My final "test" in China
09.12.2011 - 10.12.2011
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 Beibei. 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. 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 ledge 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. 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 tub, 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 picture. After that we rushed back to our courtyard and began to load up the bus. 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.