2016-4-18 – Rebecca Williams – Reflection

Journey East

Becca helping out a bag…

As I sit here thinking about this trip, I have just realized how spectacular it has been. We have hiked to the top of Mt. Tai, rode camels in the Gobi Desert, walked on the Great Wall, visited temples and schools, performed for kindergarteners, collaborated with the kids from the art school and saw amazing landscapes. What I have realized is that nothing would have been as much fun with out our crazy group of misfits.

Starting off we have Nathan, Sam and Mariah, the three musketeers. They create the comic relief and all have a slight dabbing addiction, okay, a major dabbing addiction, and interventions don’t work on them. Next in the family is Kenny, and although we have to remind him where he left his backpack every time we stop somewhere his odd questions and interesting relationship with Tom make any bad days good. If you see Maris or Brianna you know the other one is not far behind and together they are funny and goofy. Maris is quiet, but has changed the most since we left our parents 3 ½ weeks ago, and Brianna is outgoing, so together they are the perfect balance. Now for the Windham boys… Patrick and Jake are the kings of the trap party, but both have a nice and sensitive side that they hide behind their “big man on campus” attitude. They are funny and a good addition to our group. Next is Adam, oh Adam. You can’t lose him in a crowd because of how loud and outgoing he his. He makes the weirdest jokes and knows exactly when he shouldn’t say them, so that is exactly when he does, but the group would not be the same with out him. But if you are looking for loud, then you just need to talk to Sarah. Don’t worry because she can always find something to talk about, and she is so much fun to room with (until she locks you out of your room, and you have to ask a cleaning women who doesn’t speak English to help you get back inside). She wouldn’t be our lovely Sarah if she didn’t do things like that. Just don’t ever ask her to do the boys’ makeup ever!! Next we have Sam H, who is very quiet, but the times I have talked to him he is great and really funny. He also has the best taste in socks and he never makes anyone feel like they are not part of the group.  His partner in crime is Skyler and she is funny and so sweet.  I was lucky enough to go with her to our night out with a Chinese family and she was so much fun to talk to. She also has an amazing voice and very sweet to everyone in the group. Up next we have Zoie, and once you get past her hard exterior and get to know her (you just have to have a conversation with her) you can reach her goofy sweet inside. She will talk about anything whether it be about her dog or something a little more serious so she can become a great friend when you try. Next in our goofy family you reach our actor, artist, and philosopher Tino. Whether he is cracking a joke or saying something wise, all conversations are interesting. He may seem like he hates everything but don’t worry, he is really having a fun time. And last but certainly not least we have our “mom,” oh, I mean Fairen. She keeps everyone in line, but she definitely has her hard times so all 15 of her children pitch in to cheer her up and she is funny when she chooses to be. And that is our goofy, funny, smart and loving family and I could not have picked a better group to laugh, cry, reflect and have fun with on this trip. We have seen and done so much on this trip, some things were fun and some things were hard, but the saddest thing will be saying good bye to the place that brought us so close.

Despite the language barrier, we have made many new Chinese and Mongolian friends on this trip. It is crazy to think that we were able to establish friendships with people who we were so nervous to talk to at first. We have also said good-bye to so many people, but all of the good-byes have brought our Journey East group closer together. We have been able to talk to one another about all the new people we have made friendships with.  When we had to leave our new friends we were crushed, but were able to comfort each other. I feel like our ability to connect with each other would not have been possible if we had the use of our phones, because we would have tried to seek comfort from family and friends rather than the people that were with us.

The 16 crazy, amazing people on this trip are all so different, but we grew to be friends. We have helped each other get through the hardest times and I am happy to call them my friends and my family. This “family” has done so much together, like when we were at the top of Mt Tai and had our memorial ceremony for Mrs. Chapman. At that point, we had gone through so much together. The ceremony brought people who were completely different together. We all shared an emotional time, and the fact that we could help to get each other through it was an amazing thing to be a part of.

Another time when our group bonded, was our eight hour bus ride from Kaili to Chongqing. We all were on a very small bus and we sang and talked. People who were not at all that close sat next to each other and ended up sleeping on one another. Another thing that happened on the bus was our “dabbing” intervention for Sam. We told Sam if he could make it for a certain amount of time he would get candy and we would give him more candy the longer he refrained from dabbing. He only earned one candy and he still dabs a lot. Our intervention was unsuccessful. Each person had a different way that they became closer and they each had a very odd and interesting relationship with everyone in their group.

There are people on this trip that made it possible, starting with our fearless leader Tom. He made jokes and roasted people (mostly Kenny) and he had to check at least 50 times a day with Mrs. R. to see if she lost the passports because giving them to her was a big step for him. That brings us to Mrs. R.- she gets a little crazy when she doesn’t eat in the mornings and she also had to deal with us before this trip started, so luckily she already knew just how crazy we all were before we left. Then there is Jenny and Mr. Goodemote, they were the ones who took all of our talents and odd selections of ideas and turned them into a pretty awesome show (if I do so say myself). Although they get a little stressed out before each of our shows because they do know what needs to get done and how exactly to do it.  And Jen,well none of us knew her before this trip and she is pretty great and handled us all very well. We are a wild group, but we haven’t scared her too much, she is great to talk to so I am glad she came with us on this trip. We now have Kevin who is the technology behind the Journey East program. He keeps all of you connected to us and he also stays very calm if you cover him in food, which did happen. Let’s just say Nathan should sleep with one eye open from now on.  That sums up our group and just how special we are. If we weren’t special we probably wouldn’t be here. I guess that’s all for now and we will see you all very soon.


2016-4-14 Brianna Reed – Dairy, Dancing, and Dinner

Dairy, Dancing, and Dinner

Journey East

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.

2016-4-16 Zoie Brooks – Afternoon Home Stays


Zoie with her foogicle on Mount Tai

Zoie with her foogicle on Mount Tai

Today was long, exhausting, draining, and unforgettable. We kicked off the day with a “friendly” soccer match, American Journey Easter’s against Mongolian Art College Attached Middle School students. I didn’t join because soccer is not my strong suit and others wanted to play, but I talked and played other games with students in the same boat as me. We played one of my favorite Chinese games. It is essentially a hybrid of dodge ball and monkey in the middle. You throw a ball to the people on the other side and try to hit the people in the middle. But that’s not all; you can gain lives, be brought back to the game, and get frozen. I’m still not clear on all the rules and have played multiple times. Playing games with the Mongolian and Chinese students is the best way to bond, in my opinion. For the more socially awkward among us, there are no failed attempts at conversation or uncomfortable pauses. It suddenly becomes easier to talk to these kids and relate to them. You’re all just playing a game and laughing together. No English, Mongolian, or Chinese needed. And a bonus – all ages can play games. We had the president of the attached middle school join in at one point to throw the ball at us.

In the afternoon, the real adventure began and we went off into the city with a host family to hang out and eat dinner. My partner in this was Sam Harrison; the older of our two red headed Sams. It was good to be able to go with someone that I already talked to and knew a bit better than others in the group. Meeting new people isn’t easy for me and having Sam there helped.

I was a bit nervous to go out with strangers. My first time meeting them was when they picked us up at the hotel lobby, at which time I was placed in a car with Sam and whisked away to an unclear destination. But it turned out that the scary strangers were a playful little girl, an English speaking uncle, and a dancer who hopefully would be coming to Vermont in October. And, of course, they were nervous too.

The unclear destination became the museum that we went to the second day in Inner Mongolia. Sam and I didn’t mention that we had been there before and it turned out not to have really mattered all the much. The majority of the exhibits that we saw were different and of the ones we saw again, I, personally, noticed more, such as the Space Exhibit. I was unaware, even after the first go around, of how early the program started. They were working on a Space Program at the same time as America and Russia and there’s even a photo of a space person and Mao. I had thought that we were the only ones with Space Programs at that time. I also learned, thanks to the English speaking uncle, that China put their first person on the moon just six years ago. It’s recent and important history that I had no idea about.

Afterwards, we went to Starbucks and I had my first ever item from there. It was a green tea frappe that I recommend to anyone if they were ever in China. Of course, everything was as over priced as I had been told, and Burger King’s mocha frappes are thrice the size and better, but it was an experience. As they say, when in Rome… We sat and talked at Starbucks for little over half an hour. We talked about school, the Journey East program, and hopes for the future such as dream careers. Sadly, it was just Sam, the uncle, and I talking. Neither the dancer nor her sister seemed too keen on communicating and as I said, they were nervous too. But I made faces at the dancer’s little sister, and the little girl would nervously giggle and hide her face. She was very sweet and later on in the night, she really opened up to Sam and me. By the end, we had our own made up game, giggled at a single glance, and made faces at each other over the dinner table. I’m really glad that the dancer had a little sister, little kids and I just get along. They’re easy to talk to and laugh quickly.

We then went to the temple, which was sadly closed. Though, the outside made the drive worth it. There were colorful prayer flags everywhere and intricate statues. There were really beautiful elephant heads with little forehead tapestries. We laughed with each other over little things and took pictures. And we saw these giant kites. They were insanely long, seemingly dots in the sky that were three meters wide. It was interesting to see grown men flying kites, because it is an activity we usually associated with kids. This is another difference in cultures that I never would have imagined.

We then went back to the dancer’s home, where her friendly mother greeted us. The apartment was amazing, furnished with gold couches and chairs, a giant TV, and a fishbowl/plant. I was very impressed by the apartment, the Porsches, and the shear wealth that it all displayed. Today gave me another chance to see how different people live. To see similarities and uniqueness in everyone’s own lifestyle and experience a world I never knew or imagined. And now that I know about it, even if it’s not a lot, I know these worlds will impact me. These worlds will help me grow, as every experience has on this trip. After all, how could someone not grow after actually being in someone else’s shoes?

2016-4-17 Fairen Stark – Farewell Hohhot

Journey East

Fairen in the Gobi

Today was our last day in Inner Mongolia, and there are three more days left in the trip. It’s amazing how fast it has flown by. Although I am excited to return home, I am also sad to say good bye to China and all of the wonderful people that I have met.

After breakfast, we met in the lobby and looked up to see Mr. Goodemote still eating. We almost left without him, but he was, fortunately, able to catch the bus. We arrived at a street where there were many shops. They were selling lots of Mongolian clothing, tapestries, shoes, jewelry, and knick-knacks, among other things. We only had an hour to shop, which seems like plenty of time but turned out to be a bit rushed. There were so many stores selling very similar things that it was a bit overwhelming. I bought a leather tapestry with a picture of Genghis Khan, and a poster. I attempted to bargain, but every time I tried to do it I was told my price was too low and they refused. I’m pretty bad at bargaining…I’m still not used to it, but I wish that it existed more in the United States.

We soon left to go to a mall. When we arrived, we had about an hour to look around and get lunch. I went with Zoie and Sam H. The three of us walked around, looking in stores. However, everything was extremely expensive, and cost a lot more than it does in America. Maris bought a shirt, but I don’t think that anyone else bought anything.

After looking at stuff, we had about 20 minutes to find lunch. Sam and I went to Dairy Queen and got Blizzards. Then we walked around for a little bit, looking for a place where there was vegetarian food that I could eat. I felt bad because I knew that if I wasn’t there, they would be able to eat anywhere. We were unable to find any place to eat other than a sit down restaurant, so we ended up going to McDonald’s. I got 2 containers of French fries and Sam gave me an emergency Clif bar.

After shopping, we had several hours at the hotel before the banquet. I emailed, and then packed what I could. Our room was a disaster; the bathroom was a mess, there were clothes everywhere, and our suitcases had exploded. We cleaned up and then watched My Sister’s Keeper and Shrek the Third on HBO. Mr. Goodemote called during Shrek to see if I wanted to do a thing with our flutes. He came down a few minutes later with the Chinese flute that he had bought in Chongqing. He wanted to play a duet at the banquet. I would be playing part of “The Epic of Janghar,” a traditional Mongolian song, and he would playing “Idle Wild,” which is a jig from Ireland that is often played in New England. He gave me sheet music for it, and sadly Shrek had to be turned off so I could practice. Mr. Goodemote and I ran through it a few times, and then it was time for the banquet.

Once everyone was in the lobby, we realized that nearly half of the group was wearing red and black and the other half was wearing blue, which was pretty weird… We arrived at a hotel near the campus. Vincent (Gao Wu Xiang) came with us, which everyone really appreciated. Once everyone was seated, the Party Secretary of the college gave an opening speech. It was very nice, and he talked about how beneficial this program was. Over 500 students and teachers have been involved in the arts exchange, and he hopes that the program will continue forever. Then Tom and the principal of the middle school spoke. Tom talked about how glad he was to have the opportunity to come here, and that he is so lucky to have made so many strong relationships. He said that everyone who has been involved in this program has benefitted tremendously from it. He has watched people grow over the course of the trip. Students who go on the trip gain a new appreciation for other cultures, and they want to learn more about the world. As he spoke, I knew that I was tremendously lucky to be having this opportunity. So many people never get the chance to travel, but now that I have been 6,000 miles away from home I know that I have to see more of the world. There are so many beautiful and amazing people and places out there. I want to see and meet as many as I can. I know that I will remember this trip for the rest of my life, and that I will constantly be learning new things from my experience.

During dinner, Tom spoke directly to us. He told us that he was tremendously lucky to have such an amazing group of students. The 16 of us got along so well, and we have all become like a family over the past month. We have faced many obstacles; we dealt with the loss of a teacher whom we all loved, and a few people had family members pass away as well. Through the hardship and the sadness we were able to find strength from each other. We grew closer because we all felt the same pain. I have become so comfortable with this odd little family of ours, and I am so glad I was able to share this experience with 15 amazing people.

Towards the end of dinner, Tino toasted the adults, thanking all of them for working so hard to make this experience possible. It was short and sweet, and well-deserved. Then gifts were exchanged. Honorary Professor Tom and the teachers were given things, and then the students were given long blue Hadas. To be given these is a sign of respect. Sam T. and Skyler had birthday cake, and then Mr. Goodemote and I performed “Janghar in Vermont”. I forgot to repeat a section, but other than that, it went very well. It’s cool to me how similar music can be created continents apart. When it comes down to the basics, we are not all that different.

After that, Sarah and Brianna gave a speech about Tom. They thanked him for all that he did for us. Something that Brianna said, I liked a lot. She thanked Tom for sharing the amazing experiences that he had here with everyone else. He saw the opportunity to create an amazing program, and by doing this he changed the lives of so many people. Without him, we wouldn’t be able to have this incredible experience. I am so grateful that I am having this opportunity.

2016-4-15 – Skyler Nupp – Performance Day

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Journey East

Skyler Nupp leading the charge, riding the Kraken

Today was an emotional roller coaster. We started off the day with rain as we headed off to rehearse for the big show tonight. In the beginning of the day I, along with everyone else, felt fine while we sang and danced and had a good time with our new friends. As I write this, I am thinking about how the days become harder and longer and it sometimes gets easier to miss Vermont and my nice comfy bed. While the hours ticked by, the uglier the day got. Rehearsing for our own show had become extremely frustrating and I really felt like hitting my head against the stage. Just thinking about how chaotic everything seemed made me aggravated.  The dress rehearsal ran over so we only had twenty minutes to scarf down our dinners. When we got back to the performance hall it got hectic again. Everyone tried to do last minute things, like smudging eyeliner on uncooperative boys or tuning ukuleles while anxious Chinese students were everywhere. Once we heard “places” it was time to go out with a bang. I was giving it my all. By the end of our show we all felt pretty good.  Nobody on stage laughed at the wrong time and everyone brought energy to the performance.

By the time we reached our collaborative performances we were just having fun with it. The collaborative performances included us singing a Chinese song and “Here Comes the Sun” with a class. Jake and Fairen participated in a musical performance with a Mongolian band.  Then all of us did an Andai Dance in Mongolian costumes with scarves. All the collaborative performances were really exciting and I was more caught up in the moment of performing and having fun than focusing on messing up and feeling upset. Overall I had felt like I was on cloud nine when everything was finished.

The day went from good, to bad, to ugly, to “I really don’t want to leave.” I was super surprised how fast everyone’s mood changed from sixteen kids wanting to go back to the hotel and give up, to not wanting to go to bed. After the entire show none of the Mongolians wanted to leave us and we didn’t want to leave them either.  Even though we only spent in total about four hours with them and none of them spoke English at all, everyone had made such wonderful connections with them, especially me. All the students from our group each got a partner to help us dance, my partner just happened to be super goofy and extremely sweet, it was really hard to saying goodbye to her, but I know we will keep in touch and hopefully reunite in October.

On the bus ride back to the hotel our whole group was in such a blissful mood, while being loud and annoying the teachers. In that moment I was incredibly thankful to be there. In that moment I realized how this trip is truly a once and a lifetime experience. Knowing that we only have two more days in Inner Mongolia makes me want to cry. I never imagined myself to ever be in a family like Journey East and being out of my comfort zone so much. I see myself changing in a positive way everyday and knowing I won’t be in China, in less than a week, really hits my heart hard.





2016-4-12 Jake Ires – Mongolian Kindergarten

Jake Ires enjoying the hot Mongolian sun

Jake Ires enjoying the hot Mongolian sun

Today was one of my more favorite days since we’ve been here. It’s our 5th day here in Hohhot and I love it. We started off early in the morning and made our way to the Mongolian Kindergarten. So far every Chinese child I have seen since we’ve been here has been unbearably adorable. So I could only imagine what an entire school full of little Mongolians would be like. I had honestly been waiting to go for years since I had heard about it from previous Journey East-ers. When we arrived to the kindergarten we were immediately greeted by an explosion of colors and cute little faces. The entire building was splattered with every single bright color you could imagine. We joined the kids in their morning exercises and it was so much more endearing when little kids were doing it compared to the middle-schoolers. We ran races with them and watched them compete on little inflatable dinosaurs.

Our next stop was exploring the kindergarten, and I felt like a giant and a god at the time. As I walked down the halls all the little kids looked up at us wide-eyed and everything in the school was miniaturized. Then we were ushered into a small classroom with little seats and saw little kids on a stage all set up to perform. They were wearing little Mongolian costumes like I had seen when the Mongolian students performed at our school.

They then proceeded to put on a show with drums, tambourines, and bells. It was so in sync and professional I couldn’t even imagine my kindergarten class having the patience or skills to pull that off. After that we performed a shortened version of our show to the little kids and they absolutely loved it. After the show, all the Mongolian kids came running onto the stage and we had a big dance party with a hundred or so little Mongolians kids.

It was painful to leave the kindergarten, but we had a long day ahead of us and we had to keep moving. Our next stop was a kindergarten building in the making. It was an absolutely massive kindergarten building with even more colors than the first one. It was eerie inside because the building wasn’t finished being constructed, but it certainly was impressive.

After exploring the kindergarten we headed for the next step of our day, a minorities university where we would be performing our second performance of the day. This performance was the full deal, along with the giant auditorium with a really nice stage; it was one of the bigger audiences that we’ve had and we were all a little nervous. Even though it was bigger it was one of the best shows that we’ve had since we’ve been here. Something happened and everything just clicked and flowed together. Besides a few wipeouts backstage on the slippery floor everything went perfect. After the awesome show we made our way back to the university where we feasted like kings after a victorious battle. Then proceeded back to the hotel where we fell fast asleep after the long day.

2016-4-11 Sarah Andersen – Practice for Performaces

7:20 AM- the phone rings.

Sarah Andersen with Skylar Nupp enjoying a break during practice.

Sarah Andersen with Skyler Nupp enjoying a break during practice.

This morning Jake called my room saying that there was no wake up call. It was already 20 minutes past our wake up time. Skyler and I had to hurry to shower, eat, and get ready to go for this crazy stupendous day. When I got to breakfast I was a little disappointed due to there being no lo-mein. We were a little late this morning to our meeting at the Inner Mongolia Arts College. The meeting was really cool because Tom’s face lit up every 2 seconds seeing a new person that he has known for a long time. After our meeting with the teachers, some students, and the principal, we got to go to our rehearsal room. On our way there, I met a guy who is very close to my best friend, Kayla Williams (Gao Wuxiang). I gave him a letter she gave to me for him. When we were walking to the building, he managed to video call Kayla and I got to talk to her today. It was so great seeing her face and I was almost in tears. As we walked into the rehearsal room, I was super excited because the first thing we were going to do was sing. As we started the song, right away, I knew the teacher was going to be tough on us. Within the first 2 measures he stopped the song and made us fix our mistakes, over and over. It made me feel like I was back at District Chorus making the song perfect and fixing every tiny mistake, working endlessly to perfect everything from tone to pitch to even how loud we sang, giving the song a certain effect.

The chorus we were singing with obviously knew what they were doing because they put a lot of amazing singers I know to shame. I was told that they weren’t even the best chorus at the school which was kinda of crazy to believe. We worked for about an hour on the Chinese song and then switched over to Here Comes the Sun. Mr. Goodemote was in charge of this. He arranged the song into three parts but there was only two parts learned so we had to start over and relearn notes. It was kind of frustrating because I knew my part and I had to sit and wait for the other parts to catch up to the highest part (the melody). After we finished with Here comes the Sun, some of our students did an instrumental collaboration. Mr. Goodemote was on the trumpet, Fairen was on the flute, and Jake played the drums. They did a really great job and in the song there was some Mongolian throat singing, which I thought was so cool to get to hear up close and to watch the band rehearse together. I was quite hungry at this point and was very relieved to hear that we would break for lunch.

At lunch we had dumplings, fruits, and a bunch of different meats mixed with veggies. After lunch, we had an hour and a half break to rest and hang out. I sat on the bus for a while to regain some energy then, I went into the music room where Mr. Goodemote was playing trumpet, and it sounded really good. Then, as I was sitting in the room I realized Skyler had her ukulele outside and I could go outside with her to sing. I love singing with Skyler, it is always so much fun. We sang Ho Hey, Riptide, I’m Yours, and Here Comes the Sun. The security guard kept walking over to us so he could listen to some great tunes while on the job. Our break felt like such a long time but it was definitely needed after singing all morning. I thought when we went back to the music room we were going to start working on our dance collaboration, but yet again, we were singing. I didn’t mind singing again this afternoon but some people were obviously upset about it. We worked on Wild Goose (the Chinese song) again and fixed even more things. During that time, he asked all of the American students to sing it just American students. I could tell that some of us were extremely scared and did not want to do that at all but, I was super excited to do that because I love singing and wish the rest of our group was more of a singing group because we could sound so good together. In our song, there are two parts, the low part was most of the guys, except Adam, but it included Skyler and Mariah. On the higher part was most of the girls but, Adam was on our part as well. We definitely embarrassed ourselves at that moment but it was okay because we are just learning the song and we will get better.

We worked on Here Comes the Sun again and fixed a bunch of stuff so that we could sing through the whole song, obviously with mistakes, but we knew the gist of it which was pretty cool. After this, it was 4:30 and we finally got to dance. I was so pumped to dance because I knew the guy I met today was an amazing dancer and he would come to help us. We had 4 girls leading the class, he jumped in and helped whenever he could, as he was able to speak English very well. As the girls showed us the first part of the dance, I got a little nervous because it seemed as though it was hard. We worked on it for a little bit and I finally got it and was very proud of myself. We moved on to the second part which, in my mind, was a lot easier. As I got more and more into the rhythm, the third part took no time at all. At the end, we split up into 3 groups and had to show what we learned to each other. I chose the first group and we did it with our instructor first then we got to show the group and our instructors. It was well, honestly kind of embarrassing to be dancing a new dance that we had just learned. I was so afraid that I was going to mess up but I was told that I did a great job which was a huge reliever. The other groups did a good job too and everyone embarrassed themselves equally as much. I love our group so much because we can easily embarrass ourselves in front of each other while doing artistic things without there being a huge problem. During one of our breaks Brianna was doing a split and the guy did a split each way and brought his leg up over his head which was so cool. When we finished the Journey East group went out to dinner and we had a good night in.

Overall, today was definitely my favorite so far and Inner Mongolia is my favorite place out of all of the others. At the college everywhere you look there is someone dancing, playing an instrument, singing, or drawing. Everyone here has some sort of amazing artistic talent and it is so great being here. The food is also my favorite so far. I can’t wait to see what other amazing experiences we have in this great city.

2016-4-13 Mariah Hazard – Inner Mongolia – Collaboration Practice and Performance


Journey East

Mariah Hazard visiting with Mongolian Kindergartners

Today was a pretty long day for most of us, I’m guessing, but first thing I had to have was my daily noodles for breakfast. Then we hurried to the Arts College of Inner Mongolia to start practicing our collaborative performance. When we got there, the students were already starting to warm up and we joined in right away. As I was singing the song I was thinking how they project their voices so loudly that I can’t even hear myself sing, which it’s not a bad thing. It is so cool every day we practice with them, it just blows me away every single time.  I am in the soprano section, which I thought I could handle but they sing really high and I at least try to keep up with them, but it cracks me up how terrible I am at singing. After we sang we went up to the dance studio; I always liked to dance and at first I thought I was going to nail every move but, holy cow it was harder than I thought. I am getting the hang of it and I’m definitely enjoying the dance the most.

When we got into the studio we were handed bright red scarves. Then we choose a dance partner to work with who helped us with the dance. The girl who was working with me was really nice, she was also 16 years old. She did not speak a lot of English. She taught me everything and nailed it into my brain, which was very nice of her. We ran through the dance moves many, many times. It was intense. We then set off to Number 35 Middle School and the first thing that happened when we got there was that we were put into groups and sent into English classes. My group consisted of Maris, Sarah and Becca. When we walked into the room they clapped for us and we were placed into groups. There were four groups with 12 students in each group so I sat down and the teacher first told us to talk about ourselves; where we were from, how old we are, and who my favorite singer was. After I chatted with about 12 or more kids about my life, the students had a little talent show for us. First, one kid played the guitar and sang a song. Then 2 guys beatboxed. Next, a guy played the horse-head fiddle and then a couple of them sang a song together. They wanted Maris, Becca, Sarah and me to sing for them, so we got up and sang Riptide. It came out pretty good.

After their talent show, we talked about more things with our groups. The kid who played the horse-head fiddle let me play it. I don’t know why, but when I was just going back and forth they were all just so impressed. The class also gave us each a gift. It was a scrap book and then some kid gave me a poster of Kobe… I thought it was funny.

After visiting with the students, we went to the area that we would be performing in and we got everything ready for the show, we performed at around 4pm. It was not our best performance because a lot of us laughed at inappropriate times. There were about 2,000 kids in the audience, it did not seem like that many at the time but when Tom told us afterwards, I was a little shocked. I think that will be our biggest audience for our show, and it was a good show, over all.

We had dinner at the middle school with a couple of the kids who were helping out with the show. The food was good but they had such big portions, even for me it was unreal. We went back to the hotel and had a shower cap party but really only one person wore their shower cap and it wasn’t really a party, we were just watching The Purge (a really scary movie). But overall today was an awesome day just like all the other days on this trip.

2016-4-9 – Tino Benson – Gobi Desert

Journey East

Tino Benson

Parched plants scattered the landscape. Dune beetles scurried across the sea of sand. Wisps of cloud drifted through the grey-blue sky. Not a single building was in sight, just the vast expanse of the Gobi desert lay before our sheltered, Vermont eyes.

Let me interject here, I’m not by any means implying that all Vermonters are sheltered homebodies who’ve never seen anything past Hinsdale or Keene, but I am implying, just slightly, that a lot of us, not including me, have never been very far away from home. Glad I got that off my chest before you jumped to conclusions to criticize my opinions. As I was saying…

Behind us, the occasional sound of coal trucks taking their long journeys on the vast Mongolian highway could be heard. Across from the highway, a scene straight out of Mad Max lay before us; grey, brown, flat, endless expanse, coal plants spewing spires of white smoke into the smog, and dry, barren trees dotted around the area. Brush fires sprouted up in the plains and parched farm plots filled the remaining land. Beyond the smog was probably the big nothing: a vile salt flat stretching for hundreds of miles covering the remains of humanity underneath thousands of feet of dried minerals. Well, it wasn’t quite that extreme, but it sure reminded me of it.

We hopped into some desert rig, jeep type vehicles with turf covering the bed where we all sat. One by one we piled into the six seats that were nicely placed on the back of the jeeps. The engines revved and our drivers kicked the jeeps into gear. We were off to see the camels! The vehicles wrangled the terrain better than any car back in VT could ever dream of. Down 90 degree slopes, flying over small dune hills and nearly tipping over every ten feet. Before we knew it, we were face to face with giant, two humped camels, all tied to each other with interesting nose-rings. And we rode the camels, yaay.

Okay, I understand that look. Yeah, I know I didn’t describe riding camels in enough detail, what am I supposed to say? It’s like riding a big horse on a beach? I don’t know… So, Camels are awesome, they have super thick fur, they fart every minute or so, they poop wherever they please, they spit on people who get too close- wait a second, this sounds awfully familiar, oh right! Horses! If you’ve ridden a horse then you know what it feels like, and if you haven’t, go to a farm because I just described it for you. Alright, let’s fast-forward several hours…

The dried, yellow grass blew softly in the cool, Mongolian spring air. Magpies scattered from trees as each step crunched the parched, brown path. The wind whistled in the air and rustled the tiny pines. We all scattered among the hills and took our own paths. Patrick and I walked the ridges of the hills, comparing the scenery to the likes of the Southwest United States or California. After jogging past Fairen meditating peacefully on a small peak, we continued to the farthest reasonable one we could find. It felt like running with the Orcs from Lord of the Rings and that’s when I realized, I’d be a terrible Orc. I was out of breath completely by the time we reached the next peak only a couple hundred feet from Fairen. Pat and I built ourselves two rock cairns and some spiral rock trails tapering off from the center then finished off the art with the letters JE.

Out of all the days so far, this day, by a land slide, has been my favorite so far. In terms of scenery, new people, adventures with each other, just ever single aspect of it. The hills reminded me of my uncle’s house in Albuquerque New Mexico, one of my favorite cities in the US and made me appreciate the vast diversity of the country that I live in. As we traveled the Sand Dunes after the camels, I came across an old tourist location that had been eaten up entirely by the sand to the point where only the clay heads of Mongols could be seen and I realized how seriously needed the Mongolians anti-desertification practices are. Now I understand why China plants more trees than any other country on earth, because they don’t want valuable farmland to be lost to the sea of sand.

The day was a long one and had much time for reflection. As I walked through the desert, I thought of the people and events that brought me to where I am today, and as I built the cairn with Patrick, I thought of how lucky I am to live as a white, American Vermonter, whose life is virtually free of the strife that the majority of my human brethren live through every day. Difficulties that I could never even imagine that just pass over my radar, and it’s events and trips like this that open my eyes to other lifestyles and really puts in perspective my problems vs those who don’t even have their own car or have hot water.