I recently had the opportunity to take part in AFS China’s annual trip to Yunnan 云南, a week-long cultural excursion to one of the southernmost provinces in China. It was honestly the most fun I’ve had in China so far. The trip is open to all AFS students in China, so around 90 kids from all over the world were there, some who I already knew from our orientation at the beginning of the year, but also so many new people I’d never met before. Imagine 90 teenage exchange students staying in hotels and traveling around seeing beautiful sights every day for a whole week – it was awesome!
Ten out of the fifteen of us from Changzhou 常州 went; we took a train to Shanghai 上海 (only one hour away), then flew from Shanghai 上海 to Kunming 昆明, the capital of Yunnan 云南 province (which took three hours).
In Kunming 昆明, we visited the Stone Forest, an area with a ton of huge, natural rock formations. While there, we got to meander through the rocks, climb up to a pagoda with an awesome vantage point, and even try on some traditional costumes. The next place we visited was a city called Lijiang 丽江, my absolute favorite place.
It had blue skies, crystal clear streams and lakes nestled between snow-capped mountains, autumn colored trees, traditional and ethnic villages, and a comparatively warm climate. It was perfect just walking around the old town areas and the lakes, taking pictures, and chatting with friends. They say the pace of life in Lijiang 丽江 is the slowest in the world! While there, we also visited several ethnic villages, home to some of China’s minority people groups, and were introduced to their way of life.
We also saw a cool show one night about a love legend having to do with the famous mountain in Lijiang 丽江. The show was in 5D, so the effects and stunts were really cool. Real water spraying out of the floor, people flying through the air, live horses, moving stages, and all that jazz. After Lijiang 丽江, we went to Dali 大理, where we had a lot of free time to explore the old town areas, practicing bargaining for souvenirs and eating random street foods, all with the mountains in the background.
All in all, I loved getting to see Yunnan 云南, which is very different from where I live in Changzhou 常州. The natural beauty of the area and pollution-less air were refreshing, the overall pace of life much more relaxed, and the lifestyle more simple. I also really enjoyed the food in Yunnan 云南, which is a completely different style from Jiangsu 江苏, and driving by rice fields on our way to the next city.
The trip was also really fun because I got to make so many new AFS friends. We had a lot of freedom on the trip; during the day we visited places all together, but we had free time at night to explore the cities on our own and hang out with our new (and old) friends, which were honestly the best memories from the trip. It was cool to talk with other exchange students about their lives in China, for example, to compare life in Sichuan to life in Jiangsu, or life living in a dorm compared to life living with a host family all the time. Anyways, it was an unforgettable and amazing experience. I miss all my friends and beautiful Yunnan, but now we’re back to our normal life in Changzhou, and I have to say, I missed Starbucks and my general familiarity with the city I’ve come to think of as my home.