by Breanna Draxler
This year’s winter break marked my last in academia. From here on out I will either be overworked and underpaid as a journalist, or overeducated and unemployed. Neither is a particularly happy prospect. As such, I decided to make the most of my five (stretched to six) weeks off. I packed my backpack and headed east. Destination: China.
The first stop, not counting the trio of layovers, was Shanghai–a literally breathtaking city. The Westernized Asian metropolis is home to 20 million people and an (un)healthy dose of smog. In the two weeks I spent there, the sky was only clear for one day. The difference was remarkable.
To give our lungs a hiatus from the pollution, my Swedish travel companions and I headed southwest to the Yunnan Province. Here the skyscrapers were replaced by vertical karst formations known as the Stone Forest, or Shilin ( 石林). This geological wonder was formed some 270 million years ago when the ancient sea in this area began to retreat. Erosion dissolved the soft limestone until only giant, petrified basalt “trees” remained. Shilin is now considered the first wonder of the world, as evidenced by the constant stream of tour buses that circulated through the park’s vehicular veins. We snuck away from the tourist pack to do some scrambling, unfettered by the constant cadence of camera shutters.