The real voyage of discovery consists not of seeking new landscapes, but having new eyes.
— Marcel Proust
The night air was smoky and smelled of pineapples and pollution. A steady stream of Bullis eighth graders trailed out of the bus, as they grabbed their luggage and chatted about what would come next. They were excited for dinner when they finally saw the two decker bus at the airport, patiently waiting for them. Finally, actual food. After their first taste of local cuisine, they finally drove to the hotel. The drive had been interesting, towering buildings with flashing neon lights illuminating the night sky. Some students sat staring at the city in complete awe, while others rolled their eyes as if saying Where have you been? It was almost 8:00 pm when we had finally gotten to the hotel. I tried to tell the bus driver to get that big black luggage in the corner but the ongoing talking was too loud for any words to be actually understood. Despite the jet lag from the long-haul flight, everyone on the trip was eager for the next two weeks of activities. However, most students were hesitant about what comes next. Although some had been to China multiple times, it was the first time that all students have been to the southern western part of the country. Would this trip leave them with a good impression or a bad one? How will it affect their future?
Over the course of our brief stay, I’ve learned several things (yes, education was what the trip was actually based on) about taking care of myself, embracing new culture, and most importantly, about each other and ourselves. These lessons came from the chances we got to visit local landmarks to keeping a good hygiene(trust me, I swear some people didn’t shower for 3 nights straight in the dorms) to visiting local schools and gossiping with our local buddies. We weren’t merely tourists in a foreign land, we were travelers seeking for more. As residents of the Silicon Valley, we were constantly pressured to be the best. We traded a week of studying, of trying to get ahead of others, for this. It was organized and well planned yet crazy and raw at some times. Was it worth it? Definitely.
Chengdu was like a bowl of mapo tofu laden with spices of all sorts (it was also literally a bowl, since Chengdu was located in a large valley), waiting for us to stumble on and give it a taste. Since the start of capitalism in China, the economy has boomed, providing many companies a new chance. We could already start to see the beneficial change occurring in Szechuan(but my buddy did say that the value of the yuan was decreasing and the stock market was crashing. I was like, geez, thanks for ruining my mood). The streets were a blend of new and old; old architecture and new stores and businesses. Many of our student buddies at DFLES (Dujiangyan Foreign Language Experimental School) had siblings less than a year old since the One-Child Policy was recently abolished last year.
“Oh no, we’re too old.” My buddy’s mom replied when I asked if they were planning to have more kids. “Abby’s already in middle school. The age gap would be too large.”
Living in the dorms was also a valuable experience for many of us. They were less luxurious than our rooms in the 5-star Howard Johnson, but the staff at the school made sure our stay was comfortable by supplying us with layers of blankets and sheets. The rooms were sparsely furnished-except for the bunkbeds lining the walls, which served as an opportunity for some to let’s dump our luggage out all over the floor! Each room would bring back its own special moments with them back to good ol’ (actually sunny) Cali. In the dorm I stayed at which I shared with 6 other girls, there were late night whispers after lights out, hardships discussed, dashes between rooms, the sesame and ginger drugs, and oh yes, the Bottle Shrine. I’ll admit it now-we were a little crazy, just a little out of control during that short span of free time before lights out.
And finally, I’ll conclude with a little tribute to our buddies at DFLES (I know, I’ve mentioned them multiple times already) and the locals that accompanied us. Thanks, 刘妷威. Even though it was extremely awkward for us at first (me trying to speak Mandarin and you insisting it was fine to speak English), it was fun to know you more and your obsession with Twilight (Don’t worry, I understand, I’m obsessed with anime and manga). I wish I could also be class president like you. +sighs at my miserable life+ I’ll be waiting for you to visit our school (like a stalker). Thanks to our bus driver, who, despite his constant honking, managed to drive us through traffic quickly. And thank you to Susan and Sugar, who planned the order of activities each day for us. You guys were able to solve anything that came in the way. Thanks Susan, for dealing with us in the dorms. We can be one weird bunch.
On one more final last note, we want to thank the staff and teachers who made this experience possible. As students, we’re really grateful for the memories we’ve made. It was a wonderful, awesome, pfft-I-can’t-find-any-words-to-describe-it-perfectly trip. So thank you. A lot.
Things to Try and Tips to Remember:
- Bring some extra “comfort foods” from home, such as instant noodles or chips. The food at DFLES doesn’t look very exciting, but it tastes great. Still, it’s best to always have some emergency food.
- Try the numbing spice. It has this ticklish feeling when you eat and it makes you feel like I dunno…awkward. But you can’t get the real taste until you actually try it. So do it. (They provide a lot of it during lunch at one of the elementary schools.)
- The pandas were absolutely ADORABLE. It’s usually crowded at the Panda Base, and it’s difficult to get a good shot. Just push through the crowd, it’s what everyone does. Same goes when you want to take pictures at popular tourist sites.
- Buy a calligraphy brush from JinLi Street. This is the biggest decision I regret not doing. The brush hairs are really soft and fluffy, and they’re also really cheap. If you have room in your suitcase, buy a ginormous brush. You use it to paint on the sidewalk with water.
- Another thing to buy: Crystal Rice chains. They’re made on site so you actually get to watch the craftsman write on the rice grain with this tiny, miniature, inking tool and insert it into the small crystal. You even get to decide what to write on the grain. In Mandarin though.
- Wear your backpack in front of you. It’s called pickpocket prevention. Trust me, once you do it, everyone will want to be like you.