By: Emily Z. Erin S. Xander L. and Evan S.
Our service learning partner was Mr. Tan. He is 73 years old and sells everyday items in the streets of Sifangjie. He used to be a photographer who owns a small photo booth, called "Colorful Clouds Photo Booth" (彩云照相馆). But, Mr. Tan has explained that nobody comes to take photos in booths anymore because everyone has phones to take care of their photography needs. He explains that having a photo store is no longer sustainable for him, and also because he is too old to continue his passion. Now, he has opened a small shop with his wife that sells everyday items like pots, pans, and more. Mr. Tan has 3 sons, and all three are in their forties. One of his sons owns a supermarket in Zhoucheng, another one sells Bai minority clothing near Baochengfu, and the youngest one works in Kunming.
Through our conversation, Mr. Tan talked about how the regulations have resulted in him not being able to go to school. He had very good grades, but because he was the eldest son in his family, he had to farm for the collectivized fields. And because of his lack of education, he was not able to get a high-paid job, yet he was still able to pursue his dreams in photography. Later on, photo booths became less popular and less sustainable, Mr. Tan's only option was to open a small shop to receive some income. From his story, I realized how important education is, and how the lack of it has affected his life.
Mr. Tan explained that during Mao's time, people in Xizhou were not able to go to school, because they are all too busy trying to work on farms. During the cultural revolution, there were not a lot of red guards, at least near the area of Xizhou. Mr. Tan also stated that many shops could not be opened due to the government's regulations and that he was not able to open a photo booth until the Reform and Opening.
During the 20th Century, Mr. Tan told us that the market was much more free, so that was why he was able to open his photo booth, as well as his shop now. Yet, because photography was his biggest passion, he was very disappointed when he was no longer able to keep his booth. Right now, Mr. Tan is living a quiet life with his wife and his small shop.
When our video started, my group sat facing the audience, so that we are able to see the reactions in them. Through the dim lights projected from the projections, I saw glimpses of Mr. Tan's face. It was our time to share our Service Learning video to our audience, and we were so honored to invite Mr. Tan to come to watch our product. Through the video, Mr. Tan was talking about his passion when he was a young man and that his best memories were when he was still into photography. I glanced towards Mr. Tan who was sitting in the seats near the counter, and I saw something that I thought I would never see; a small smile was placed onto his lips.
As our video continued to show his childhood, I saw small reflections of tears in Mr. Tan's eyes. He was leaning forward in his seat and was deep in his thoughts. Perhaps it was the memories that had flooded back, and through this sharing, he remembered them once again. Towards the end of the video, I saw the silhouette of Mr. Tan's head nod up and down, satisfied with our work. As we walked him back home, he continued to talk about his gratitude for us, and how he felt deep regret for not providing us with more resources. But we reassured him that having him here is enough, and we are so thankful for his unconditional support.
I had seen a significant difference to Mr. Tan after that. The Mr. Tan we know of never smiled, and was conserved into his little world. Yet through that sharing, I was able to see him smile, see him laugh, see his face light up. So thank you, Mr. Tan, thank you for accepting four foreign 8th grader's requests for a conversation. Thank you for putting up with our constant questions and bothers. Thank you for helping us get to know Xizhou and Chinese history better. Most importantly, thank you for being open to share you childhood and you story to us.
There are many advice and recommendations that I would be more than willing to give to future Microcampus students. First off, it is clear that if you do not have the correct mindset to make constant progress throughout the entire process, and instead you and your team procrastinate then, of course, the process will be very grueling, and eventually you will all die from stress, depression, and misery. Of course, that will not happen, because I am sure everyone will take great care of their team, and everyone will have a great mindset to continue with your service learning project. Of course, one of the first things you do to connect with the community is to greet everyone and build relationships with residents living in Xizhou. Ignoring this process will make your job much harder because you do not have a strong relationship with people outside of Yangzhuoran. So a piece of advice that I would give is to build some relationships with residents in Xizhou so that you will have a much better and easier process during your search for a service-learning partner. Lastly, be sure you have plans "A" to plan "L". You never know what will happen with your service-learning partner after you have made a deal; there are 50% that that partner will likely decline your offer afterward. Being prepared is the best way to create a successful path for your groupmates and you to go through.