Our service learning partner was Mrs. Zhang. She is currently 59 years old and collects and sells antiques for her and her husband's antique shop. She lived in Xizhou for almost three years, but is from Heqing, an area in Yunnan that is North East of Dali.
I learned from Mrs. Zhang that life can always turn around and suddenly change for the better, especially during difficult times. When she was younger, she was abused and mocked by her sisters for having daughters instead of sons, partly because she could not contribute her share of men to war. But now her life is much more enjoyable with her daughters around helping and caring for her, while her sisters are unhappy with their now misbehaving, mischievous sons.
Mrs. Zhang could not tell us much about Xizhou history since she arrived only three years ago, but I learned from her that Xizhou was not always this lively and developed. "The first year I arrived, my rental price was 4000. The second year, it was 5000. This year, it is 15000 RMB!" said Mrs. Zhang. It indicated how Xizhou's economical and tourism development has improved, and many years ago it was not like how it is now. From that, I can imagine how undeveloped Xizhou must have been many years ago.
This applies not only to Xizhou, but also to China. While unergoing this service learning experience, I made the connection with what Mrs. Zhang said about her rental fees, to the national Chinese economy. Mrs. Zhang also told us about China's 20th century history when she mentioned her experiences from the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). We learned from her that landlords were persecuted and even murdered, as her grandpa was one of them who received 7 shots in the head just for being a landlord and having two wives. It really contributed to my understanding of the time period and how people affected by it felt. You can see more of what she said about the Cultural Revolution in the Final Product of my Inquiry Project.
Unfortunately, Mrs. Zhang had to rush back home to HeQing (just a bit North East of Xizhou) to attend to a family emergency. She could not make the sharing of our service learning videos, but her daughter, Zhang Ayi, and husband, Zhang Yeye, were both able to come in her stead. Walking them from their antique shop back to Yang Zhuo Ran was already the beginnig of the sharing and thanking process. Alexis walked with Zhang Yeye in the front, and Zhang Ayi and I made some small talk. I could already feel something entirely new and different coming on - I had never tried so hard to be courteous to a stranger and to tour them around a home so smoothly and formally before.
Witnessing Zhang Ayi and Zhang Yeye watch the video we created for them was just heartwarming. In the middle of it all, when the video began narrating Mrs. Zhang's story about her daughters, she broke down into tears of overwhelming emotion. We had focused on Mrs. Zhang's misfortunes and difficulties with having three daughters instead of sons. But it leads to a gradual, cheerful ending when Mrs. Zhang happily speaks of how her life is so much better now with three amazing daughters to care for and help her in her late stage of life. I watched, so deeply touched, as her dauhgter slid her hand across her face in attempts to stop the tears from flowing. She was crying tears of deep joy! In that moment, I knew everything I had done was worth it. And I am telling the complete truth when I say our hugs later on were the opposite of "awkward" - they were loving, kind gratitude-filled hugs of thanks. I would never have been able to witness this incredible experience had it not been for the sharing. At first, I thought it was mostly pointless - what could we gain by observing people as they viewed a movie? But I was so entirely wrong. Doing that has rewarded me more than I can ever ask for.
I would never have been able to witness this incredible experience had it not been for the sharing. At first, I thought it was mostly pointless - what could we gain by observing people as they viewed a movie? But I was so entirely wrong. Doing that has rewarded me more than I can ever ask for. It is in the tears, in the joy, in the wonder, in the lost thought, in the tranquil expressions of the people who we have connected with so deeply. It is in watching our positive impact be spread to those that we appreciate so much, and there is no more valuable payment than that.
I only have a few recommendations for later Microcampus students. First, the only reason we could find such a great partner was because we had prepared early on in the process, making connections since the very first day. It is important for you to be chatting with as many locals as possible, as soon as possible. Push yourself out of that comfort zone and go speak to strangers, because they are so incredibly nice and welcoming! Second, keep track of your filming. THere should be footage from at least three angles and two or three different backgrounds. Never include yourselves in the video unless you will be on your best behavior the entire time. Otherwise, you will appear in the final video with drooling, dull expressions. Lastly, never get discouraged if something is not going eactly the way you and your group expected it to be. My group was rejected once, and then our plan B backfired when we could not find him where he said he would be for our meeting. We moved on, getting more and more depressed and dejected about our misfortunes, but we realized our plan C was actually an amazing partner. Make sure to always keep your hopes and spirits high during this project!