By Heidi Weingardt
Ni Hao from Nanjing!
At the end of this week we are already coming to the close of the fifth week of our Nanjing adventure. Everyone has been extremely busy with their internships, homework load and returning from our travels outside our home-base of Nanjing. We have all made significant progress in adjusting and becoming more comfortable with our lives here but, without doubt there is still much hard work to be done and aspects of Chinese culture to experience.
First and foremost, the adjustment to the pace and rigor of our classes has been significant. The year long students have been cruising along in their class work relatively seamlessly since they have had time to adjust to the significant workload and those of us who are only here for a semester, we are just not really catching our stride. We spend several hours a night preparing for the next days lesson and studying for our “Ting Xie” or listening and writing quizzes. Midterms took place two weeks ago so we have been able to gage the progress that we have made in our studies. Although Chinese can be a very challenging language at times, we have all found it reassuring to acknowledge the small steps that we make that facilitate small, everyday conversations.
Outside our classroom studies, we have spent much time getting involved in the various internships and volunteering opportunities that have been offered by CIEE Nanjing Center. Several students travel to a law firm to work on the translations for various cases, while others volunteer at the community center, located right across the street from our dorm where they teach English to Nanjing locals.
After the first visit to the law firm where our students would start their internship.
I and a few of my classmates are currently interning at MAP Magazine, editing, translating and writing local Nanjing news articles. Also, a large group of us travel to a migrant school, a few subway stops away, every other Friday to teach the school children and help them work on their English. It has been a true test of patience and creativity at times, to keep the kids engaged and learning. Games, colorful power points and lots of high-fives have been key in our steadily improving teaching routines.
Students Daniel Emirkhanian, Nick Schan and Allison Harissis teaching at the migrant school.
We have also participated in several trips within the city to get ourselves better acquainted with important parts of the city. These have included the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum, the Urban Planning Museum, The John Rabe House and the park by Purple Mountain. At these locations we have learned about not only the history of the city, but also about the future of Nanjing while bonding and getting to know each other really well.
Students in a guided visit to the John Rabe Residence.
We have also fully recovered now from our outside-of-Nanjing travel experiences. We first went to the beautiful Xiamen city where we rode tandem bikes along the beach, ate fresh coconut and mango, and spent sometime exploring an island with a well informed local guide. There was beach wrestling, sunset watching, beautiful hotels, all composing a great weekend trip and a nice break from the hustle of Nanjing city life.
Students get ready to explore Xiamen city on tandem bikes. From left to right: Lizzy Daily, Justin Nygard, Inteus Taylor, Michiru Aita.
Students enjoying their time at a beautiful garden on Gulangyu Island, Xiamen city.
Two weeks later we trekked through the Guizhou province, gathering a wide variety of experiences for our weeklong trip. Nothing could thoroughly prepare us for all that Guizhou had to offer. Our first day, after an early morning flight, we visited the largest waterfall in China. We explored the surrounding area and got soaked in the spray. There was a huge waterfall created by the mist and there was a unanimous sense of euphoria in the beautiful environment.
Students getting soaked in the spray of the Huangguoshu Waterfall, in Guizhou Province.
Over the next few days we visited a huge karst cave formation, and participated in the Miao Ethnic Minority Sisterhood Festival in various towns and villages. The young girls donned dark velvet embroidered outfits and huge silver headdresses, both representative of centuries of cultural history. There we haggled our way through endless booths of handmade crafts, jewelry and fabric. We had wonderful conversations with two ethnic minority guides, who facilitated a wonderful experience and answered any and all questions that we had.
Students getting amazed at the Zhijin Cave, one of the biggest karst caves in the whole world.
After the festival experiences, we then took a bus deep into the mountains of Guizhou and hiked our way up to a Miao ethnic minority village which would become our home for the next 3 days. We were welcomed with a celebratory dance, and small bowls of the local rice liquor; a custom for honored guests. We spent time in the village classroom learning the local language, Miao songs, how to embroider, and how to make straw shoes. We hiked up to the top of the surrounding mountains to build a bonfire to roast meat and potatoes along with observing how Miao people do nature worship to two famous rocks. Some students woke up early before the activities started each day to enjoy the natural scenery and hike around on their own. Personally, I will never forget my time spent in the village. It felt like stepping back a few thousand years in history. I felt a complete sense of calm in those mountains covered in layers of rice terraces. The trip was intense, completely magical and culturally fascinating.
Students learning to do embroidery in the Mhong village. From left to right: Heidi Weingardt, Allison Harissis and Lizzy Daily.
Students learning to play Lusheng (a traditional musical instrument of the Mhong people). From left to right: Sarah Barnes, Austin Roberts, Daniel Emirkhanian.
In recent events, many of the students participated in a flash mob promoting the 2nd International Youth Olympic Games that will be hosted here in Nanjing this summer. The event was sponsored by Map Magazine coordinators and involved three staged dances at different historic locations around the city. The students were dressed in brightly colored Olympic-themed clothes and danced to three different songs while surrounded by hundreds of onlookers. If you google “Nanjing Youth Olympic Flash Mob” it is very easy to find photos online. Here is one of links for the event reported in Chinese, https://www.huaxia.com/js-tw/jsxw/2014/04/3847794.html.
Students doing a flash mob at Xinjiekou, Nanjiing's downtown area.
For the rest of this week, we are all preparing for our different spring break adventures and working hard to gather information for our final Chinese culture papers. I think that I speak for us all when I say I really cannot wait to see what next China holds in store for us.