Thursday, July 31, 2008

Cami and Marisa at the Great Wall

Crazy kids! My students in the White Buddha mud bath cave

Hike to top of Moon Hill

Beautiful Yangshuo countryside

Farewell dinner party in Miao village-rural homestay

Me carving out a musical instrument (lushan pipe)

Long Skirt Miao Village Performance

River boat cruise in Yangshuo

Bathtime in the village

Group at Honguoshu waterfall in Guizhou province

A Quick Dip in the States

I'm here! Back in the states, but only for a quick stop in Los Angeles for the afternoon/evening until my next flight tonight. Arrived from Hong Kong at LAX around 11:00 this morning, stuck around the airport for a few hours to help deal with students' flight cancellations/delays, then headed off to a nearby hotel. Got a nice rest and shower in, and am allowing myself some time for a quick bite to eat, email check, and some much needed ironing! Realizing that a suitcase would've been much more ideal for a year's worth of packing than yet another backpack. Oh well, what's done is done!
Gotta say, the EIL trip to China was an awesome time and I've learned a lot from it. Really feel fortunate to have had such a great group of kids for my first time as trip leader. A few rough patches along the way, but nothing the group couldn't handle. I think every student really learned a lot about China, gained a greater appreciation for Chinese culture, and of course- made tons of new friends!
Will try to post some pics up if the internet will allow me to.
Until then, wish me luck on my flight that departs at 1:40 this morning to Bali...with stops in Taiwan and Malaysia along the way!

Monday, July 28, 2008

One day to go!

Wow. Feel pressed for time as I write this- have done a lot since my last post in Kaili! Writing from Shanghai now, on the second to last night of the trip! I've been keeping quite busy since Kaili. This will be brief, so let's fill in on some fun.
After Kaili, took a 9 hr bus ride to Yanghsuo! Though long indeed, the scenery couldn't be beat as we neared Yangshuo! Before arriving I knew I was psyched for this place. Had heard many a good thing about Yangshuo from Jesse, Kate, and several others who had been there. Supposedly a "backpackers hangout" and a scenic spot to relax, go bike-riding, hike, shop, etc. As the bus neared Yangshuo we were met with impressive mountain peaks that jutted out of the ground in all sorts of directions. Really the mountains around the area are amazing...I hope to put pictures up soon! The shapes are very distinct and unique, unlike anything I've seen before.
Spent 3 nights there and probably could have stayed a bit longer, if only there was more time! Filled the days with lots of activities: bike rides through the countryside, a hike up a mountain to the infamous Moon Hill (a large, stone, bridge-like structure with a "moon" carved out underneath), a float down the Li River on a bamboo raft, a river boat cruise, trip to local school for a welcome performance, and much more! Oh yes, and in Yangshuo there are several "western-style" restaurants serving anything from pizza to burritos. I took this opportunity to break from the Chinese food and order from a hole in the wall restaurant claiming to have the "best veggie burgers in town." And guess what? They did! Seriously, more like the WORLD'S BEST VEGGIE BURGER, hands down. Totally home-made on the spot: carrots, onions, peppers, tofu, and all other sorts of delicious-ness. (Sorry Dad, they didn't give me the whole recipe! )
Needless to say, the students and I all had a great time in Yangshuo. Felt nice to find a happy medium between the isolation of rural village life and the loud hustle-bustle of big cities. And in summary, beautiful!
After Yangshuo we drove an hour to Guilin, the capital of Guangxi province, where we hopped on a 2 hr flight to Shanghai. It's the second day here, and so far, so good. While my morning wasn't so exciting (woke up at 5:30 to escort two American students to the U.S consulate to issue new passports- one student from my group and one from the China North group lost theirs!!! bad timing- then took a 45 min. trip to the other side of Shanghai to go to the secuirty bureau for an exit visa..I'll spare the boring details, needless to say, I'm incredibly thankful for having a wealth of support from local Chinese guides and contacts because that's the only way we were able to complete these tedious processes in a day's time!)- this afternoon visited some shopping areas.
Tonight, saw an amazing acrobat performance! One of the coolest things I've ever seen in my life I'd have to say. Put on by the Shanghai acrobat group (or something like that), about 20 or so different performers entertained for nearly two hours doing all sorts of crazy things... you'd never believe the strength, balance, and flexibility of these people! Incredibly talented, and I must say, I regret not learning acrobatics as a kid!

Feeling exhausted and am in desperate need for sleep! Can't believe I have to call Malaysia Airlines tonight and confirm my flight to Bali in just two days! Life's cruisin by.

All for now...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Back from Rural Homestay

Back in Kaili for the night. Returned today from our 4 nights in Xijiang village. The rural homestay was awesome, and many of my students wished they could've stayed longer! Arrived last Friday in Xijiang after a very scenic (but nauseating!) bus ride from Kaili. The views were truly breathtaking but the road was incredibly steep and windy! Couldn't possibly keep my eyes open the whole time. Reminded me of the time I was in Sichuan province a couple years ago-driving to the Kham Tibetan region. The roads just coil around mountain sides and while the destination is in sight, it seems like it'll take hours to get there!

Were greeted by the Chief's daughter and some other village homestay families at the bottom of the village. Immediately it became obvious that this scenic spot has not gone unnoticed. Construction seemed never-ending near the beginning part of the village. Newer stone-walkways were being created, the bridge was under construction, and several new shops selling traditional Miao clothing were in the works.

Thankfully, our homes were located away from constant buzz and hums of machinery. The Chief's daughter (whose name I regretfully did not learn!) led us up to the Chief's house. The walk was not an easy one at that- took about 20 or so minutes of steep hiking to get there, and that particular house isn't even located at the top of the mountain! The students and I were quite impressed that this young woman could hike in heels!

Once we reached the Chief's home, we were blown away by the view. The house had a relatively new cabin-like interior, and the windows faced an endless,expansive view of rice fields and other villager's homes. We all retreated straight to the windows to take pictures and breathe fresh, clean air.

Conditions in the homes are all fairly basic. I slept on a wooden plank that was softened by a heavy down comforter. We were given mosquito coils to use if needed but the bugs acutally didn't seem too bad (although on one particular night I passed on a trip to the bathroom when I saw a spider the size of an ashtray dangling above the squat toilet!-I saw ash tray because I'm in an internet bar right now and they're everywhere! Gotta love indoor smoking)
While most of the meals served were more or less the same, they were all quite tasty. Carrots, potatoes, "greens", rice, and lots of pork. No beef in the village.

Spent the days doing various activities, some of which included farming, housework, and excursions to villages in the surrounding area. We were pretty excited about the day spent farming,until we discovered that our plowing and work was not going to amount to anything! Turns out the specific field we worked on remains empty year-round, and merely serves as a sort of "demo site" for students and foreigners to practice on! Bummer. Almost seemed a waste to put our hard work to no use, considering the amount of farm work that needed to be done throughout the village! Regardless, it was a useful exercise to introduce the students to different farming techniques.

One of my favorite experiences was heading towards the top of the mountain to pick fresh fruit and vegetables. A few of us hiked towards the top, equipped with baskets and bags. With the guidance of our homestay sisters, we located a spot to pick pears, lettuce and tomatoes. Can't beat munching on pears with a beautiful view of the countryside!

Skipping some activities, but the final night is also worth mentioning. We had a big farewell party where several Miao prepared a banquet and a performance for us. The dinner was arranged on a series of several long tables attached together, so that about 40 or so of us could sit together. The food was great, and the rice wine was plentiful! (They weren't kidding when we were told that the Miao like to drink. It is part of their custom to offer guests- constantly- rice wine.) After dinner, the Miao performed traditonal songs and dances, and the Americans and Chinese did a couple performances as well. My students chose to do an a capella rendition of Sweet Dreams by Annie Lennox. Hilarious! Some of the boys beatboxed, other harmonzied,etc. Quite a time!

Could write more, but this is long enough for now. Tomorrow we head to Libo, a really small town 5 hours south of where we are now. Supposed to be a beautiful area. Eventually by the end of the trip I hope to post pictures that the students have taken! Tomorrow's the last night with the Chinese students. Thursday morning we head to Yangshuo for a few nights and the Chinese students return home to Guiyang. Only 8 days left in China! Bali in 10? Wow.
Below: another picture (not taken by me) of what Xijiang village looks like

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Going Rural

Wednesday, July 16, 2008. Last day in Guiyang, have some free time to prepare for our departure to Kaili and Xijiang. Xijiang is where our 5 night rural homestay will be-we'll be living with the Miao, one of China's ethnic minority groups in Xijiang (the biggest Miao village in China). We've been told that Miao in this village are notorious for their particular way of greeting guests- basically singing, dancing and copious amounts of mijiu! Mijiu is a type of rice wine/liquor that is famous in Southern China. I've told all the students that it would be a polite gesture to accept a cup of the mijiu, but no one needs to feel pressured to drink it!

These past few days in Guiyang have flown by. I've had a really busy schedule everyday, often times not returning back to the hotel until about 10:30 or so at night. We've visited several parks, museums, and historical relics. A couple days ago we went to the Huanguoshu waterfall which is pictured above. It was pretty incredible! The Chinese students all accompanied us and kept saying they wanted to check out Niagara Falls but I don't know..I'm pretty sure this waterfall topped that! Even "Ithaca's Gorges" were no match (sorry Ithacans). Venders sold ponchos all along the trail to the waterfall but I neglected to buy one. The mist got us pretty wet at times but felt nice. Took several group shots at different spots along the hike- hopefully I can put some up soon!

Last night went to karaoke with all the students. They had a blast, and while at first it seemed like the American students would hog the stage, the Chinese students quickly got over any anxieties. Some of the most memorable parts of the night for me were when 1) Ben (one of my American students) did his own rock version of U2's Elevation, which was HILARIOUS. Air guitar, "rock" facial expressions, and the works. Secondly was when the entire American group (including myself) performed to ABBA's "Dancing Queen." Somehow, out of nowhere, we all got really into it! Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears were other popular favorites (I skipped out on singing along to these.)

So far the exchanges between the American and Chinese students have been pretty good...awkward at times, but to be expected. The language barrier is killer, and is more apparent in some "pairs" than others. Just trying to encourage everyone to stick with it and really be as open as possible with one another.

*Backstreet Boys just came on the radio in the internet bar.What's with them anyways?

Oh yea, we got to make batik the other day! We visited a batik factory and I was pleased to find they had one spare piece of cloth so I got to make one as well. Very different style than what I was used to doing in Bali, but fun none the less. While I wanted people to design something of specific Chinese cultural relevance, not everyone had the same idea. Examples of those who followed my advice: dragons, fish, butterflies, Chinese characters. Examples of those who didn't follow my advice (ie- Ben and Alex): a jack-o-lantern and an American dude (probably Alex's self portrait). I attempted to design a giant butterfly with each section depicting different fish, and detailed designs all around. Turns out my drawing was a little too elaborate and I couldn't fill the wax in all the way. Oh well! We'll be picking them up in a week or so, anxious to see how they come out.

Yesterday marked the half-way point of the trip. Two weeks down, two to go! Rural homestay will be quite a challenge for everyone. Conditions are said to very poor, with little running water, few available showers in the village, and lots of bugs! I'm counting on everyone being able to handle it though- it will certainly be a new experience for many of them. Activities planned so far include a welcoming party by the Miao, a morning doing farm work with local villagers, a chance to make our own tofu, and lots more. I won't have internet access for several days but I'll check back after the trip and give updates on all that we did. All for now! *Below is a picture of the village in Xijiang we'll be staying in.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Guiyang, Guizhou

Hey everyone! Writing now from Guiyang, the capital city of Guizhou province in Southwestern China. Arrived yesterday afternoon after a very quick 1 1/2 hour flight from Xian. Just realized I haven't written since Beijing... a lot has happened since then! After the group's intital 3 nights in Beijing we took a 5 hour train ride to Luoyang. This was the first time I had ever ridden a train in China and it was quite an experience! The train station was chaotic and crowded. I kept telling the students to push, push, push! Really the only way we would've made our train on time! Some of the kids learned how to play the Chinese card game "struggle against the landlord" with the Chinese people on the train sitting near them. They seemed to enjoy it, and not even notice how long, and slightly uncomfortable the ride really was!
After arriving in Luoyang we settled into the hotel and went to explore the big square across the street. The square is filled in the morning with women dancing and elderly people doing tai ji. At nights, a similar lively atmosphere fills the air, with music blasting out of a small boombox, and people dancing all about. One guy was walking around with a large paintbrush that had been dipped in water...writing Chinese "chengyus" or idioms in calligraphy all over the ground. A beautiful sight!
Explore the Longmen Grottos, huge stone Buddha carvings that existed thousands of years ago. Visited the famous Shaolin temple, thought to be the oldest Buddhist temple in China. Witnessed a kungu performance that was out of this world! Several young monks impressed the crowd with movements unlike anything I had ever seen...putting their bodies into all sorts of bizarre positions, testing their flexibility and strength, fighting with swords...can you tell I thought it was amazing?

Did a lot in Luoyang the three nights we were there, and already it's difficult to recall it all!

After Luoyang we took another 5 hour train ride to Xian, this time we sat on "soft sleepers." Really this means that there is more space and leg room than in the "hard sleeper" section...the seats aren't any softer! Nevertheless, the extra room was definitely appreciated.

Spent three nights at a hotel in Xian's Foreign Language University's campus. Students practiced tai ji every morning, and we got to explore the terracotta warriors, ancient folk museums, walk through the Muslim quarters (an old market area) and visit a historic mosque. The mosque was quite impressive and itself was over 600 years old. The wall's along the inside of the mosque were covered with the Qur'an's teachings. Beautiful!

Last night upon arrival in Guiyang the students were introduced to their hometay families...hopefully everything will go smoothly! Some of them were nervous but most all were very excited. I'll be visiting each studen'ts family throughout the week to check-in and make sure everything's going smoothly. I, myself, would have had a homestay as well but seems like there's too much to be done on the EIL side of things as well as preparing for Bali! Wow...time's flying.

All for now, will try to write more throughout my stay in Guiyang! PS- Guiyang's weather is much more enjoyable for me than up North. Cooler here, usually in upper 70's or so. Higher elevation...flying in was a beautiful sight. Several small mountainous peaks encompass this city. Hopefully we'll do some hiking!

Thursday, July 3, 2008



Writing from a wang ba (internet cafe) in Bejing. Have since arrived in China after what seemed like a never-ending trip to get here. Two nights ago I met my 11 students, and upon arrival in Bejing yesterday afternoon, met my local co-leader, PeiPei. So far, so good! The students, while some of them still incredibly shy, seem to be enjoying themselves and are excited about the trip to come. PeiPei is great and will be immensely helpful to me throughout these next few weeks!
After we arrived at the hotel yesterday afternoon I had the kids rest up and take whatever they needed to do for about an hour. I took that time to walk the streets alone within a few blocks radius around the hotel. I couldn't believe how awesome it felt to do so! Hadn't even sunk in that I was really in China until that moment becuase it had just been a series of bus rides, plane rides, airport layovers, etc. Finally, though, I strapped on my fanny and mingled with locals! Stopped to talk with an old man holding one of the cuter babies I've seen in my life. Got to chatting a bit and the baby kept calling me Ayi (Aunt). We played for a bit and I walked around some more, getting weird stares but somehow not minding those or the smog that engulfs Beijing. A man tried to sell me some cantaloupe on a stick but I said I was full...really I'm just not supposed to be eating raw fruit like that! I can't explain why it felt so good to walk around alone but I think I felt more confident than ever to be on my own in a new place.
Had the group write a "group constitution" last night outlining the rules and regulations for the program. I have really encouraged the students to take responsibility and ownership for the program and to put in what they want to get out of it. They gave the constitution back to me after about an hour and it outlined several things I was hoping they'd touch on, such as respect for each other, for me, PeiPei, and the host well as showing respect towards Chinese and Chinese culture in general. This is the first time out of the U.S. for some of them so I really hope the trip, and me, meets their expectations!
Right now the group is doing a scavenger hunt around the Bejing Hutongs...old alleyways that have been preserved for hundreds (thousands?) of years. I gave them items to purchase written in Chinese characters that they need to find. Good luck finding/eating the stinky tofu!
We're heading to Tianneman Square and the Forbidden City this afternoon, and Peking duck dinner tonight! Tomorrow...the Great Wall! More later.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


Hey everyone! Writing from Los Angeles, where I arrived last night after a 6 hr delay in Hartford airport, then a 6 hour flight to get here. Will be in China tomorrow! My flight leaves at 1:50 in the morning, and I need to be at the airport 3 hours beforehand to meet all the students! Can't believe today's the day. Will spend the rest of the day preparing for the meeting. Distribute orientation/ pre-departure materials to students, and brainstorm fun ice breaker games to have them play! These are some brave kids that have chosen to travel around China for four weeks during their summer break. We'll arrive in Hong Kong tomorrow afternoon sometime...from there, flight to Beijing. It's about a 14 hr. plane ride to Hong Kong...sounds long, but Cathay Pacific airlines hooks it up! Think: tons of new release movies, complimentary cocktails, pillows, blankets, toothbrushes, and more! Wow is right.
Activities for arrival in Beijing include settling into the hotel, writing a "group constitution" (outlining rules/regulations/expectations) for trip, and having a delicious Peking duck dinner with the other two groups going to China! Yum...can't wait! After that, we'll be visiting the the Great Wall, Forbidden City, and Summer Palace while we're in Beijing. More to come once we arrive! Wish us all safe flights :)