A typical day by M. Kaz

What to like on Instagram
Kennedy woke up early. She didn’t really have a reason to, being the most utterly boring person in her grade with few after school activities. Naturally, she changed out of her pajamas and put on her jeans and oversized sweater before brushing her teeth and hair. She prepared some oatmeal with strawberries, bananas, peanut butter powder, and chocolate sauce. It was a really unhealthy combination and defeated the purpose of the oats, but it was still pleased her to eat it. As the porridge cooked, she scrolled through her Instagram feed, stopping every once in awhile to like a picture. She remembered that her older sister had once told her to “like every single picture in order to get more likes”when she saw her social media usage habits. Yet she still only liked the pictures she actually liked. Kennedy didn’t believe in showing appreciation to people who had ugly feeds.

She had to admit, but practice was, like, extremely hard today. Her legs burned from the continuous kicking and her arms felt like jelly slapping the surface of the water. Looking at the set was frightening enough, 4×400 IMs on the seven minute, but doing it was something else. She knew that there was probably billions of swimmers working harder and just swimming much faster than her, but what could she do to make herself faster? Swimming was just like thrashing arms and legs in the water, in order to, miraculously, move at a faster pace than others. Even Ally Howe had said that she broke a record by just “swimming fast.” Really. Fast swimmers weren’t experts at giving advice.

Her dad had forced her into it. He was sitting at his computer, intently staring down at her as she sat across the table. It took her only about 15 minutes to write the program. However, there were too many errors in it, or so said the computer. Each time she compiled the file, the screen just spewed out a page of errors. It was too dizzying to like at the blur of white and black font. And whenever she fixed one error, it just seemed like the errors would multiply. When she was finally able to run the program successfully, with no mistakes whatever, she was too exhausted to cheer. Instead, she celebrated her victory by slumping her head on the keyboard.

YouTube & Buzzfeed
Dark circles were already engraved under her eyes, but she still stared motionless at the screen as she watched the human on the screen progress into the realm of the digital world. She was in her favorite position for watching videos, comfortably nested under the layers of her comforter as she lay on her side staring at the tiny screen. The video stopped, so she looked away from the screen for a second. To rest her eyes, was her explanation. But it was really because half of her conscience had already died inside of her. A clip on the edge of her screen read, “we don’t talk anymore by JK”. She tapped the small icon, which brought her to a black screen. It was the most beautiful black screen she had ever watched. That night, it was Jungkook who sung her to sleep.

Grilled Cheese
The cheese had to be the cheap type, or then the grilled cheese wouldn’t be good and oily anymore. She was trying to explain this concept to her mom, who had insisted on getting a different type of cheese, “to enhance the taste”, as so she said. But Kennedy hated change. She hated not being able to know what to expect. And worst of all, she hated fancy cheeses and the snobby people who actually went to Europe to buy these. Really, she just wanted to stick to eating Colby Jack cheese.

I Have Been There Too (Just Not in the Way You Think) by M. Kaz

The real voyage of discovery consists not of seeking new landscapes, but having new eyes.
— Marcel Proust

screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-8-08-03-pmThe 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
    1. 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.
  5. 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.