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?