A Travellerspoint blog

Hong Kong

And this is how the story ends

We arrived in Hong Kong around 6 o’clock Saturday (Dec. 10) evening. Our flight had been noneventful aside from sad. By the time we got there we were all quite tired and wanted nothing more than to check into the hotel and go to bed. After meeting our guide at the airport, we went for dinner and then checked into the hotel. We stayed at the Cosmo Kowloon on the Kowloon side. We weren’t actually staying on the island of Hong Kong itself. Our hotel was very nice though, the nicest we had stayed in. Our only issue with it was that the rooms were quite small. For example they were so small that if Cindy opened her suitcase on the floor, it was impossible to open the door to our room. The small size though was typical of Hong Kong architecture though and didn’t provide us with any real problems.
Sunday (Dec. 11) was our only fully scheduled day in Hong Kong. We started out the morning with a great breakfast at our hotel. Breakfast consisted of fresh fruit, made to order eggs, cereal, croissants, and a variety of other western dishes. It was a firm reminder that we were not in mainland China anymore. At 9 our busy day started. We began by heading over to the island of Hong Kong itself. Our first stop was a tourist destination right along the water. Apparently the point of the stop was to take a group photo with some giant, gold statue, of a flower. We weren’t too plused. However about twenty yards from the ugly flower statue was a gorgeous view of the Kowloon harbor, and all of the sky scrapers of the business districtIMG_5016.jpg. Our next stop was the old Hong Kong police stationIMG_5022.jpg. The station was up along the hills of Hong Kong along the way to Victoria’s Peak, it offered stunning views. The police station had been converted into a museum that told the history of the Hong Kong police department from the days of British control to the return to China in 1997. It also had step by step instructions on how to make illegal drugs, such as heroine and meth as well as examples of how people had tried to smuggle drugs to and from Hong Kong. Hmm interesting. After a while in the museum we had had our fill. Sarita, Dan, Guy, Chris, Kia, and I entertained ourselves by playing the playground equipment until it was time for the next stopIMG_5025.jpgIMG_5026.jpgIMG_5027.jpg. From the police station museum we went to the Aberdeen Fishing Village. Turns out its not much of a village, but it used to be. Today it’s a world famous floating restaurant that celebrities and politicians from all over the world have visited. It also has an exhibit that showcases what fish are being caught in the area and that was fun to look at for a while. Moving on from Aberdeen we headed to lunch. We were able to convince our guide to take us to a hole in the wall local restaurant instead of the usual large scale restaurants. It was delicious, we had traditional Hong Kong wantons. After lunch we drove to the other side of the island. Our destination was Repulse Bay. The most inaptly named place ever. It was beautiful!IMG_5051.jpg It reminded me a great deal of Redondo Beach actually. Our guide wanted us to spend just 10 minutes there, but we replied that was simply not possible. Instead we got to spend an hour. It was great time. We spent it enjoying the water, taking pictures, laying out on the beach and just enjoying one of our last days together.IMG_5054.jpg We also provided a great deal of amusement to the Chinese tourists who were bundled up in winter coats while we lounged on the beach in tank tops with our jeans rolled up and bare foot. After the beach we went to Stanley Market. It’s a sea side market that caters to tourists. Sarita, Cindy and I had fun just wandering around window shopping. The few times we tried to buy things though we shocked when the shop keepers were not willing to bargain. Another sign that we were not in the mainland anymore. After a bit we just gave up and enjoyed the nice weather. As we left Stanley Market the sun was beginning to set. From the market we headed to Victoria Peak. The plan had been to take the tram up to the Peak however the line for the tram was over two and half hours long so we opted to drive up instead. The views from the top were spectacular. In one direction it overlooked the ocean and outlaying islands such as Macao. In the other direction it offered a full view of Hong Kong and Kowloon with all of the sky scrapers lit up since it was after dark by this pointIMG_5090.jpg. At the peak Bert’s dad, Paul Marsnick, a management professor at CSBSJU joined us. We had heard a lot about him throughout the trip because he was Dan and Guy’s advisor and it was nice to finally meet him. The only downside was that it had gotten really cold after the sun went down. After about 45 minutes of taking in the sites we were ready to go. Our last stop of the day was dinner. We went to the same restaurant we had gone to the night before. The food wasn’t great so we weren’t too excited. It was also kind of a bummer that it wasn’t very good because it was our last group dinner together. Unfortunately I was the first one to realize this and point it out and ended up having to give the toast at the meal. Oh well, worse things have happened. Despite the bad food, at least I was with people that I had grown to love. After dinner the group split up. Some people went out with Bert’s dad. Some of us went to the Ladies’ Market, and some people went back to the hotel. Chris, Zach, Nolan, Cindy, Sarita, Luke, and I opted to go to the Ladies’ Markets. We all bought a variety of things ranging from gifts to take home for people, souvenirs for ourselves, and just some random knick knacks to remind us of China. From the market we caught a cab back to the hotel and called it a night.
Monday (Dec. 12) was split into two parts. In the morning we had a planned itinerary. We spent the morning touring HIT’s (Hong Kong International Trade) shipping yards. A Johnnie alum that Paul knew named Adrienne had set up the tour for us because one of his Johnnie classmates was one of the owners of the cooperation. We were really hoping we were going to get to meet him since he is one of the five richest people in Hong Kong and the highest salary earner on the island. Unfortunately no such luck, he never made an appearance. The tour was interesting though. It explained all about the cooperation which is in charge of running the shipping docks in Hong Kong. We also took a tour of the shipping yards that was cool. After the tour and lunch we were free for the rest of the day. I had heard great things about Macao and really wanted to go. But unlike climbing the mountain, I didn’t want to go by myself. Lucky for me, Nolan wanted to go too. We decided that the free afternoon was the best chance for us to go. After a quick stop at the Ladies’ Market for a few last minute things Nolan and I headed to the ferry station. After buying our tickets at a discount counter and freaking out that it was going to turn out that we got totally ripped off we eventually made it on a ferry. The ferry ride was about an hour and half to the island. I loved every minute of it. I had forgotten how much soothing the feel of the waves rocking a boat was. We arrived on the island around 5 o’clock. We really had no idea what we were going to do; we were playing the whole thing by ear and making it up as we went along. We hopped on a bus and, by passing all the casinos and hotels, headed towards the historic district. Unfortunately because of the time most of the sites were closed. We were still able to explore the streets and walk around though. Macao’s historic district was a strange site. It was old traditional Portuguese architecture than covered with Chinese charactersIMG_5138.jpg. It was rather bizarre and required a number of double takes. During our wandering we explored an old Portuguese military compound, a church that had burned down and all that remained was its façade perfectly preservedIMG_5119.jpg, some old theaters, and a variety of other old buildings. After some time though wandering around the same streets grew tiring and I was ready to head back to Hong Kong. Macao had been experience, I was glad to be able to say I had gone and seen it, but I wasn’t really loving it anymore. I was also getting more and more hungry. After a few failed attempts to find a restaurant that was open and catered to our limit budget we had to give up and just head back. After a few struggles we eventually found a bus that ran by the marina and hopped on. Thankfully our sketch discount tickets worked to get us home just as well as they had worked to get us to the island. We arrived back at 10:40. The last bus to get us back to our hotel left at 10:45. After a sprint through the ferry terminal, a race through customs, and another sprint to the parking lot we arrived at 10:46. We just missed the bus back to our hotel. By this time I was starving, however everything in the ferry terminal as closed so my only hope of getting food was to get back to the hotel. We decided to try to save a few dollars and take the subway home. Poor choice on our part. We ended up farther away from our hotel then we set out. Rather than trying again I simply told Nolan that we would be taking a taxi back. He readily agreed and in no time we were back home safe and sound at the Cosmo. By this point I was so tired I just walked across the street to the super market and bought an apple, a box of Ritz crackers, a Kinder bar, and an ice tea. I headed back to the room, ate my make shift dinner, talked to Cindy for a bit, and fell asleep.
Tuesday (Dec. 13) was our last day in China and it was completely free. We just all had to be back at the hotel by 6 to go to the Mariner’s club for an alumni event. For our free day Kia, Deanna, Sarita, and I decided to go back to Repulse Bay for the day. After breakfast we got directions from the concierge and set out on our way. We took a taxi to Nathan Street where we knew we could catch the number 6 bus which we had been told would take us straight to the bay. With relatively little trouble we caught the bus. After about ten minutes though we realized we had forgotten something. Hong Kong is an island and we were on Kowloon. The buses only run on Kowloon. So after taking the bus as far as the ferry terminal we hopped off and reevaluated. We talked to the information desk and they told us to simply take the ferry across the harbor and then catch the number 6 bus again. That’s just what we did. In about an hour we had made it to Repulse Bay. It was the perfect day for the beach. It was in the high 60’s, no wind, and not a cloud in the sky. We had a great time swimming, taking photos, playing in the sand and getting some sun before returning to the freezing cold Midwest climate. After a few hours we grabbed lunch at the 7 Eleven and caught the bus back. We then took the ferry across the harbor and from the ferry station caught a taxi home. We arrived just in time to shower and change before heading to the alumni event. At 6 Luke, Cindy, Sarita, Nolan, Deanna, Kia, Chris, Axel and I assembled in the lobby. The deal was that if we went from the hotel the program would pay for taxis there, otherwise we had to find our own way there. After a short taxi ride we were there. In true China fashion though, no one else was. So for a while we all just awkwardly sat around in the room reserved for the event waiting for people to show up. About twenty minutes later Sam and Annie finally showed up. They had left the hotel the same time as us and none of us knew what had happened to them. It turns out that their taxi driver had taken them to the other Mariner’s club on the other side of Kowloon. Oh well, eventually they got there. The alumni mixer started off to a slow start but eventually everyone warmed up and it was a lot of fun. It was really interesting to talk to the Hong Kong alums about what their experiences had been like at CSBSJU and they enjoyed hearing our thoughts on China. The tear jerking moment of the event was when Annie gave one last toast to the group to cap off our semester in China. It made us all tear up a little. The mixer was supposed to end at 8:30 but at 9:45 none of us showed any sign of leaving. Paul remarked that is seemed like none of us wanted to leave. And he was absolutely right. As long as we were all sitting around talking and laughing we didn’t have to face the truth that once we walked out the door our study abroad trip was over. For a few last minutes our group could sit together as we had for so many months and not think about what we were leaving. As Annie said in her speech, “this group, seeing each other every day, sharing all of this together had become our lives.” When we left each other at the end of that night it would no longer be our lives and we were sad to let that go. Eventually though we were forced to leave when the club closed for the night. The group said their good byes. From there, Guy, Dan, Bert, Luke, Sarita, Cindy, Kia, and I decided we weren’t quite ready to say good bye to our study abroad experience yet. We walked down to the Hong Kong cultural center and passed the time sitting on the edge of the water overlooking the skyline of Hong Kong. It was completely unplanned and it was completely wonderful. As I sat there, surrounded by the people I had become closest to during the trip I thought about what life would be like when we went home. I didn’t know, I still don’t, if we would all stay friends, if we hang out back on campus, if we would be important in each other’s lives like we had been. But I also realized that even if we don’t, it’s okay. We have a bond that nothing can break. We didn’t consciously form it. It was formed by the things we went through together and the moments we shared. We did not choose each other as friends, we chose to come to China and fate brought us together. However, as fate would have it, it brought together a group that got along incredibly well, that challenged each other, that complimented each other, and most of all came to love each other. Around midnight Kia, Cindy, Sarita, and I headed back to the hotel. After quickly making sure everything was packed and ready for the morning we both crawled into bed. Just as we were about to fall asleep we heard a knock at the door. It was Guy, Dan, Luke, and Bert. We spent the next few hours just talking and reliving our favorite moments of the trip. Slowly one by one the boys left as they came to accept that the trip was finally over. It didn’t matter that we got almost no sleep that night and almost overslept and missed our bus to the airport. It was the perfect way to cap off an amazing trip. Now we were all ready to close the chapter of our lives on China, at least until our next visit.
Wednesday (Dec. 14) was the day of our return home. Some of the group was staying. Bert was going back to the mainland to vacation with his dad for a few days. Nolan was going back to Shanghai to spend some time with his aunt and uncle. Kia and Chris were off to Thailand. Those of us that were heading back to the US though all boarded the bus at 7:30 (well around then, Luke didn’t make it until about 7:45) and headed to the airport. There’s not much to report of our trip home besides that it was very long. We flew to Tokyo (I got lucky on that flight and had no one in the seat next to me and got to stretch out and sleep), then Chicago and then Minneapolis. By the time we reached Minneapolis our day had lasted over 30 hours and we were quite excited to be done traveling. We were excited to see our families and sleep in our own beds. After saying our good byes to each other we headed off in our separate directions. We all knew though that it was not a good bye at all, but simply a see you later.

Posted by remullin 10:31 Archived in China Comments (0)

A Girl, A Mountain, and a Goodbye

My final "test" in China

A Girl, a Mountain, and a Good Bye
Friday (Dec. 9) was our last full day in Beibei. I cannot even put into words how quickly the time had passed leading up to this point. It felt like two weeks ago that we had moved into room 505 of The Wisteria Garden in 100+ degree weather. Now we had less than 30 hours until this would all be just a memory. There was a definite sense of gloom hovering over our room Friday morning. Our very last class of the semester was Chinese (pretty fitting in my opinion). In honor of our last class Li Laoshi had prepared a few of her favorite Chinese dishes for us to try. She brought in a cold noodle dish, a fried fish with a sweet and spicy sauce that her husband had made and Paigo which is beef rib. The fish was good but as in all fish dishes in China having to pull out a mouth full of bones every thirty seconds became a little annoying, but it was more than worth the effort. Poor Bert hadn’t realized that there were bones in the dish until I mentioned it while he was working on his third piece of fish. The beef rib was delicious and I was said I had not known about it earlier in the semester of I would have ordered it from the local restaurants. Sarita had woken up not feeling well and sadly had to leave class early because the smell of the Chinese food was making her nauseas. After class I headed back to the dorms to check on Sarita. She was still not feeling well, which was problematic. All semester Sarita and I had talked about climbing Jin Lin Mountain. On clear days we could just make out the tip of the mountain and the Pagoda built on its summit from our classroom building. The mountain overlooked all of Beibei and SWU’s campus. Life happens though and somehow or other Sarita and I had never found time to climb it. We had decided that on our last day we would climb the mountain as a way to say good bye to our time in Beibei. With Sarita feeling like death though this plan now seemed unlikely. I really wanted to go but how safe does it sound for a teenage girl to go by herself to an area she didn’t know, without a cell phone (mine had run out of minutes and it didn’t seem worthwhile to buy more with such a short time left) and climb a mountain. I should also mention that it was one of the coldest days we experienced in Beibei and it had been down pouring all day. So my first plan was to go see if I could convince Luke to come with me. He had talked of wanting to climb the mountain too. I went over to his room but unfortunately Luke couldn’t come with. He had to start packing and was going shopping for gifts to take home with Cindy that afternoon. In a split second I decided it didn’t matter. I didn’t need anyone to come with me. In fact I realized it would be better that way. This was something I wanted to do for me. I had spent close to four months living in Beibei but had very rarely experienced it solely on my own. I decided that this would be the final test for me in China. So after goggling the characters for Jin Lin Mountain, putting on as many warm clothes as I could find, grabbing some money and borrowing Luke’s phone (just in case anything went wrong and I needed to get a hold of someone), I started on my final adventure in Beibei.
Due to the rain hailing a taxi was more of a challenge than normal but after about five minutes of waiting out in the rain I eventually got a taxi. I showed him the characters I had written down and after some bargaining on a price (I didn’t do a very good job, he asked for 75 and I got him down to 50 but it probably should have been more like 35) I was on my way. In all honesty I had no idea where I was going to end up. I knew that Jin Li was actually a collection of 9 mountain peaks and I also knew that there was a gondola ride that was not too far from SWU that one could ride up to the top of the mountain. The driver had said something after I had shown him the characters but I had not understood and simply said dui and nodded, having zero idea what I was agreeing to. For some reason though I just knew that it was all going to work out how it was supposed to. The taxi ride took about half an hour as it wound and wove its way up the mountain. Due to the rain and the fog the city was quickly lost to view as we climbed. Eventually the taxi brought me to the entrance of the park. For not knowing where I was going to end up when I started, this had worked out pretty well. It solidified my assurance that this was something I was supposed to do. The entrance to the park was deserted. Due to the weather none of the usual vendors were present, the usual tours were cancelled, there was virtually no one around, and even the information center was closed. I went up to the window and asked for one ticket. The man behind the window looked at me like I was crazy, gestured to the clouds, and laughed. When I failed to be deterred he rolled his eyes, handed me a ticket and waved me into the park. As I entered the park I came across one other group of two braving the mountain. They were slow though and my pace quickly separated us. I was given a map with my ticket but I decided to disregard it. The whole experience thus far had been simply seeing where I ended up so I opted to keep that trend going. I just started walking not really caring where I ended up. The first area I chanced upon was called the Cliff of Lovesickness. It was a shear mass of rock at least a few hundred feet high. Into its side had been carved various Chinese characters which the combination of age and my limited knowledge made impossible to decipher. It also contained an inlaid carving of Buddha and a few of his followers. As I read the description of the cliff at its base (luckily they had a sign translated into English) one phrase stood out to me. It read that according to Beibei legend anyone who climbs the Cliff of Lovesickness and stands on its peak will not be willing to leave BeibeiIMG_4960.jpg. The simple sign perfectly put into words the sentiments I was feeling at the moment. After a few minutes standing at the base I continued on my way. As I continued walking I allowed my mind to wander and casually observed the beautiful setting the surrounded me. With the rain continuing to pour and the dense fog my range of vision in the forested area was very limited. The trees hung heavy with water and the fog enveloped them. It created an environment that on most days I would have wanted caused me to want nothing more than to curl up inside with a warm blanket. But on this day it made feel a sense of isolation and oneness with my surroundings that was comforting. The birds I passed weren’t frightened of me simply going about their business and I listened to the hum of insects as I walked. The whole atmosphere created a sense of peace and tranquility that I had rarely before experienced in my life and never before in China. The next time I took notice of where I was, I found myself standing at Xianglu Peak at the foot of the giant pagoda I had so often gazed up at from campus and the streets of Beibei. Due to the fog anything passed the first tier began to dissipate from sight.IMG_4950.jpg Sadly, the stairs leading to the pagoda were boarded up due to the construction. Since I was confident I was alone in the area I considered just sliding through the boards since I could have fit easily. Taking a second to consider it though I felt like I had bent the rules enough during my time in China and maybe just once I would simply let it be. Besides, it gives me a reason to visit Beibei and Jin Li Mountain again in the future when the pagoda is open. I turned my back on the pagoda and headed toward the edge of the peak. On a clear day my vantage point on the edge of the peak would have allowed me to look out over all the areas of Beibei that I had come to love – SWU, our favorite restaurant area, Yonghui, the river, and much much more. On this day though, I could only see about twenty feet ahead of me before everything was covered in fog. It was with some disappointment that I turned away from the ledge. Next I wandered to Shizi Peak. It was supposed to be one of the most beautiful peaks. However once I got there was another group taking pictures and just generally being loud. Most days this would not have bothered me, but today it just wasn’t what I wanted to be around. I spent a few minutes looking around and then headed away. As I was making my way down the mountain I came across a direction sign. The sign said that I had somehow ended up once again only about 30 meters from Xianglu Peak. By this time I was soaked to the bone, shivering, and was getting ready to be done with my mountain adventure. Nevertheless I felt a strong desire to see Xianglu one more time. As I climbed the peak again I wasn’t sure what I wanted out of revisiting it, but I knew there had to be something. I returned to my vantage point on the ledgeIMG_4948.jpg and just stood there. I pulled out my ipod and inserted the headphones. Unbeknownst to me a song was already playing, “Absolute” by the Fray. It was a song that I hadn’t listened to in years, but at that moment it was the most perfect song in the world for what I was experiencing. “Quiet but I’m sure there is something here.” As I listened, I simply reflected. I thought of all that had happened over the semester. The friends I had made, the places I had seen, the things I had learned, the things I had done, the experiences I was taking with me, and most importantly how it had all changed me. During my time in China I had not changed the world, but I had changed my world. I was coming away a different person than I had arrived, that I knew. However, I was still trying to figure out in what ways that person was different. And to be honest, I am still figuring it out as a write this. I know it’s there, but it’s not something I can quite yet express. And that’s okay with me. As I was standing there the next song came on: Rihanna’s “We Found Love”. It was a song that I had fallen in love with while in China and had been my anthem of the trip. Every time I heard it all of my favorite memories of the trip flashed through my mind. This time they came like a flood. Too fast to really register, but as faces, places, and moments flickered through my mind I realized just how right the song was. We had found love. I had found a new love for a place that at the beginning had seemed to terrifyingly different to every feel comfortable. I had found a new love for people, both the Chinese people as a whole and the new friends I had made. I had also found a new love of myself that gave me a much greater sense of confidence than I had had upon arrival. As all of these thoughts consumed me, a few steady tears fell down my face. As I continued to stand there I did realize a few things for certain. I realized that while I may not want to leave China, I was ready to leave. I needed to take all of these amazing things I had learned and changes I had experienced and begin to apply them to my life back home. I realized that the Beibei legend had been right. After climbing the Cliff of Lovesickness I wasn’t willing to leave. But that a lot of things in life that need to be done aren’t necessarily things we jump at the chance to do. Finally I realized just how lucky I had been to find a new home. One of my closest friends at CSB had said at the end of our freshman year that it was so hard being our age because we never really had a home. We had the place where we had grown up but we were at the age where we tried to put in so much pressure to separate ourselves from that home and from being “little kids” that we often times failed to call it home. We had our amazing school which we all loved, but it too was temporary. Each summer the school would kick us out for a few months and at the end of four years we would be permanently evicted. Standing on Xianglu Peak though my perspective changed. It was not “poor us we never have a home” it was lucky us, we have so many places that we get to call home. There are so many places that we find support, comfort, and love at this time in our lives. For me, I am lucky enough to get to add room 505, Wisteria Garden, Southwest University, Beibei, Chongqing, China to my ever growing lists of homes and for that I will be ever thankful. After a while I realized that my time on the mountain was over. I had gotten everything I wanted and more than I could have ever expected from the experience and it was time to head home. I was at peace with the end of my time in China and I felt a strange sense of exhilaration and the utmost contentment with life.
With little effort I made my way back to the entrance. I had been told that the city buses and taxis both regularly ran to the entrance of Jin Li. And that is probably true. However, they don’t regularly run on days when no one wants to visit the mountain. My first thought was to go and see if the gondolas were running. If so that would be an easy way to get down the mountain and I could catch a taxi from there back to campus. Unfortunately, the gondolas weren’t running that day due to the fact that there was no demand for them since no one was visiting the mountain. So there goes that plan. Next I figured I would just wait a bit and see if anyone else was crazy enough to want to come up to the mountain by taxi. After 20 minutes of waiting and not a single car, I gave up on that plan too. I realized that the only way I was going to get down the mountain and back to campus was to start walking and hope I passed a bus stop along the way. I had seen some bus stops on the drive there and figured they couldn’t have been too far back. Boy was I wrong. I started my descent. By this point the cold and rain was beginning to take its toll on me. I hoped that it wouldn’t be too long before I got to a bus stop. The first thirty minutes I kept up fairly good spirits then I began to get worried. It was a little past 2 o’clock by this point and we had our farewell banquet at 6. Luke’s phone battery was at less than 5% and getting lower every minute so I was soon going to be without any way of communicating if something went wrong. I was beginning to consider just calling someone, asking them to get a taxi and simply tell them to drive up Jin Li Mountain until they found me. I decided to give it ten more minutes of walking and then I would reevaluate. Just as I was on the verge of tears from cold my prayers were answered. A motorcycle taxi that I technically think was out of service at the time passed by. I was such a miserable sight that the driver turned around and came back. He asked if I needed a ride. I just about kissed him I was so happy. I told him I needed to go to Southwest University, Gate 5. He said it would cost me 25 yuan. I quickly agreed. He was shocked, apparently I was overpaying, but at that point I would have paid ten times that amount to get home. The rest of the drive down the mountain was cold and now windy due to the fact that I was on a motorcycle but within 20 minutes I was at Gate 5. I paid the driver and hurried back to the dorms. When I walked through the door Sarita stared at me in shock. Apparently I looked like death but I couldn’t stop smiling. Despite the less than marvelous way of getting home, my whole experience at the mountain had been amazing. It is probably my most personal moment of the whole trip and one that I will always remember. I began to strip off my wet clothes. Despite the fact that I had worn a water proof fleece, my entire sweatshirt underneath was soaked. My pants were sopping and my shoes were never going to dry. None of it mattered though. Nothing could dampen my mood. After changing and taking a few minutes to warm up Sarita, Luke (who had gotten back from shopping) and I went to lunch at our favorite chao shu place. We were joined by Bert and Rae. It was a good ending to a great afternoon. After that I headed back to the room and sadly finished my packing and dismantling of 505 with Sarita and Cindy.
That evening we had our official farewell banquet. It was held in the same restaurant where we had had Thanksgiving. It was organized by Chuck and despite that fact was a very good closure to the program. All of our professors (except for Calligraphy) attended as well as the Waiban staff.IMG_4972.jpg A number of speeches were given by Mr. Di (the head of international students), his boss who’s name I forget and Sam. Then Chuck played a touching slide show he had put together of our groups time in China. The pictures of the trip combined with the sappy music caused for everyone to tear up a little. After that Wang Laoshi gave a final speech. In it he talked of his hopes for our futures, his admiration and love for us, and his desire for all of us to achieve great things in our lives and lead happy lives. Anyone that wasn’t crying at the end of the slideshow was definitely holding back the tears after his speech. Dan and I were given the wonderful job of having to follow up that speech. We had been asked to speak on behalf of the students of what the trip had meant to us, what we had learned, and what we were taking away from this experience. It is an incredibly hard task to be asked to sum up the most amazing 4 months of one’s life into a few simple sentences but we did our best. After that we were all presented with our certificates of completion for the program, a group photo, and a few parting gifts. Following that the meal was served. As the program drew to an end we bade our final farewells to our teachers, none of which were harder than Wang Laoshi’s. All of us would have taken him to the US with us in a second if we could have. After the teachers and the Waiban left I stayed downstairs with Chris, Guy, Dan, and Bert to talk for a bit while Cindy and Sarita went back up to the room to do some more packing. No more than five minutes passed before Sarita came running back into the restaurant screaming that there were frogs in our room. The boys instantly erupted in laughter. Sensing that I was missing something important I chased after Sarita up the stairs. When I entered our room I was clued into the joke. Throughout the semester there had been an ongoing prank war between our room, Luke and Chris’ room, and Guy, Bert, and Dan’s room. The boys had chosen the last night to get us back. Earlier in the day Guy, Bert, and Dan had gone to Yonghui and purchases the three biggest bullfrogs (alive I might add) they could find. Sarita and I had actually seen them coming back from the store but hadn’t bothered to ask them what they had bought. They had then waited until we left our room (which we never locked) to go down to the banquet and then brought in the frogs. They placed one in the toilet, one in the tubIMG_4996.jpg, and the other they had set free in the living room to roam as he pleased. Upon returning from dinner Sarita had gone into the bathroom and when she went to lift up the toilet seat had found a huge frog looking back at her. She screamed and ran out. Cindy came into the bathroom and was going to try to fill the toilet up with water so that they could get the frog out (don’t ask me why filling it up with water would help). When she stepped into the tub to grab the removable shower head she found the second frog sitting there looking at her. At this point they both screamed and ran down to the restaurant. When we got back in the room our room was in chaos. The ayi (what the maids were called) had heard the screaming and came to see what was wrong. She was attempting to get the frog out of the toilet. For some reason though she ended up flushing the toilet which pulled the frog into the pipe in which it got stuck. Then the whole toilet began to run over with water and sufficiently flooded our whole bathroom and broke the toilet. Whoops. While this was going on the frog in the tub was captured and taken out. Not long after the boys arrived laughing to see the result of their prank. It was only then that they informed us that there were actually three frogs in the room. Well that induced a whole new series of screams and after that basically everyone in the building was outside our door. Even Sam and Annie came to check out what was the matter. They laughed, shook their heads, and simply told the boys that if they program got billed for a new toilet they were in charge of covering the expenses. After about 15 minutes of frantically searching for the third frog, lifting up all of the furniture, scouring every crevice of the room and checking to make sure it hadn’t ended up in someone’s luggage we gave up looking. We were having a good bye party with all of our friends that night at 9 and people wanted to get there. The frog was forgotten for a while. Sarita, Cindy, and I wanted to get the boys back though. So after everyone left we planned out our revenge. We took all the extra tampons we had left from the trip, soaked them in water, and added red paint. We went up to the boys room with the plan to cover their room with them. Sadly the door was locked. We weren’t to be deterred so easily though. We went down to the ayis who were still laughing at the situation and asked for the key to the boys’ room. With a new outburst of they handed us the whole rack of keys for the building. They showed us which one was the right key. Unfortunately though by the time we got back up to the 6th floor we couldn’t remember which key. It didn’t matter though because Bert showed up just as we began trying keys. He agreed to let us into the room only on the condition that we not mess with any of his stuff. We agreed. We put the tampons all over their room. We knew it wasn’t the equivalent to live animals but that it would be even more scarring for them. With that done we were ready to go to the good bye party.
The going away party with all of our friends was being held at Blue Bar. It was a bar right off of Gate 5 that was popular with Chinese and International students alike. We had invited all of our friends and were excited to have everyone we had grown close to throughout the semester in one place. It turned out even better than we could have hoped. All of our friends were there – Jill, Ben, Som, Gao, Leyi, Ronnie, Kevin, Alex, Andrew, Otabek, Nicolay, Larry, Pablo, Olga, Mars, Will, Zoey, Wei, Dahlia and many more. It was great seeing all of them interact too. Since it was the first time many of our different friends had ever met each other. After a while we all decided to go to 99 one last time. It was still raining though and proved to be impossible to hail a taxi. Instead we all piled onto the city bus and were able to convince the driver to take us straight there (only in China could you convince a public bus to become your own private taxi). It was amazing last night in Beibei. More than a few tears were shed when it was time to head home for the night. It was heartbreaking saying good bye to so many good friends that I knew I would likely never see again, however the memories I have of them are priceless and through todays modern conveniences of facebook, e-mail, and skype hopefully we can stay in touch.
Saturday (Dec.10) morning came far too early. It was finally time to leave, the day we had been dreading had arrived. With the lesson of the mountain still in my head though I kept my head held high. Sarita, Cindy, and I had just finished packing when we heard a knock on the door. In came Bert, Luke, and Dan carrying a white box. They came in and said they were very sorry for the frogs and they were ready to call a truce to the prank war. They had brought us a gift to show they were sincere. They set the box on our coffee table and opened the lid. Inside sat a giant frog (I should mention that Cindy had eventually located the third frog the night before underneath our couch. With Luke and Nolan’s help she had captured it and put it in Guy and Dan’s bedroom). After the initial scream, I made a move to shut to box. As soon as I moved though, so did the frog. It hopped out of the box and directly unto Cindy’s feet who was sitting on the couch. That prompted yet another scream and panic and in the ensuing turmoil the frog jumped to safety under the coach. Our screams once again brought the IE running. After she figured out from our frantic gestures and charade moves that there was a frog under the coach she just laughed. She told us not to worry about it and that they would take care of it when we left. She said she and all the staff were actually going to miss us in spite of all the problems we had caused with frogs. After that we quickly finished the last of our packing and got ready to check out. As we were finishing up Sophie and Sol stopped by the say one last good bye and then insisted on staying until our bus literally drove away. Bless them but at that point the last thing we needed were two more bodies adding to the stress of making sure we had everything. After double checking the room and checking out. Sarita, Kevin, Sophie, Sol, and I went to lunch one last time at the Guy Who Loves Us. Sarita ordered chao sho, her favorite, and I ordered she hong sur jidan, my favorite. It was a great last meal in Beibei despite being a little rushed. As we were leaving we gave him a card Sarita and I had made along with a small gift. We then took a quick pictureIMG_5010.jpg. After that we rushed back to our courtyard and began to load up the busIMG_4999.jpg. Our closest friends had come to say one last goodbye. Kevin, Ronnie, Sally, Dahlia, and Otabek were all there to say good bye to Sarita and I. The Thai girls came too as well as Zoey, Wei, and Paul. The entire mood in the courtyard was sad. We all tried to put on cheery faces but there wasn’t a dry eye in the place as the bus was loaded. The whole situation was made even worse by Chuckles. We were supposed to leave at 12 but that was pushed back when the box of visual journal couldn’t be found. Eventually the journals were located and we were all ready to leave. However Chuck, trying to be nice but not realizing it was making it harder for us, kept giving us more and more time to say good bye. After a while we simply couldn’t do it anymore and got on the bus ourselves. As our bus pulled out we waved good bye to our best friends and turned our sights on Hong Kong.

Posted by remullin 10:21 Archived in China Comments (0)

The Lasy Days in Beibei

Our last week at SWU

The last days in Beibei were like waking up from a dream; one in which you know you’re dreaming and the harder you try to stay asleep the faster your move towards consciousness. During the semester I had learned about myself, the world I lived in, my perspectives, my outlooks, and my hopes for the future. In China I had done things I never before would have tried and experienced moments that can never be repeated. The semester was the best time of my (and I know for the majority of our group as well) life. I wasn’t ready to have that all be over yet. It didn’t matter though. The harder we all tried to avoid the reality that we were leaving the more and more real it became.
Monday (Dec. 5) started with our Chinese final. The final was much easier than I had anticipated. I turned it in feeling confident that I had done well. After lunch Sarita and I headed to our Kung Fu final. The first half of class was spent reviewing the sequences of Tai Ji we had learned the week before. The second half of class we had our final. For the final we partnered up (Sarita and I were partners) and then performed in front of the whole class and Levi. Sarita and I did very well in our final and Levi told us we both got A’s. At the end of class Levi recorded a video of all of us answering a few questions. He wanted to show his American Kung Fu students to his friends. That night we had a quiet dinner, just Sarita, Ronnie, and I.
Tuesday (Dec. 6) was my last Tuesday morning in Beibei. I had really grown to love having Tuesday mornings to myself. It was my time just to think, reflect, and be alone for a bit. Moments of aloneness in China are hard to come by. That afternoon we had ethnology. Class was slightly different because we were presenting our America presentation again, but this time it was for Wang Laoshi’s graduate students. On this occasion we presented first to the Chinese students. Happily, our power point functioned this time and went much better. It was also nice that the graduate students’ English was much better so we could conduct the presentation in English. Again most of the questions the students asked revolved around what our experiences, such as what our favorite place in China had been or do we plan on coming back. They were also interested in our thoughts on the differences in education between China and the US and our holiday traditions for Christmas. The presentation the Chinese students presented to us this time were far more interesting than before, the two that were most memorable were one in which a young women just told us about what her and her friends had done the previous weekend which gave us a far better insight into life in China than talking about hometowns can and the other presentation was the history of Beibei. Sadly, the history of Beibei sticks out in my mind because it was far too long, but it was nice to learn more about the place we had been calling home for three and a half months. Then it was our turn to ask questions. Bert’s question was the most interesting. He asked what the students thought was the one thing the Chinese government did the best and what was the one thing that they did the worse. The answers were not what we would have expected. None of the students ended up answering the first part of the question, they all just focused on what the government needed to do better. One student replied along party lines that the top party officials were doing everything right and that where the problems arouse were with the execution of policies by local officials. The rest were more real with their answers. The majority said that the party needed to do something to make houses (mainly apartments, since China has very few houses in most cities) more affordable to the average person. A few said that they had never thought about the question because it was pointless. They had no control over what the government did and therefore never considered what the best or the worst of it. It was a very eye opening experience for someone like me who wants to spend my life trying to change things in the government. Only one person said that he felt the biggest problem was the control of information by the government, specifically the internet censorship. The presentations may have been a struggle to put together and try to translate into Chinese but they proved to be a great learning tool for both our study abroad group and the Chinese students. That night Sarita and I had our last dinner with Sophie and Sol our friends from Tibet we had met one of the first weeks of school. It was the first of many hard goodbyes that were to come in the next three days.
Wednesday (Dec. 7) began with our last calligraphy class. We had taken our final the week before so we didn’t have anything assignment wise to do. Instead our calligraphy teacher made us each a series of calligraphy works of whatever we wanted them to say. It was a very kind parting gift of him. That afternoon we had our last Study Abroad Seminar. Wow the semester had gone fast. It felt like three weeks ago that we were all presenting our initial presentations on what our one questions were and what we were hoping to find out. For our last class we each briefly presented on where our one questions had led us, what we had discovered, and what we had gained from the experience. We also spent a while discussing the levels of intercultural competency and where we had all been at different points of the trip. The majority of the class though was spent talking about the issue we had all been avoiding thinking about, returning home. We knew that we were going to go home and we would be different. But Annie reminded us of the harsh reality that we were going to be going home to something that probably hadn’t changed that much and that that might come to feel stifling for us. We also discussed how to cope with that and talked with excitement of getting back together next semester. It was a somber class but it did demonstrate just how close the 13 of us had come to be with each other and with Sam and Annie. It’s amazing what four months can do. That night Guy, Dan, Bert, Luke, Rae and I went to dinner for the last time with our close friends Jill and Ben. In typical fashion for our group we decided to go for Hot Pot. Guy and I loved Hot Pot throughout our time in China. The rest of the group went through a love hate relationship with it due to the sickness it sometimes caused if one didn’t make sure the food was fully cooked. For our last Hot Pot we went to Shingo Times. We had heard a lot about it and Luke had tried it before and said it was good. Sadly, we got there late so we couldn’t get the usual hot pot. Instead we got what is called dry hot pot, which turns out to be kind of an oxymoron. What we got was a spicy soup with all of the ingredients we would normally have cooked in the hot pot already cooked for us and served in the spicy soup. It was definitely not “dry” at all. It was quite good, and since it didn’t have the oil that Hot Pot normally does everyone felt great after eating it. After dinner Jill and Ben decided that Luke needed to experience the ghost pepper challenge like everyone else had. We all headed over to the chicken restaurant. Jill ordered four wings and we were set. Luke dove right in without any hesitation. He drove down two whole wings with the ghost pepper seasoning before realizing just how hot they were. His face slowly began to turn tomato red; the beads of sweat developed on his forehead, and the tears began to run down his face. Poor Luke, we all just couldn’t help but laugh at him as he drank everything in sight trying to cool down his mouth. That’s when the rest of us all got the brilliant idea to try to the challenge again. We survived it once, why not try it again? So between the so between the 7 of us we each picked a piece of meat off the remaining wings and bit in. Bad idea. Last time our mouths had already been numbed by the heat of the second hottest wings, this time we had no such cushion. The heat was over powering. Just like the last time the whole restaurant looked on with amusement was we all moaned and drank anything we could reach. It was so hot this time that Bert who ran outside in an attempt to cool off even considered licking the muddy ground as a way to cool his throbbing tongue. After the chicken wings we said good night to Jill and Ben and headed back to our dorms.
Thursday (Dec. 8) morning we had Chinese class like all Thursdays. However instead of our usual Chinese class, Li Laoshi was taking us on a field trip to go tea shopping. The original plan had been to go to the tea shop on campus. SWU has its own tea farm on campus and is apparently famous for the new things it is doing in the field of tea production. However, most people who were interested in buying tea to take home wanted flower tea instead of just straight green tea or jasmine which is all SWU’s tea shop sold. So Li Laoshi had come up with a number of other places to take us instead to buy tea. Our first stop was the pharmacy next to Yonghui. It specialized in both Western medicinal care and traditional Chinese medicine. It also had just about every kind of flower tea one could imagine. I got some chrysanthemum tea and some rose hip tea to take home. Sarita and Deanna also really wanted to find lavender tea. It had become our favorite drink at one of the tea houses by Gate 2 and they really wanted to take some home for others to try. I was hoping we could find some as well. Our teacher had never seen lavender tea sold before although we knew you could find it because Annie had bought some during our teaching weekend. She called her husband to see if he had any ideas. From the pharmacy we went to Yonghui to see if they had lavender in their tea section. No luck. After the supermarket we headed towards the downtown district where Beibei held their Sunday street market. Along the way we passed one of the housing developments for SWU faculty. As part of their contracts, all SWU professors are granted apartments at a reduced cost that the school owns. One of the housing developments was just beyond Gate 5 behind Yonghui. Both Li Laoshi and Wang Laoshi lived there (Along with at least a thousand other people) and as a result we ran into them a few times during the semester when we were out to dinner or doing shopping. As we were passing the housing complex Li Laoshi’s husband joined us. He was more familiar with the tea stores in the area and she hoped he would be able to help with the search for lavender tea. We made our way downtown and went to one last tea shop. Sadly, they also did not carry lavender tea. However they had a multitude of other teas including SWU’s tea. After sampling a variety of types, Deanna, Dan, Sarita, and I all bought a few bags of SWU’s tea and called the hunt for lavender tea a bust. After finishing up our purchases, Li Laoshi and her husband offered to take us all to lunch at one of their favorite restaurants. Deanna already had plans for lunch, but Axel, Dan, Sarita, and I gladly accepted. The lunch was delicious. It included our favorite dishes, such as kung pao jiding, usoung rosa, and a variety of others. We also tried the Sichuan specialty of do hua (which is tofu flower). It wasn’t my favorite dish, the texture kind of weirded me out, but dipped in the spicy peppers it was not bad at all. After lunch we said good bye to Li Laoshi at her apartment and went on our way. On the way back Dan, Sarita, and I stopped at Yonghui to pick up some more small souvenirs to take home. Then we headed back to the dorms. That afternoon we had our last ethnology class with Wang Laoshi. We didn’t cover anything information wise in class. We just talked. We talked about what we had thought of China when we first arrived, how our opinions or ideas had changed, and what we were taking away from this incredible experience. Wang Laoshi also asked each of us if we planned to come back to China. If the same question had been asked at the beginning of the trip, the majority of people would have said no. They had chosen to study abroad in China because they felt that it was a place they wouldn’t go to when they got older. After four months the unanimous and resounding response was yes. Everyone in the group had fallen in love with China and we all hoped to return not just someday but in the near future. We also had a good talk with Wang Laoshi about his hopes for the future, both for him personally and for his country. It was with heavy hearts that we walked out of ethnology for the last time. Thursday night Luke, Sarita, and I invited Ronnie and Kevin to go out to dinner with us. From those two it kind of spiraled until we were going to dinner with Ronnie, Kevin, Ronnie’s roommate, Oley, Andrew, Alex, Otabek, Pablo, and Axel joined as well. We went to the Muslim restaurant one last time. It was a great last dinner with our best international friends.IMG_4941.jpg

Posted by remullin 10:19 Archived in China Comments (0)

Beginning of the End Pt. 2

Wednesday (Nov. 30) was the day before the Thanksgiving dinner. As a result we had a lot of shopping to do to make sure we had all the necessary supplies. So after our calligraphy final the whole group met up at Yonghui to get ingredients. Thank God we had Kia. She was basically in charge of Thanksgiving. She had everything planned out for what we needed to purchase and how much of it. A few examples of what we needed included 50 apples, 16 zucchinis, 3 dozen eggs, 100 chicken wings, 6 pounds of ground pork, 70 potatoes, 50 ears of corn, 15 bottles of pop and juice, and 4 gallons of wok oil. Thanks to all of Kia’s organization beforehand shopping went really smoothly. Checkout proved to be comical as we had eight carts of supplies and since China charges for grocery bags we tried to fit as much of it as we could into our backpacks. Even with our backpacks bulging we still required numerous shopping bags. As we trekked back to our dorms lugging oversize shopping bags and looking like turtles we garnered a number of good natured laughs from those we passed. After dispersing the ingredients amongst all of our fridges we had a few hours to do whatever we wanted. At 7:00 all of us in Kung Fu had to report to one of the campus performing centers for the final event of International Students Week. We were to perform the same performance as we had the week before, happily though there would now be lots of other acts performing (15 in all). The point of the event was to showcase the talents of all of the international students, to spotlight cultural dances and traditions, and as a way for the whole international community to come together. Aside from a few grumpy Johnnies who were very much over making fools of themselves doing Kung Fu, it was a good event. Some of the other performances included, traditional dances from Thailand and Korea, songs from all over the world including Kazakhstan and Taiwan, an African dance performed by most of my soccer teammates, a number of comedy skits, instrumental ensembles, a traditional Chinese poetry reading (which Luke had a starring role in) and the fashion show was performed again. My favorite act was that of my friends Kevin, Alex, Otabek, Nicolay, Badra, and Andrew. They did a spoof on Beijing opera that was hilarious.IMG_4821.jpg Our performance went much better the second time than it had the first and Levi was quite proud. The show lasted over 2 and half hours though and by the end we were all ready to be done. After countless group pictures for future use by the Waiban we all headed back to Wisteria Garden and called it a night.
Thursday (Dec. 1) was the day of our Thanksgiving. Yes our study abroad group had so much power that we could move a National Holiday that’s date of celebration had been set for generations. In reality we would have liked to have celebrated it when it was meant to be, but life simply didn’t work in our favor and celebrating it the following Thursday just fit better. After a morning spent trying to finish up the last of my many projects, papers, and assignments, Luke, Dan, Guy, Bert, Rae, and I went to one of our favorite chao shou restaurants for lunch and then assembled with the rest of the group to start cooking at noon. After lugging all of our purchases from the day before down to the kitchen of the Waiban restaurant that was adjacent to our dorms we were ready to start. For cooking we had broken into sub-committees each of which was in charge of a certain dish. Chris was in charge of the chicken. He was preparing it in a Thai fashion in which the chicken is deboned, then stuffed with a mixture of pork, noodles, and seasonings, then steamed, and finally fried in a wok. Cindy’s original plan was to make tacos but unfortunately the western market (Carrefore) in Chongqing had not quesadillas or any suitable substitute so she had to come up with a new plan. She decided to make spaghetti and meatballs and a Mexican soup. Kia was making a zucchini soup with zucchini stuffed with pork and fried rice. Zach, Nolan, and Sam were tackling mash potatoes and gravy. Guy was in charge of corn on the cob. Sarita and I were covering dessert. Our original plan was to make apple crisp but we had not been sure if we could find cinnamon so at Carrefore Kia had also picked us up two boxes of brownie mix. Eventually we had been able to find cinnamon bark and after two hours spent grating the bark by hand into powder had what we needed. As a result we were making both apple crisp and brownie. With 50 guests we figured one could never have too much dessert. The rest of the group (Bert, Dan, Deanna, Axel, and Luke) were basically slaves for the day bouncing from committee to committee helping with whatever was needed. Our first ten minutes in the kitchen were a little rough. We had been told that we would have the whole kitchen at our disposal, as well as all of its pans, utensils, etc. What we hadn’t thought about was the fact that when we started cooking at noon the restaurant was still open for lunch. This meant that the kitchen was being used by the normal chefs as well. The chefs though were incredibly friendly towards us and also proved to be great helps. The other minor crisis occurred when Sarita and I couldn’t find the oven. We had specifically asked prior to Thanksgiving if there would be an oven available to us. This may seem like a strange request but you would be surprised, in China virtually no kitchens are equipped with ovens. They simply aren’t necessary for Chinese cuisine. Therefore people and restaurants don’t have them. We were assured though that the Waiban restaurant did and that was the reason it was chosen for our preparation location. However after scouring the kitchen we couldn’t find anything even remotely similar. All we could find was a giant dust covered blue box that looked similar to a bank safe in the corner of one of the prep rooms. After asking around we were informed that the giant blue safe was the oven we would be using. Uh oh, we might be in trouble. With no other options we just had to hope for the best. We got to work. The boys and two of the chefs made quick work of the 50 apples we had purchased. Sarita and I also had to get in touch with our inner bakers during the process because in China there are no measuring spoons or measuring cups, everything is simply done by estimation or to taste. While the boys worked on the apples, Sarita and I put together the topping. Besides the lack of measurements (which turned out not to be a problem at all) the only issue we ran into was that the brown sugar was far too clumpy. To solve the problem Guy took a leaf out of the Guy Who Loves Us’ book and used a cleaned beer bottle to crush out the lumps (the Guy Who Loves Us crushes peanuts this way). In about an hour it was all done. We had made a quadruple batch so we had a lot of apple crisp. We spilt it up over two huge pans but because we were a little hesitant on how the oven was going to work we opted to cook each one separately even though the oven was more than large enough to fit both pans and have plenty of room left over. We put in the first batch and waited on bated breath. As it cooked we also prepared the brownie mix. Given that it was a mix it took practically zero time. The reactions of the group to the smell of brownie mix were priceless. It was like everyone was five years old again and couldn’t wait to lick the bowl. After Sarita and I spread all the batter we could into the pans we let everyone have a turn licking the bowl and spatulas. The smiles were some of the largest I saw in the whole trip. After 45 minutes our first batch of apple crisp was done and it turned out perfectly. The scary oven had done wonderfully. Both batches of apple crisp turned out well and the brownies, aside for one burned corner, turned out great too. The rest of food prep went good as well except for a few fumbles. For example, the boys didn’t know that you have to keep stirring gravy otherwise it congeals and unfortunately Cindy’s spaghetti noodles didn’t fair too well and just became one big clump. Otherwise though, it was a success. In addition to producing great food, Thanksgiving prep was a great bonding time for the group. At this point we all were already close but cooking together brings people together in new ways and it was certainly one of the days I will look back upon of China as filled with laughter, jokes, mistakes, successes, and camaraderie. Once cooking was done we all had a short time to change into something nice and report back down to the restaurant for the main event. The guests for the evening included the top members of the Waiban staff, Chuck, our professors, and then we each were asked to invite a guest. Sarita, Chris, Dan, and Kia each invited their language partners Sally, Amanda, Terry, and Shirley. Guy, Nolan and Axel invited our Thai friends Gao, Som, and Leyi. Bert and Deanna invited their significant others, Rae and Paul. Luke and I invited our international friends Ronnie and Larry. Cindy invited Leo Hao a friend of hers who owned our favorite milk tea shop (at 19 he was already the owner of his own business), but unfortunately he couldn’t close the shop for the night. With everyone we had around 50 people. After a brief explanation of what Thanksgiving was for all of our international guests who weren’t familiar with it and a blessing everyone dug in. The food had turned out better than we ever could have expected and went over fabulously with the guestsIMG_4890.jpg. The brownies were such a big hit that they, along with one ginormous pan of apple crisp, were gone in about 20 minutes. After everyone had eaten their fill we still had tons of food left so we boxed it up and gave each guest some of their favorite dish to take home and share with their families, we gave some to our courtyard’s guard and the kitchen staff which had been so great about helping us. The night was just as good as the day had been with laughter, friends and good spirits. Everyone spent hours talking with each other and enjoying one another’s company. Eventually it was time for the restaurant to close. They graciously saved us a great deal of work by volunteering to clean up everything and ushered us out the door. The only downer to the night came when our Chinese professor asked us as she was leaving if we had finished the practice test she had given the Waiban for us. It was paramount that we have it done for class the next day. We told her we had not yet, we hadn’t even been given the test. She told us that she had given it to Chuck on Monday. Awesome, just what we wanted to spend the rest of our night doing, a 10 page practice test. After a wild goose chase to find the practice tests we finally got them. It turns out Chuckles had had them since Monday and simply hadn’t made time to make copies of them and get them to us. He brought them with to dinner when he came. Thanks Chuck. Sarita bunkered down to try to do the test. I decided just to wake up early and do it in the morning. Instead I went and hung out with the boys and the rest of guests for the evening.
Friday morning (Dec.2) I woke up early and finished my practice test before Chinese class. It turned out not to be that bad at all and all 10 pages only took about an hour. After that we had Chinese class and went over the test. I was quite glad I had completed it because it made the review much more helpful. Following Chinese class, Sarita and I went to lunch with Sally at her favorite canteen on campus. Their gong bao jiding was quite good. That afternoon we had our Study Abroad Seminar. I should mention that it was a gorgeous day outside. One of the nicest we had had in weeks. After the constant cloudiness the sun was finally shining. Sunshine in Beibei had a strange power. Since it was so rare during winter it had an almost transformative power. The campus and city suddenly became more beautiful, people became happier, and overall if the sun was shining it was just going to be a good day. When we got to Sam’s class we knew something was slightly off because instead of arranging the desks in a square like we normally did Sam requested we keep them in their normal positions. After some brief announcements concerning the end of the semester, preparations for Hong Kong, and comments on our papers, Sam said we could have the rest of the afternoon off to enjoy the nice weather. Perfect! We were all quite excited. And we followed his advice. The rest of the day was spent enjoying campus and taking advantage of the sunshine. That night Sarita, Dan, Guy and I went over to Som’s apartment and then to 99 to help celebrate her little brother, Tick’s 22nd birthday. It was a lot of fun until someone decided that rather than eating Tick’s birthday cake it should be used for a cake a fight. Alright, in all honesty the cake fight just made the night more fun. By the end we all were covered head to toe in frosting and it was matted throughout our hair. The only downside to the night was that I had to wait until the next morning when the hot water was turned on to wash all the cake out of my hair. It was still more than worth it though.
The weekend of Dec.3 -4 was pretty nondescript. I finished my last assignment for the semester, a reflection paper on my experiences teaching for my Teaching Practicum course and studying Chinese for our final. Saturday night we went out with a bunch of the international students to Mango Cheng. They hosted a party in celebration of the international boys’ soccer team’s victory (this game had nothing to do with the sports tournament for International Student Week, throughout the year the international boys actually have a legitimate soccer team that competed against other schools. Chris played on it). Sunday morning Ronnie hosted one last brunch for Sarita, Cindy, Luke, Kia, and I as a going away present. I am in awe of Ronnie’s cooking/baking skills. She simply loved to cook and usually did so when she wanted to put off studying. Using her roommate’s toaster oven and China’s limited baking supplies she managed to make all kinds of delicious things, such as kiwi pie, marzipan, and a plethora of cookies. At least once a week she would surprise us with some kind of sweet she had made. For our last Sunday she had a brunch for us. Sarita and I went early to help. With Ronnie doing most of the work and Sarita and I helping with whatever we could we put together a marvelous spread of French toast, breakfast potatoes, breakfast pizza, bacon, and scrambled eggs90_IMG_4903.jpg. In addition to the six of us, Kevin (our friend from Canada) joined as well. It was a great morning but also bittersweet knowing that it would be the last breakfast we would have with two of our best friends.8IMG_4905.jpg That afternoon Cindy, Sarita, and I went shopping with Rae at the underground market. We all bought primarily gifts for people back home and a few things for ourselves to remind us of our time in China. That night we began the process of packing, but didn’t get very far before we all just decided it was too sad and that we’d do it later.

Posted by remullin 10:17 Archived in China Comments (0)

The Begging of the End in Beibei Pt. 1

Not too much happened in the next few weeks. It was beginning of the end of our time in Beibei and passed pretty much as a blur. A couple big events took place that I’ll mention, but overall I focused on enjoying my time I had left in Beibei. I spent a lot of time hanging out with friends, both our group and the other international kids, exploring more of the campus that I hadn’t seen, and just enjoying my remaining time.
The week of (Nov. 14-18) was unremarkable class wise. In Kung Fu class we put the finishing touches on our routine and had a dress rehearsal performance for Ms. Qen. She had the power to say whether we made it into the actual performances or not, so we were glad when she said that she thought we were excellent. In Chinese we had finished all of the material we needed to cover for the year and began to review for the final. We had a lot of work to do before our final to try to learn how to write more than 100 characters and recognize many more. In Ethnology we began to work on our presentation assignment. Wang Laoshi had asked us to present to his Chinese classes on whatever aspects of American life we thought would interest them. Nothing too bad, right? Then he told us he wanted us to present it in Chinese. Yeah, we had some work to do.
The weekend of Nov.19-20 was our second teaching weekend. This time the group that went was much smaller than the first weekend. For the second weekend the teachers consisted of Sarita, Kia, Annie, Bert, Luke, Zach, Axel, and I. We went back to the same school as the previous weekend. This time we had the nice surprise of being transported there by a private driver instead of taking a chartered bus. The school arranged for four cars to take us. In our car were Bert, Luke, Sarita, and I. The drive went much faster than it had the first time. We stopped by the school when we arrived and got our assignments for the weekend. Almost everyone was given a new class, except for Sarita. Much to her dismay, she was given the same class as she had taught before. Her excitement for the weekend instantly plummeted. The fact that the girls would again be spending Sunday at the kindergarten helped her feel a little better though. As for me, I was going to be teaching the same grade as I did the previous weekend, but not my same class. Kia had them instead. I was bummed, but oh well. For Saturday’s lesson I was given 6 lessons to cover. It included colors, clothes, tourist information (such as passports, customs, etc.), careers, and classroom objects. After getting our assignments we headed to dinner and the hotel. Our hotel this time was in a gorgeous gated area that bordered the river. Sadly we never got to see much of the area though because we always returned at night long after it had gotten dark. After watching some TV with Bert and Luke for a bit Sarita and I called it a night.
Saturday morning (Nov. 19) started early at 7:00. After one of the hotel breakfasts we had in China (fried egg sandwiches and spicy beef noodles) we headed to the school. The morning periods went pretty well. The class was smart and polite, but they didn’t have quite the same eagerness to learn as my previous class had. At the lunch break one of the main teachers approached me and said he had a question for me. He asked if I would be willing to switch with Kia and have my original class for the afternoon. He said that they had specifically requested me. I was thrilled and told him that I would love to. After lunch I was excited for the afternoon sessions.IMG_4561.jpg Kia had covered all 6 lessons in the morning periods so I was forced to improvise. For a while we reviewed what they had learned in the morning, what Cindy and I had taught them last time, and then I set up some games for them to play. For the last period their teacher asked me to go over how to convert cardinal numbers (such as explain how oen becomes first, two becomes second etc.), how to write dates, and how to answer questions concerning dates and age, such as when is your birthday, how old you are and so forth. When the last bell rang it was far harder to say good bye than I would have anticipated. I have such hope for those kids. They have so much passion, so much drive, and such big dreams for their futures. One of them dreams of studying in the US one day. I wish with all my heart that those dreams come true for them. That they can rise above the limitations of the poverty of the area they live, the less quality education they receive compared to those in big cities, and the hardship of life that plagues many rural Chinese students. I would love to somehow see where they all end up in 15 years.IMG_4556.jpg
Sunday (Nov. 20) was our last day of teaching in China. Kia, Annie, Sarita, and I were assigned to the kindergarten. This time I was given the middle age class, so I had three year olds. They were quite cute but also quite crazy. It was a good time though regardless. We spent a lot of time playing like I had the previous weekend. But we also worked on vocab that their teacher assigned. The words were quite random, air conditioner and radio, but I taught them anyways. It mainly just became a screaming match of me saying the word in English and them screaming it as loud as they could back at me. After that we sang some songs and then played outside. The day ended with a big game of duck duck goose. After finishing teaching we had lunch and then headed back to Beibei. This time we took the bus home instead of private cars.
The week of (Nov. 21 -27) was filled with performances, presentations, and events. Monday (Nov. 21) started out far too earlier for our group’s taste. It was the day of our ethnology presentation on American life and we had to meet Wang Laoshi in front of our gate at 7:20 am. The group of us (Luke, Kia, Deanna, Chris, Axel, Cindy, Guy, Dan, Bert, and I) was not really sure what to expect. It was a little intimidating for us to walk into a classroom of over 150 students and have 300 eyes suddenly glued to us. We took our seats amongst the students and class began. The Chinese students presented on Chinese life for us first (in English). I’m not sure what Wang Laoshi gave them as parameters, but I gather that it was similar to us – talk about anything that you think they will find interesting. Almost all of the Chinese students choose to talk to us about their hometowns. Unlike most American college students I know, Chinese students are extremely passionate about where they come from and love talking about it. So we heard over an hour and a half of hometown histories, cuisines, tourist destinations, and anything else of interest. Some of it was interesting and it gave some new places of interest to visit, but it got to be a bit much. In addition to the students who talked about their hometowns a few students took on other topics, including China’s view on money and traditional Chinese calligraphy. After their presentation we had a Q and A with the Chinese students where we could ask them anything we wanted. Most of us asked questions that helped us with our one question projects and it was really interesting getting students’ perspectives on our questions and hearing their opinions on the US. One of the comments that I found interesting was when we asked what they thought of America a student replied that he admired American people because they were generous, creative, and driven. He dislikes the American government though because they interfered with other countries when they shouldn’t. It was a good reminder that one can’t judge a country’s people and a country’s government the same. In China that was especially true. Next it was our turn to present. Unfortunately we ran into problems with our power point. We had all used the new version of Microsoft Office that we got from CSBSJU. When we went to call up the power point though we couldn’t because the computer in the classroom wasn’t compatible with it. Uh oh. So we were forced to present without it. This made the presentation not as effective but we were able to draw some stuff on the board and with our limited Chinese ability it went okay. After our presentation (we talked about food, sports, CSBSJU, holidays, ethnic diversity, Minnesota, and NASCAR) the Chinese students asked us questions. Most of their questions focused on what our perceptions of China had been thus far, how we dealt with the stress of school, and whether or not we felt that the diversity in America was a good thing or a bad thing. The whole presentation was a great learning experience for everyone. Our presentation was supposed to be done by 10:00 so that we could make it to our Chinese class for at least two periods. However, our presentation ran over time and went until 11:15. Poor Sarita (who didn’t take ethnology) had been sitting by herself with Li Laoshi for over an hour. As we were walking across campus to class (about a 15 minute trek) she called and said that class was cancelled since it would have been pointless by the time we got there. Oh well. That afternoon was supposed to be the start of International Student Week at SWU. The plan was to have a big gathering, a few performances, and then all of the international students would have booths for their home countries with information, samples of traditional food, and would dress in traditional garb. However in true China fashion the Waiban in their infinite wisdom changed up the plans. Instead of starting the festival on Monday as we all had been informed it was moved to Friday instead. Unfortunately, our Kung Fu instructor never got this memo. So we spent all Monday afternoon practicing our routine. We were scheduled to be the opening performance of the kickoff event for International Students Week. Eventually, after more hours than we would have liked, Levi got the message that the event had been moved and let us go home. By the end of Monday we were all pretty tired. That night we just had our weekly visual journal party in our room with Guy, Dan, Luke, Sarita, Cindy, and I and called it a day.
The rest of the school week was pretty mundane class wise. Friday (Nov. 25) though was busy for us. We had a full three periods of Chinese in the morning and then had to go directly from class to preparing for the International Student Festival which was scheduled for the afternoon. Each country was asked to make a food that was typical for the location. In China this is a challenge. For the US table we decided to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It doesn’t sound that exciting I know, but people actually loved it. So after Chinese class we got started making 200 servings worth of peanut butter and jelly. Right after that job was done we had to head to Kung Fu practice to do few more run throughs of our routine before we had to perform for everyone. Directly from practice we walked over to the student center where the festival was to take place. It was crazy crowded! There were people everywhere, setting up booths, bringing food, setting up the stage and judging area, and also all the people that just came to watch the performances and sample the food.IMG_4628.jpg As we were getting ready to perform Levi let us know that we would be one of only two groups chosen to perform. No pressure or anything. After a brief welcome speech by memebers of the Waiban it was time for us to perform. It didn’t start off well. The music began before we were all in position, but we quickly caught up and the routine went well, despite the fact that many of us (myself included) could not stop smiling during itIMG_4648.jpg. In the blink of an eye it was over.IMG_4691.jpg All of that practice for two minutes of performing. After our performance there were a few more speeches, one of them by my friend Pablo who had the pleasure of giving a long speech exclusively in Chinese (he did fabulously), and then the final performance. It was a fashion show that the other international students had put together that blended their traditional garb with some traditional Chinese clothing. It was a lot of fun to watch and they all did great. Following the performances everyone was encouraged to go around and visit the different booths and sample the food. Apparently we were supposed to wait to uncover our food until a certain time but our group missed that memo and uncovered it right away. The Chinese students swarmed, it was insane. In the course of about thirty seconds all two hundred sandwiches were gone. After that Sarita and I just wandered around, talked to friends, obliged the numerous photo requests, and tried to get a little of whatever food people had left that hadn’t been instantly engulfed. Afterwards we headed back to the dorms for a much needed nap. That night Guy, Dan, Bert, and I went out with two of our Chinese friends Jill and Ben. They took us around campus to all of their favorite places, including a snack district that had an amazing variety of Chinese snacks; the only one that got anything though was Bert. After that we headed off campus to one of the local eat streets. We got to try some Taiwanese wraps which were super good and then went for some Chinese skewered food. We had grilled bread, tofu, and some kind of root. What the restaurant was famous for though was its chicken. They had a variety of different kinds. The most famous though were their hot wings. They were flavored ghost peppers (for those who don’t know it’s the hottest pepper on the planet and is used in chemical warfare). Jill and Ben decided that we each had to try them. They started us out though a little easier and ordered us the second spiciest wings to eat first. After about two bites we were all sweating and our tongues were on fire. It didn’t manage how much we drank, our mouths were just burning. Rather than doing the common sense thing though and stopping at that point we just dove right into ghost pepper chicken. It lived up to its name. It was the hottest thing I have ever eaten obviously and we were all literally whimpering in pain. Bert started crying, Guy’s entire face turned bright red, and Dan simply couldn’t talk. Everyone in the restaurant was laughing at us and with justifiable cause. It was one of the most bizarre feelings in my life. It took at least 15 minutes for our taste buds to return to normal. After the chicken fiasco we walked around some more, had doughnuts (and they surprisingly actually tasted like American style doughnuts) and then the six of us went to hang out with some of the Thai girls we were friends with.
Saturday (Nov. 26) was spent tackling the mile long to do list that I had accumulated which included my final paper for the One Question Project, my final (and only) ethnology paper, my DC Program application, and my Visual Journal. While Cindy, Sarita, and I were holed up in the room doing our homework all day Bert and Dan were taking part in the basketball tournament that was part of International Student Week. As part of the week the school had set up a number of sports events that included boys’ and girls’ basketball, volleyball, and soccer. For each game the international students put together a team and then competed against SWU’s team. Bert and Dan won the game despite poor refereeing. Yay! After the game they were quite tired and our room was exhausted from a day full of mental fatigue. We decided to make it a quiet night. Sarita, Luke, Dan, Bert, Rae (Bert’s girlfriend), and I spent the night in watching movies. We watched American Beauty and Seven. They were two of Dan’s favorite movies and the rest of us had not seen them before. They were really good.
Sunday (Nov.27) was my turn to play in the sports tournament. I was playing on the International Girls’ soccer team. I was super nervous because it had been a long time since I had played. It was a great experience though. As soon as I stepped on the field it was like I had never left. The girls I played with were all super nice and we had a lot of fun. Unfortunately we ended up losing 1-2, but that was better than it was the year before so it was okay. The game was a great way to meet even numerous people that I otherwise would never have metDSC01860.jpg.
The week of Nov.28 – Dec. 2 was even busier than the week before. Monday was a pretty normal day for all of us. We had three periods of Chinese in the morning. We had finished covering new material at this point so all of our classes focused on reviewing for our final. That afternoon we had Kung Fu. Levi started class by giving us a review of our performance, which he thought had gone very well. Then he told us we would have another performance on Wednesday. Just what we wanted to hear, another opportunity to prove that white kids shouldn’t do Kung Fu. After that we started learning the first five sequences of traditional Tai Ji which is what we would be tested over for our final. That night Dan, Guy, Cindy, Sarita, and I all went out to dinner with Annie at our favorite restaurant with an English menu. Whenever we went out with Annie it was a good time. She just had a personality that made for good discussions and good times.
Tuesday (Nov. 29) all of our classes were cancelled for the day. Instead we were all going to the Chongqing International Garden Festival. The trip to the expo was a gift to our program on behalf of the Waiban and was being led by none other than our favorite Waiban staffer, Chuckles. The garden expo was a really big deal for the city of Chongqing and was a great sense of pride. For the festival the city built a new convention center in the style of traditional Chinese palaces and set aside about a dozen acres for the gardens themselves. For the festival countries all over the world, including the US, as well as prominent cities were asked to build gardens that were representative of what a typical garden for them would look like. It was meant to be a way for countries to learn about each other through something as simple as landscape architecture. The festival started out on a low note for us. Chuck first took us through the information section of the festival which was in the main convention center. It probably would have been really informative and possibly even interesting however it was solely in Chinese so we got absolutely nothing out of it aside from the few random characters we could pick out on the displays. After the information center we were set loose to explore the gardens themselves. Cindy, Sarita, Luke, Dan, Guy, Bert, Nolan, and I had a good time drifting around and looking at all of the gardens.IMG_4710.jpg Cindy got to chill on a fake beach for a while which helped ease her longing for LA just a little bit. After a bit though, we all got kind of tired of aimlessly wandering we got kind of bored with it. We ended up just all sitting around in the bamboo cage that was the center piece of the “Germany and China-Moving Ahead Together Association.”IMG_4721.jpg We were there talking for so long that the Chinese tourists began to think that we were actually part of the exhibit. Eventually it was time to head back to Southwest. The rest of the afternoon we were free to do whatever. Most people worked on their visual journal which was due Friday but I had already finished mine. Guy and Dan were supposed to play in a volleyball game as part of the sports tournament so I went to watch. Unfortunately, the game never actually happened. It was supposed to be held at playground 4 however it started raining right when the game was scheduled to start. Then they were given clearance to play on the indoor courts by the library. However, the girls had to finish their game which had gotten called early due to the rain and by the time the girls had finished the boys couldn’t use the court because it was reserved for another group. They had the option of waiting around until the gym was available again after the volley team they were supposed to play had practice, but that wasn’t going to be until 6 so they decided it wasn’t worth it. So basically the whole afternoon was spent waiting around for a game that never happened but it was nice to get out of the room and spend some time with the other international students. After that we had to get back to Wisteria Garden for Jesse’s third birthday. All semester Jesse had been looking forward to his birthday party in China. As a result we were all excited to and wanted to make sure he had a great time. For the party Sam and Annie rented out part of the Waiban restaurant and decorated the back restaurant with balloons and a banner made by Harriet. He had as much fun at his birthday as any three year could have playing with balloons, beating up on the boys, eating his Angry Birds birthday cake (with more of it getting on his face than in his mouth)IMG_4740.jpgIMG_4750.jpg, and opening his multitude of gifts (one of which was a pink winter coat given on behalf of the Waiban who had mistaken Jesse for a girl’s name). All of us students came to the party, some of the Chinese students that the Johnsons knew well attended as well as a few members of the Waiban staff and their children who had become playmates of Jesse. It was a fun night helping Jesse to celebrate his birthday.

Posted by remullin 09:57 Archived in China Comments (0)

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