Beautiful but not delicate, bustling but gentle: Kunming in Vietnamese girl TRA MY’s eyes

                    “No, you must attend a college in China.” In Huyen Cam Thuy, Thanh Hoa, Vietnam, Tra My was having an argument with her mother on the phone at home.

                    Worried that college tuition would be a burden on her family, Tra My intended to find a job rather than attend college after graduating from senior high school. “I will give you all the support to get you into a college even if I sell our fields!” Encouragement from her grandmother gave her a new hope to chase her dream again.


                    Bui Thi Tra My

                    Located at North Vietnam, a river crossed over Huyen Cam Thuy with green hills on both sides. For those who intended to study abroad, they mostly chose to go to Laos. Tra My could not only get scholarship but also receive cost-of-living grants from Lao government if she studied in Laos. That’s why she thought her mother’s insistence on persuading her to study in China instead of Laos was quite unintelligible.

                    With a mixed feeling of puzzlement, guilty and anxiety, Tra My had no choice but to apply for a language school in Yulin, south China’s Guangxi Province. In September 2018, Tra My left her hometown and came to China on her own.

                    A new life begins from learning Chinese

                    Totally surrounded by unfamiliar Chinese, Tra My felt a twitch of anxiety after she got off the plane.

                    “Where’s your visa?” Tra My stood blankly in front of a customs officials who was speaking in Chinese with her. “I could understand not a single word of him. When I looked back, there were already a queue of people waiting for me. That was so embarrassed.”

                    In school, teachers asked students questions one after another in class, but Tra My couldn't answer any of them. Her classmates spoke enthusiastically because they started school two weeks ahead of her. “It seemed like I entered a world that I didn’t belong to.”

                    Not knowing how to communicate with others in Chinese, Tra My was afraid to dine outside. For the first two weeks, she only stayed in the dormitory, ate bread and fruits that her family send to her. When Tra My wanted to give up, her grandmother’s words re-echoed in her mind. The only choice she could make at that moment was keep going. 


                    Tra My was studying.

                    Tra My compelled herself to think and speak in Chinese rather than Vietnamese all the time to improve her Chinese. In spite of great difficulty, she even spoke Chinese with her Vietnamese friends in their daily conversations. “All I concerned about at that moment was only Chinese.” Tra My recalled.

                    Her hard work didn’t end in vain. She passed HSK Level IV in only half a year. In June 2019, Tra My applied for Chinese major in Yunnan University of Finance and Economics. Under support from her mother and grandmother, she came to Kunming with great excitement.

                    Enjoy tenderness of the spring city

                    A burst of cold wind gave Tra My a shiver when she walked out of the airport, then fresh air filled her lungs with every breath.“That was such a bright feeling. Kunming is very clean, I like here,” Tra My said with a smile. 

                    The city was full of flowers and green plants although it was already entered winter. Ginkgo leaves lazily lay down on the streets and reflected golden light when sun shined down. It was Tra My’s first acquaintance with Kunming.

                    “I’ve never seen so many flowers before I came to Kunming.” Tra My explained, “There were little people growing flowers in my hometown, but you can see so many flowers even on streets in Kunming.” The city full of flowers surprised and amazed Tra My a lot.

                    She never heard about Kunming, the spring city, when she was in Vietnam. After a period of living in Kunming, Tra My had her own understanding of the words “the spring city”: “Kunming is still cold in winter and hot in summer. But flowers and plants are growing full of vigor in every season. I think this is the reason that Kunming was called the spring city.”

                    Black-headed gulls come all this way from Siberia to Kunming every winter, you can see them flying above Dianchi Lake, Haigeng Dam and Cuihu Lake. Tra My has learned Kunming people’s “hospitality way” about buying a pack of gull food to visit these little creatures and taking photos of them.

                    “People here are fond of eating potatoes, they prefer to call it ‘Yangyu’.” Tra My likes to buy a box of potatoes from street stalls and then enjoy herself with deep-fry potatoes with some chili powder like locals do.


                    Tra My was eating potatoes.

                    Tra My also enjoys walking alone on the streets, having a close look to the scenery and customs in Kunming. “I can feel ancient charm from the ancient buildings, the city's rapid development from the huge towers, and the vigor from the rushed crowds,” Tra My said.

                    Tra My described Kunming as “beautiful but not delicate, bustling but gentle”. In her opinion, beautiful things always make people feel inaccessible, but Kunming is beautiful while friendly. “As the capital of Yunnan Province, Kunming is a bustling metropolis, but you can still feel her tenderness behind these cold towers.”


                    Tra My in Han Chinese costume.

                    Compliment China’s effort in fighting against COVID-19

                    In 2020, Tra My intended to celebrate spring festival with her family in Guangdong during winter vacation. According to her plan, she would return to Kunming after the spring festival. But the COVID-19 pandemic outbroke nationwide all of sudden and she had no choice but to stay in Guangdong for most a whole year.

                    “Come back to Vietnam instead of staying in China,” grandmother was worried about Tra My’s safety and tried to persuade her to come back to Vietnam. But Tra My was brave enough to say: “I’m not afraid of getting ill here together .”

                    Farmers who donated their vegetables to Wuhan, high school students who became volunteers hiding from their families, medical workers who got the red print of the masks after long period of wearing……Tra My saw these heroes on the social media and was deeply impressed by their selflessness. She gave a thumb up to China’s effort in fighting against COVID-19: “With a large population like this, China are still able to controlled the outbreak effectively. I think Chinese people are very united .”

                    During her stay in Guangdong, Tra My was waiting for school’s notice about permitting students return to school every day. In October last year, she finally came back to Kunming.


                    Tra My with her friend.

                    Dream of being a Chinese-Vietnamese translator

                    The rest of the school life is particularly preciousness to Tra My. She started to prepare for HSK level Ⅵ after she returned to school. At the very beginning, Tra My could understand not even a single Chinese word, and was full of fear seeing a text filled with Chinese. But now, she can not only communicate with locals in frequent Chinese, but also find pleasure in studying Chinese.

                    Her Chinese name “裴氏茶媚” (pei shi cha mei in Chinese pinyin) was given by her Chinese friend according to the pronunciation of her Vietnamese name “Bui Thi Tra My” when she just came to China. Although people around her are used to calling her “茶媚” (cha mei), she wants to give herself a new Chinese name——“瀟瑤” (xiao yao). With the moral meaning of free and easy, the new name carries her hope for the future.

                    In school’s declamation contest, she declaimed Mao’s famous poem “Snow—to the tune of Chin Yuan Chun”. Her teacher thought the poem was too powerful to declaim by girls, but Tra My was deeply impressed by its grandeur and insisted on taking part in the contest with this poem. At last, she won the second prize in the contest.

                    Tra My is going to graduate from college next year. She hopes to stay in Kunming after her graduation and dreams of becoming a Chinese-Vietnamese translator or a Chinese teacher, “There’s a great demand for people who can speak Vietnamese here, it would be my luck if I could keep staying in Kunming.” 


                    Tra My in Yunnan University.

                    “… All the past and gone, for truly great men, look to this age alone.” Accompanied by Tra My’s sound of reading, her story in Kunming has not come to an end yet.

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                    (Editors: Lexi, Christine)

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