July 2, 2011
The last and final week in China. It really made me sad to think that I would be leaving all of what I had seen behind and have it only be a memory when I go back to America. This final week has been an eye-opener. Before I came to China, I knew that it was a big country and that it had a long history. What I didn't realize was just exactly how long that history was. Our final week consisted of a study tour and we went all around the Shandong Province, exploring various historic sites of the province. In just one province, there is so much history, it's really difficult to take it all in.
One of the first places we went to was Mt. Tai, one of the most famous mountains in China. It is said that the emperors of old would make a trip to this mountain, go to the very top and communicate with the heavens. The escorts would take the emperor up to a certain point on the mountain, where he would have to get off, and go the rest of the way alone. Only he was allowed to make this trip. Now, it stands as monument to the history and millions of people make their pilgrimage to Mt. Tai, climbing the thousands of steps that lead to the top of the mountain. Me and my fellow classmates were fortunate to only have to climb half of the mountain, having been dropped off at the midway point by a bus. But it was still a long climb and I was sure glad to be done with it. I wasn't even sure I could make it to the top!
After that, it was constant traveling, visiting sites such as the home of Confucius and having a Confucian Manor Banquet, a famous poet's humble home, a village where they are known for their wood-block carving pictures and kites. So much to see in such a short amount of time. I felt like my brain couldn't compute all the information that was being given to me. Needless to say, even with all that I learned during this period of time, there is still so much more out there to learn. And I am eager to learn more. I can't wait to be able to come back to China to see what else lays in store! I had an amazing experience and I don't think anybody should miss out, given the opportunity. Thank you China! Until next we meet.
June 26, 2011
The sixth week of our stay and our last week of classes. It seems as if it's been a really long time but to me, it feels like time has just flown by. We barely know our roommates but I feel like I've known mine for ages! We've had to study for our final tests to display our progress and see how much we've been able to retain. It's been a hectic week, what with studying and planning for banquets. We had to plan 2 banquets; one for our roommates, and one for our teachers. Part of Chinese culture is that we invite the people we are grateful to out to eat. This is a way to display our appreciation towards them, to show grateful we are for their contribution to our studies.
Everything had to be planned out by the students; the location, the menu, the time and even how formal the event would be. It's really amazing to imagine us when we first came to China and we didn't even know the first thing to order, and here we were, ordering a whole meal for our roommates and ourselves! If you really thought about it, it was quite a feat. The roommate banquet went by without a single problem and then our biggest worry was the teacher's banquet. The roommate one had been a little bit more informal, since we were all friends with our roommates. But the teacher's banquet was different. We had to make sure that people were seated in the proper places, that we had toasts for the teachers and something to say to each one. In the end, we flew through it, and the stress of making sure everything was perfect done.
I felt really honored to be able to dine with my teachers, knowing that it wasn't something that we do in America. In China, the relationship between teacher and student is really tight, especially in the smaller settings. I really was able to communicate with the teachers and even interact with them outside of the classroom. It was definitely a banquet that I would never forget.
June 19, 2011
As we roll into the fifth week of our stay in China, things become more familiar. We're all falling into a pattern that we're finally used to. In the beginning, it had felt like there was just so much to take in and we couldn't imagine being able to just go out and do things on our own every single day. Even befriending our Chinese roommates and going out and doing things with them as well. Our classroom settings are finally getting much more relaxed as everybody had now gotten used to each other and how our performance should be in the classroom. It's really hard to believe that we've come as far as we have at this point.
Like every week, we always have some kind of excursions to go on and this week, we went to a small Beijing Opera Theatre in downtown Qingdao. It was really neat how they performed specifically to show us the different aspects of Beijing Opera. The explanations were all in Chinese so I know that personally, I wasn't able to understand every single thing that they were saying, but I feel as if I got at least the gist of it and I learned much from what I did understand. Afterwards, some students were able to try out the different techniques that they used for performing. I and some other lucky classmates got our face painted with the makeup that they use for performances! We even wore the make-up outside the theatre and we definitely got stared at a lot! But it was fun, nonetheless.
Last, but not least, we even visited the Tsingtao Beer Museum. It was really interesting to learn the history behind the first beer factory and how it had developed since then. It still amazes me at how much history one city in China can hold. Imagine how much history there would be combined when you combined the history of each city. I have learned so much in the course of five weeks and I still can't seem to have it all down pat in my mind. There's just so much to take in... and still more on the way.
June 12, 2011
Here I am, already more than halfway through the program! Boy does the time fly... I'm learning so many new things each and every day about China. The Chinese classmates always make me think, especially in class, when they find things that we do to be so strange when it's just second nature to us Americans. Simple phrases like "Hey guys." have to be explained when and where you could use it. But it's fun too, because in turn, we ask them different things about Chinese culture. Why do Chinese people do this? Why do they do that? You come to realize that you need to understand a lot about a culture before you can begin judging them. It's not fair to them to just stereotype them in a certain way from first impressions, especially when they're from a different country than you. It really has come to make me realize that we can't just assume everything we do is the norm.
This past week, I've done many things. Learning how to recite a Chinese tongue-twister and constantly repeating it over and over until I have it down pat. But even then, it's only a small part of a bigger tongue-twister. I also started learning how to use the Kuai Ban, which is a bamboo-made instrument that people use in certain types of Chinese storytelling. Not only that, but I and half of the group went to go visit a relatively rural elementary school. The principle of the school was very welcoming and some of the teachers taught us how to make dumplings, how to set up the dough and how to put the dumpling together. Afterwards, they cooked the dumplings and we had lunch! Eating the very dumplings that we had made. Then the principle took us on a tour of the campus and afterwards, allowed us to enter some of the classes to interact with the students. It was very exciting; we performed for them, they performed for us, we played games with them, asked each other questions, and in the end, we exchanged gifts and took some pictures. It was definitely a memory that I'll never forget. They were so excited, since in such a rural area, they rarely see foreigners. I hope we made as good a memory for them as they did for us.
To end the week, we went to one of Qingdao's most famous landmarks, Mount Lao. The mountain is mentioned in a lot of ancient Chinese literature and holds a lot of significance to Chinese people. Getting to the mountain was no easy feat, and climbing it was not any easier. It took a good hour to get to the top, and even that was only a small part of the mountain. But we definitely got an amazing view of the surrounding landscape. I felt like a weakling compared to some of the other people who were climbing the mountain; some were 3 times as old as I was and was doing better than me! And then, of course, we had to come back down. At least that part was easier and we got some beautiful scenery in. It was a bright and sunny day and everything was bright and green. I can only say I was exhausted by the end of the day. Definitely have to prepare myself better for the mountains I'll be climbing during my study tour...
June 5, 2011
Here we are, my third week in China and I feel as if my head is about to burst. Every single day, I learn many different things about the Chinese culture. Learning about a different culture really opens your eyes to your own as well. You find small things that may seem insignificant to you and just a part of who we are until you have somebody ask you, "Why do you do that?" Then you're left with thinking, "Why do we do that?" It's not something you think about but other people think it's strange, just like how we think it's strange for them to do certain things. But this way, we learn more about ourselves and our own culture as well. It really makes you think. We have a whole lot more to think about.. that's for sure.
Last Friday, we met our Chinese roommates and helped them move in the following Saturday. On Monday, we officially had class together. It was a bit strange at first. We had to inform our Chinese classmates that we have set days to speak Chinese and English outside of class. Inside the classroom, we have 50 min of just English, and another 50 min of just Chinese. It was a bit hard to get used to, especially since a lot of us have a low listening comprehension. But at least it's not just on our side; some of the Chinese students have trouble understanding English as well. The Chinese students have actually been learning English for roughly between 9-10 years, however, their specialty is in reading and writing, not speaking and listening. At least we're helping each other out, the Chinese students with our Chinese, and the American students helping the Chinese with their English.
So far, me and my Chinese roommate are getting along superbly. I feel like she's the Chinese me, if that was possible. She teaches me a lot about the Chinese culture and we go around to look at the famous sites of Qingdao. My favorite was the May 4th square. My roommate, who's English name is Wendy, taught me about what the red statue, called the "May Wind", in the square stood for and the history behind the square. Afterwards, we went to the area where much of the buildings were built during the German occupation. You can find many different types of architecture there, German, Spanish, Russian, French.... Many famous people lived in those buildings and now they are up-kept by the Chinese government because it is a part of their history. It is really amazing how much you can learn about China in just one city. But I know there's always more to learn, no matter where in China I may go.
May 30, 2011
Second week in China and first week in Qingdao. Boy what a change... We went from being touristy back to an actual student again. This is where the real struggle started. Our first day in Qingdao consisted of getting settled into our home away from home, literally called Home Inn. Afterwards, we had to find our way to the big department store of the city to buy necessities; the first true test of endurance. We had to ask around for directions to get to the place, take the right bus, and get off at the right stop. Qingdao's not as tourist-friendly as Beijing and many things did not have English translations on them... so... we had to trust our listening skills!
After that first day, we started our first day of classes. Here, we learned different aspects of Chinese culture that will help us get around the city. Understanding the culture is the first thing we need to know in order to be successful in our endeavors here. Knowing just the language is not enough. One of the days, we were given a dialogue on how to order food at a restaurant. I have to say... that first time was definitely not easy. But after that, we were off on our own and fending for ourselves in the huge city of Qingdao! Needless to say.... we really need to expand our food vocabulary so we're not eating the same thing every day!
May 22, 2011
So arriving in China was quite a feat in of itself. I had a couple of layovers in America and had to suffer through a couple of plane changes... And then the biggest leap was the actual flight to Beijing. A whopping 10 and a half hours long. Sitting in a plane. I hardly knew what to do with myself during that time. But by the time I got off, it's not an exaggeration to say I was glad to have my feet back on solid ground. After all that, my first week in Beijing began. It was so amazing to see all the signs in Chinese.
I constantly kept thinking to myself that I wanted to eventually be able to read what each sign said. Second day there was a bit foggy but nothing a bit of camera tweaking couldn't solve for my pictures. I was really quite reluctant to try Chinese street food at first but the food in China is really quite amazing. You would be so amazed to see what people can make in just a couple of minutes and have it still taste delicious. Beijing is definitely a tourist hot spot, with so many different amazing places to see. China has so much history, it is really difficult to take in everything all at once. I am slowly gaining more and more knowledge about Chinese culture and I can only say that I love it even more than before I came to China. I can not wait to see what the rest of my stay holds for me.
Ariel Chantachote, China
August 4, 2011
So this is my final entry as the program is already over. We spent the last 8 days in Xian, where the temperature was over 40 degrees Celsius everyday. Needless to say I got quite a tan, but I learned a lot about Chinese history and Communism.
We saw some great places, like the Teracotta Soldiers, Oracle Bones Museum, two Buddhist Temples, Banpo Museum, Mount Hua, and more.
We went to a lot of places, but I'm going to choose some of my favorite ones. Yanan was one of my favorite ones, because we learned about something very special and different about China: communism. We learned about the history, main leaders in the rising of Communism, the battle between the Communists and the Nationalists, and more. Although it sounds very intimidating and almost forbidden, I think it's really important to learn about, because it helps to understand Chinese history, the attitude of the citizens, and also the making of the Chinese government today. In addition to seeing all of this, we saw the cave that Mao Zedong lived in in Yanan while he was getting to know the citizens, and also Chiang Kai-shek.
One of the other places we went to was the Banpo Museum. At this museum we learned about the period in time where it was a matriarchal society, which is why me and my female classmates are kidding around with our male classmates.
Another place we went to is Mount Hua, which is one of the sacred mountains. Last year, we climbed Mount Tai, which is also a sacred mountain. This mountain was a little harder for me because of the altitude, but I managed to reach the furthest point within the time limit. Next to me is the greatest teacher on the planet, Dr. Shepherd!
Before we left for the study tour, we had a final banquet with our teachers, classmates, internship co-workers, and everyone else that has helped us along the way. It was definitely a success, and made me really reflect back on this summer. I made so many friends that I'll never forget and learned so much about Chinese culture and language. This summer was a lot of things: challenging, educational, fun, and more. But it was definitely unforgettable.
July 17, 2011
Classes are officially over! We had to present a 20 minute research presentation as our last assignment yesterday. Mine was on the Japanese Earthquake effects to Japan, China, and the world from a health, economic, and environmental perspective. I was nervous, plus me not knowing how to use a microphone didn't help. But I got through it, and I was told by some people that they learned a lot from the presentation, so I'm happy.
We also had a barbeque on the beach with our roommates to celebrate. It was so much fun – it really made me feel grateful for being on this program and meeting such wonderful people that will be a part of my life forever.
Our final banquet with our teachers, roommates, internship co-workers, and tutors is tomorrow night. Then on Wednesday, we'll be leaving on an eight day study tour to “China's oven”,- Xian. I feel like during the program, everything was so busy I didn't realize how much I was learning or how many memories I was making. Now that things have slowed down, I realize it and I'm so happy to have had the chance to have this experience.
July 4, 2011
We visited a school for children with social disorders recently. It was intimidating at first because once we walked in we could hear children screaming and crying. We were each assigned to one child, and from there interacted with them for two hours. The child my group and I were assigned to was about 8 years old, but couldn't understand much Chinese, and also didn't like strangers. He kept crying and didn't want to touch us, but after a while of playing games with him he finally started smiling. He called me “big sister”（姐姐）and even gave me a hug. By the end of the two hours I was completely exhausted, but seeing him smile like that made the entire experience worth it.
Yesterday we went to see a show that included singing, dancing, poems, traditional music, and more. It showcased pride that the people of Qingdao have for their fine arts, and also their talented artists. My favorite performance was the Beijing Opera, because I've always found it interesting. Beijing Opera is completely different from regular opera. The vocals are very distinct, and the background music and story are also one of a kind. I've always been interested in it because I feel like this and traditional instruments really show off China's culture artistically. Every movement in Beijing opera has a meaning, and even their makeup is meant to help portray different emotions.
On another note, Happy Birthday, America! I hope everyone had a great 4th of July :)
June 26, 2011
Classes have been going well here, and we've also started our internships! I'm interning at the government office that manages Qingdao's biggest tourist attractions, such as Tianmu City (an indoor building with restaurants, stores, museums, and a ceiling painted like the sky), Beer Street, Culture Street, and more. My first day was alright - very relaxed. Their busy time for planning events had already passed, so they're not too back up. I did help translate documents, and I'm currently working on a short advertisement of Tianmu City. When I've finished making the video, I will post it on the internet for Americans to see and hopefully bring some different tourists over to experience Qingdao.
I intern twice a week from 8:30-5:30 at the Tianmu City office, which is located near Taidong, a major commercial shopping district. I'm looking forward to interning tomorrow and working on the advertisement for them. Hopefully it'll turn out really well!
June 22, 2011
One of our friends from last year celebrated his birthday recently. In America we have chocolate, vanilla, or other flavors for cakes, but in China the actual inside is the same flavor (regular sponge cake), but the outside is what makes it different. They usually have fruit on their cakes, and the flavoring is also fruit. Instead of using icing, they use whipped cream. We had an orange flavored cake with pineapple, apple, kiwi, and more fruits on top as well as chocolate on the side. It was so different from America, but I really enjoyed it.
One of our recent events was raising money for the Red Cross by going to Taidong, which is one of the busiest commercial areas in Qingdao to sell newspapers. We wore our program shirts and went up to strangers explaining we were from USF raising money for leukemia. We had such success! We ended up selling every single newspaper within two hours. It was interesting for me, because whenever I explained I was an international student from America I got all sorts of responses like, “Are you sure?”, “I don't believe it...”, or “You're not an American”. All in all though, it was really a great experience.
Our internships are starting soon! I'm working in the government office that manages Qingdao's tourist areas and commercial streets (Tianmu Cheng, Beer Street, etc). I'm super excited to start! :)
June 17, 2011
There have been a couple of events since last time I wrote. We visited an orphanage, a blind school, and even did community service by picking up trash near Mount Fu, the mountain close to our campus. Tomorrow we are heading out to sell newspapers! It'll be an interesting experience.
We are almost done with our fourth week in the program. Classes have begun, and it's been a great learning experience every time. We have classes Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. My favorite class is Presentational Speaking in Chinese. Each week we have a topic and make a powerpoint and speech about it. Last week was a self introduction about yourself. This week is introducing a place, and I chose Hawaii because I grew up there. I was homesick before, but now I'm even more homesick!
On a lighter note, my friends and I were really missing cheese, something that's somewhat hard to find here in China. We went to Pizza Hut, which is a little different from the ones in America. It's a higher class, sit-down restaurant with wait service. My friends always make fun of me for having a huge appetite, but I ordered two entrees anyway. We ordered a large cheese, stuffed crust pizza, and I must say it really cured the homesickness for a little while. :)
May 28, 2011
Being back in China has been amazing so far. I've forgotten how much I love Chinese food! I have not had American Chinese food since I came back from China last year, so I literally waited an entire year to eat this again. It was well worth the wait. :)
We went to an elementary school, which was an amazing experience. The children were adorable, and all so curious about America, and the differences between our two countries. We played some games, and later visited a traditional home. We were told by our teacher that this would be the last chance to see it, because come next year their homes will be remodeled. It was really great to see a normal home outside the city, and see the kind of lifestyle they have.
Our roommates have moved in to our dorms, though classes have not yet started. They are extremely considerate and helpful, especially when it comes to learning Chinese. They have not spoken English to us, and continue to help us learn new words and phrases everyday. My roommate is named Tian Tian （马甜甜）, and she's been great so far. We get along really well because we both have very similar, silly personalities. She also plays the guzheng （古筝）which is a traditional Chinese instrument. Later on, she will teach me how to play it too.
I'm so excited to start classes and my internship! Until then I'll just adventure out with my roommate and eat lots of good food. :)
June 27, 2011
I just realized I haven’t posted in forever, and that’s because of one thing: Our internships have started. We now have internships from 9a-5p on Tuesdays and Thursdays, classes from 10:30a - 8:30p on Wednesdays and Fridays, a morning class every Saturday from 9-11a, and a class on Sunday from 1-4p. Also we have a community activity every week, and every Monday we have a discussion class that isn’t really a class, so we don’t get credit for it, but we still have to go.
In short, we have no free days. We happen to have time Saturday - Monday and on our internship days to do homework, but on the days we have class there’s nothing else we can do. Especially since most of us are doing last minute edits of our homework, which is usually to write speeches and make powerpoints (in Chinese) for our public speaking class.
However, our Internship days are relatively fun and not very stressful. They are tiring though. I am the only one that has an internship with another person, and my partner is Huang DeSheng, a smallish Chinese-American who I get along okay with. We leave from our dorms at 8:45 to take the bus to work (well we try to.. so far we have not had success in getting out before 9, so we end up taking a taxi), then we try to convince the guard to let us in because we work in a government office and you need an ID card to get in (we don’t have them). After the guard forces us outside to wait as he always does, even though he knows who we are because we are the only Chinese - American pair to ever walk through those doors, we call our boss, who comes to let us in. Her English name is Gracey, and she is stylish and cute. We spend a lot of time talking about girly stuff and sending each other smilies on QQ (Chinese Skype). Then we wait for our other boss to come in, who is another smallish Chinese guy. He’s 27, and a graduate student at Qingdao University, where we study. Gracey is a grad student too, I think. Her major either was or is Korean, I’m not sure if she said she already graduated. Either way she’s getting married soon to a talk show host. They’re both really friendly and fun and don’t really seem like our bosses.
After our second boss gets in, we go out to lunch (by now it’s about 1 and we’ve done no work at all) and talk a lot. When we get back, we sleep for about half an hour (because everyone else in the office is asleep and we can’t do work or else we’d wake them up), then we follow our second boss, who we just call Zhu Ji Zhe (Reporter Zhu) or Zhu Ge (Older Brother Zhu), to press conferences and events and such. For instance, today we are going on assignment to wander around the aquarium and take pictures of all the English, then correct it. Also, our bosses are both reporters for Qingdao Tourism News, the newspaper of the Qingdao Tourism Bureau. Which is why I was in the newspaper and at a press conference.
Oh, by the way, I’ve taken China by storm and ended up modeling in a newspaper at a press conference. They wanted to show off some tickets that had something to do with giving tourists free passes to selected sightseeing places like the Aquarium and other things you have to pay for, in order to boost foreign tourism. They saw a foreigner, pulled me over, made me hold the tickets and started snapping pictures. They then proceeded to change my eye color to blue, my hair color to more blonde than it is, and my skin to a ghostly white. Apparently I’m not at white as I thought I was.
Anyways, after that (2, maybe 3 hours of working) we come back and play on our computers until they decide to let us go home (usually around 5). Today I brought homework to do. Though I ended up writing this blog post instead. Well, that’s a typical internship day for us here in China.
Week 2 - 端午节 and Homestay
This weekend is 端午节 (duanwujie), a holiday which gives us a three day weekend. The holiday is on Monday this year, because it is on the 6th day of the 6th month on the lunar calendar. They use the lunar calendar a lot, for instance my tutor’s birthday is December 29th, the same as mine, but they use the lunar calendar for birthdays so it isn’t actually the same day. Most holidays, including New Year’s, which is the biggest one, occur according to the lunar calendar.
The story behind Duanwujie is that there was a good governor of the Chu Kingdom whose name was 屈原 (Qu Yuan). He tried to advise the King well, but because the King didn’t listen, the Chu Kingdom was going to fall. Qu Yuan loved the Chu Kingdom so much that he couldn’t bear to see it fall, and drowned himself in the Milo River (汨罗江). The people loved him so much that they didn’t want fish to eat his body, so they threw 粽子 (Zongzi), which are sticky, chewy glutinous rice balls cooked in bamboo or reed leaves, into the river.
The tradition today is to eat Zongzi, Wear little bracelets called 香囊 (Xiangnang), and race Dragon Boats (龙舟). The bracelets are colorful and made of string, they have to have 5 colors: Black, White, Red, Blue, and Green. Or green and yellow. I can’t remember. Anyways they’re usually pretty colorful. I’ve gotten three since I’ve been here since the holiday is coming up so soon. The tradition is to wait until the first rain after Duanwujie, then cut the bracelets off and throw them in the water. It’s supposed to bring you good luck.
I learned how to make Zongzi at an elementary school too, you take wet bamboo leaves, wrap them into a cone shape, fill them with uncooked, soaked rice and various fillings like peanuts, Chinese dates, red beans, meat, etc. You then wrap the remaining leaves around them, steam them, and eat them. The flavor of the leaves gets into the rice and it’s really good. My favorite way to eat it is covered in sugar, because the rice gluten and heat makes the sugar melt.
Because of the long weekend, we don’t have class this weekend, so we got to go to our roommates’ homes! I went with 韩瑞 (Han Rui), my roomie, to her house to meet her parents and eat delicious foods (which is exactly the words she used in Chinese to tell me what we were going to do). It took about an hour to get there by bus, so her house was officially the closest one to our school of all of our Chinese roommates. I was carsick, as usual, so when we walked from the bus stop to her house, then had to walk to the 7th floor, I was exhausted.
I was greeted warmly by her mom, who was so nice and made me miss my own mom, and her dad, who was in his underwear and so made me miss my own dad :P. They already had food prepared for us and a room. I was too tired to take pictures and famished, so I devoured their food, which was all vegetarian because I think they’re Buddhist, and then we watched TV and talked and got to know each other. Afterwards, the dad got dressed and went to work, then they showed me my room and told me to go to sleep. It was 4 in the afternoon. I thought they just meant rest a little, because the way to say it is the same, but then they told me to go to sleep and then we would eat again.
Then they went to sleep for two hours! I eventually fell asleep too, but not before scoping out my room. They don’t actually use mattresses usually, so it was really firm. I like it that way, but the mom was concerned I wouldn’t be used to it, so kept piling blankets and comforters up on it. There was a big picture and a bunch of little pictures of this lady, I thought it was just glamour shots of her mom at first, but then I was like they don’t even look similar. And there were a bunch of spiritual enlightenment books and dvds all over with her name on it, so I think it was a Buddhist guru that they follow. They don’t eat meat and don’t kill bugs or anything, so that’s my best guess.
While they were asleep I had to go to the bathroom, so I did, and then looked where I could flush the toilet and realized that hey, they don’t have plumbing. I was literally thinking “There’s no button anywhere, how am I supposed to flush this thing?!” In a panic, not wanting to wake them up, I called Gloria, asking what to do. She said she’d encountered the situation before, and told me there should be a bucket, and to fill it with water and dump it down. Only then did I realize that the sink drained into a big bucket of dirty water and there was a smaller bucket next to it. I scooped and dumped, and it actually worked. I felt like such a Chinese pro, flushing a toilet with a bucket of water.
After that I fell asleep, dreamed of the delicious food I had just eaten, then woke up and came out to find them making dumplings. I asked them if they could teach me and they did. Afterwards we ate until we were completely full and then went out to explore. We walked through a night market, then into a department store. While walking around, a little kid was yelling “外国姐姐！“ (Foreign Big Sister!), so we stopped. He had these glasses on and looked like a pudgy Harry Potter, and was so excited to see me, but also shy. He wanted to take pictures of me so I said okay, he did, said “谢谢姐姐~” (Thank you big sister), and then we went back.
I was expecting no hot water, so I was prepared for a cold shower but was pleasantly surprised when the bathroom filled with steam. I went to bed afterwards, slept for a really long time because I was super comfortable, and then went out to find them making something in the morning. It was the little bracelets they wear for Duanwujie. Her mom made us matching ones and tied them on, then made a little ring and tied it on our middle fingers. She told me the story about the water and good luck and stuff. After that we ate enough dumpling, Zongzi, and fruit breakfast to kill a person, then “rested” while watching TV. Before we left, her mom gave me a little Hello Kitty keychain (She said “I know you like Hello Kitty!”), and I gave her some bath and body works lotion I’d brought from America. It’s customary to give a gift when going to someone’s house, and it’s also customary to give a gift to welcome someone, in this case to welcome me to China.
I really bonded with my roommate and really like her nice parents, who invited me back to eat sometime. I feel like the experience was really enlightening, I’ve never experienced Chinese culture like that. They had a small house but it felt like more of a home than anywhere I’ve gone so far in China, I’d really like to go back sometime.
So far I've been here almost a week. We got on the plane at 6 in the morning and left for Atlanta. In Atlanta they took almost 2 hours to get off the ground so we almost missed our connecting flight at LAX. We were escorted through security and everything by a nice Chinese lady. Then we had to sit through a 14-hour plane ride in which my brain was so tired I only fell asleep for an hour and dreamed that I was sleeping on a plane. How creative. When we got to Shanghai airport we had a long layover, 5 hours, so we wanted to find some stuff to eat. We were able to find some really delicious 包子 (Baozi) Which are Chinese pork buns. The bread was so soft. After 5 hours of trying not to fall asleep in the airport and not succeeding, then waking up to a huge crowd stepping on your feet and pushing against you while they wait to get on their plane, we were finally called and boarded the bus that would take us to the plane. I forgot how cold it still is at the end of May in China, we were greeted as he walked across the tarmac to board our small plane with freezing needle rain, and couldn't get in fast enough. There were maybe 30 people on the plane though. My plan was to lay across three seats, but I was asleep before we even took off. I didn't even realize I was sleeping until a stewardess woke me up to tell me we were there. We got off the plane in Qingdao, boarded a taxi that I was sure was taking us around in circles with our suitcases about to fall out the back, then finally reached our hotel and checked in. We spent the night with jetlag, up until 3 in the morning with 4 people in a 2 person room, then checked out the next day and tried to find our way to the building we were supposed to go to.
We got to Qingdao University, which was right across from our hotel, and tried to explain to the guard where we wanted to go. We had no success. Luckily, one of our friends from last year, Xiaoxiao, was walking across the street and saw us, then ran over. She helped us find where we were supposed to go, but then told us it was a 20 minute walk. Qingdao University is huge, bigger than USF, and it ended up being a 20 minute hike with our huge bags, up really steep hills that you can't find in Florida. When we got to the building, covered in sweat and without any water, we were greeted by Chinese students who are in the running to become our roommates (The decision gets made today, Thursday, and they move in on Friday). They helped us check into our dorms, and then helped us move in. Afterwards they took us out to eat and we bought way too much food. We ate a lot of it though. After that we went back to our dorms to relax, but ended up exploring campus with one of our new friends Han Rui (who is now my Chinese roommate! Yay!), and she took us to a 超市 (Chaoshi), which is a small supermarket on campus. We bought all our necessities that we didn't bring with us. On the way back we were super Chinese and carried our big bag together; I took one handle and Han Rui took the other one.
On Sunday we had to meet with Xie Laoshi (Dr. Shepherd) to make sure the program was going ok so far. He is with the Tier I students, who are staying in a hotel instead of the dorms because there are 30 of them. It's about 30 minutes walking from their school, so I don't envy them]. It was around this time that my feet started hurting, because we had already been walking around all day. The students were giving us a tour of the campus, which, again, is huge. So in addition to that we had about a 45-minute walk to the hotel to meet him. We did a brief orientation, then went out to eat and went back to our dorms.
The next day we went out do to more of the same, exploring and buying things that we needed. On Tuesday, our roommates invited us to come with them to see a production put on by different clubs at their school. It was like a variety show, which is really popular here. There were comedy acts, skits, people singing songs, and dancers. When that was over we all went back.
On Wednesday was when the real fun began. We split up into groups and our Chinese roommates took us to some elementary schools to sit in on one of their classes. They're all in graduate school to be teachers, so one of their classes is like an internship. They go to a class and are student teachers, helping the main teacher with group work. The kids really love them because it's a way to break up their school day. They could all speak a little English and as soon as they saw me they literally started cheering. I am not kidding. I picked a group to be with and they went nuts with excitement. This one little girl kept staring at me. At the end of the class she gave me her phone number and her QQ and whispered in my ear for me to call her sometime.
The teacher really wanted us to come back and help teach as well, but we're going to be too busy with the program to come back. Afterwards we took the bus home and got stuck for 45 minutes in China traffic. A car actually hit our bus, and then just drove off. I am not joking. Why did the driver hit the bus? Because he saw a white girl in a window seat on the bus and was awestruck. That's what it seems like by the way people stare and point and ask crazy questions. By the time we got to the restaurant to eat lunch, I was carsick. I only ate a little, which was good because all the other Americans went home with stomach aches. One of the Chinese students walked us back to our dorms, and then got a call from someone. He started speaking really sweetly into the phone and saying things like "You miss me? I miss you too.. Have you eaten yet?" so we thought it was his girlfriend. After he hung up he told us it was a first grade student he was tutoring, and that the kid was like his little brother. It's a different side of China that you don't usually get to see when you interact with elementary schoolers. For instance whenever I pass this one store with another white girl on our program, Renae, this little girl runs out of the store and points at us and yells "Lao Wai! (Foreigners!)"
Overall the experience so far has been very enlightening, even though I already came to China once before. The main difference is that we are doing much more sophisticated things in terms of language and doing things for ourselves within the culture. We'll see how much we improve, but for now I'm anxious for classes to start, since we have so many.
June 15, 2011
Its our last few days in India and I have this mixture of excitement and sadness. I can’t wait to return to the states and see my family and friends but I’m not ready to leave the beauty and wonders of India behind just yet. Everyone here tells me that I can always come back but coming on my own won’t be the same, the group that I’m here with is filled with such amazing and inspiring people that I could never think of India without sharing a thought of them as well. Our last health modality was Aryuveda, it is a similar practice to Naturopathy but with herbal medications used and a concept of individualism. Each person in Aryuveda has a specific dosha, which is a combination of Pitha, Vatta, and Kapha. Usually one is dominant over the other two or there is an uneven combination. This dosha tells the doctor what kinds of foods you should be eating, they type of activities you do, and other habits that you weren’t even aware of. It’s a very peculiar science but it seems to work. Just as Naturopathy we were interviewed and given our treatments, I found out that I am a Pitha-Kapha dosha and have very stubborn taste buds (if I don’t like something I don’t eat it and aint it the truth).
The following day we visited their hospital and temple, we were invited to take part in a blessing ritual designed to protect our health while in India. It was a beautiful ceremony and we were able to take part in it by chanting a mantra and throwing herbs into the fire. I felt very fortunate to be able to take part in an actual Hindu ritual and even though I didn’t know the mantra very well the priest said I did well and that it was mostly the thought that counts.
The following day we went to an ashram called the Isha Foundation, which is led by a man called Sadhaguru. Unfortunately we didn’t get to meet the guru himself but we met many of his followers and saw many documentaries of what his program is all about and many of his projects in India. One of his most inspiring projects is called Project Green Hands, where the goal is to replant India with fruit bearing trees. Deforestation is a big problem in India and when monsoon season comes most of the nutrient rich soil is washed away leaving a desolate land behind it. The project starts with a few people growing tree saplings from seeds, they grow them all year and when they are ready to be planted everyone who is willing receives 2 trees, two for them to take care of and one for them to pass on to a friend. As of 2008 they have planted nearly 7.1 million trees a remarkable number. Since the trees also bear fruit they are now a resource to the people; they can sell the fruit or simply eat it themselves. I thought it was such a beautiful concept and would like to start a similar program through USF.
On our last day we were able to reunite with all the guides from the FAITHS organization and have dinner on a patio that overlooked Bangalore. It was so wonderful to see everyone again and to relive small moments with each other. I will never forget the friends I made while I stayed in India and I hope they never forget me either. I do plan on returning, for while I say many places I really only stayed in one state of India. I still have the entire north region to explore! I can’t wait to integrate all that I have learned into my life in the states and fully plan to making yoga a daily part of my life. I guess all I have to say now is thank you and Namaste.
June 4, 2011
Our second week in India seemed to be spent mostly on a bus. Our first stop was Sri Dharmasthala Manjunatheshwara Yoga and Nature Cure Hospital (what a mouth full). Here we would be experiencing Naturopathy, we were each interviewed and given a series of treatments a some of which included a massage and a strict diet while we were there. My treatment was for my allergies and it was simply called “Arm and Leg Bath”, who knew that all I needed to do was soak in water to cure my allergies. Needless to say the treatment didn’t cure me but it’s my understanding that over time following the treatments guidelines I could greatly reduce my sensitivity to allergens. It had something to do with alternating the cold and hot water in the bath as well as the amount of time I spent soaking. I’m not to sure if Naturopathy is for me but I will say that they made the most delicious juices, probably because they made them from scratch with completely organic fruits. Mmmmhmmm, yummy.
I was excited to depart from the Naturopathy Hospital only because our next destination was to a Tibetan Monastery. The drive there was long but well worth it, the Western Ghats that we drove through were definitely a sight worth seeing. The road took through a mountain range that was covered in dense jungles and dotted with tiny farms and villages. Every once and a while we would come across a waterfall or a pack of monkey’s. We even saw some elephants just off the side of the road! It was incredible! When we finally arrived at the monastery they led us through this exquisite gate that was decorated from top to bottom in paintings and figures. Once inside we made a bee line for the temple which was decorated in a similar fashion: reds, gold’s, blues, and greens all working together to bring the creatures and paintings to life. I had never seen such beautiful craftsmanship. There was simply no corner of each temple that wasn’t used to tell some kind of story.
After spending a few hours there we jumped back on the bus and made our way to Mysor, the silk capital of India. We were all very excited because here was the place to by all your silk and sandalwood needs, so we couldn’t wait to go shopping. The next day, we made our first Mysor outing to INFOSYS, which is the largest IT training facility in the world. Here they were trying very hard to integrate wellness programs, such as yoga, within the company. It was a very innovating company. Here we all broke our Indian food streak and had dominos pizza for lunch, now while it was an American Pizza place they have they own way of making a pizza. They use both cheese and another cheese called panier, which is very thick and creamy but boy is it good.
That night we hit the town for shopping, our guide taking us to all the great shops for Saree’s and tunics as well as homeopathic places that sell tonics and ointments. It was interesting to interact with other Indians who love to haggle which I found out that I’m not to bad at.
From the moment we touched down in India we have been moving non-stop. The first place we are staying at is Out Native Village, a very unique resort that aims to be purely organic. They produce 75% of their own power and collect the rainwater for all their water needs. They even make their own shampoo and soap so as to not add any unnecessary chemicals into the water. There are all types of farm animals roaming around: dogs, cats, chickens, and of course cows. I was lucky enough to make friends with a young cafe who liked to follow my around the grounds when I took a walk.
About a week before arriving here I mentally prepared myself for the food, I’ve had traveling experiences where the food is not quite what you were excepting and you end up eating bread for your entire trip. I was pleasantly surprised to find however that I really enjoy Indian food. At Our Native Village everything is prepared fresh and completely organic, they don’t even use oil to cook the food! The head chef, who the group affectionately calls Mama, makes the most amazing dumplings and banana jam that I’ve ever tasted. When we asked her where she got her recipes from, she smiled wide and said “No, I don’t use recipes, mother nature gives me ingredients and I just put it all together”.
When it comes to the academic portion of the trip, we all wake up bright and early at 6 am for our Yoga session with Ragu. He is currently part of the FAITHS (Foundations for Assessment and Integrations of Traditional Health Systems) program and conducting research on the health effects of yoga. He started us off with simple breathing techniques and motions. The goal being to match each breathe with a movement. We add on a new posture or asana everyday, our first one was Salute to the Sun or surya namaskar in sankrit. It’s a series of postures that are performed during sunrise or sunset to take in the energy for the day.
For our resort activities the staff at Our Native Village love to introduce us to village games. So far my favorite have been Gilidanda and another that the group calls water piñata. The first, Gilidanda is a game that follows along the same lines as baseball but with sticks. A small hole is dug and a small stick is placed over it, a larger stick goes into the hole and under the smaller stick. The point is the fling the stick as far as you can, if someone catches the stick your out. If they don’t you have three chances to whack the stick farther away from the hole. After the third try you guess how many sticks it is away from the hole and if you guess right that’s how many points you get. If you guess wrong you get no points at all. The water piñata is relatively self-explanatory and was supposedly played by Hare Krishna. A small pot filled with water and flowers is hung from a pully (so it can be pulled up and down during the game) now instead of blind folding the person they throw water on you! Now that doesn’t sound so hard but man they know how to throw the water so that it goes right into your eyes and mouth. Plus it’s coming at from four directions none stop, so I was mostly swinging blindly as gallons of water were being thrown on me. It was very difficult and I never broke the pot but I hit it twice which they said was pretty impressive for a first timer.
The classes here our wonderful, we receive at least one lecture a day from yoga researchers from the Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana (SVYASA). We take the lecture in a small room where the walls can open up to let in the nice breeze that is constantly flowing through the area. To me it makes the lessons more comfortable and inviting. All of speakers have been so insightful and innovative. They see yoga as an ancient practice that can be incorporated into modern medicine. The ultimate goal of Yoga is to obtain freedom (moksha), this freedom can be spiritual, mental, freedom from illness or stress, or all. The research delves deeper into mental and physical disciplines required to obtain this freedom and the actual health benefits from it. Currently SVYASA and Dr. Shirely Telles are doing Yoga Therapy research with rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, depression, schizophrenia, self-esteem, sleep disorders, diabetes and many more. All with positive results.
The research is a large part of the learning experience for this trip because while we are living a small portion of these practices on our 3 week journey through India, the possibilities for yoga and its positive effects on health are endless. Being exposed to the on going research really inspired me to not only incorporate yoga and Ayurveda into my own life but to use it to help others as well. If something as simple as breathing and moving can help lower depression or insomnia then why don’t we use it?