On Microcampus's 22nd journey, the V group, a group of 7 boys and 9 girls, came to a local village in the Yunnan province called Xizhou and spent 28 days there. By the end of our Microcampus journey, we are expected to have completed 2 projects: The Inquiry Project and The Service Learning Project. For my Inquiry Project, I have chosen to study antiques and collectibles out of a wide variety of other choices.
Prior to coming to Xizhou, I completed my Phase 0, Phase 1, part of my Phase 2, and part of my Phase 3 work. In Phase 0, I chose my topic. In Phase 1, I made 10 big questions to guide my research. In Phase 2, I started finding helpful resources and in Phase 3 I started doing research on my topic. After my arrival in Xizhou, I finished up Phase 2 and Phase 3, and then I completed Phase 4 where I made an outline for my final product.
I chose the topic of antiques and collectibles for a number of reasons. The primary reason that the topic of antiques and collectibles first stood out to me is that I was a bit of a collector myself. I did not collect antiques or anything of that age, but I always was on the lookout for little tchotchkes. Occasionally my mom and I would go together to a market and every so often there would be something that stood out to me; sometimes it was a sword, sometimes it was a bowl, but regardless of what it was, the passion was there.
I had chosen my topic long before the arrival to Xizhou, but once I had arrived, I started to talk to locals and their views on the topic. Some of the sources that helped me the most included, but were not limited to, Brian and Jeanee Linden, Lao Mao, Mr. Du, and Mr. Zhu. I chose to talk to these people because they all had large collections of antiques and knew a copious amount about the topic. The Lindens have an extremely large collection that they put out across the 3 facilities, and yet only 50% of them are displayed. Lao Mao is an extremely passionate antique dealer that has been collecting for a long time. He likes to say what sets him apart from every other dealer is the fact that he enjoys his job. Mr. Du is one of Xizhou's most well known antique collector with a house full of antiques. Mr. Zhu has a store similar to that of Mr. Du. He has been collecting for 12 years and is just as passionate as every other person I have mentioned above.
There were a few different types of questions that I was trying to answer. I was especially interested in the financial aspect and the trade of antiques and collectibles, and so quite a few of my questions revolved around that. I was also interested in government regulations and laws surrounding antiques since those would impact the trade of antiques in one way or another. A few of my other questions revolved around Yuxi Blue and White, which was a type of antique that was first found very close to Yuxi, as the name suggests.
For my final product, I have created a thesis statement that I will be basing my final product off of: In order to determine whether or not I could survive as an antique dealer in Xizhou, one must consider the laws surrounding antiques, market trends for antiques, as well as the level of expertise required to do the job.
Sharing My Learning
For my final product, I decided to make a video. If you are interested in watching that video please click here.
There are many things that I took away from the inquiry project experience. The first thing that I learned is that people are often extremely open and happy to talk about what they do. Throughout my conversations with the people here in Xizhou, I always received a feeling of warmth from them. Almost all of them were completely happy to take time out of their day to talk to me which came as a big relief. Once I was deep in a conversation with someone, whether it be Mr. Zhu or Lao Mao, the conversation seemed to flow smoothly. I also learned that silence is only awkward if we think it is. Prior to coming to Xizhou, Mr. Tafel always told us that, but I never truly understood what he meant until we came here. I remember one time when I was talking to Lao Mao. If I ran out of things to say or questions to ask, he would not rush me or become annoyed, he would just say "慢慢想吧，不用急" "Think about what you are trying to say. No need to rush."
I think that my topic changed only when I first came to Xizhou, but then never again after that. Before coming to Xizhou, my views on antiques and collectibles did not have any specific focus. I thought of the antique trade as something that was flashy and popular within the village, but when I came my views were changed. I realized that the antique market was not anything that was advertised. There were no big signs saying "Come here to trade antiques with me!" I realized that many people never used any form of technology to buy antiques off of websites like eBay or Amazon, but rather, these people had obtained their antiques through years of collecting and buying and being in right places at right times.
The most difficult part of my research was finding sources that were willing to talk to me. When I first started my field research, I had a handful of people to talk to. I went to each of them and had a conversation with them about their experiences as an antique dealer. Occasionally, I would diverge from the list of helpful resources and instead go somewhere that the teachers believed would allow me to find more information. By the 7th or 8th day of field research, I was out of people to talk to. This meant that I had no specific names of people or places to go to. As a result, the teachers started being the deciders of where to go. The owners of the shops that I started going to were not as enthusiastic about telling me their experiences. They were not too fond of the idea to take a few tens of minutes out of their day to talk to me.
Throughout the trip, I would say that the main "a-ha" moment was towards the end of my Phase 3 work. I felt like my information was too spread out to ever be turned into one of the final products that any other alumni had made. After sorting my information, I realized that my information was in one of four categories. Laws, market trends, expertise (which included opinion) and specific types of antiques. As I was looking at possible thesis statements, I realized that three of these categories would fit into one thesis which was one asking if I would be able to survive as the type of person that our Inquiry Project was about, which for me was an antique dealer. I felt so relieved because I had all of this stress building up inside me, but that one sentence frame suddenly made it all disappear.
The Inquiry Project helped me to understand my topic in a much deeper way than before. I had always thought of antiques as "expensive old things" prior to Microcampus. I had never looked into what antiques actually were or why anyone wanted them in the first place. I never understood why people would pay a small fortune for a half "broke unusable flower vase", but coming to Xizhou completely changed my perspectives on antique. Each individual piece has a story attached to it. Antiques have been passed down from generation to generation, and each time it is passed down, it carries more history in it. I now understand why people pay a few thousand more dollars for a real piece rather than saving all that money and buying a fake. I now understand why people would care still for that "broke unusable flower vase". I guess that what I learned could all be summed up in one sentence. Antiques carry so much more value than just how much people sell them for because they carry history, they carry stories, they carry the past all in that one "broke unusable flower vase".
The Inquiry Project allowed me to connect with the community around and in Xizhou in a different type of way. I was able to know many people on a personal level that I would have just walked by otherwise. I had the opportunity to learn the story of people's past through their shops. I learned how long they had been collecting for, how old they were, about their brothers, sisters, parents, and children. I was able to connect with the people in Xizhou even better now because I now recognize faces, and they recognize me. Every time I walk past the lottery shop, I look inside and see if Mr. Du is there, and whenever I do, I always say hi. Whenever I am walking past the temple or farther down that way, I check to see if Mr. Zhu or Lao Mao are there. I always love just saying hi because it reminds me of the bond that I have formed with these people, which I would not have made if not for the Inquiry Project.
I ended up understanding myself better as a person because of the Inquiry Project. I realized that I am a person who is able to make strong connections with people and keep them. I realized that I am a person who is interested in understanding the person doing the job rather than the result of their work. I realized that I am a person who is interested in everything a person is saying, not just certain parts. I understand now that I am a person that is able to have a conversation with people and keep it going reasonably well for a certain amount of time. I think that I have learned things about myself that I would never be able to learn if it were not for this project.
I learned things about myself as a learner because of the Inquiry project. I love learning about the financial aspect of different things and that economics is something that interests me. I like learning about the job and the person as opposed to the product. I learned that, as a learner, I am a person who just goes with the flow of things and tries hard to let things go as planned as opposed to suddenly adding a new aspect to what I am doing. As a learner, I realized that I am the type of person who loves jumping right in and seeing how things play out. The Inquiry Project has shown me that every learner learns differently and that I am no exception.
If I could go back in time to the beginning of this project, there is definitely some advice that would definitely have made this a better experience. Mr. Tafel and Ms. Mai know best. That has been said countless times before, but I feel like there is more to it than that. They have been doing Microcampus for 22 trips now. The amount of time that they give us to complete tasks is made so that if we do it well and remain focused, we would have extra time. You should never be overly stressed out about finishing something in time because the time that Mr. T and Ms. Mai give is how long we need and a bit more. If you feel like you are becoming stressed about something, have a talk with them, and they will be able to help deal with and may be able to make that stress completely disappear.
If another student or I were to continue this project, there are definitely many new directions that they could take it that would add on to what I have done so far. I focused on a wide variety of topics and the questions that I was asking were all over the place. I would encourage future Microcampus alumni to find a specific aspect of an antique dealer's life that stands out to them and focus on that. I feel like diving deeper into the life of an antique dealer would be very interesting to learn about and research, and I would recommend that future Microcampus students doing this topic definitely to try and do that.
Throughout my Inquiry Project, there have been a handful of people who have helped me and the Voyagers that I would like to thank. The first two people that any Microcampus student and that I would like to thank are Mr. Tafel and Ms. Mai. They have been there every step of the 5-month journey and have always been willing to answer questions, provide feedback and encourage us to do our best. Never once did they complain or whine about us still not understanding or us still having more questions. They somehow had the patience to keep this up for the whole trip and every step before that, not only for me but for the other 15 Voyagers, too. I would also like to thank Mr. Chen and Ms. Braverman. They do so much work behind the scenes, and they probably do so much more that we do not even realize. They have kept our spirits up the whole time we have been in Xizhou and have told jokes here and there just to keep us that way. Finally, I would like to thank the Lindens for both helping me personally in my Inquiry Project, but also making Microcampus's very existence possible by letting us use their facilities.
Throughout my Inquiry Project and time being a Microcampus student I have learned so many things and met so many people that I would never have had the opportunity to otherwise. I have made new friends outside of the SAS community and have made this community my other home. Any other trip will never allow me to achieve what I have this trip and no other trip can ever allow me to make as strong connections and bond with the community on a level as deep as Microcampus has. The experience that I have had at Microcampus will never be able to be matched by any other normal trip school related or not and will always be something that I think fondly of in the future. I will forever be grateful for my opportunity to have this experience.