Today was another travel day where not much happened. It started very early because we had to go to the airport to catch our flight to Jinan. The flight was three hours, so I took this to my advantage and took a nap. I apparently missed some rough air “The flight was really scary, and the landing was even worse” – Karlie *Mrs. R nods head. After we landed and retrieved our luggage, we walked out to the bus that would take us to Qufu. Just walking from the airport to the bus I noticed an extreme temperature change. Just from the little time we spend in the south, my body had adjusted to the warm weather.
The bus ride from Jinan to Qufu was another three hours, during this time we listened to music, enjoyed the scenery, and played just about 50 games of B.S…. I think we have an addiction. Looking out the window I saw many hills and fields used for farming and agriculture. In those fields there was also many villages, many of which looked abandoned. It was unclear if the families were forced to move out, or if they moved on their own, because we also noticed newer looking apartment complexes right next to the abandoned villages.
Early in the bus ride, we stopped for lunch. Since being in Qufu, I have noticed a slight change in the food. It is a lot less spicy and I can easily identify what I am eating. As opposed to when we were south, I just ate everything unquestioningly and sometimes was surprised by what I tasted. Because the textures and spices were something I am not use to. Also, the spices there were very different from the spices we have home.
We arrived at the hotel, which is on the college campus (Qufu Normal School or Qufu Teacher School). We settled into our rooms and prepared ourselves for a banquet dinner with the director of the International Exchange center at the university. This dinner was my favorite one we have had so far. I have really enjoyed trying all the new foods, because the dishes are nothing like the Chinese food we have at home. Though it was so good, I was super overwhelmed by all the food that was being served to us I had no idea how I was going to fit it all on my plate. For dessert we had watermelon and dragon fruit (which is now my favorite fruit). After dinner we were all very tired from out busy day of traveling, so when we got to the hotel we all went to bed.
Today was a very special day in the Journey East program. We started the day early with breakfast at 8 o’clock. We then went to the bus to begin the day’s activities. The first expedition of the day was to visit the giant panda breeding and research center. Here we walked around and observed the homes of pandas. There were two different species, and three different ages. This was what made this day so special, and unique. Giant pandas are not something that you see every day, and this may be the only experience I have with these animals. For this reason, I tried hard to observe the animals in every possible way. The two types of pandas were the Giant Panda, and its smaller brethren the Red Panda. The Giant Panda is the panda we all know and love, with its black and white spots, and adorable face. The red panda, which I believe is equally as adorable, is smaller, with brown, and black spots. The 3 different ages were young pandas, (only a couple years old or younger), adolescent, and mature. The baby pandas were of course the most adorable, while the older pandas had a more surprising stature to them. However, in no way do I believe that these pandas could be described as majestic. This is not to say that they weren’t amazing. Most of what pandas do is lay around, eat bamboo on their bellies, and sleep. For this reason, pandas aren’t majestic in the way that say a lion, or a tiger may be described as majestic. Rather, most of the appeal to pandas is found in there purely adorable nature, and pure laziness.
After visiting with the pandas, we went back to the bus for a ride to where we were having lunch. After this, we rode to a shopping center in the city, where we had the freedom to shop around in different groups accompanied by adults. We shopped there for roughly an hour, and then hopped on the bus again. From this point about half the group decided to return to the hotel for well-deserved rest, while the other half walked from the hotel, to visit another much more expensive and swanky shopping center, as well as a Buddhist temple. Afterwards we returned to the hotel, where we are now having some free time before we retire for an early bedtime around 9:30.
The first market we visited was authentically Chinese in its architecture, and products. Most of the things sold there were mostly hand-crafted jewelry, clothing, and other miscellaneous products, as well as the occasional restaurant or coffee shop. The only thing I bought in this market was a delicious mango strawberry Popsicle. Though I didn’t buy much from the market, I enjoyed visiting the market to get a better understanding of Chinese culture through the products they sell. After all. So much of a culture is represented in the products which come from it.
The second shopping center we visited was almost impossible to shop at because of its extreme swankiness. This market was noticeably different than the other in its lack of authentic Chinese culture, as well as its similarities to western shopping centers. The stores there were mostly high-end companies that we all know in the US, such as Gucci, Tiffanies, and Givenchy. These stores were all way too expensive for us, so we immediately found ourselves in the only place we could reasonably spend our money, the dang Starbucks. Once we were done at Starbucks, we visited the Buddhist temple. I found it so ironic to find a large Buddhist temple smack dab in the center of the market. Buddhism is a religion which is stoutly against these forms of vanity, unnecessary desires, and pleasure products. However, there it sat. I have personal connections to the Buddhist religion. When I was a little kid I often even considered becoming a Buddhist monk, but life’s path seems to have taken me elsewhere. This is the reason I found it so strange to go from a place where my vanities were celebrated, to a place where I felt the need to control my desires, and respect my environment. I am sure there is quite an interesting reason for the Buddhist temple to be in the shopping center, and I wish I knew it.
Today we went to the Three Gorges dam museum we got an hour to explore. We saw writing and painted scrolls. There was also pottery and sculpture. We also learned about the dam and saw some stones that had been carved into so that they could write things down. It was really cool. I missed a couple of floors because there was not enough time to see them and I really wish there had been.
After that we went on a city walk. This “city” was more of a village because there were houses and streets that were built into the side of a mountain. There were so many crevasses to explore. At the top it was like a jungle and over grown with trees. It made it calming and peaceful to be there. Parts of it were vacated because they were slated to be torn down. It seems like a waste. We were lucky to have walked through it. There was this one house that really stood out to me. There were a bunch of signs plastered on the doors and walls saying that the homes were to be torn down. I then noticed there was a lock on a door so nobody could go into the house. On this lock there was a small, little pink flower. It stood out to me because it was peaceful in the middle of all the chaos on the door. It made me wonder what is really going on and who left the lock.
We also went to the General Stillwell museum. He helped save millions of Chinese people’s lives during World War II through his efforts in fighting the Japanese. He was an interesting guy because he knew a lot about China prior to his service there and he was in the running for commanding the European Theater of war, but because he knew so much about China he was assigned to go there instead and lost out on his political ambitions. People seemed to underestimate him. He was supposed to be a figurehead and supply China with money and airplanes, but instead he educated the Chinese troops and saved millions of lives by going against the orders from Washington.
Then we walked through a maze of markets to get to the second longest escalator in Asia. We rode down the escalator and were not told until after that it had mechanical issues because it was so old. Everything went fine. It was just funny because the Journey East crew was so nervous to go down because escalators are hard to get on and off.
We also went on a night river cruise and saw more of the city. It was all lit up and there were buildings that were turned into humongous movie screens. I took a ton of pictures of the city and then accidentally erased them all because I was figuring out my camera. The day was a lot of fun.
Today was a mixture of classes with Chinese high school students and traveling to Chongqing. We had to wake up kind of early so everyone started out tired and slow. Our first activity was a traditional Chinese music class. During this time, we learned a common song about a Jasmine flower. Since learning this song, I have heard it in quite a few other places on the streets being played on instruments or being sung by street performers. After we learned the song we had a chance to play some African drums with the seniors that were in the class. We played a couple of different patterns along with songs and it was fun to see what they had been preparing to show us. After that class we had a few minutes to relax. One of the Chinese students started playing American music and we all had a dance party in the classroom. Our next class was Calligraphy. During this time a teacher taught us specific strokes to help improve our character writing skills.
Then it was time for us to leave the Qinglai school. I was sad because we were only there for two days and I had fun exploring the campus and meeting some of the students who go there. Our next destination was Chongqing. It was only about a three-hour bus ride and a one-hour plane ride so it was a decently easy travel day. In the airport, Mr. Paytas taught a small group of students how to Salsa. I think that we picked it up quickly and the people waiting at our gate really enjoyed watching us learn. Our plane taxied for a long time before takeoff and there was some turbulence, but the view while we were landing in Chongqing was beautiful. The whole city was lit up and it looked like a perfect display from the sky. All of the roads were lined with streetlamps so from the plane I could clearly see everything happening on them. There are extremely tall buildings that light up in vibrant colors, the lights will move across the buildings and sometimes they would flash. The sides of some of the buildings were whole TV screens showing advertisements for various things. I felt like I could see everything that was happening in the city while we were landing and it made me feel comfortable.
Chongqing is very different from Mile (mee-leu), Mile was more secluded and it had some nice trees and a lake, but Chongqing is a big city with a lot of streets and people and lights. We got to our hotel and had some dinner, some kids did not eat much because we were all exhausted from traveling and some kids are sick so they just wanted to sleep. Our hotel was very comfortable and nice thanks to our friend Mark that helped the adults plan this part of the trip. This day was very long, but fun and I loved finally arriving in Chongqing because I love the atmosphere in the city.
Today, we did a few interesting things in Chongqing before we left for Chengdu. I made sure all my stuff was packed and then the group headed to a museum complex that was once a communist black site. It was a little annoying trying to get through the crowd up narrow staircases, but such is the nature of most of China. We didn’t spend much time there, and the main thing we saw was a room where people were tortured. It made me a little sad to think of people being treated in such horrific ways in a room just in front of me, even though it still happens around the world today.
After the museum, we headed to the Ciqikou Ancient Street where we were able to buy a few things before our long bus ride. I went with Maddie as I had the previous night and went to an ice cream shop. The ice cream I had was good and I was glad to find a familiar comfort in a foreign country. I also bought a Chinese army hat as a joke gift for either my dad or my uncle. Izzy was a little concerned that I might not want to wear it in public, but I decided to wear it. After, I almost got lost in the crowd, but the group quickly found me. It was a learning experience for me to always know where my group was.
We then had a meal where I enjoyed a shadow puppet show and I was amazed at how realistic the performer could make the animals look with just using his hands. I was a bit surprised that they decided to put the bathroom on the third floor of the building. We then got on the bus to head to Chengdu. The bus ride was long, but I entertained myself by drawing in my journal. We also drove through the longest tunnel I had ever seen. Even though I was drawing, I made sure to also look outside to enjoy the scenery. One thing I’ve noticed about China is that you will find a lot of big cities close to each other, but a lot of countryside in between. What you don’t see in China is a high concentration of small towns or suburban areas. There is more of a stark contrast between the cities and the vast expanses of the old mountainous countryside.
Once we got down to Chengdu I was ready to sleep, but I got into a conversation about our group dynamics. Earlier in the day, Ms. R had talked to us about how, as a group, we are all responsible to each other and the success of the program. I was glad that she talked about it to us as if we were adults. Eventually, I would find out that the feelings of some people in the group could affect the atmosphere of the whole group. I hope that we will grow as a team in the next few weeks so that we feel good about the success of the program.