Stone Dreams and Castles


A couple weekends back, students told a city mate there was a /castle/ in our city called Yelang Valley (夜郎谷), so we determined to visit.

On a drizzly Saturday morning, we hopped on a bus to find this mysterious castle. Baidu Maps promised an hour and 45 minute journey. I thought this meant a long ride through unfamiliar territory but was shocked to recognize the route as the way to Huaxi’s University Town, where I teach writing each week.

Turns out, I’ve been riding past the forest where the castle is every single week for the last three months. 😑


The stone structures and castle are the realization of a man named Song Peilun, an architect who was inspired by South Dakota’s Crazy Horse Memorial and wanted to build his own monument to the YeLang civilization that lived in the forested area 2,000 years ago.


As we reached the entrance to YeLang, I pointed out a man walking toward us who looked like the most Chinese-looking dude I’ve ever seen. His long grey hair spilled down his shoulders, onto a linen Tang suit. He carried a plastic umbrella and greeted our awkward group of foreigners with a jovial “ni hao.”

We passed a stone arch and then saw a giant photo of the man who just greeted us, realizing the man who had just said hello was the architect of YeLang.

If there’s one thing that’s abundant in Guizhou, it’s rocks. Everything’s a mountain and a hill. So mountains and hills are what the YeLang castles and monuments are made of.

The complex is a sprawling monument of stone and terra-cotta faces, wooden houses, with a radioactively colored algae-laden river running through it.

Guiyang’s Finance and Economics University has popped up by it and so the ancient-looking valley is directly neighbored by a sports stadium and several dormitories. The juxtaposition is weird and my site-mates and I wondered what Song Peilun feels about the school colliding into his dream.

Like many places in modernizing China, YeLang is still under construction, and the sounds of moving earth and cranes occasionally broke the peaceful morning air. Beside the impressive stone structures and sculptures, were large piles of construction materials and rubbish. YeLang is really an amalgamation of styles, a remix of traditional and modern. It is both impressive and baffling. I still don’t know what I think about it.


Week one

It’s been a whirlwind of a week. We’ve had sessions for 8 days in a row, but I’ve still had some time to explore the city.

When we’re not learning TEFL, Chinese, PC policy, or ways to keep safe and healthy, we spend a lot of time eating out with members of our cohort.

Chengdu is one of the larger cities that Peace Corps works in, and we’re fortunate to be a block away from a vegan restaurant that has a couple dishes I can eat. I’d wager that 30% of our 72-large cohort eat mostly vegetarian or completely vegetarian and as soon as 12:15 hits, we’ve occupied every seat in the tiny restaurant. The cashier and cooks are exceedingly kind to us and have started to bring us a spicy pickled vegetable as a side with our meals.

Located near Sichuan University, our locale of Chengdu is quite cosmopolitan. There are sandwich restaurants, Malaysian, Thai, and Indian restaurants, a Walmart (沃尔玛 wo4er3ma3) complete with some Western imports like Hunt’s Tomato sauce and Barilla Spaghetti, and of course, hundreds of Chinese restaurants with local specialties like dandan noodles (担担面 dan4dan4mian4), numbingly spicy hot pot (麻辣火锅 ma2la4huo3guo1), spicy rabbit head, and more I can’t possibly describe here 等等什么的。

Here are a few new things I’m getting used to:

  • Drinking and buying bottled water (at Walmart, none the less. My environment-loving soul is dying a bit)
  • The time zone (15 hours ahead of the West Coast)
  • Not putting toilet paper in the toilet (I think have this one down)
  • Squatty potties (still trying to figure these ones out, tbh)
  • Being a pedestrian in a place with, shall we say, liberal and creative traffic patterns

We also live next to an extraordinary bamboo park, which has hundreds of species of bamboo there. I had no clue so many types existed! The greenery here reminds me a bit more of home and beside the weeping willows, the ponds are lined with Cannas and Bougainvillea!


I should probably start exercising at the park in the mornings when the air quality is best. That’ll be the goal for next week. Tomorrow we visit the Panda Research Center so if I take any decent photos, they’ll be up in next week’s post.

San Francisco! 旧金山

I go on a hike in San Francisco

On June 14th, I arrived in San Francisco ( for staging, where I met my fellow 72 China trainees by playing dozens of ice breaker games, sharing identity maps, and spending a few hours reviewing the Peace Corps goals and expectations.

But before getting down to all that business, I had about five hours on my hands and decided to hike out to the Golden Gate Bridge. After scarfing down a quick lunch at Punjab, I filled up my water bottle with San Francisco’s surprising tasty tap water, pulled out my laminated map of the city, courtesy of my California Grandma Nancy, and headed off toward the bay!

The day was glorious–blue skies galore, a balmy 68F, punctuated with the cool ocean breeze. I found it funny to see wealthy ladies returning from yoga sporting Columbia down jackets over their leggings during such a beautifully warm day, and then remembered I’d probably soon be sporting linen and sweating profusely in the Chengdu heat, much to the curiosity and amusement of the 四川人.


Walking toward the bay, I saw 70 year old grandmas steadily trek up and down the steep hills, Pride flags festoon multi-million dollar condos, and young XC students huff and puff their way along the sidewalks.



Probably my dream house


A cool looking shop that I unfortunately didn’t enter


It took a good, long while, but I finally made it to the bridge. The Golden Gate was a lot smaller than I had imagined, though I didn’t get the chance to walk across it. After a few snaps and a cursory look at the visitor center, I rushed back to registration at the hotel by way of Van Ness and Eddy, passing through the Tenderloin. No longer did I share the road with tourists and yoga ladies. The sidewalks were filled with people  smoking, chatting, making various transactions, some which seemed pretty sketchy in nature. The disparate journeys out and in of the city were jarring and it felt weird to be situated in a place where Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf and Goodman’s were blocks away from people begging for an evening meal.



I didn’t have much time to make the trek to the Bridge and had almost stopped and decided to return after being halfway along that dirt path that cuts through the grass and intersects with the tree



The remainder of evening was filled with official registration activities, 1,000 different ice breakers to meet my cohort, and the promise of a full day of basic training and more icebreakers the subsequent day.   

Trainings went off without a hitch. I fell into the group of people surnamed M–Z, and together, we read workbooks, performed skits, and burned the Peace Corps mission and Core expectations into our minds.

That evening, a new friend from Portland and I hiked out to catch the San Francisco sunset on the beach at the end of the Golden Gate Park. Walking an odd 8 miles out reminded me how lovely America’s public spaces and people can be.

The next day, we left for SFO by 8:00 for a 2:00 flight. We played cards and ate average airport fare until boarding, where I sat by the window and two Chinese and their Shiba Inu named Ariel, who somehow managed to make the entire 14 hour flight with no bathroom breaks while sitting under the seats beneath us. Pretty dope.