On November 23, 2013, sixteen students including me left Shanghai and flew to a small village located in south west Yunnan called Xizhou. This program was called Microcampus. While we were there for a month, all sixteen of us were required to work on inquiry projects. The purpose of an inquiry project is for you to investigate a subject that intrigued you. Before we left Shanghai we chose an inquiry project topic and mine was the Local Food Products/Cuisine of Xizhou. When I got to Xizhou and talked to many food vendors and restaurant owners about what they were selling, as well as trying all sorts of food. At the end, I was going to specifically focus on Xizhou Baba.
I chose Local food products/cuisine as my inquiry project topic because I enjoy trying new flavors and learning about and trying new foods. I heard from previous Microcampus students that the food in Xizhou is very fresh and delicious, so I wanted to go and learn about the foods and how they make it.
My local contacts included: Ms. Hong, Ms. Ma (1), Ms. Ma (2), Ms. Ma (3), Ms. Yang, Mr. Wang, Ms. Zhong, Ms. Li, Mr. Yang, and Ms. Zhong. I chose them because each one of them owned a resteraunt or were vendors of one of many popular foods that I was doing research on. I chose Ms. Naumann because I found her blog online and found it intriguing as well as relevant to my topic. I used a number of websites on my background information so that I would have some basic information before I headed to the village. I had three 3 to 5 conversations with Ms. Mai, Annaliese, and Fay because I was gathering information about possible experts on my topic. They gave me a few names of local contacts that I interviewed.
Some questions I was trying to answer were about how Xizhou cuisine changed over time and some popular/traditoinal dishes of Xizhou. After some background research and some time gathering information from local contacts, I decided to focus mainly on popular foods of Xizhou. Five more questions were added to my original questions which can be found in phase 3 of my inquiry project. After more time gathering and sorting my phase 3 information, I stuck to five questions rather than ten. They were:
1. In Yunnan/Xizhou cuisine, what are the signature dish or dishes? Why? How is it made?
2. In Yunnan/Xizhou cuisine, what dish/dishes include cheese? How is it made?
3. What are some foods that are made from rice? How is it made? What dishes include this type of rice product?
4. What is Xizhou baba? How is it made? Is there a background story to it?
5. What are some ingredients used in ersi? How is it made?
At the end, I came up with a thesis from my information, In order to make Xizhou Baba from scratch, one would have to know the ingredients, tools, and procedure.
Microcampus was a really unique experience like no other. I had a lot of takeaways from this program, including being on my own. Back in Shanghai, I would be with my family, go to school, and the cycle would repeat countless times. Here in Microcampus, I am away from my family for a month, and I have to learn to do almost everything myself. Some new things I had to learn were; eat right, sleep enough, and overall just take care of myself. Another takeaway was learning to be independent. Here I plan my own schedule accordingly, take care of myself, and do all the things that my parents would usually do. Microcampus was an amazing experience and I would love to go there again.
During my Microcampus experience, my inquiry project changed from what I had in mind. Before I came to Xizhou, I decided to focus on Local Food Products/Cuisine of Xizhou. Then I got bundles of information from local contacts as well as doing background information myself. While I was gathering information I realized that most of my information were repeated, which meant that it was true and probably a popular food. My topic then became Popular Foods of Xizhou.
The most difficult part of my inquiry project was in phase 3, while I was gathering information from local contacts. Gathering information online was easy, just clicking some buttons and writing it down. Gathering information from local contacts was more challenging for me at first. I had to have enough courage to walk up to a resteraunt owner or food vendor and ask them about the foods they are making. After talking to my first contact Ms. Hong, I realized that it was easier than I thought it would be. Talking to many other contacts was easier and at the end I had all the information that I needed.
I had an "a-ha" moment when I bit into my first bite of Xizhou Baba. I heard from other Microcampus alumni that Xizhou Baba was a pizza-like snack that was really delicious. After tasting the heavenly goodness, I decided to focus on Baba specifically for my inquiry project. When I was doing background research on Xizhou Baba, I went on a Chinese website that highlighted a certain store in Xizhou. While talking to Mr. Wang about his shop and baba, he told me that his wife great-grandparents invented Baba, he also told me that his store was highlighted on many websites. I then realized that I had a Baba from a store that was opened by the descendants of the Baba creators.
This project helped me understand my topic better because before this trip, I knew close to nothing about my topic. But now I know more about Popular Foods of Xizhou, which happened because I gathered information by talking to local experts. Another way I have gotten to know my topic better was by eating them during lunch or dinner. For either lunch or dinner, we would go out to Si Fang Jie and eat there. Meals mainly consists of a variety of noodles, fried rice, and Xizhou Baba. The first day we got to eat at Si Fang Jie, I had a Xizhou Baba and it was pretty delicious. From the on, I focused specifically on Xizhou Baba as the topic my inquiry project.
My project helped me helped me interact with other members of the community because in order to get information I had to talk to them. I interacted with many food vendors/resteraunt owners because I would talk to them regularly about their dishes/food products. I would also buy lunch/dinner from them so I would have conversation with them on a regular basis and not just asking them for help and never seen them again. I also interacted with little kids because I would ask them what are some foods they like and where they usually buy it. Later on I had many conversations with them and also played some games with them in Si Fang Jie.
This project helped me understand myself better because before this project I was shy talking to new people in a language I do not speak as often. Now I feel more confident talking to new people and making friends. Another way my project has helped me understand myself better was when I had to get work done on time. Before Microcampus, I would procrastinate and do a sloppy job on major projects. We are expected to do two hours of work per day during the weekdays and have to do it ourselves without a teacher looking over our shoulders and telling us to get to work or stay on task. I am now doing work when I get it and not waiting until the last possible minute.
If I could go back to the beginning of my project I would set a precise schedule (e.g.. Tuesday, December 2, 2013, Talk to Ms. Zhong about Noodles). When I did my inquiry project there would be some days where I was "lost" and did not know what to do for the day. Setting a schedule would have helped me stay on task and know if I was falling behind or ahead of schedule. I think that making a schedule would benefit all students with different projects and not just myself. I would also advise others to not procrastinate and do their work instead of doing other things and falling behind.
If I could continue my research for another month, I would research more about the history of Xizhou Baba. So far I know that Xizhou Baba has been made for more than 200 years and I will like to know what changes have been made to it and if the original one tastes better or worse than the new one. If someone else can continue my research, I hope that they can find out more about Xizhou Baba. They could research the money made and needed to start up and continue a Xizhou Baba business. Another way they can continue my research is to find another popular food in phase 3 of my project and make a video about the procedure, ingredients, and tools.
I want to thank all the chaperones for making this happen, so thank you Fay, Annaliese, Ms. Mai, and Mr. Tafel. I also want to thank everyone that I talked to that gave me information about my inquiry project, as well as my 3 to 5's partners. Additionally, I also want to thank Mr. Ma, and Mr. Yang who have been our only source of transportation during this trip. Furthermore, I would also like to thank everyone in the village that helped me during my time here when I was feeling lost and needed help. This trip would not be possible without the help and support of everyone here, so thank you for making this trip possible for all of us alumni, active, and future students.