Paper-Making in Houhai

There is probably nothing more study abroad-like than participating in unfamiliar traditional activities. In only our second day of our one-week stay in Beijing, our next stop after lunch was at a traditional-style residence in Houhai where we learned how to make Chinese paper cuts! Before the activity began, I was personally a little fatigued after quite the busy morning in Tiananmen Square and Jingshan Park. However, a nice surprise welcomed me on our way to the residence: we got to ride a carriage! Here’s a POV clip below:

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He biked at the perfect pace, giving me enough time to enjoy the autumn breeze and a more traditional-looking part of China. It was a much-needed pleasant ride since I didn’t think my legs could support me any longer. Anyways, when we got there, we were greeted by a man named Mike, who spoke very fluent English with minimal accent. But because the residence was small and we came in a big group, we all split up into three groups, placed in three different rooms where Mike would spend time with each group one-by-one. My group went first while the other groups waited.

After we sat down at a felt-covered table, he first thing he told us was “these are very sharp scissors.” I didn’t think he was being serious, but he was. I poked myself, and it hurt. After sharing a few laughs with my fellow friend Mike, he taught us a brief history of paper-cutting (including its importance during the New Year: 窗花), common patterns of paper-cutting, and how to make one of the patterns, of which the name I sadly forgot.

I’m sure of one thing: paper-cutting is a very precise art. It not only requires cutting paper, but also requires folding paper. If you cut too much paper, you had to start over again. Making the wrong folds, meaning an inch off from what Mike demonstrated, frustrated me a lot more than I originally anticipated. However, Mike was very helpful and even satisfied that we were doing really well on our first ever try.

The end result? The most beautiful paper creation I made in my life, mostly because I haven’t done any paper work since my elementary school arts and crafts days. Let’s just say I made some pretty interesting things back in the day.

I really like these kinds of activities because I can study all the traditions of China I want on the Internet or in a textbook, but doing an actual activity in real life really adds a different depth to my overall personal impression. I find my mind to be a lot more engaged and excited when doing hands-on activities. Just like cooking Chinese food at the Linden Center in Dali, paper-cutting again made me more personally connected with Chinese culture simply because I actually participated in the activity. These kinds of activities aren’t easy, but the work is definitely worth the learning experience.

Yunnan Ethnic Village

What an exciting kick-off for Davidson in China 2018! After a couple of days in Shanghai, we all headed down to the southwestern province of Yunnan to travel and sightsee for a week. For me, the weeklong experience was more than just tourism; I had been challenged with seeing a brand-new side to China that involves more than its economy, government, and Confucius.

Our first destination was Kunming, the provincial capital of Yunnan. Aside from having a new and beautiful airport, my first impression was the weather: It was cooler and less humid than Shanghai, but also a lot cloudier and breezier. It honestly felt like heaven after experiencing only a couple of days of absolute blistering heat and humidity.

I got to enjoy the same weather for the entire week in Yunnan, but the first site we visited in Kunming — the Yunnan Ethnic Village — was a such a beautiful and memorable place, one that gave me such a sensational experience that I believe I could only capture it again there. I’m no stranger to beautiful parks in life, but this park was unique in that it was imbued with such rich heritage emanating the beauty of more than ten, maybe even twenty, diverse cultures of Yunnan’s minority ethnic groups. All day long, the park kindled me with such a vibrant energy that reminded me again what an amazing country China is, and its wealth of cultural heritage spanning not only five thousand years but also dozens of ethnicities.

While walking around the park, I mostly marveled at the unique sculptures, tools, artwork, and buildings placed in a way that did not take away but instead added to the natural beauty of the big, green park. I’m not going to lie, they’re all very bright and colorful. They’re all carved with such precision and detail. But I did not know much of, if at all, Yunnan minority history before stepping foot in the park. Well, we did come here to learn everything we could about Yunnan minority history and culture in the first place, so here began my learning adventure.

In the picture above, that image inside the circle is not a painting. It looks like a painting, but it’s actually the natural pattern of a certain kind of marble, called Dali marble. Dali marble is very expensive and highly valuable because, obviously, those natural patterns which smoothly resemble human artwork are rare.

Like the ancient Greeks, I presume the minorities retold their classic stories and legends on surfaces, depicting people and events. They also had an ancient written language (character-based like written Chinese), which is in the orange picture below. They’re quite hard to see, but I can tell you that they look more like pictographs than the current written Chinese system.

It was mostly after the entire trip ended that I was able to understand and appreciate the intricacies of Yunnan minority cultural beauty. Looking back, I felt quite fortunate to visit a place where all of the Yunnan minority cultures we later on witnessed more in-depth, converged neatly in one location. The Ethnic Village was a great starting point for the rest of our trip.

I highly recommend people to visit this place. It has everything you would want: natural beauty, diverse cultures, clean air, cats, and theme-park like attractions (which we did not really visit, but hey they look cool). I want to individually thank Dr. Bullock for taking us all to this place and all the other places we visited in Yunnan; each and every place was unique in their story, history, and culture.

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