These first few months, I diligently listened to Pimsleur Chinese lessons and was amazed at the abilities of Liz and Karl, who were quite fluent after a few years in China. The idea of spending two years or more in an exotic bustling city without making an honest effort at the language irked me, so I supplemented my learning with occasional lessons with Shu Lang, the piano tuner Lloyd had introduced me to. She had me copy basic characters like 爱，我，你，音乐 into the little brown notebooks used by schoolchildren here. I reciprocated with English lessons, and had great hopes for her! Alas, her English has not improved significantly. She showed me a photo of her as a young girl, posing in front of her hutong home on a snowy day in the late ‘80s. The home has since been destroyed, the memory of which fuels her rebellious posture towards the system here. She is a great lover of animals and a positive light, and if I took nothing else away from this experience in China, her friendship alone will have made it worthwhile.
On National Day a group of us went to Badachu to check out some Buddhist temples. The air was thick with incense, and this was my first glimpse of Chinese immersing themselves in a spiritual mindset. By the time we made our way to the top of the mountain a cold rain had started and slowly grown heavier. We decided to cut the trip short and amazingly, little Calliope complained the least.
On a sunny day in November I made my way to the Summer Palace, set on a hill by the picturesque Kunming lake in the northwest of the city, affording my first good view of the layout of the city. The site was littered with informative plaques mentioning the infamy of the Eight-Nation Alliance attack on the site, though no mention was made of the Boxer rebellion that provoked it.