I am writing from Kunming, in Yunnan province. Despite safety concerns after the terrorist attack at the train station earlier this month, our class managed to steer clear of danger during the week-long field trip.
Our goal was to help build a public pavilion designed by two of our professors at a remote site outside the city. We cut wood and built railings to put together the structure for people from the Bai ethnic minority in Tuopai village. It took four days.
When the project was finally over, we enjoyed a little toast and watched as schoolchildren celebrated the new playground. It was particularly rewarding for me to see a piece of architecture change from drawings to reality. To be part of it was awe-inspiring, to say the least.
Of course, a trip wouldn't be complete without a taste of the local delicacies. We travelled deep into the alleys to discover the weirdest and most exotic treats, including insects and animals you wouldn't imagine eating.
At one point, we were shocked to see dog meat on restaurant menus, but we were sensible enough to avoid it. We did choose deep-fried grasshoppers, though, only because they had run out of dragonflies for the day. It felt like prawn shells, but crunchier in texture and a bit grassier in taste.
Perhaps, you'd feel more comfortable hearing about rice noodles. Kunming served one of the best pot noodles I've ever tasted. The sourness of the pickled vegetables balanced out the stinging spiciness of the soup, with minced pork sprinkled on top of the tender Mixian noodle.
We also had some time off for sightseeing. One of the best memories was taking a five-hour bus ride to the Luxi Chengzicun Mud-House Village, a settlement of the Yi ethnic minority group. It was very isolated. Mud-houses grew out of the mountain and had the most interesting forms - it was a collage of building materials. The scenery was definitely worth the ride.