Friday, April 20, 2007

What is a Kunming?


When I initially got serious about going to China, I thought I'd head straight to Beijing, and try to get work turning Engrish into English. But a journalist contact suggested a different route, the one which I'm now taking.

I'm heading to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province (the light blue area). It's a "small" city of about 3.7 million or 4.9 million, depending on whether you trust Wikipedia or my travel guide from the Chinese government. Kunming is known for its laid-back attitude, good climate and (relatively) clean air. Its nickname is "The Garden City" or "The Spring City," because of its climate. The cost of living is said to be one of the lowest for a Chinese city.

The city is surroundeed on three sides by mountains, so I expect to do some hiking. To the south is a large lake. Its elevation is 6,200 feet, about 1,000 feet higher than Denver.

The "plan" is to stay in Kunming for somewhere between a few months and several months, studying Mandarin and traveling and freelancing some stories. In a year or less, I expect to be in Beijing.

Contrary to Popular Belief. . .

I am not going to China for any of these reasons:

1. To find Audrey Raines

2. To find out if I can eat Jell-O with chopsticks

3. To become a soap opera star (ok, maybe this is a goal of mine. But I'm embarrassed about it)

4. To coach the Chinese water polo team

5. To lose 20 pounds.

6. To meet the brains behind The Bodies Exhibition

7. Because I've always wanted to be exotic, and I've recently decided that being a fashion zero in New York doesn't count.

8. To kidnap baby pandas for American zoos

9. To see what a traffic jam with bicycles instead of cars looks like

10. Tired of seeing white guys on my money—bring on Mao!

11. To find shoes in my size

12. To see if the accuracy rate of fortune cookies is higher there

13. I heard there was an underpopulation problem

14. To launch a Chinese Elvis impersonator convention

Total Care for My Academic and Living Conditions

I'll be living and studying here for the month of May. Kunming has lots of options for studying Mandarin, including two universities. I tried researching and contacting the universities, but they were extremely hard to get through to and their Web sites were dauntingly spare.

Then I stumbled on Keats School. Sometimes you have to judge a book by its cover because you have nothing else to go on. That's what I did here. It looks comfy and cozy, and the site was full of photos of happy westerners on their China adventure. Just the easy start I was looking for. I was especially encouraged by sentences like this on their site:

If you choose to come here to study, you would be a member of the family. Don't worry about the foreign, strange country and totally different language. We will provide total care for your academic and living conditions. . . You will feel warm in the school. At your birthday day, you will receive the present from the school.When you get sick, the school will send you to hospital.. . .once you enroll with Kuming Keats School you will have no other worries or concerns. Too bad I won't be there on my birthday.

They're also turning out to be very helpful and professional. When I e-mail, I always hear back within 24 hours. They shared contact information with me for two former students so I could do a little background checking, and helped with my visa. They will pick me up at the airport in Kunming, and are also letting me stay a few extra days before my course starts.

I'll be living in a dorm room, with my own (Western) bathroom andin-room internet access. My study will be one-on-one, eight hours a day. After a month, my Chinese should be better than my French.