These are some of the host family photos of our Journey East travelers to hold you over until we get the next set of essays uploaded…
I woke up confused. I was in a pink room… Stuffed animals set in every corner. Where was I? Oh yeah! It was our first night at our home stays. I dragged myself out of bed and got ready for the day. When I stepped out of my room, my family was waiting for me in the living room area. “Hungry?” “Food?” “Eat!” they said. On the table was loaves of bread, rice balls, hot milk, sandwiches, and bowls of fruit. I said, “xie xie” which means thank you. They also brought me Ranch dressing and pointed at my bowl of fruit. I was confused, Ranch on fruit? They insisted I tried, it tasted very interesting.
We met the rest of the group at the NewStar school, the school that our host brothers and sisters attended. At NewStar, the whole group did a traditional Kaili art project together. My host sister was 10 years old and her American name was Lisa. She was very sweet and shy. Her art looked much better than mine. After art we ate lunch, then gathered together again to discuss the next activity. The NewStar teachers told us that we would be participating in a scavenger hunt around the city. They gave each of the Journey East students a different photo of different places in the city. With our host brothers and sisters, we had to ask strangers on the street how to get to locations in the photos. This activity was fun, but also very tiring and sometimes frustrating. The Journey East students had to be the ones to ask the directions, and nobody on the street spoke English. Many of the people on the street would just shrug and walk away when I tried to ask. My host sister gave me the advice, “Young people better”. This was true, the younger people on the street were more willing to help.
After dinner at the NewStar school, the Journey East Students separated from the rest of the group to prepare to perform our show for our host families. Our performance was going to be on the second floor on the NewStar School in a big karate studio. The lady that worked at the front desk of the karate studio had a very cute baby girl. I was very distracted while we practiced our show because all I wanted to do was play with the baby. After practicing the show for a bit and setting our props, I finally got to go see the baby. She copied my dance moves while the group was singing “Up Side Down” (our final song in the show). It was very cute. The mom kept bringing the baby to me and leaving her with me. I happily took the baby with no complaints. When the time was nearing for the performance to begin I brought the baby back to her mom. The show went very well, especially for our first time performing in China. The kids especially liked the parts of the show with fake fighting. When our show was over we were all ready to go back to our homestays and sleep, but our night was not over yet. The NewStar School had a performance to show us. The performance was lip synced over an audio track, it was very funny. Next the kindergarteners did a dance for us, it was so cute! Maddie and I were sitting next to each other, we were both almost falling asleep. Maddie turns and says to me, “I am so late right now.” Meaning to say, “I’m tired, its so late”. We really needed sleep.
The third day of the trip started bright and early (5:00 a.m.) and I was still exhausted from the day before. Traveling is pretty stressful for me, but I have a lot of experience with it so naturally it wasn’t that hard to get my things together and pack for the plane. The airport was massive and kind of intimidating because of the thousands of people packed shoulder to shoulder. We all made our way to the terminal without any problems. Because we hadn’t rehearsed the show in a while, we all thought we should rehearse it in the airport. Feeling reluctant and awkward, I somewhat got what I needed for the show and got ready. As soon as we started a large crowd formed around us, which surprised and freaked me out a little bit. We didn’t use a lot of props or instruments for obvious reasons, so it didn’t really feel like a real practice, and I wondered what the people’s reactions were.
When we took the plane to Guiyang, we noticed a change in scenery. It was much warmer and greener. This was something that everyone could get used to, coming from a cold winter climate. After a three-hour bus ride, we reached the city of Kaili. We met the New Star School students and teachers and we watched a video of the 2016 Journey East group. The New Star school is for students who want to improve their English education. They attend these English classes in addition to their regular school day by meeting in the evenings and on weekends.
We then met with the host families. My host family consisted of a mother, a father, and two boys. Norman is a 15-year-old who knew pretty good English, and Rock is in 8-year-old who is just learning how to read and write English. Norman and I took one taxi most of the way to their apartment, walked the remaining distance to the apartment, which was on the 20th floor with a great view. After I dropped my bags off at the apartment, I met up with some people from the group to eat dinner, which was nice because I hadn’t realized how hard it would be to successfully communicate with my host family. Outside of the restaurant was a square where people gathered to watch a traditional Miao performance. We got to participate by holding hands in a large circle, surrounding the musicians, and dancing around the fire. This was a very long yet exciting day, and I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
Today was my favorite day spent in Kaili. We participated in games, traditional painting and paper making. The day started with me walking with my exchange sister to school like we had done the previous day. On the way we met up with Luke and his host sister, and went out for breakfast. We got fried eggs wrapped in what seemed like a thin rice noodle, this was covered in a dark brown sauce that tasted similar to maple syrup (only not as sweet). After breakfast we made our way to the new star school, where we met up with the rest of the group.
Shortly after everyone got to the school we went on to a bus that took us to a tourist area in the Miao village of Wan Da Xiao Zhen. There we first learned a traditional way to make paper. Your first dip what looks like a square strainer in a tub of water and wood pulp. The water was strained out leaving behind the pulp to dry. We were given flowers and other plants to decorate the paper with, when we were done, we used a spoon to pour more wood pulp to seal the paper. I really enjoyed this because everyone was so relaxed while doing it. All around us was beautiful art and flowers. We laid our paper out in the sun to dry while we went next door to do Batik. I was super bad at it, but it a super cool process. They first gave us a white cloth that we then colored a pattern on. Then using hot wax, we go over our sketch. I am not completely sure what happens after that because that’s when the people took the cloth to finish the process. In the end, the parts that the wax went on turns white and the rest is a blue color.
By this time in the day I was privileged enough to have gotten a very nice blister on the inside of my foot… YAYY. We walked up a hill (which just felt GREAT) to the Danzhai school where we got a brief tour of the campus. We went on to their field where we watched a Traditional Miao dance, we then played soccer and danced around with the other students. We were constantly being stopped to take pictures. They treat us almost like we are famous here (honestly love it). After we walked back down to the village and shopping places to eat dinner. After dinner we went down to the water where we threw rocks and dead fish heads at the water/ each other. We took a bus back to the New Star school. By this time it was almost 10:30 so we were all very tired. We all went back to our host families houses eager to go to bed.
This is day 3 in Kaili. We went to learn how to make paper and make batik.
The troupe is settling in with their new families and this morning we had a sculpture class where they all made door ornaments. After that and lunch, we had a scavenger hunt to look for landmarks from photographs. Our students had to ask people on the street for directions to the different places. We then returned to give presentations and then the kids had to prep for and deliver their first performance. I will let the students write about the details…
It may be a few days before we get the essays up here. While they are with their host families, it is a little difficult to get their writing.
Today the Journey East group went to the Great Wall of China. We had to wake up at around 7 o’clock and eat breakfast. My roommate and I woke up at 4:30 in the morning and just watched movies and fell back asleep until about 6 when we decided to go get breakfast. When we got down to the dining hall we both gawked at the amount of food that was there; eggs, bacon, fruit, sausage, all different kinds of meat, and juice. The problem was that we had to eat all of it with chopsticks and some of the food was super slippery so it was a challenge. The next thing was the bus ride, we were all super stuffed and full so the ride was a little mellow, but it got a lot better when someone pulled out a speaker and we listened to awesome songs for the two-hour ride. When we finally got to the wall, we were all amazed by how large it looked, and we were still looking at it from a distance. We had to take a bus up to a gondola, which took us to the wall. The gondola was a little scary because when you got to a certain point you were going up at very steep angle.
After the gondola ride, we finally get on the Great Wall of China. A group of us decided we wanted to go to the highest point that we could see. We eventually reached the stairs that went to that point. When you looked up at them, you could not even see the top. Climbing them made my calf’s burn and my heart race because of the physical strain. I climbed the stairs and looked out and you could see all these sharp rocks and the drops of the mountain. The view was worth the work. Going down was almost as hard as going up because of the steepness. On the walk back, I took my time to really look around and I realized how beautiful the wall really was.
When I finally got back on the bus, I took some time to reflect. I realized I may never get a chance to go back and I really need to appreciate everything I am seeing. I’ve done some cool things in my life and walking on the Great Wall of China will rank among the best of them. If I ever get to return I would love to go explore more. After all, the wall is 21,000 kilometers long there’s lots of new things to find, and today we walked about 8 kilometers (.0004%) of it.
After the Great Wall we visited the Art District. It was busy and crowded. I was expecting just boring museums, but it was not what I expected. There was graffiti that added color to the boring walls. Many of the people were dressed in trendy fashions. I wandered around with friends and explored. We found gelato, crazy artistic paintings, knock-off supreme stores and expensive things. I am not a city guy, but it was nice to explore and see new things.
It was a tiring day and we had to go back and pack our things to move on to our next leg of the journey.
Today was the Great Wall and Area 798* tour. We had to turn in early for a 5:30 bus ride to the airport, so the first essay will wait until tomorrow. 🙁
Enjoy the photos in the meantime… 🙂
*Area 798 is an arts district that was built in an old WWII munitions factory district and it has amazing remnants and even more amazing art on display.