The week in Yunan province has been rich with many different cultures, flavored, and landscapes. The closeness to Tibet and Myanmar, the presence of a visible Muslim population, and the various ethnic minority groups (Bai, Yi, Naxi) influence everything from cuisine to architecture.
Having spent the past week in mostly rural areas, I have been impressed with the diversity of household crops-- cabbage, corn, potato, pepper, tomatoes, peaches, apples and dozens of herbs and spices. Most restaurants display their fresh ingredients at the entry or in the dining area, often inviting customers to pick what they want to go into their stir fry or hotspot (think hearty soup). This is the perfect system if you can't speak the language. I just point and whatever the cook says after that I just nod my head. So far, so good.
During my last day in Dali I made it a point to partake in the traditional Bai culture three tea ceremony (San Dao Cha). First course is a bitter tea. The second is sweet with kernels of roasted walnut and a local butter. The third is sweet and spicy. The ceremony is said to embody the principles of etiquette, honesty, and beauty, which I am hoping rubbed off on me.
Crops and culture are not the only form of diversity in China. Though not (yet) a systematic survey, I have counted at least 23 flavors of popsicle, including corn, snow pea, cinnamon, and banana. The corn one is actually shaped like a cob!
During the five hour bus ride to Kunming we made a rest stop. I got off the bus, bought a snack and headed back to find a sea of indistinguishable buses, each with its destination clearly displayed -- in Chinese. I freaked, realizing I had just lost my bus and not sure how long I had to find it. Realizing my ticket was on my seat (the only way to ask locals for help), I freaked some more. Breath. Fortunately I am better with faces than with buses. I managed to identify a few people from my bus. I then found a few more for good measure. I followed them back and made it to Kunming.
As I write, I have just arrived at the seaside conference location an hour outside of Shenzhen. Teaching begins tomorrow.