after you've gotten the obligatory cold from all the pollution
10.18.2011 - 10.22.2011
day one of xian: already got sick. dana warned me about this upon arrival there cause the air is so bad. several of the other volunteers had been sick when they first arrived too. it's like a xian welcoming package! i should have bought one of those michael jackson surgical masks.
i stayed home the second day of volunteering, which would have been my first day at the kindergarten, cause i was sick. i did end up venturing out to an area of town called the muslim quarter. it's a couple small streets filled with street vendors selling chinese crafts/souvenirs and interesting street food. and yes, there really are muslims in the muslim quarter so it's not just a clever name. i only went cause one of the texan girls wanted to go to wal-mart (yep, wal-mart in china) to get some supplies for cooking a birthday breakfast for the other texan girl the next morning. wal-mart in china, or wei-mart as they call it, is nothing like wal-mart back home. it really didn't feel that different from many of the supermarkets here. just lots and lots of chinese branded stuff and local fruits. i stocked up on milk teas of all flavors to try back at the apartment. just add hot water! i was blown away by the chinese dairy section - they have like 20 feet of yogurts or "fermented milk" as they call them, and only about 2 feet of both cheese and butter. the regular milk is also difficult to find. we only found about 3 different cartons. they like their yogurts though, especially in drinkable format.
the next night i attended the water fountain show with music at the big goose pagoda with the texans and claire. we met up with this guy lee from middleburg, va who i had met on my great wall tour. he was now traveling in xian. he brought some friends he'd met at the hostel and we all had a great time. we even walked onto these narrow paths between the water fountains so we felt like we were in the show. even got a little wet.
the rest of the week consisted of volunteering during the days and just hanging out with volunteers in the evenings. we went out for hot pot one night for the one texan girl's birthday. this hot pot was similar to the one i went to in shanghai, except that we were at a HUGE table for all 15 or more of us with a lazy susan in the middle. the broth was something standard and not spicy. i made a delicious sauce with mostly sesame paste and cilantro mmm. and got to try some new yummy things like winter melon, some delicious thinly sliced beef, bean curd skin, spinach noodles and such.
on friday night, it was the the man from scotland's 70th birthday. we had some cake at the apartment, then went out to dinner at pizza hut. and once again, pizza hut is nothing like pizza hut back home. in fact, it's a fancy restaurant with marble floors and shiny chandeliers! they sell lots of things other than pizza too (escargot, calamari, clam chowder anyone?) we got some stuffed crust pizza to share which wasn't the best pizza or anything, but being western food-deprived for so long, it tasted pretty darn good to me.
zinzan (yep, that is his real name!), a funny 18 year old from australia, was wanting to go to this place he frequents and has dubbed "the local." he was looking for a companion, so i decided to join him. "the local" serves some really cheap and actually pretty tasty food too. we had some fried eggplant in a dark sauce (almost tasted like french fries) and some fried mushrooms with some super spicy tongue tingling powder on it. the restaurant owner knows zin now so it's like his cheers pub ha. we had a good night sharing life stories and discussing volunteering. we ended up going here another time with one of the texans and the girl from boston for some snacks and drinks and then again for my last night for dinner with one of the texans.
the next day i went to see the terra cotta warriors with claire. after taking a bus to the train station (like an hour long ride yuck) we hopped on another bus to the terra cotta warriors, which took another hour and a half i believe. only cost 8 yuan for both these trips, but pretty annoyingly long bleh. we had a hard time getting to the entrance from the bus stop. then there is an extremely long entrance path. there are 3 buildings housing different excavation pits. we were told to start in reverse order with number 3, and finish with number 1 because then the last one is the best. the first 2 pits are a bit underwhelming. there is still lots of excavation going on, so it's really mostly just big pits of dirt and mounds and scraps and things. the best is in pit 3 which houses all the warriors standing up like an army as you've probably seen in pictures. now, that was more like it. though you can't get up close to them and the place lacked an area where they really describe the making of these items. the national geographic exhibition i saw in dc was way more interesting to me than seeing these actual warriors in the excavation pits sadly...
i did visit the drum and bell towers, but didn't go in them. they weren't anything to write home about. i didn't have time to ride a bike along the city wall, another popular activity in xian, and that probably would have been fun. but i think i'll survive my life without it.
as for volunteering at the kindergarten, the days consist of an english class or two in the morning (with the younger kids ages 3 or 4), morning exercises outside on the quad for the entire school where they do specific dance moves to different songs sometimes involving the use of a hula hoop or baton, lunch, and then siesta for 2 hours (where claire and i can leave the school and walk around town for a bit - we found a cool street market in the alleyways nearby), then two more english classes in the afternoon with the older kids (aged 5 and 6). the english classes are taught by one of the english speaking chinese teachers, but often their pronunciation is a bit off ("airplan" instead of airplane) and they simply follow a silly book with cartoon characters, accompanying catchy songs they drill into their heads with hand motions or dance moves. sometimes we play games with the kids to help them learn a phrase of the song, like "watch out! watch out! here comes the ball!" and we'd throw a little ball at them playing catch. or the part that says "ouch! ouch! oh my head!" which is when the ball would have hit the kid in the song, the teacher would have us use a giant chuppa chup lollipop to bonk their heads lightly to demonstrate the "ouch" part. interesting...mostly their schooling is very old-fashioned, with lots of repeating after the teacher, rote memorization, and learning things like a song, but not really understanding what they are learning. the teachers have ingrained various catchphrases into them to get them to respond to them, like "attention!" to which the kids respond, "1, 2! 1, 2!" or the teacher will say, "look at me!" and the kids will respond, "look at you!" it's a bit drill seargeant-esque. claire and my roll was to just jump in and learn these songs and act them out and teach them to the kids, so it wasn't like we had any real lesson planning to do. thus and so, after a week, claire decided to leave early, and so did i. i bought a ticket to yangshuo for a few days before i was heading to chengdu, my last stop in china. but i am grateful to have had the experience of volunteering for a little bit in china, it was an intriguing glimpse into their world of education and the teachers were all very welcoming (one of them kept inviting us to play badminton with her and wanted to find me a chinese boyfriend).
- *sorry the pics are lame in this post...but they take forever to load here, so i got a bit lazy...