Our last week at SWU
05.12.2011 - 08.12.2011
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.