Today started out with the very obnoxious wakeup call at 6:30 in the morning and was followed by breakfast at the hotel buffet. After eating two fried dough sticks and noodles, a very healthy breakfast, we headed out on a bus for a two-hour ride to the desert. It was amazing to start in the heart of the crazy city, Hohhot, and venture out into the vast and mountains landscape that surrounds it. I fell asleep and was woken up to one of the most incredible sights I have ever seen. I got this overwhelming surreal and unbelieving feeling when I saw the open and beautiful desert.
Wide awake now, I was extremely excited to go out and explore. We took a lift that was very much like a ski lift, up to the top of a sand dune. On this ride I got Birdseye view of the many sand dunes, camels laying in the sun, and the modernized features such as ice- cream shops and zip- lines. I was not expecting there to be as many buildings and activities.
After getting off the lift we walked for a little until we came upon the camel rides. We had options for what we wanted to do to fulfill our two and a half hours. I quickly decided I wanted to ride a camel. It was one of the best decisions of my life. These animals were so big, strong and adorable. I created a special bond with my camel Pete. I miss Pete a lot right now. It felt very much like riding a horse, camels have similar shape except for the two humps. After saying a sad goodbye to my new friend Pete, Madison and I decided we wanted to climb up a sand dune. I noticed while climbing that when my bare feet hit the top sand, it was very hot but was quickly relieved when my foot sank into the cold sand underneath. It was an amazing feeling.
After reaching the top, Maddie and I decided to take some photos. Me, being a gymnast, did handstands, cartwheels and backflips. It’s so cool because now I can say that I’ve done a standing backflip in the Gobi Desert. After getting some amazing photo’s, we decided that the only other thing we could do is jump off some sand dunes. We would run and leap off the top and land about half way down getting sand everywhere. After two jumps, my hair and face were covered with sand, but it was definitely worth it. Sadly, we then had to leave that wonderful place. Of course, though, before leaving for lunch we had to stop for ice cream.
About an hour later, we had a very tasty lunch that included a lot of meat like pork, duck, and even lamb. After our bellies were full, we drove yet another hour and a half until we stopped for dinner. We had dinner at this very interesting place called Bamnudi. I, along with my friends, had no clue why we stopped here for dinner. There were animals there, including deer, ducks and two peacocks. This place just had a very unusual feeling to it. We had dinner, which included even more meat, and finally arrived back at the hotel.
As soon as we got back, everyone took a very needed shower to try to wash away all the sand. Today was one of my favorite days we have had here in China. I can now say I’ve done a backflip and rode a camel in the Gobi Desert. Two things I can now check off my bucket list!
More to come from Maddie…Stay tuned…
Today we had a calligraphy class, which was a really nice break from all the hustle and bustle of the museums that we just visited. We first learned the history of calligraphy. We also learned what the different tools they use, which is a piece of paper with a cloth under it they also use ink a bowl and a brush. After that, we learned that there are 5 different types of calligraphy. Then we learned how to write some of the pictograms it was kind of like drawing the object except way harder. We learned how to write sun, moon, water, rain, dragon and tiger. It was hard because of all the detail in the characters. I could do only about half of the characters, and the rest were just too difficult for me. Then we learned the same words in cursive, which was even harder. After that we painted traditional artwork that was fun but also challenging. He taught it by drawing it and then we followed his example. I thought his artwork was good and he made it look easier than it was. We then ate a very delicious lunch and had a small break.
Then we went and saw Confucius’s birthplace. We saw the cave that he was born in. Confucius was born in a cave because his father thought the mountain spirits would help keep him safe. The cave was at the bottom of a hilly spot that was surrounded by trees. We could not go into it because it was blocked off, but it was still interesting to see.
After we left Confucius’s birthplace, we drove through some of the towns. We stopped to get off the bus and walked around one of the small towns. As we walked, all the people in the stores came out, it seemed like they had not seen many Americans. There were clothing shops, but after clothing shops it was very vacant. It was very uncomfortable because people were always looking at us.
We then got back on the bus and we drove back to the hotel. We had to get dressed up for a final banquet dinner and we only got back to the hotel with 5 minutes to get ready. It was a lot of panic and stress, but we were able to all get in our fancy clothes in a 5-minute span. The banquet dinner was nice because it was a change from the normal meals we had been eating. There was good food; There was everything from fish to fruit and I particularly liked the pickles.
After breakfast, we had our first lesson of the day which was a mixture of chorus class and the traditional dance. We have been learning with the attached middle school students. We started with the chorus class and the song they picked for us to collaborate with them with was quite difficult. The way that they read music is much different from the way we read music, so we had to get slightly different copies of the music. Karlie really helped us figure out the new style of teaching with the Chinese teacher. The style of teaching is also extremely different from what we are used to back home. It is slightly more grueling, but not understanding is not an option here. They do a thing until they get the result they want and in some ways, I enjoy it more than the American way of accepting something that may not be your best.
I especially liked the dance class that we had after chorus, we had already worked on the dance the day before and thanks to my extremely helpful and forgiving dance partner I had got the dance mostly down. I was kind of forced to figure out the dance and not give it half try because I was placed dead center and front stage. If you know me or my dance ability at all this selection was not based on skill but much more random.
We had lunch at the school’s cafeteria after our morning classes which was welcomed happily.
Our afternoon was a little bit lower key, which is funny because we had a performance at a local high school. When we got to the high school we were welcomed and then split up and visited some classes. My group visited an English class and got to talk with the students and teacher about everything about our lives. This was, so far, my favorite activity we have done on this trip, it was short and sweet, but I felt like I got along with the students in the class really well and shared some common interest. Also, the English teacher was extremely friendly laid back and funny, which made me feel like I was back home at Leland and Gray. It was fantastic to see students who clearly had a strong relationship with their teacher like I feel I have at Leland and Gray.
We then found the auditorium and started our performance. At this point in the trip our show runs quite smoothly. The only funky part of this performance was it was done during their school day so many of the students had to leave half way through our show.
We had dinner, which was pretty uneventful and then went to another hour-long chorus class from 7-8. At this point we were all pretty burnt, but we pushed through it. After this we got to go back to our hotel and comfy beds.
Today, Tuesday April 10, 2018 (besides being my birthday), was our first day at the Inner Mongolian Arts college. For people who don’t know what the Arts College is, it’s a school for people looking to become professional dancers, musicians and performers of all kinds. This morning when the group arrived at the venue we had about an hour and a half to rehearse our show. We did our usual warmup and ran through the show one time. After we were finished it came time to reorganize the bags because after our last show we had to pack up in a hurry so the bags were a complete wreck. After our rehearsal it was time for lunch and then we had a nice long siesta to recover and rest before it was time for our dance class.
When the time finally came to head back to the college for the dance class I decided it would be a good idea to eat an ice cream because it was my birthday. When we got back to the performance hall we all sat in wait for the dancers to come, they finally did and they entered and all did a crazy dance move. I was surprised by how good they were. They invited all the JE kids onto the stage and we got to work almost immediately. For me, personally, I caught on to the dance quickly and found it quite enjoyable to perform. When I had any questions about where to put my feet or if I wanted to do something again, my dance partner was nice and helpful. I was afraid that my constant questioning and lack of elegance frustrated her, but it really seemed like it didn’t. In fact, all the Mongolian dancers seemed calm and patient with us Americans. We ran through the dance several times, paused, learned a new section of choreography, practiced the new stuff and added it into the dance. Then we practiced the whole thing up to the point where we needed new choreography and did that on repeat until we made it through the whole thing. It got a little annoying when we had to do the first piece of choreography repeatedly but in the end, it was really fun and we did learn the dance.
After a short break, we went through the dance again and then we watched the Mongolians do a short dance. After that it was time for dinner. During dinner, all the lights suddenly went out and a cake rolled in and people started singing happy birthday. Whenever people start singing happy birthday to me in public, I always get a little embarrassed. Despite being slightly embarrassed, we had some good cake with cherries in it. After we were done, I convinced Paul Paytas to go outside and throw his frisbee around for a while. Then a magical moment, some of the Chinese people that were standing around suddenly joined us and Ultimate Frisbee became a symbol for peace across the city. After frisbee, we went back to the hotel and winded down from the day.
We woke up early and had breakfast at the hotel before getting on the bus that would take us to the airport. Even though it was early, the group was awake and ready to start a new leg of the trip. Due to a series of unfortunate events, out of our control, our two-hour early arrival turned into one hour and we began to get a little anxious about the time. We had a flight to catch.
When we arrived at the airport we quickly grabbed our bags from the bus and ran inside to wait in line to check our luggage. After some time, it was my turn to go to the counter to check my luggage. As I approached the counter, I realized that the pull up handle on my suitcase and would not go down. I let people go in front of me as I struggled to push the handle down. It would not budge. Mrs. R and I decided that we would have to look at it from inside the suitcase to figure out where the handle was jammed. While the rest of the group waited, I took out my clothes on the airport floor to get to the bottom of the suitcase where the handle was jammed. Finally, we figured it out and were able to close the handle. Next, we rushed to security with not much time left. Once we had all gotten through security, we checked the time and saw that we only had a few minutes to get to our gate. We went quickly to our gate, only to find that our flight had been delayed. All that rush for nothing!
I had a very enjoyable plane ride to Hohhot because a nice lady with the sweetest baby girl sat next to me. During the whole flight, I got to hold and play with the baby as the mom laughed and took pictures of us. As we were walking to baggage claim at the airport in Hohhot, the tallest man that I have ever seen passed us. Right away I recognized him from the big green Guinness World Record book that I have at home! His name is Bao Xishun and he is 7.9 feet. He was the tallest man in the world until 2009. We grabbed our luggage, then headed over to the bus to go to our hotel and drop our things off.
From the hotel, we had a quick yummy lunch at a restaurant, then took the bus to the Inner Mongolia Arts College to observe dance and music classes. The first class that we observed was a high school girls ballet class. These girls were amazing dancers. They danced in sync with each other and it was so impressive how they were able to perfectly memorize so many movements. Next, we went to a different classroom where another group of high school girls were doing traditional cup dancing. I recognized this dance from when Mongolian students have come to Leland and Gray to perform. The girls gracefully spun and leaped while balancing a stack of teacups on their head! Next, we toured around different classrooms and listened in on student’s music lessons. Everyone was so talented! Many of the instruments I had never seen before, so it was very interesting. After a long day, we finally went back to the hotel to get some rest.
Sorry for the lack of postings recently. It has been a bear of a time to get these guys to where they need to be with extra practices with the Chorus and the Dancers every day and spotty Internet connectivity until recently. Please enjoy the following photos as I get the essays lined up and posted.