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.

2016-4-8 – Kenny Cashman – Inner Mongolia

Journey East

Kenny Cashman trying on a Chinese Opera gown.

Today we flew to Inner Mongolia, I thought that Qufu was dry and barren but this place is on another whole level. To start the day off, we got up at 6:30 which was so nice because normally we had to wake up much earlier for flight days so this was great. The first flight we had got delayed for about an hour, but that was okay because I got to write in my journal a lot and I also got this really good vanilla ice cream that tasted so good. On the flight to Beijing I was supposed to sit with two random strangers but their friend wanted to sit with them so they could all be together which was fine with me because that meant that I got to sit with Becca. A lot of us were spread out on the plane and so a few of us had to sit with strangers, Maris was lucky and got to sit next to someone from Canada who seemed cool, we gave him the link to the website so I’m sorry I can’t remember your name if you’re reading this Canadian dude. To get back to the flight…. When we were landing we went through rough turbulence and the plane was dropping and shaking. The entire time Ms. R seemed like she was about to cry, it didn’t help that at every drop people would scream and go into the “brace position”.

When we finally landed, Ms. R started laughing like crazy and started to actually cry with joy. Because of our delay we didn’t get to eat at any nice sit-down restaurant. I had to go to a KFC and I was still a little late arriving at the gate. The second flight was much better; there was much less turbulence and there were no screaming kids waking us up. I sat next to Mr. Goodemote and he just slept for most of it so that was kind of boring for me, but when we started to descend into Inner Mongolia there were so many new and weird things everywhere I couldn’t help myself from waking Mr. G up to asking him questions, it seemed like every five seconds I would ask him what’s this or what’s that or how do you think that happened. Flying over I saw huge brownish mountains that seemed to erupt from the ground with no huge trees which made them seem much bigger than our mountains like Stratton and Mount Snow but I found out later that they are about the same size. I also saw these small little canyons that looked like giant cracks in the earth, both me and Mr. G couldn’t figure out what they were used for, possibly irrigation troughs or not… I still can’t tell you.

This touchdown was great, which was weird, because I was told that it would be extremely windy and turbulent here. When we got off the plane we met up with Dorno and she seemed like a really nice person just from her laugh. The air here is so dry that it’s making my throat feel really dry and my lips get super chapped. The landscape here is so much different than anywhere else that we’ve been so far. It’s really flat in Hohhot but if you look past the skyscrapers you can see mountains and plateaus all around, it sort of seems like a massive crater. The hotel that we’re staying at is super nice and the beds are like clouds compared to Qufu and the view from my room is great. I can look down this long street with huge buildings on either side that goes all the way outside of the city and then I can see the mountains.

When you come into the hotel there are gold colored sculptures of swans and stars that hang from the ceiling. After we put our stuff down we had to go straight back down to the lobby to go to dinner. At dinner we had a lot of sweet potatoes, which aren’t my favorite, but they cooked them with some sort of sugary batter that made them sticky and, in my opinion, very good. We also had some corn bread and mutton that tasted fantastic. After dinner Sam and I found that we have an HBO channel on our TV and watched the new Transformers movie. And that was my first experience of Inner Mongolia. All in all, it was a good day.

2016-4-7 – Maris Linder – Mount Tai – Foogicle Friday

   Mount Tai and Foogicle Friday

Maris Linder

Maris Linder

It was our last day in Qufu. I really enjoyed it here. We had lots of free time and it was laid back. It was also a time for us to stock up on “Oreos” for the rest of the trip.

We departed for Mt. Tai at 9 am. It was a nice two hour bus ride where we could catch up on sleep and journaling. The fog at Mt. Tai was very thick. I couldn’t see the mountain until someone pointed it out to me. Although I might not have been looking very hard.

We limited the hiking as much as we could. We took a van to the gondola, and then a gondola most of the way up the mountain. There was a pathway of stairs that went up the whole mountain. People start early in the morning to make it to the top and back down in one day. Even though we didn’t hike up the whole mountain, it sure felt like it. We had to hike up continuous stairs to get to the very top. According to Kevin’s pedometer, we took about 7,000 steps which included many stairs. The stairs were not your typical stairs; they were slanted, uneven and thin. All of us walked up the stairs with burning calves and tired faces.

At the top of the mountain in there was an incense burning alter and a circle of locks. We did our own little ceremony in honor of Mrs. Chapman. It started with burning incense for her. We all bowed three times holding up the incense. While I was doing this I thought about her radiating laugh, her ability to be so understanding her hilarious sense of humor and how she brightened up the room with her big smile. She was so warmhearted and passionate. She is most definitely irreplaceable and will forever be loved and missed.  After we burned the incense, we all huddled up as a group to sing Amazing Grace.

To lock up our memories of Mrs. Chapman we added a lock to the circle of locks. Although she has passed, to me this lock symbolizes her life and that she is still with us in our hearts. Engraved on the lock was

“FOR MRS. C

2016.4.7”

            We all had a chance to touch the lock and think about how wonderful Mrs. Chapman was and our memories with her. One of my favorite memories with her was in her class. We watched Ed Sheeran’s music video to “Photograph”. I’m not really sure why we watched the video because instead of discussing the lesson we just watched the video over and over until class was over. The video shows his life in photographs. We were talking about how cute he was and how much we loved the song and totally forgot about the lesson. I will miss her lovable personality and great sense of humor.

To conclude our ceremony we had fudge ice cream bars as a replacement for fudgsicles. At the end of units on Fridays she would give us fudgsicles. She called it fudgsicle Friday, but in her British accent it sounded like “foojicle Friday”. I think this is a great tradition and I will most definitely continue it.

2016-4-6 – Sam Thibault – English and Folk Song Class and Mrs Chapman

Journey East

Sam Thibault

Mornings can be hard, this morning we got bad news about our teacher back home. Many of us were close to Mrs. Chapman, and I know I am speaking for everyone when I say she will be deeply missed.

After hearing that news, we went to a middle school where we participated in an English class and a PE class. In English we helped the Chinese students learn about the Great North, Canada. It was strange to see student newly learning about something we’ve know about all of our lives. But that’s probably how the Chinese feel whenever they try to teach us Chinese culture and language.  After a very easy trivia competition the winners got an Eiffel tower key chain, from Paris while we Americans were in China with Chinese studying Canada. I thought that was a little strange but kind of funny. Then we had a “PE class” I’m saying this in quotes because it was just the guys and the girls running a couple of laps, doing a couple exercises adding up to like 15 minutes, then just the guys playing the Americans in soccer. We had both guys and girls on our team. Some of the Chinese were very good, one especially, shot from a little past half field and got it in right in the corner of the net, so whenever he got the ball we triple or more teamed him. It was tough some of them where very skilled, but we had our translator and guide Andy as our sweeper. At the end we won 4-3. I think some of my favorite moments on the trip have been playing games with the Chinese. In soccer without talking we built a respect for the other team and everyone on it. For example, after the game we introduced ourselves to one another and shook hands. Then we were off to lunch.

Lunch was just dumplings, but then we had a little free time to play cards, play basketball, take a nap or do whatever you could in about an hour. Then we had a lecture about Chinese folk singing, which to be honest started a little slow, but became more interesting as it went on. People who know me know I don’t enjoying singing very much, but singing a very popular Chinese folk song called Jasmine Flower wasn’t bad at all. The second hour flew by then we had more free time where some went to the supermarket to stock up on snacks before we leave Qufu tomorrow. Lots of people, including myself, bought quite a few Oreos as they are in most stores and reminds us all of America.

After a small shopping spree, everyone met back at the hotel to dress up for our final banquet in Qufu. The banquet was nice we had nice conversation and we sat and ate good food. After dinner we all met in a meeting room where some people shared their favorite Mrs. Chapman memories. It was a nice way to end the day. Despite a rough start, it wasn’t too bad of a day

2016-4-5 Patrick McDonald

Qufu – Far East University

Journey East

Patrick McDonald tries on a Chinese Opera gown.

Today was our third day in Qufu, and our third performance so far in China. The day started off with us going to the Far East University, and finished with performing in front of about 350-400 college students and professors.

During our tour of the University, we visited the music, calligraphy, and woodworking classes. In the music class, we watched some of the college kids practice Chinese Opera for the performance later on that night. It’s a lot of really loud and high pitched songs that all seem the same, but you could tell that the students and teachers put in a lot of time in making it look and sound really good. Brianna, Kenny, Adam, Jen and I all tried on ancient gowns that the emperors or empresses would wear, and then took a group photo with a couple other students from Far East University. In the calligraphy class, a lot of the Journey East members got to try writing with help from some of the Chinese students in the class. It’s quite hard to make calligraphy look good, so we got a pretty good appreciation for how beautiful and effortless they made it look. Overall the tour of the college was pretty fascinating. I haven’t been to many American colleges, but this one seemed pretty big, but inside one of the buildings resembled Leland and Gray. Not an exaggeration.

Before our performance, when we were walking to the auditorium from dinner, we came down the stairs and saw about 200 students standing at the door waiting to get in. I was shocked to see how many people were really excited to see our show, and we all were really excited to perform for them, despite how exhausted we were. The performance went well, and the Chinese seemed to like it, especially the clowns, and Kenny. At one point I looked out into the audience and I swear, every single kid and teacher had their phone up, taking pictures or videos. So with only a few flaws, our performance ended, and we got ready to watch the Chinese kids perform.  The Chinese Opera was good, but seeing as how all of us were pretty tired, we just wanted it to be over. Although the Opera was kind of different from anything I had ever seen and not really to my liking, the Kung Fu was amazing. They started off dueling with bow staffs, and then did some solo stuff, but it got really good when two kids started breaking bricks in half, with their bare hands, and the best part was when one of the more fit college students, who had a pretty chiseled 8 pack, got bow staffs broken over his abdomen, back, and legs. He wasn’t the one breaking them though. The other performers were swinging the staffs like baseball bats at him, and when it ended you could tell he was in some pain, and he had some blood on his chest. Nonetheless it was crazy entertaining and it had all of us on the edge of our seats. We had a great time at Far East University, and the school board welcomed us with open arms, and it made for a great day in Qufu.

2016-4-4 Nathan Claussen – Qufu – Confucius

Journey East

Nathan Claussen

Today went to a couple historical Confucius sites, the graveyard of Confucius, the temple of Confucius, and the mansion of Confucius’ descendants.  First we took a bus ride to a hotel where we were dropped off and we went through a street with a bunch of vendors selling a bunch of different things like statues of Confucius and different posters.  A lot of the vendors would say things like “hello” or “you want” and then point to something, but that’s all they would say.  Then we made our way to the Confucius temple which was really big.  I noticed that a lot of people in the temple would look at our group and or take pictures of us, and I wasn’t really sure how to act about this, whether I should pose or hide my face.  I decided to pose in the pictures and the people seemed to find that amusing, which I thought was pretty funny as well.  I also noticed that almost all of the statues and rock carvings were damaged, but recently repaired, it makes me wonder how much was lost in the Cultural Revolution.

We then left the temple and went to the mansion of Confucius descendants, which they lived in for thousands of years, until in the past one hundred years when they went in search for a better life, to Taiwan.  The mansion was of course big and very cool and I wish they could have shown us more of the mansion.  Once again our group got a lot of stares and some people even came up and asked for a selfie.

Eventually we made our way out of the mansion and ended up on the street with all the vendors again. We went to the hotel where we parked and we ate lunch at the hotel.  Personally my favorite food from lunch was like a fried dough stick, it was delicious and was a little reminder of home. We then left and walked to get on a shuttle which took us to another shuttle and then we went through the grave yard. There were piles of dirt for each individual person and the more important you were the bigger the pile was.  We started out going past the smaller ones and as we went along we started seeing bigger and bigger piles.  Then we made it to Confucius’ and his son’s graves.  Their two piles of dirt were the two biggest in the entire grave yard, and while we were here they had places to pray and donate.

One thing that I noticed on the shuttle ride was smaller trees in the grave yard had ropes tied to them and older trees that were leaning had rock supports under them.  After we all prayed and some donated money we all walked back on a shuttle, rode it to go take another shuttle and eventually we made it back to our bus.  As we were exiting the grave yard we passed hundreds of middle school aged children who had most likely never seen Americans before, many took photos.  It was like we were rock stars even though we did absolutely nothing.

Finally we arrived at the campus and we had some free time on campus and I went to a store and found it quite easy to purchase food even though the cashier didn’t speak any English.  I felt very odd just roaming around campus in the night but I also felt a new sense of freedom.

2016-4-3 – Sam Harrison – Qufu

 

Journey East Confucius Brithplace

Sam Harrison looking skeptical

Qufu is nothing like the other parts of China we’ve been to.  After having western breakfasts for the past two weeks, we woke up this morning to a very Chinese breakfast.  To me it seemed like dinner in the morning, but I guess it’s OK.  We then met our nice tour-guide, Ben, and went to the birthplace of Confucius.  Confucius was a great educator, thinker, and philosopher in Chinese history.  He was the creator of Confucianism and is said to be the greatest representative of the ancient Chinese Culture and civilization.  The site where we were was called Mount Ni and is, according to legend, the place where Confucius was born.  There isn’t any proof that I know of that he was actually born there, but it’s easier for me to just go with it.

Before we saw the birthplace, we were given the freedom to explore this beautiful 500 year old Confucian temple.  Tom encouraged us to find a quiet place and reflect on what’s happened so far on the trip.  There were several of these rooms with shrines in them, where we could sit and pray to honor our ancestors.  I found one room that was empty of other humans, and had a pillow on the ground in front of the shrine.  I decided to sit down and meditate for a while.  I found it very easy to enter meditation in that temple.  It was just so peaceful and it had this calming aura surrounding the place.  I sat and thought about everything that was happening: the places we went too, the people I met, the things I’ve seen.  After running around China for the past two weeks, eating a whole new diet, barely sleeping at night, being placed in a Chinese family’s home for a week, and essentially being part of a minority of Americans who seem to be the only English speaking people around, I can’t describe how nice it was to be able to sit down and just breathe.

When the last JE group came to Confucius’s birthplace, they got to go in the actual cave that he was born in. This time around, according to Tom, it was totally different.  The place has pretty much been turned into a tourist attraction.  The cave has even been modified with a mini waterfall thing going through the doorway, to try to keep people out of it.  Jake and I however, decided that a little water never hurt nobody and gave the birthing room a visit.  I mean I guess it was cool, because that’s supposed to have been where Confucianism was literally born, but it was still just a cave to me.

On the way back to Qufu Normal University, where we were staying, we saw firsthand just how fast China is advancing.  Old villages and towns are being torn down and massive apartment buildings and hotels are going up in their place, and in no time at all.  This isn’t just happening in Shandong province either, where Qufu is.  We’ve seen it in every place we’ve been to in China so far.  It’s absolutely mind boggling just how fast everything is being built too.  Tom said that he has noticed buildings in places where there was nothing two years ago.

We stopped in the middle of a small town (that was still intact) and were given 15 minutes to walk around and explore.  It reminded me a lot of Kaili, where we were last week.  I saw a lot of people selling fresh meat on the streets and an uber amount of motorcycles and scooters.  I went into a few stores and found almost no western brands or products.  Many people stopped and stared at my white skin and red hair and some took pictures; nothing new to me though.  It just shows that while many places in China are westernizing and being built up, there are still some places that seem untouched by the outside world.

2016-4-2 Jake Ires

First Day in Qufu

Jake

Jake Ires on a river boat cruise in Chong Qing

Today was a big change for the group and for me. We woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed at four in the morning and made our way to the airport. This was my fourth time being on a plane and the flight to Beijing was my first time ever. I was very nervous at the thought of being 35,000 feet in the air hurdling at 500mph in a tin can, but I realized shortly after that it’s really not that bad and that I could get used to it. After landing in Jinan we took a two hour bus ride to the birthplace of Confucius, the city of Qufu. On the bus ride we noticed a few things different about Qufu compared to Guiyang and Chongqing. First of all, it was much drier than the more tropical climate of Guiyang and there weren’t any terraces compared to the thousands of terraces we saw on our way to Chongqing. The landscape was much flatter with only a few mountains in the distance, along with giant windmills that stood strong in the skyline.

Arriving at our new home in Qufu I immediately noticed the change in size of the buildings, the cars, the people, and the air. Compared to the skyscrapers we experienced in Chongqing and Kaili City, there wasn’t a single building over four stories. The cars were dustier compared to the pristine cars in Kaili city, and the people seemed to be darker and dustier. The land was dry and dust-ridden, with sparse greens cattered throughout the terrain. Trees were planted everywhere covered in dust and spread out equally and symmetrically in rows. The amount of trees that were planted everywhere, very much on purpose, blew me away. Wherever there was empty space on the side of the road there was a tree planted. There were no leaves on the trees so you could see miles upon miles and millions upon millions of trees. Along with the trees there were miles of bright green wheat planted in giant fields in the flatlands of the countryside.

At the university in Qufu I instantly noticed the giant soccer field right as we entered the gate to the campus. The campus was different then what I expected, it was much bigger then I had imagined and had blossoms on all of the trees. I could tell right away that I was going to like the place when the first thing on our schedule was to have free time. It was the first time since we had been in China that we had time to just stop moving and relax. In addition, we were able to explore the campus by ourselves and have some time to do whatever we wanted.

The first thing we did was hunt down the grocery store on campus and bought dozens of packages of Oreo’s and M&M’s. Then we made our way to the soccer fields and started playing around. Within a matter of minutes a group of college kids playing soccer on the other side of the field headed our way and asked us if we wanted to play a pickup game. I was excited to play soccer, especially with the college kids because I wanted to get to know them. However, none of us were prepared for their speed and agility. It was very obvious that they played soccer a lot and were in way better shape than us. Not shortly after we began we were huffing and puffing down the field. We were in no shape or form prepared to play soccer with our blue jeans, sweatshirts and Vans, but we definitely gave the kids a run for their money. Overall, they had stronger possession of the ball with their nasty foot skills, but we still won. Their shots were no match for my “master” goalie skills and our shots on goal and in the end the score was 4-2. Even though we were incredibly out of shape I still enjoyed playing with the kids and hope to come back and play them again later this week with the proper gear.

2016-4-1 Zoie Brooks – Dazu Stone Carvings

Dazu Stone Carvings

Zoie Brooks

Zoie Brooks

During our trip here in China I have learned so many things. I remember meeting my host and having my stomach sink to the floor. I was ready to fly back to America and everything I knew. Everything that I had ever known. The girl who was hosting me grabbed my hand and led me about, and I know that was the only thing holding me up. The first night at the home stay was terrible, I felt no connection to these people. I felt like I was on an alien planet. But then I began to learn about them. I learned that the dad hums in the morning and that the mom was possibly one of the happiest people I had ever met. I learned that the little girl had been learning English since she was six and thought white people were beautiful. I learned about life from them, little by little. I also learned a lot the day that we visited the Dazu rock carvings.

Peace and serenity permeated the air the second our group arrived at the historic Dazu rock carvings. The rock carvings are a blend of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. They are these beautiful rock carvings, each telling its own unique story. The rock carvings first began to be carved in 650 under the Tang Dynasty and continued to be added to all the way until the Qing Dynasty (1616-1911).

Every hand carved face telling you a different blend of emotion, describing its own moment in time. Being beautiful and menacing in its own right. At the very beginning, there were carved stone guards, with grimacing faces and weapons, seemingly protecting the treasures within. They looked at you in a way that you could only recognize as knowing that you would enter despite their threat and you would love the treasures they guard. When you entered the rock carving area you would see detailed Chinese inscriptions, written painstakingly into the stone with strokes that must have taken days. I wish I could read Chinese so I could understand what the ancient monk who designed this place was trying to tell me. Though I think I understood when I saw the Buddhas staring down at me and it made me believe that some things don’t need to be heard, but seen to be understood.

Inside the entrance stood caves. Caves filled with with carved monks and vivid colors adorning their background, sitting patiently for their teacher in the middle. Each wearing a detailed head dress and, of course, the robes that people would dream of. Robes that were beautiful, but seemed simple in comparison to the teacher’s. Every face, every cup, every finger carved into the immortal rock to be remembered and awed at by generations to come. By worlds to come. You would then continue walking, and come across the wheel of life. Imagine it, a huge wheel held in the mouth of a monstrous creature. Peasants assist him in holding it, and it is so massive that all you can do is stare. All you can do is look at the mystery and, at the same time, the simplicity of this wheel. It clearly shows the six realms, gods, demi-gods, humans, animals, hungry ghosts, and hells. Where you can be reincarnated to and what you will be reincarnated as. Buddhists believe that depending on your behavior in your previous life, you will reborn into a place or a thing fitting that behavior. Such as someone who had done good things with their life, but had not reached enlightenment, would be reborn as a diva in the realm of heaven.

You’ll continue along and see scenes of complete devotion, a man cutting off flesh for parents to eat. And scenes describing parenthood and the trouble of being a mother. This amount of loyalty and love for parents was a bit shocking, and as the American that I am, I couldn’t understand the reason people might do that. But after a while, I began to understand it, truly being willing to do anything for the people that raised you. I mean, I wouldn’t cut off flesh for my parents, but I would do a lot. Maybe I would steal some food instead. You will see filial piety, tales of lives, people being reborn, and awe inspiring Buddhas. So many Buddhas, speaking so many words with their unheard voices, encased in the stone. They look at you and tell you things. Things about life, their lives and yours. Everyone’s searching for an answer to the universe. Some have found it in Christianity, Taoism, or Hinduism. I found mine there, at the Dazu rock carvings. Looking up at the meaningful faces of Buddhas, I seemed to understand a little of it. That whole thing that people want to know, what life is all about. On this trip, I’ve found a little of it. A little of the meaning, a little of what’s important, and a little of what happens next. I found a little bit that day. Not a lot, but those carvings, this place, and these people are helping me find little by little, and that is important. That’s what it’s all about.

2016-3-31 Brianna Reed

Bitter – Sweet

SONY DSC

Brianna Reed posing with the Miao Dancer dress

The Journey East kid’s last day with the New Star kids was an almost indescribable experience. We’d only spent a few days with these kids and for some of us, I think it felt like we had known these students for years. By the time this day started I could probably say that I knew more about my host sister Celina (11 yrs. Old) than I currently know about anyone I came on this journey with. There we all were, sitting on the bus on our way to spend our last day together at LongDe Miao Village. The New Star students, wearing their bright yellow matching sweatshirts, curious eyes, and wide smiles. The Journey East kids (for the most part) wearing tired eyes yet understanding faces. It was obvious that the fact today was the JE group and New Star kid’s last day together was on everyone’s mind, but no one wanted to talk about it.

Celina and I sat by each other listening to her music, playing games, and losing ourselves in the laughter and quirkiness of one another. We both knew that the other one felt sad because our time together was so short and despite trying to hide it through a kind smile or funny face, it was obvious in just a moment of eye contact. It was an amazing day full of learning and bonding moments for everyone, but that little feeling of emptiness in everyone’s gut was so hard to ignore. We were in such an amazing place full of tradition, beautiful land, beautiful people and years of hard work. The day was just so full of contradicting emotions.

After a traditional Miao performance, monger harassing, and a village lunch, the New Star students and JE students exchanged gifts and goodbyes. It was an absolutely beautiful and heartwarming experience. I was trying not to look across the room at Celina because I knew that if I did, I would cry. One by one the New Star students shared a hug, gift, and some kind words with the student that their family hosted and one by one each person experienced something new and rare.

When Celina came up to me it was clear that she didn’t know what to say or how to say what she wanted. She started to cry and I hugged her. I started to cry and immediately felt an extreme feeling of loss. I didn’t want to say goodbye to her and she didn’t want to say goodbye to me. The night before, we were in the car and Celina said my name to get my attention. I looked to the left and saw she had written something in the fog on the window. She wrote “I no play a Chong Qing with you” and drew a sad face next to it. I was confused at first, but my heart sank to the bottom of my stomach like a rock when I realized what she meant. She said she liked playing with me very much and “thought we played together well”. She knew she couldn’t come to Chongqing with us and play with me and I couldn’t stay in Kaili to play with her. I felt like crying, but knew I had to keep smiling for her. If I cried, she would probably cry and I didn’t want to see her cry. These people didn’t represent just a place to sleep at night or something to do to pass the time. These host families represented opportunity. An opportunity to learn more about the world and yourself, an opportunity to see the world through new eyes, an opportunity to grow, and most importantly, an opportunity to create a one of a kind bond that could only be created once. Celina wasn’t just a host sister to me. I became a part of her family and she didn’t just become a friend, she became a little sister to me. I cared about her like a sister and felt like I had to protect her. When we walked on the street, I stayed close and kept an eye on her. When we crossed the street, I held her hand. When we played, I kept her laughing. When she looked sad, I made her smile. When we sat on the bus, I talked to her and we learned about each other. These goodbyes at Miao Village meant so much more than just a simple ‘nice to meet you’ or ‘thanks for letting me stay at your house’. These goodbyes weren’t only showing everyone that we connected with these people, but they were making our bonds with them stronger and making it even harder to say goodbye.

When Sam Harrison’s host brother Dance gave him his gift and said goodbye, he didn’t just share something beautiful with Sam. He shared something beautiful with everyone in the room. He made a speech and at the end he said “we aren’t crying because we are sad, we are crying because something beautiful has happened”. It was clear that the relationship we had with these other students not only caused us to learn and grow, but it caused them to learn and grow as well. It’s so amazing how Dance’s speech was in English and that it was poetic at the same time. It just goes to show that these students want to learn our language and understand it at the same time.

Later, we all sat down to work on embroidering small designs onto cloth. A lot of embroidery seen on clothes, bags, and other items used and being sold in the small village is done by hand. I think they wanted us to try this activity so that maybe we could understand how much work and effort goes into the beautiful work we could see all around us. I looked around and everyone had a sort of sad look on their face and seemed quiet. It seemed difficult for everyone to try and focus on something other than the moving experience that had just happened. When we were done Celina handed me her little white piece of square cloth and told me to keep it. It said “I love you” in bright orange letters and below it was a bright red colored heart. It’s a moment I’ll never forget and a gift I’ll always treasure.

Before leaving the village we all had some free time to admire the land/buildings and buy some gifts in the center of the village. The women who danced in the traditional performance at the beginning of our visit also carried around big baskets full of jewelry, bags, embroidered bookmarks and other small items to sell. If you look at one thing someone’s selling, at least three other women will come up to you holding the same thing in your face and competing with the others to sell it to you. You never want to pay the price they ask for and if you don’t get the price at least cut in half then you’re probably paying more than everyone else is for the same item. It can be overwhelming and a little agitating at times, but it’s important to remember that this is how they make their living and it’s what they know how to do. The beautiful land and design of the village is almost more overwhelming to take in than the vendors. It’s crazy how in a short bus ride the people of Kaili can leave one world and enter a completely different one. They can go from looking at tall buildings and listening to the loud city noises to admiring the structure of the villages and breathtaking views. Visiting these places in Kaili gave me a new appreciation for Vermont. I don’t think that the people in Kaili realize how lucky they are to live in and around such beautiful places. Just like a lot of people in Vermont don’t realize how lucky we are to live there and take it for granted. A lot of people (including myself at times) complain about how Vermont is boring and say they can’t wait to move away and blah blah blah, but they don’t realize how many opportunities and resources we have that not everyone has. Simple things like a peaceful hike, skiing or snowboarding, being able to jump in the river and cool off on a hot summer day, fishing, and even something as simple as having your own front yard are taken for granted because most Vermonters have never not had these things. It’s crazy how it’s taken me being on the other side of the world to appreciate my own home. Better late than never I guess. 🙂

That night, my host family and I continued to learn about each other and enjoy the last bit of time we had left together. My host mom wrote me a letter while I sat on the couch with my host sister looking at some of their photo albums. Celina fell asleep and I was about to when I looked up and realized my host mom was crying. She looked at me and asked me if I believed in fate. She said she thought it was fate that brought me to their family. I then realized that I had gained more than a sister, I had gained a family. A home away from home. It was so amazing. She told me that she thought my mom was a good mom and that she raised me well and she wanted to know what my mom taught me because she wanted Celina to grow up like me. It’s crazy because I wouldn’t have even been sitting there in that situation and having a beautiful conversation with this woman without the help from my mom, but this woman didn’t realize that she had been a mother to me while I was away from my home and taught me things about myself that I would’ve never discovered without her help. I know that if my mom could meet her, she would thank her for taking care of me when she couldn’t be there to.

We wiped away our tears, laughed, hugged, went to bed, and that was the end of another amazing day on this Journey.

The language barrier was never broken because in my mind, it didn’t exist. I didn’t let the fact that we spoke a different language or lived a different day to day life create a wall that could stop me from getting to know these people or connect with them. If I went into this experience without willing to step out of my comfort zone and embrace their culture, I would have never been able to build such a beautiful bond with these people and felt at home. It may have been difficult or taken longer than usual to have a conversation or learn about each other, but it only made bonding more worth it and taught me to be more patient. They weren’t mad at me because I knew very little of their language so why would I be upset if they didn’t understand something I said when they were speaking to me in my language. We come to their homes and they speak to us in English and try their best to make us feel at home and comfortable. Its crazy how giving and kind these families and people are. I feel bad for anyone who may have let our differences in culture or a little awkwardness effect what they gained from these homestays and the time we had with the students from New Star. I will never forget a moment of this incredible Journey. Every day is a new adventure and full of new opportunities. They say that home is where the heart is and Kaili will always have a piece of my heart. <3