Dairy, Dancing, and Dinner
Brianna and Fairen holding a photo shoot in Beijing
When I heard we were going to a dairy I felt a little puzzled considering we live in Vermont, but figured we wouldn’t be going there unless there was a good reason. I also figured that like everything else here, it’d be different than in Vermont. Other than the Grafton Cheese on the way to Brattleboro or some small farms, I’d never really been to a dairy before. I figured we would see some cows, large production lines of some sort, and try some milk or cheese produced by the company.
When we arrived at Meng Niu I was surprised to see such a large, clean, and colorful building. I dragged myself up the long set of stairs beside Maris and we exchanged worrisome glances as we both noticed the woman standing at the entrance, holding what looked like an armful of cow patterned hats. Groans turned into smiles and laughter as we all realized we were each being handed a pair of cow booties to slip over our shoes. Tom, half proudly, half ashamed, stated that this place “looked utterly clean” and everyone broke out into laughter and began to tease him. As I looked around, I noticed that this place did look extremely clean. Nothing was out of place and everything was spotless. Colorful cow statues with different patterns and designs painted on them were all lined up in the middle of the area we were in. Most of the room was white with a balancing amount of extremely colorful and cow related artwork. This place seemed closer to a museum than any dairy I could think of.
As we followed the guide through a very colorful tunnel with fruit decals covering the floor and ceiling I looked outside the large windows to the left and right that acted as walls. I saw a lot of green, some trucks, mountains, and to my surprise, there wasn’t a single cow in sight. After passing through a room with several paintings involving cows, we stopped at the beginning of a long hallway. On the right side of this long path were box like rooms full of interesting displays, signs, and artwork. They were all very neat, clean, organized, and colorful. Everything had a place. Each room displayed a shareholder or business partner like it was displaying a trophy in a glass box. On the left side of this pathway were long and clear glass windows. Below the other side of the glass were machines, machines, and more machines. Other than a few blue suited engineers, I didn’t see any workers. Most things done here were done by machines. It makes you wonder what the workforce will look like in five or ten years when you’re standing in the middle of a factory mainly run by technology.
My mind switched gears and refocused when I heard the guide saying it was time to try some ice cream that’s made with the company’s milk. I couldn’t help it. 🙂
After a group photo in front of the colorful cow statues we saw in the beginning of the tour, it was time to hand back our cow patterned booties and shuffle back onto the bus. Almost everyone had removed and returned theirs when I turned around from slipping mine down what appeared to be the mini laundry shoot and noticed a very sad looking peer. I walked outside laughing as I saw him staring at his feet in disappointment as Tom told him he really wasn’t allowed to keep them. Next thing I know, we’re all staring out the right side of the bus watching one student proudly carrying his shoe covers down the steps and towards the bus with a grin that stretched from cheek to cheek. Following behind him was Tom with a handful of cow patterned booties, shaking his head from left to right as if to say “these kids are lucky that I sort of like them”. The bus drove off, filling with laughter as Tom teased us and handed the slippers out. Little did I know, these booties would soon become covers for my hotel slippers and that Maris would convince me to wear them to breakfast with her. We weren’t exactly trendsetters, but at least we put a few smiles on some tired faces in the mornings.
Our next stop was at an art college that branched off of the one we’d been working on the collaborations at. The campus was fairly larger, but quiet because there weren’t a lot of classes going on where we were. We entered a large building and there were several statues of all different sizes and each one represented a different story or style of art. After going up a couple sets of stairs, we turned left into a classroom crowded with paintings that hung on the walls, rested on tables, or maybe sat in stacks on the floor. An art teacher at the college introduced himself and explained how things worked in his classroom and with his students. I looked around at the paintings and felt overwhelmed with the amount of talent and skill that laid before my eyes. It was amazing how clean and bold this art was. A lot of the paintings had a really serious feel to them and sent a chill through your spine that made you want to talk to the artist and learn the stories behind their art. It was amazing and also clear as I looked around that these students worked really hard and that they were taught to finish what they started. I think my favorite piece in the room was probably a small sculpture (about 1 – 1 ½ ft tall) that sat on a table in the middle of the room. It was of an all-white panda that had one hand resting on the chin of his deep in thought face, and the other holding a paintbrush over two cans of paint that were sitting in front of him. One can of paint was black and the other one was red. The art teacher explained to us that the panda was trying to decide what color he wanted to paint himself. I wonder if the artist just thought it would be funny, was trying to represent something with a deep meaning, or was maybe struggling with a self-defining decision him/herself. Maybe it’s none of those speculations and I guess that’s just part of the curiosity aspect of viewing art. Either way, I really enjoyed getting to look at this art and other styles of art around the school. It’s always interesting to see how different kinds of art are displayed and presented.
All of the group got a chance to work on some art of their own. Everyone got some rice paper, a paint brush, black ink, and a bowl of water. Painting and drawing are just some of those things that come naturally to some people more than others and I’m one of those people it doesn’t come naturally to… ha ha. I was a little stuck during this activity and didn’t really paint anything, but it was nice to see what everyone else was doing. It was good for the people who enjoy painting or drawing to get a chance to express themselves through something familiar.
After getting to look at some of the student’s art, we gathered our show bags and headed to our performance area. It was a decent sized room with black curtains separating what we used as back stage and what we used as the stage. We had our smallest audience at this performance and the lack of response was a little discouraging at times, but it went fairly well. There were probably only about thirty people in the audience and we felt a little better about the lack of response knowing that most of the students were majoring in things like acting and dancing. It was good that we had the chance to perform for different types of audiences and adapt to the different reactions. It gave us all some good experience and while it may have been difficult at times, helped us in the long run. We got to watch some traditional style dancing and singing when we were finished performing.
By the end of our visit to this school, we were pretty exhausted and ready to eat dinner and pass out. We went back to the other campus that we’d been at quite a bit the last couple of days to eat dinner. It was pretty quiet around the dinner table I was sitting at, so I decided to get the ball rolling with a little thing my mom used to have us do at dinner at home. Basically, you start with someone at the table and they’re supposed to share their worst and best part of the day with everyone else at the table. I like to change things a little sometimes so I usually add something on the end and we had a pretty long day so I figured everyone could also just share something random that they wanted to as well. Someone said they felt like everyone was getting closer and that it was nice and someone else said they were sad to leave, but excited to go home and sleep in their own bed. I said I thought that even though we were all exhausted and these days were busy and long, that it was important to try and stay positive. It’s definitely tiring and draining to perform three days in a row and have the days jam packed full of things to do from the moment we’re up to the moment we’re in bed, but it’s worth it. Part of this experience is performing and that’s what we signed up for so we should try to make the best of it, even if it’s hard. I know it’s easier said than done, but anyone on this trip would extremely regret choosing sleeping for a couple hours over other activities we had planned. They would regret missing out on an opportunity to learn something new about themselves, learn something new about the world, or learn to look at something from a new perspective. So, it’s definitely worth it and even more so because it was our last week here. I shared with the table that everyone was sad when we left Vermont because we were leaving home, but now that we were leaving China, it was like I was leaving home all over again. It’s funny because whenever we used to do this at the dinner table in Vermont, no one ever wanted to do it. Now that I was so far away, I found it useful and a nice way to feel more comfortable. I’m glad my mom used to make us do it because it helped me during a few dinners here and I think she’d be happy to know that I shared it with the people around me while I was away.