Ethan T. (Alumni-B)'s Journal

I clearly remember the morning before the big, initial Microcampus presentation. Mr. Musk asked our homebase: "Mr. Tafel will be talking about Microcampus this afternoon. How many of you guys are interested in it?" And the response was a long silence. Everyone just kind of looked at each other and thought: "Microcampus? What's so great about Microcampus?" It was easy for me to put the topic off my mind as I went on with my day, thinking about other various things.

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After a month of exploration and pure education, the 18 of us (including teachers) are going to be back in Shanghai in two days. As a group, we've been through our highs and lows of course, and I know that the nostalgic feeling will kick in not soon after we get back. I hope that after this month, the 16 of us will still stick together and look to each other for help at times. My experience in Yunnan has been really... really.. wonderful. From this, I've learned 3 major things.

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After a month of hard work on our inquiry projects and service learning projects, we were rewarded with a final trip to Dali. I don't think I described Dali Old Town to you guys before... so here I go. Although interaction with locals is great experience, it's really nice to get a bit of a "home" feeling. The streets were filled with foreigners; the cuisine varied from restaurant to restaurant; there were places to buy great souveneirs; there was even a basketball court (YES!). Dali Old Town could be described as an international community, or a "melting pot" of culture.

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Although it is proven that I have been "in the zone" with my physical exercises multiple times each week, I had never felt as out of shape as I did today. I first went for an intense 5 minute run around the market, into Si Fang Jie, and back. Thanks to Mr. T, I was "asked" to run another lap around the block. I came back panting and sweating, with thighs shaking and a weak mind. I continued my workout with basketball agility and ball handling, hoping to get back on track with my playing level even before going back to Shanghai.

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For dinner, we made our own dumplings. When someone wasn't making dumplings, they would be in the courtyard just hanging out with others and enjoying their time. There was even music playing in the background; so I guess you could call this a dumpling party. It was a "chill" night, and even the Lindens came over and joined us. Shane (Brian and Jeanee's oldest son) brought his guitar and played a few songs for us as well. 

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Time flies by when you're having fun. All of us have been so caught up in our daily work that we haven't realized how time has passed us so quickly. With only a week left, it feels like we have a lot of work left to do with both our inquiry project and service learning project. We will be sharing our service learning project with our partners (elders) on wednesday, so that's something to look forward to. Anyway, although the past three weeks in Xizhou have been fantastic, I am excited to see my family and be back home in Shanghai next week.

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Brandon and I biked over to the basketball courts again, and I nearly fainted when I saw the lock on the front gate. After 3 weeks, I had only played basketball twice, and have probably attempted to play at least 10 times. We did, however, find another open basketball court during the group bike ride, so maybe there's a bit of hope. We are also going back to Dali Old Town hopefully once more, so that would be a good opportunity to play. Days have passed by quickly and one of the things I'm most looking forward to is to get back to Shanghai and play basketball.

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On the final day of the exploration, we walked back down to Xizhou. It was a much faster walk than from on the way up, and far less tiring. We made it down in about 5 hours and were able to get a nice, relaxing evening back in YZR. The hike is something that I will never forget.

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I just began working on my final product and have finally finished my research. Although today was the "due date" for our research, an inquiry project should be a life-long project, where every answer leads to more questions. Hopefully I will come back to this topic, or even just remind myself of constantly being inquisitive about topics in the near future. But for now, I have collected enough information to produce a solid final product. I hope to finish my product before we get back to Shanghai, so stay tuned and keep following my project!

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As we entered the temple gates, I saw small, old buildings of stone and wood. It wasn't the type of temple that I envisioned. When I hear the word "temple", I usually think of a large pagoda heavily decorated with orange, yellow, and red colors, with large offerings placed by the wall. The temples that we went to were more localized and built more for pure meditation. The pagodas were not beautifully decorated, but were heavily plastered with paintings and models of Buddhist Gods everywhere.

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Back to the old YZR routine... after going on the 3 day hike, the idea of being outside the bubble kind of disappeared. Being back in Xizhou felt like yet another small bubble that we are living in and living by a daily routine; and when I compared living in nature (the hike) with our lives in Shanghai, the idea of breaking away from the bubble really shot out at me. I realized how enclosed and robot-like we are when in our comfort zone, and sometimes stepping outside of that comfort zone can bring you joy, dignity, and a huge sense of achievement.

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Our first day back from the hike, we took an evening trip to Dali Old Town. There, Jason and I played some basketball, and it was one of the most refreshing feelings I had ever gotten before. Although basketball sounds like an ordinary, everyday thing, the opportunity to play there was great since both Jason and I had only played once in the past 2 weeks. Both of us were really off and needed a whlie to get back into rhythm, but the feeling of hitting the court was fantastic.

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Another pretty typical microcampus day, but we were all super psyched up for the upcoming 3-day hike. The only hikes I had been on before were 1 to 2 hour long hikes up and down a small portion of a mountain. But this hike we were going to go on was a big deal. Despite being already 2000 meters above sea level, we were planning to walk ourselves and our 10 kg bags up the mountain range by 1000 meters.

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Hundreds of vendors lined up in the dusty market of Shaping. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Despite the fact that there was a lot of dust floating around in the air, the sight of the hustle and bustle was amazing. Voices were heard all over advertising for their goods. Although a market like this is not where I would suggest to buy goods, it was still a great experience to see the way the locals bought and sold items. 

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Nothing particularly exciting happened, so I will tell you guys about the food we are getting here. Every day, we spend two meals in our residential area called Yang Zhuo Ran, and one meal outside of our home. Xizhou Baba is a delicacy unique to Xizhou, and is kind of like a pizza/pancake. Inside the thick layer of bread contains one of two possible fillings; the sweet Baba has some sort of sweet paste, and the salty Baba has ground meat and spring onion. Another distinguishable Xizhou dish is a noodle dish called "Ersi".

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So after numerous attempts of figuring out when the basketball court opens, Yifei and I went to the courts and waited for about 10 minutes. Just when we were about to give up and go back, we asked one last lady whether she knew if the courts were going to open. She laughed and replied: "We're the ones who open the courts!"

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Day 9 was our first real free day to relax and enjoy nature. Many of us woke up at 9 and had the rest of the day to do whatever we wanted; some of us had to catch up on work, and others went out exploring. Brandon and I went biking around the Erhai area. He had been there before, but I hadn't, and I was surprised to see a vast lake of clear blue-green water (or "qing shui"). It had been a while since I had last seen a lake that beautiful, and it was the first time in a long time that I was able to really, sincerely appreciate nature.

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How often do you go to someone's (who you don't know) house and ask them about their life story? The opportunity to interact with the locals are accessible at Microcampus; it's not something you'd do a lot of in Shanghai. Ashley, Nick, and I met Ms. Duan, who owns a clothing store - the clothes are made from yarn. She enjoys music and dancing, and her husband is a professional musician. As we talked to her and found out a bit more about her, she told us about what life was like when she was 6 or 7. At that time, there was the Japanese Invasion, which she described as cruel.

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Another amazing day. Today we had the opportunity to visit a preschool and a tie-dye factory, which both were pretty cool. For the past week, I've been writing about daily stuff, so I'll tell you guys a bit more about what it really is like in XiZhou.

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In the afternoon, I went on a trip to Dali, where I watched a Dongjing music performance. This was extremely useful for my inquiry project and made me wonder even more about the importance of reviving the Dongjing music genre. After going to this concert, I have decided to slightly change my inquiry project focus towards Dongjing music. 

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Day 5 was a very fun and eventful day; we went for a hike by the tea plantation, and afterwards also went to pick tea leaves and cook them. It was a great experience and was just nice to get fresh air and nature.

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As Jason, Mark, Chris, and I went out for a run this afternoon, we experienced POURING RAIN. It was still fun though, and we got our exercise. But more importantly, we had time to bond. Let's still hope that next time we go outside it doesn't rain!

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The sky has cleared up and the view just gets better and better. Last night, we got to see a few bright stars, and hope to see even more tonight. Today, we had free time to do whatever work we wanted, and my friends and I headed over to the Linden center to get a bit of work done (this is where I am writing from right now). Later, we hope to explore the village and find a local basketball court we can use. 

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Yesterday was another day of just settling in. We got an opportunity to explore the village and meet many people: Mr. Yang with the Horse, Mr. Yang who owns the Jin Hua (Golden Flower restaurant), Mr. Zhao (our neighbor), and Ms Duan (a local musician/dancer). I was surprised by how hospitable they were and how they invited us into their homes or talked to us as if we were old friends with such light hearts and a great amount of trust. I really hope to meet up with these people again in the near future!

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Yesterday (day 1) was a pretty tough day of traveling. We had about 3 hours on the plane and 6 hours on the bus, but we were able to bond with one another, which was great. XiZhou is beautiful... the sky was perfectly blue, and the weather was comfortable. There are hundreds of meters of grassy fields right by us. I'm excited and look forward to spending 28 days with everyone else on this trip!

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Wow. 16 days to go. I'm super excited for this trip, and really just can't wait to spend lots of time with Mr. T, Ms. Mai, and everyone going to Yunnan. I'm looking forward to meeting the locals in the village and excited to see their lifestyle and how different it is from ours. Microcampus is a great opportunity to learn and do things that we aren't capable of doing in our international community. Hopefully I will become a more independent and creative person through this experience.

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Hey, I'm Ethan, and like playing basketball and listening to music. As a music fanatic, I decided to focus my inquiry project on Bai Minority Music. Microcampus is really a great opportunity for me to not only have more freedom, but to become responsible. It also allows all of us to interact with rural China, something we don't do often despite the fact that many of us have lived in China for a while. Feel free to take a look at my blog posts at any time!