensive program, I feel like my study abroad experience might not quite fit into the “typical” box.  I can’t just skip classes or take a train to another country for the weekend.  But I realized there was one thing that I could do, something that I’ve heard from many study abroad returnees or just average travelers: getting lost and just wandering around a city.

They also had a cat, which, I’m not going to lie, was a big draw.

They also had a cat, which, I’m not going to lie, was a big draw.

So, I decided to get lost.

Well, turns out that’s a little easier said than done.  I’ve always had a fairly strong sense of direction, and even though it’s definitely dulled by the Chinese street signs and confusing maze of endless alleyways, it was still present and completely ruined by plan for adventure.

Luckily, since next week we have midterms, I didn’t have any actual homework this weekend, so I made the probably poor decision to forgo studying in favor of taking a second stab at getting lost.  Here are some of the highlights!

I started off by heading to a place intriguingly just called “Art Space” that I’d noticed a few days ago.  It turned out to be a combination between a coffee shop, art gallery, and studio.  Plus, from what I gathered, it looks like they also offer classes, which I’ll be sure to check out.

Don’t worry Mom and Dad, I didn’t take down any phone numbers, but I did have someone ask me if I was Italian.

Don’t worry Mom and Dad, I didn’t take down any phone numbers, but I did have someone ask me if I was Italian.

As I wandered on, I happened upon a huge crowd of people milling around dozens of umbrellas propped open on the pavement, each with a typed or handwritten page attached.  Upon closer inspection, I figured out that the umbrellas were a kind of matchmaking advertisement process, where a parent can set up an umbrella and then shop around for a suitable spouse’s umbrella.  One that I was able to translate provided a young man’s age, height, education, and job, and specified that he is “honest and kind,” “respects his parents” and has “well-proportioned features” and an “eagerness to improve,” not to mention owning a house and a car.

 

 The museum itself was pretty boring, but at least the building was pretty.

The museum itself was pretty boring, but at least the building was pretty.

Then it went on to specify the preferred height (0.08 meters shorter than the young man), educational background, and personality of a potential wife, as well as a phone number to call if interested.

Walking for several more hours, my adventure led me to an old military school that’s been turned into a Military Museum.

I also came across a bonsai garden and, last but not least, a church.

Finally, running on only five hours of sleep after a long night of KTV (the popular term here for karaoke), I took a much needed rest at 肯德基 (Kěndéjī), or as it’s known in America, KFC.

I walked around a bit inside, and it turns out it’s a bilingual church, where everything is in both Chinese and English and there are TV screens in the pews, where subtitles can be broadcasted. 

I walked around a bit inside, and it turns out it’s a bilingual church, where everything is in both Chinese and English and there are TV screens in the pews, where subtitles can be broadcasted.

Although China now has many American fast food chains (Starbucks, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, to name a few), KFC is by far the most popular and offers vastly different choices than American branches.

I ordered a Dragon Twister (a flat piece of bread rolled up with fried chicken, cucumbers, rice, and sauce, not unlike Beijing Roast Duck and actually pretty tasty) and a red bean pie, which sadly did not live up to my expectations as an avid red bean lover.  But, all in all, not a bad lunch for what came out to be the equivalent of less than three dollars.

Content but thoroughly exhausted I started to walk back (in the rain, of course, because it’s Kunming), passing the matchmakers one more time, who were not at all deterred by the downpour, and simply pulled out second umbrellas and continued their matchmaking crusade.  Alas, the quest for true love, or at least an acceptable marriage arrangement, rests for nothing, definitely not some pesky rain.