Abby P. (Alumni-E)'s Journal

I came to Xizhou to explore. I came to break free of my little world of Shanghai, and to live somewhere entirely different. I came here to learn, to meet new people, to become closer with ones I already knew. I came because I am sick and tired of fearing that I live in a little bubble. I came because I don't care if I'll be swept away, one tiny speck overwhelmed with the waves made by every action she takes, I needed to feel it. Did I succeed? I'm not entirely sure, but after all of this, I've had the experience of a lifetime, and it's one that I won't ever want to take back.

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It's our last full day of Microcampus, and it's time to say goodbye. Goodbye Shane and Bryce, gamers, musicians, and friends to the highest degree. Goodbye YangZhuo Ran, my home of 27 days, my warmth, my shelter, my den. Goodbye to the staff of YangZhuo Ran, who so graciously put up with all our shit, and always smiled back, even if I didn't learn your names. Goodbye SifangJie, with your friendly shopkeepers and thick smell of smoke. Goodbye Linden Centre, which I only visited thrice, your beautiful terrace, your peaceful garden, your battered punching bag, your cozy library.

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Breathe. Sometimes your room is suffocating, or you feel like a bird with shackles 'round it's talons. Sometimes even throwing pebbles into ponds does nothing to ease the knots in your gut. Sometimes you feel like a land mine, ready to detonate at the slightest touch. 

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I feel Xizhou in dust and dirt. The crumbling walls of alleyways, plaster and whitewash worn away to expose packed dirt that leaves dust on my fingertips. The dark rich soil of the fields, springy under footsteps. Dust blown up from bicycles, trolleys and footsteps, clinging to the square. 

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Since we had a power outage, none of us could really do work today. Thus, I had a day full of free time. If the electric pianos were working, I would have played, but I just sewed the entire day. I even bought an embroidery kit. I suck at embroidery though, so I kind of regret doing that. It's a beautiful picture of a ruby red flower, with crimson petals unfurling over deep green leaves. I'm going to have to try hard to finish it. In other news, I finished two sewing two more narwhals from sheer boredom.

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We've been trying to find a service learning partner. It's actually harder than I thought. Walking around the village trying to find elders who want to talk to us is easier said than done. Most of the time they assume that we're tourists, or that we're just weird, and they ignore us. dThere was a man I met a few days ago, who said that he would think about doing it, but I'm not sure he''ll accept. Last time he said that he was always busy, and he seemed really hesitant about letting us videotape him. Hm… Better luck next time, huh?

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It's snowing! Our entire Microcampus trip, we've haven't had any major rain, and now, snow! Actually, it was more like heavy rain, then really tiny hail, then sleet, and then snow. We couldn't go out to do anything. Then, as Thomas and Marisa and I were out at Old Town Snacks for dinner, the power went out! That meant no light, no heaters, and no wifi back in YangZhuo Ran. Dinner was pretty much the same as usual, except only by candlelight, and then we had to brave the walk home. Our sneakers were soaked with icy water.

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Really, today was nothing special. For the first time in our entire trip, it rained a little. Hardly anything to be honest. I was riding my bike and suddenly, when I look up, pale string-like things seem to be coming down. At first I was confused. Was it some sort of plant seed? The apocalypse?? Nah, just rain. It was a welcome thing, cool against my skin as I struggled up a steep incline. Sadly, it hardly lasted five minutes before it was gone. I didn't even get wet! Farewell rain, you will be missed.

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Xizhou tastes of oil. Fired rice, 粑粑, noodles, potatoes, cheese, chili. Sometimes the oil pools at the bottom of the plate, grains of rice soaking up so much they become bloated. The restaurants of Xizhou smell of heaven, aromatic meats, spring onions, eggs. Xizhou tastes sticky sweet. Rose sauce mixed into oily 粑粑, caramel drizzled on bowls of 米虾 in jelly. Soft drinks and sugared cheese fans, mango juice and popsicles. But Xizhou also tastes of smoke.

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Chinese funerals always smell of smoke. It's understandable. Constantly burning incense, bonfires of paper offerings, strings and strings of firecrackers, handfuls of cigarettes chain smoked by middle aged men. In the past few days I've become accustomed to all the smoke. In fact, you might say that I almost enjoy it. It's a sharp smell, air full of ash particles and dust, but it's almost comforting. I could sit there and watch them burn things all day long.  

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I lost my phone today. Here's the rundown: I follow a funeral procession, I record it. I then run all the way back to YangZhuo Ran to grab a bike, and follow the casket to the graveyard. Cue more recording. Next thing you know it, I can't find my phone. Whoopsies. Anyway, I'm not particularly concerned, except for the fact that it has my only recordings of the burial. That's going to be a big problem, isn't it. Anyway, I've got to keep looking for my phone. :(

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There was a funeral today. It's tragic, that Mrs. Yang had to die at the age of 61, from cancer. But this gives me a chance to observe a funeral from start to finish, even if it is morbid. The family did not really react to me being there, other than at one point pulling a chair up to me. It seems strange to me, that funerals in this part of China are so public, right out in the open for everyone to see. Back in the city, everything is extremely private, and you wouldn't even dare walk into someone's house unannounced, something which is the norm in the place.

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Let me tell you about hacky sack. It's honestly obsessive. It's a lot like 踢毽子, where the idea is to keep something in the air for as long as possible using your feet. Except in this case we use a crocheted ball full of beads. There are four basic kicks: the figure four, toe kick, side kick, and the knee. We're all a bunch of newbies though, so we've accidentally made our own moves. We've got the ski-slope (sometimes referred to as the Kara), the revolving door, the ninja combo (my specialty), and 'that forty year old body'. 

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The mountains smell of pine. Which is obviously because the entire place is covered in pine trees, unsurprisingly. But the mountains smell of pine and that is that. But there is more than that in the mountains, because what would mountains be if they smelled just of pine? The smell of pine is merely a light backdrop, a set for the other smells to come alive. The whiff of animal, lingering in the air around manure and mule trails. It is a heavy, pungent smell, yet not really disagreeable.

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So today was day 1 of our hike. Bryce's advice was definitely right. The first part of the hike is hard. Over fifteen minutes of straight up walking on a non-stop slope. In the sun. With heavy backpacks. It kills. But anyway, we ended up on a skinny mule trail which we hiked on for 6 hours. At some parts, it was quite steep, with loose rocks or high steps where tree roots had held up tightly packed dirt. Looking at the mountains from back at Yangzhuo Ran, you really couldn't expect that the mountain forest was the way it was.

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Sometimes I forget that there are tourists in Xizhou. I guess we sort of count as tourists, but seeing legit 'Oh my' tourist still seems weird. 

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So a horse cart drives down the Xizhou highway. In it are 6 men, 4 which are dressed in traditional white funeral attire, a middle aged white man, and a teenage girl from Shanghai. Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke right? Well, here's how it went down:

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Camping is cold. I don't care what other people might say, it is cold. After dark, all sixteen of us biked over to the Tongue of the Lake, where we learned how to set up tents. In the dark. I'll say this: pushing stakes into gritty ground is impossible. After a long era of trial and tribulation, my tent partner, Catherine, and I finished setting the tent up. By the shore, our group sat star-watching. We actually sort of managed to see the Andromeda Galaxy, which basically looked like a pale smudge against the Prussian blue of the night sky. Beautiful. 

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Lake Erhai is a discordant symphony. An odd blend of garish din and muted serenity. Cerulean waves lap against coarse rocks, rythmatic and soothing. A handful of gravel is tossed into the insistent waves, a bright plink-plonk sounding as droplets are thrown into the air. On a nearby road, a motorcycle engine purrs as it flies past, crunching gravel and burning asphalt like fire. The occasional truck rumbles past, grumbling, hulking things that abhor the weight that has been set upon their dusty shoulders.

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As it turns out, these few days have been unusually cloudy for Xizhou. Who knew? The clouds seem so close, like their only a few feet away, and I can just reach out and touch them. You can physically see the clouds get pushed eastward from the rolling mountains. The horizon line sure is a sight to behold. 'Far over the misty mountains cold' indeed. 

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Today was my first day out in the village for my Inquiry Project. Annaliese and I walked down the street for at least 15 minutes, trying to find the suona player that Xiaotang had told me about. Eventually we asked the medicine shop clerk, and he pointed us in the direction of an alley. After we knocked on the door, we found out the the resident suona player was taking a nap. Darn! Luckily, the old man who answered the door showed us the house of another one of his family members, who also knew how the play the suona. We talked for more than 45 minutes, and it was really educational.

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The village of ZhouCheng is one of elders. A trio of old women, their shrunken bodies wedged onto low bamboo chairs, sit in the courtyard, heads bent over needle and thread as it flows like white water through coarse yellowed fabric. A line of yellow dots line the fabric, a yellow brick road for thin sharp steel and snow white cotton. Weathered fingers direct the pliant needle over and up, over and up. These fingers have seen better days. Decades ago, when they were not wrinkled like unironed cloth, pleated into dozens of careless creases.

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Let's not discuss why I'm writing a journal entry when half the day hasn't even passed. Ah well. Last night Kara, Shane, and I stayed out after everyone left the terrace to stargaze. Tafel had already returned to his room after viewing the Hubble Space Telescope. Compared to other satellites, it was surprisingly bright. I would have thought it was some strange moving star if I didn't know it was coming. The constellations are amazing. Venus set after 8:45, but I saw the Summer Triangle, Polaris, Cygnus the Swan, Pegasus, and the Summer Cross.

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Let us describe this day with one word: lectures. Obviously, there was a reason for this. Let's start with this morning. A group of us were sitting in the courtyard playing cards, and we lost track of time. Therefore, we were late for SAS Essentials. Not fun at all. Cue the 3 minute chew out session.

After a small misadventure in the laundry room with Risa, we went to Sifang Jie for lunch.

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The sun is the world's biggest heatlamp in this place. I woke up at 6:20 this morning, and it was freezing. By the time I crawled out of bed and got outside, the sky was starting to lighten. Who knew it takes such a long to rise above the horizon?

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We're here at last! This place is absolutely amazing. After some minor chaos before boarding our plane, the ride was rather smooth. Risa, Catherine, Marisa and I spent a good hour singing, but eventually 'Glee club is closed', as Kevin C. so kindly stated. Erhai really is way larger than I expected. The water is a shining deep blue, and with wind blowing waves over its surface, it almost looks like liquid glass. 

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Lock In was incredibly enlightening, but also tiring. It's 10:30 in the morning, but I still feeling sleepy. We were given a huge amount of information about lock in, from the "four pillars of Microcampus" (personal growth, experiential learning, expanding intercultural understanding, having a positive impact), to the daunting challenge of asking strangers in order to solve 'mysteries'. I enjoyed it very much, and I am even more excited than before for Xizhou.

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It appears that the countdown has started. Only a few more weeks till takeoff!

Apologies, I haven't posted any journal entries yet, but I've been really busy getting ready for Halloween. It's probably my favorite holiday. Anyway, looks like the lock-in is this Friday. It's almost overwhelming how fast time is flying. Xizhou, here I come!

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I'm a former Microcampus student from the Extreme Team Group. Xizhou has been an indescribable experience, and one that I'll never regret choosing.