Final Entry

By Chris S., CE Adviser in China

What are three months in China like? Well, it’s an assortment of feelings and experiences. I started my journey in the city of Guilin. The first weekend was spent there, and I met a few people that I plan on keeping in touch with for some time. Along with meeting people, I discovered Guilin Noodles, a simple noodle dish with rice noodle, a few vegetables, and some meat.

I also had the chance to see some caves. I was on the tour with only one other English speaker. We saw some amazing caves and also stopped at a waterfall. This is where I saw the kindness of Chinese people. I also got a chance to be in about 30 high school aged children’s pictures.

After that first weekend, I left with Brit Chris, Georgina, and Julie. We headed to an incredibly small village called Fengyang. This was an experience that I will not forget. When I say small, I mean around 200 people. We lived in a 100+ year old house that was once owned by the wealthiest family in the village.

While in Fengyang, we went on various tours and even taught English to the village children for a week. That was a far cry from the teaching that I would be doing at the end of my trip. The kids were a mix of crazy little hellions, star struck girls that looked at me with longing eyes, and children that actually were interested in learning English.

The things that I will take away from those first few weeks are my first encounters with Chinese people in their own country, the crazy party that the local government officials held for us, and it was complete with an absorbent amount of Bijou. It is the drink that I would later grow to despise. I also met Isabella, a very sweet Chinese lady that was in charge of the whole program that we were a part of.

Next in the adventure was Yangshou. This was a rough time because of the weather. It is a great town and I highly recommend that people visit and stay at Monkey Jane’s hostel. It rained almost the whole time. We got to do some rock climbing, bike riding in the rain, that looking back was a lot more fun than it was while riding. I have funny stories about a motorcycle taxi driver trying very adamantly to get me to buy a massage from a girl, only to drop me off at the whore house. I walked home in the rain from there.

The time I spent at Monkey Jane’s will be some of the most memorable. I met quite a few good people there and had great times playing beer pong with people from around the world.

After the first week in Yangshou, we headed off to the rice fields. It was a long bus ride, but I was with my crew, so it wasn’t too bad. The one thing about traveling alone through China is that you have to be somewhat careful where you fall asleep. Not that everyone is out to steal your stuff, but I didn’t take out anything of value on a bus when I was alone. In the off chance I fell asleep. That takes me to this, while in China, for the most part, I felt incredibly safe. Many people I talked with viewed me as a guest in their country and therefore felt responsible for watching out for me.

Back to the rice fields. They were amazing and I really enjoyed myself the first and second day. That was despite that storms that kept rolling through. I still got some good pictures, but for some reason halfway through, I jacked my ISO up to 3200, and everything after that was really grainy. Not cool when you are excited to see what you shot and you get them on your computer to discover most of them are garbage.

On the third day, Brit Chris woke up with a swollen infected eye. I have no idea what happened, but it was pretty red, and he said it was painful. I went to the pharmacy and got him some medicated eye drops. Upon my return, I ran into Georgina, who had spent half the night vomiting. After talking it over with the group, we decided that it would be the best idea to head back to Guilin. Anyway, the World Cup was on and we didn’t want to miss it.

That was the group’s last weekend in Guilin, and we all parted our own ways. I met some new friends at our hostel that were headed to Yangshou, which is where I was headed for the following week. I got them set up at Monkey Jane’s and got a free shirt out of the deal. That week I did two days of rock climbing, though the first day was rough. I was a bit under the weather due to some overconsumption of spirits the night before. Regardless, it was fun

Halfway through the week, I took the British couple with me to Fengyang for a festival that we were invited to. I met Vicky and Lee in Guilin and they were the two that I took to Monkey Jane’s. This little festival was ridiculous! I was on some Chinese news station, and I saw Lee drink more bijou than I knew was humanly possible. He was also quite possibly the most hung over I had ever seen anyone. It was a great couple of days!

The next week was spent in Hunan Province at an orphanage. This part of the trip had the most impact on me. When I got there, I was sooo out of my element. I would say that there was about 60 kids there when I arrived, but some left throughout my time there. To clarify, this was not a normal orphanage; it was more of a boarding school for very poor children, that is subsidized by an American non profit. That being said, the conditions were still not very good.

Around the third day there, I had a little breakdown in my room. I couldn’t stop thinking about how unfair life is, and how these kids really had nothing. It wasn’t until after that little episode that I realized these kids had it much better here than at their homes. Even though to me the food was incredibly minimal, it was better than nothing. I started to feel better about the situation as time went on. I realized that I wasn’t sent there to feel bad for them, I was sent there to make their lives a little better for that one week. It was a little rough because of the heat. Most of them went to school during the day, and the rest kept retreat in their rooms to stay cool.

When we did play, it was all about basketball, and I had a great time with them. I will remember a few of the kids specifically. One came from a mother that had lost nine children before him. She couldn’t speak, or maybe she could, but I was told that no one could understand her. The boy, had a pretty bad mental handicap, but he loved hanging out with me. He never said one word to me. He would just smile and look up at me. Another kid was a girl that followed me a lot and always wanted to hold my hand. She was about 6 and just cute as a button. She knew that I didn’t speak Chinese, but that didn’t stop her from speaking it to me. She loved to talk. That was a great week looking back. My parents and I donated enough money to buy all the children a new pair of shoes, so hopefully they will enjoy them.

Once I left the orphanage, I headed to Changsha to catch a flight to Chengdu. I was informed a few days before my departure that Isabella would be joining the group. Georgina was also going to be there, so I had a few familiar faces to look forward to.

When I got to Chengdu, I had a chance to relax for a few days. I tried to buy a new camera, but failed when they didn’t take visa. This was actually a blessing because I wasn’t paid my GI Bill for that month and would have been in the hole a good amount.

Looking back, there were more photos that I wanted to get, but shooting stuff everyday kind of burned me out at the time. Like right now, I spent the weekend in Beijing and took around 600 photos. I guess I love taking them, but without a place to sit down and go through them, it gets to be a little much. I think when I get back I will be much more into it. I just need a break after getting these last pictures edited. I took around 10,000 pictures in 3 months, and have deleted about 7,000. Although, I’m on a plane right now from Vancouver to Portland, and I wish my camera weren’t packed away because some of these islands have amazing cloud formations around them…

Back to China… Working with pandas outside of Ya’an, near Chengdu, was absolutely amazing! These creatures had such funny personalities and I am still shocked at how they were all so different. I was very fortunate that I got to feed them, play with the little ones, and clean their cages. Well, maybe not the last part. I also had the chance to hang out with some really cool people. I took a lot of pictures there, and even got some great waterfall shots.

After Chengdu, I flew to Yantai, via Beijing. Yantai was also awesome. About 10 minutes walk from the dorm was the beach. We discovered a great little restaurant that looked sketchy, but was awesome. They had the best eggplant I have ever had.

On this adventure with me were Katherine and Catherine from Middlebury College in Vermont. It is a small private college in Vermont. I found the to be much less stuck up than I had imagined kids from small private schools. Also, there was Kristin from Seattle. Her parents are from Hong Kong, and everywhere we went, people thought she was our translator. Truth be told, her Chinese was about as good as the K/Catherine’s, which is about 20 times better than mine. Then again, I have never studied Chinese.

Our purpose was to teach kids from the ages of 5-25 English. Most were Chinese, but I had some Korean students as well. In the upper class were some Brazilians. My kids were awesome. I really think I had the best class. They were well behaved, but just a little shy. My star student was Tom. He really stepped it up and volunteered for everything I asked.

I am not a teacher, so everything was trial and error. Many times, I thought I had a good idea, only to take it to the classroom and have it fail miserably. One such example was teaching the kids about the 7 natural wonders of the world. I even had plans to take it to other natural wonders. They just didn’t care. I made them suffer through it and came up with something different for the next class. It was all part of the process.

During our first few weeks, there was a group of Russians that were staying at the hotel. They ended up being really nice and we all hung out from time to time. I even learned a few Russian words. I’m not sure how the girls felt about them, but I enjoyed going out with them.

Yantai was a great place to be for five weeks, but as the end of my trip grew near, the more I was ready to get back to my routine in the states. That is one thing in life I need to stay sane, routine.

After leaving Yantai, I went to Beijing for the weekend. While there, I went on a tour of the “ancient” part of the Great Wall, went to Tian Na Men Square, and the Forbidden City. The low point of this trip was forgetting to bring enough water to the Great Wall, and being severely dehydrated the next day. I had a headache that may have been the worst I have ever had.

The tour of the wall was great. I’m sooo happy that I went on that specific tour because there were no crowds or even other people to move through the tour in a herd-like fashion. Some of the views were just amazing.

The Forbidden City, honestly, wasn’t that cool. I had scene many temples, so it wasn’t that great to see more of the same types of buildings. It was cool to see Mao’s painting at the entrance. Walking through was just a barrage of harassment. People wanting to give me tours, or sell me crap didn’t want. I never blame people for trying to make money, but when they are sneaky about it, I despise them. For instance, the two girls that wanted to practice their English. If I would have gone to get tea with them, they would have scammed me into paying a ridiculous amount for a few cups of tea. This happens all over the world though, and I’m sure it’s nothing new.

Beijing is a cool city that I would love to go back to. I really saw very little, and since the Olympics, many renovations have happened throughout the city. The air even seemed clear and clean while I was there. I was a big fan of the modern architecture that has gone up all over the city too.

When I got back from the Forbidden City, I checked my flight itinerary. I noticed that the date was incorrect for my flight back to Yantai. It said the ticket was booked for the 19th, and at the time, it was the 16th. I hopped on the internet and looked at the flights for the day. The last flight to Yantai left two hours from that time. I was already packed, so I grabbed my bag, and headed to the airport. When I got there, I went to the ticket counter. She had told me that there was one ticket left, so I bought it. I even got a refund on my other ticket, jackpot!

When I got back to Yantai, I checked into the Ramada. I had booked a moderately priced room, and when I opened the door, I realized that when it said “king bed suite,” they meant a full on suite. The bed was in a loft area up a nice set of stairs. It even had a full living room and kitchen. Though the bed looked like it would be comfortable, it was pretty hard.

The next day I got up at 7AM and finished packing everything up. After that, I headed to the airport and went home.

That’s it. For more information and details, visit my blog atwww.cschave.blog.com and for pictures go towww.flickr.com/photos/cschave

Thanks for reading…

Chris Schave

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