Alex K. (Alumni-V)'s Journal

I lived in China all my life. From ever since I could trace back my memory, I was in Shanghai. Except for the hazy four years that I spent in Korea during the first few years of elementary school, China was my home. Home I did not comprehend. Ignorance ruled my mind, full of assumption about a nation I have only seen a part in. I first heard about Microcampus towards the end of 7th grade when a couple of 8th graders were talking about it in exploratory. Even then I had no clue what exactly Microcampus was.
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I know I already wrote a journal about Xizhou being like a home, but a few more days got me more attached to the place. And I am leaving tomorrow. Fun. 

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As my service learning group started to translate our footages, I am having a hard time contributing to the group due to my lack of Chinese skills. I feel like a burden dragging everyone down.

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Having something to remind me of this experience is great. Especially when it is physical. Even better if I spent money on it. Maybe that is because I have a tendency of relieving stress when I become a consumer. Yesterday, I went out with Brandt' L. and Anders L. to Sifangjie. The idea came from a couple of other students who started to buy necklaces to remember Microcampus. We were extremely jealous of those necklaces, especially the ones with a single acorn hanging on a thin black string.

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I was thinking about how there is less than a week left on this journey. Then I remembered that Microcampus is not over yet. Over the three weeks, I learned that a day lasts a long time, and is not as short as what I anticipated back in Shanghai. Especially in Microcampus, the many activities we do seem to make the days longer because we achieve so much, and every day is a new experience. I started off this journey excited and positive. I want to finish it like that as well, and the finishing line is still leagues away from me. Still, I cannot avoid the seeping melancholy.

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I remember I mentioned waking up to the sound of chirping birds in the morning. It is fascinating how I could tell the time by the sound of birds after three weeks in Xizhou. When I opened my eyes and saw thin beams of pale blue light passing through the curtains. The room was silent. I laid on my bed facing the nothingness because I did not want to wake the others. Only when I heard the birds singing outside I realized that it would be around six thirty in the morning.

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Foreigners. English menus. Loud streets. Dali Oldtown was the polar opposite of what Xizhou is. Unfortunately, we were not able to bring our cameras with us just for the sake of keeping our valuables safe. Another thing we need not worry about in our home. Eager to get our bellies full before another other group takes over a good restaurant, we settled for the first restaurant that caught our eyes. There, I got my first bite of pizza for the first time in nineteen days.

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Today was a first day after finishing my phase 3. Thus, I did not go out to talk to the villagers in Xizhou about their religion. It felt so out of place to just stay in a classroom throughout my whole time for the inquiry project. I realized that I am truly going to miss talking to people out here. Time for my fieldwork was when I had most of my "takeaway" moments or "Aha!" moments during my life in Microcampus. I learned much more than something simply related to my inquiry project topic.

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The capricious weather truly amazes me.

We had to cancel our plan to visit our Service Learning partner due to the sudden rain. I just made a trip downstairs to add another layer to my fragile body, consisting of wobbly flesh and bones. Maybe blood, I am not sure considering the current temperature of my hands. I guess the grey sky makes me unusually pessimistic. It is interesting how the color of the main courtyard darkens and I can see the distinctive areas that the roof covers, that remains dry. 

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When I saw the small orange cubes carefully placed on top of cubes of chicken and peanuts yesterday, my thought hopelessly went back to the two carrots longing for my return, back in my room in Yangzhuoran. Those were from the potential Service Learning partner of my group who insisted on providing us with free carrots every single time we visited her. Due to my past history regarding carrots, which involves gulping an oversized cup of carrot juice down my throat at the age of six, running towards the school bus, I was not able to consume the whole thing at the spot.

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The violently shaking synthetic fabric of my tent is clearly the most refreshing way to wake up in the morning. Oh, did I mention that I woke up five times before that? That is another story, but I will talk about some parts of it anyways. The first was at about ten or eleven at night, when I heard a series of firecrackers and pale light going on and off outside of the tent. When I was disturbed again the walls were closing up on me (probably because of the wind). It was quite an experience-I thought the world was ending.

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As a person who thoroughly despises any type of physical activity, the hike today was something I have been looking forward to ever since the announcement.

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A couple of days ago during the field work of my inquiry project, I bought a small jar of rose jam from a Hui lady I talked to. Part of it was to reduce the awkwardness between us as she seemed so nervous (yes, she was the one who did not share her name). Regardless of all that, I craved that jam ever since I tried Baba here. My parents also wanted me to bring some back. Sadly, I doubt that this jar will last for three weeks. I heard that I could spread some on my bread, or mix it with warm water. Because the scent is so strong, I might not be willing to put it on my bread.

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Good news, I did not lose another bike lock. I must admit that I have been unnecessarily cautious after that incident that I wish not to talk about with all my heart. The new bike lock is doing much greater than the previous one, I am making sure of that. Yesterday, I went out biking with Taylor S, Brandt L, and Anders L. I was still skeptical about my capability to keep myself and my property safe (although the main concern was mostly focused on my property). And just when I was feeling proud of maintaining all parts of the bike without breaking anything, I fell to the ground.

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One of the things that stood out the most as I worked through the "interviews" for my inquiry project is the difference of openness between individuals. Most of the people I made connections with were happy to share their ideas with me. Yesterday I encountered an unexpected roadblock as the lady I talked to tried to avoid my questions. I believe I mentioned this in the previous journal, but she also refused to share her name.

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During the fieldwork for my inquiry project, I visited two temples at the end of the west alleyway of Si Fang Jie. My plan A and B both failed as the antique dealers I planned to talk to were grieving for their family member who passed away recently. I also was not able to carry out my plan B to visit a bakery owner because Ms. Ma was not available in my time slot. After talking to a shy lady for a while, I decided to use the remaining time to visit the temples. To my dismay, I have not visited any religious buildings except for the mosque a week ago.

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Food in Xizhou is clearly different to that if what I was used to in Shanghai. I am most grateful for the fresh ingredients and warm people at the restaurants. I tried my first Baba yesterday, which a sort of fried bread filled with either meat or red beans and rose jam. At first, I wondered why every other Microcampus students were making a fuss about how amazing it was, but I understood every part of the fuss after I took a bite of a Baba. I also found Ersi, the rice noodle, extremely appetizing.

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I love the number eight. Not only because it is the number of my birthday, October 8th, but it is also the number of my first weekend at Xizhou. None of the days are wasted at during Microcampus. Even during the weekends, we work on our Service Learning project, building connections with the elders in Xizhou. We also encountered a sudden rain. It poured down for about five minutes, and the world turned grey, only for the sun to reveal itself again. To see the difference between a cloudy day and a bright sky in such a short time told me how unaware of my surroundings I was in the past.

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One of the many things (perhaps the most significant thing) that I had to adjust to in Xizhou is the weather. Unlike Shanghai, the difference between morning, day, and night is fairly significant. I wake up in four layers of pajamas, laying under two blankets, and for lunch, I go out in my t-shirt and jeans. Fun, right? One of the trivial challenges I faced here is my lack of pockets. I mean, I pants and jackets do have pockets, but the pockets are either too small or the jackets are too thick for the temperature outside.

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Today was quite interesting. Everything seemed to be normal until I went out biking for my wellness. Let me put it this way: I lost my lock. I was biking merrily as if there was nothing to worry about. And that was true. My fieldwork for the day went tremendously, I had an amazing still time at the mosque, and my inquiry work was updated. It was not until 40 minutes or so into the exercise when I realized that my bike was making a peculiar sound. I thought my lock was stuck on the wheel or placed in the wrong place. When I stopped and looked down, it was not there.

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Today was my first chance to talk to the neighbors about my inquiry project topic. I decided to visit Michael at the Linden Centre to first familiarize myself with talking to strangers and building connections. I need a lot of practice as I am extremely introverted (I assume some side effects of interviews without proper preparation may include stuttering, avoidance of eye connection, shaky legs, shaky voice, and lack of concentration). Of course, I may be overreacting due to my nervousness. 

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I would first like to talk about how my dish duty went a couple of days ago. Since I will be washing the utensils and plates every five days or so, I thought a little bit of reflection could help me become more efficient. I must remember to wake up earlier than I normally do in the future; I was the last to join my group of three dishwashers because I was late to join breakfast. Cleaning up after everyone else made me more aware of the hard work put in by others, especially my parents,  as I rarely used to clean my plates in Shanghai.

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After our first "normal" day that included two sessions of SAS essentials: Language Arts and Science. All students had a couple of hours to work on what is going on back in Shanghai. To be honest, I find it challenging to keep up with my core classes, especially when I have an assessment waiting to be finished. I hope what I feel right now would change after I complete my quiz. 

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Today, I had more chance to get used to Xizhou and look around the town to know where I will constantly be visiting over the next few weeks. The way back to Yangzhuoran was much easier than what I expected it would be like; I only needed one or two practices until I was able to navigate myself. In the morning, we explored the marketplace and moved on the Sifangjie where many stores and restaurants were gathered around a rectangular public square.

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Today was more focused on settling into Yangzhuoran where we will be staying for the next twenty-eight days of Microcampus. On the way to our new home on the bus, I got some astounding scenery of Dali, especially the garlic, rice, and canola plantation that seemed to take part of most of the views. During the ride, we were introduced to a few environmental issues related to the farming area. I was surprised to hear that the weather was considered bad and cloudy today because it was so clear and beautiful compared to that of Shanghai.

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Hello. I am 14 years old. I was in Xizhou with fifteen other students. I am from Korea, and I lived in Shanghai for more than half of my life. I wanted to get to know the neighbors and learn the culture in Xizhou. My time here has truly changed my life forever. It helped me discover who I am and who I want to be. I will never forget this experience.