What I did on my October holiday

During the preceding week, many of my China based friends went on holidays – Thailand, the US, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Vietnam were popular destinations to spend the week off of work (as mandated by the Chinese government for celebration of China’s National Day).

Normally I would have done something similar – however back in June, I had attended Habitat for Humanity’s Brick-o-lage fund raiser in Shanghai. My friend Eric who was head of the Shanghai office of Habitat had mentioned that if I was going to go on a Habitat trip, that the project in Yunnan was really the one to go on, so several months later . . . I went to Chahe, Pu’er, Yunnan to work on a Habitat Build.

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So on the Monday of the holiday week, I flew into Kunming and joined the 44 other volunteers (mainly from Hong Kong, but a good number from Shanghai as well – and a few other cities, including New York, Chengdu and Beijing). From Kunming, the village we were going to was a 6 hour bus ride south.

Driving to Ning'er

So once we reached the hotel in Chahe – it was time for bed. Then the next three days were filled with building (and demolition). The area where we were was extremely poor, with a per capita income of around 1500 RMB per year (a little bit over $200 USD). I did feel a bit guilty using a camera (and cell phone too) both of which were over 3 years of income for these families. Because the houses in this area are under threat by earthquake and also because they’re mainly built of mud brick, Habitat is working with the partner families to replace the unsafe housing with more sturdy concrete and brick based housing, and to that, us volunteers needed to build house foundations.

Normally in developed areas, foundations are poured concrete, however, up here in the village, foundations were made by hand (er, shovel and hoe actually) mixed concrete and very large river stones, on top of packed dirt. Making foundations by hand is a lot of muscle work, especially in the sub-tropical Yunnan sun.

But I had fantastic time, made lots of friends and will endeavor to go on another Habitat trip as soon as possible. In spite of the hard work – or quite possibly because of it, the trip was as rewarding and interesting as any vacation I’ve ever been on. Despite some organizational hiccups and a less-than-stellar hotel, I would wholeheartedly recommend a volunteer stint with Habitat to anyone. It was well worth the donation of time and money, and I hope know that the partner family will really be appreciative of presence.

Here are some photos:

Building foundation by hand (pay no attention to the concrete mixer in the background – we didn’t use it)
Foundation building
Moving rocks

This gives you an idea of what kind of area the village (and build was located in)
Group 3

As part of the build, we also met and interacted with a lot of the villagers.



Here are the homeowners of one of the build sites:
Homeowner from site 1

The village was a Hani Minority village and on the second day lunch, the women came dressed in Hani traditional clothing so they could teach us a Hani dance.

Natalie and Shelia with the villagers


This was my small team:

Group 3 (and some of group 2) on Foundation

and the entire build with the villagers

Habitat for Humanity 2011 Yunnan Build

Habitat also brought a celebrity ambassador – Hong Kong pop singer (yeah, I’ve never heard of him) William Chan


They made sure everyone got a certificate:


On the last day, we went to the nearby county seat and watched a Hani Cultural performance, however the most fun was after (and during to be honest) the performance we hung out and played with the village kids.

Kids in the village square

Also, we sang, er, Jingle Bells



If you’re interested – the rest of the photoset is here

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5 Responses to What I did on my October holiday

  1. Dingle says:

    This all sounds good T apart from the bit where you mention the hard labour, can you not just hire a local labourer for 10 kuai an hour and spend the days sitting on the sidelines offering moral support and sipping cocktails?

  2. terence says:

    @Dingle – I do not believe the WoAi option was available on this trip.

  3. Chung says:

    great that you had a wonderful time and a meaningful experience!

  4. uzbekcelia says:

    “however the most fun was after (and during to be honest) the performance we hung out and played with the village kids. . . ”

    Why does that not surprise me in the least?! 🙂

  5. terence says:

    @uzbekcelia – well. . . we initially just were supposed to stay and watch the cultural performance but there were so many kids running around – and China kids are pretty wild. And I suppose there isn’t a lot of entertainment options for kids in Chahe Township.

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