Austin Z. (Alumni-V)'s Journal

On the day of the Service Learning, it felt like the intensity had been cranked up a few notches. For once, it wasn't just some sort of random celebration where everyone is there for fun, instead it was more about having gratitude for the history of Xizhou. Of course, in during the production process, many of us came down with bad cases of temper, but in the end, when we reached our goal, the tension would dissipate. 

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To ensure that we did not accidentally miss out on any experiences, we decided to do some last minute exploration and go down through the twisting alleys on random. We continued to try out the different things that could be found around the village. From the sticky rice popsicles to the Oreo milk tea, we found many different peculiar food items. We also visited places tucked away in secluded corners of the village. Perhaps, the most interesting place was a small "chicken" temple near the man made pond.

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Brandt was our main source of comedy today during Service Learning. He was the one who was able to calm our nerves during the hard hours of Service Learning work. Perhaps the most interesting time was when he had a mango and was playing around with it (do not play with food kids!). First, he attempted to play catch with it resulting in the mango smashing to the floor, at least it did not burst... When we picked it back up, the mango felt airy (when you pressed down it seemed to shrink by 150%).

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With my final inquiry project now in, the full weight of the fact that we are about leave this village comes full force at me. Perhaps I realized this earlier in the morning when the bacon was served for breakfast. Normally, we only get bacon during the weekends and I realized that today was the last Sunday of Microcampus. Wow, no matter how much I repeat it, it is hard to imagine that we are about to leave this place soon and eventually return to Shanghai... I rather not stay on this topic for too long, rather I am going to spend the rest of my time enjoying this place... Bye!

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The night before our inquiry projects were first due, we were allowed to go out around Xizhou at night and observe the activity difference during the day and night. For some reason, after 7 at night, a hush seemed to fall over the village, the lights became dim and many of the shops had closed down. A stroll around SiFangJie was incredibly peaceful and we walked around for a long time not saying anything. Brandt L. and I spent a bit of time at the man-made pond near the highway. We watched the fishes torpedo through the water and jump above the surface before splashing back in.

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You know it is a phenomenal experience when you begin to enjoy extra math work. Last night Clark, Ethan, Sunny, and I spent almost a hour doing Kumon (we may have just done the work for Clark). For once, I thoroughly enjoyed learning a new concept with math. Ethan was an amazing teacher, who managed to teach us the level K Kumon concept within two questions. With just a small notebook, a few small sheets of workbook, we seemed to learn almost the same amount as we would learn in math class! Conspiracy Theory: Microcampus makes us learn faster than we would at school. 

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I decided to take a full tour around Xizhou and perhaps get some good and beautiful footage for my inquiry project. First, I explored Mr. Du's hotel all the way to the top floor. He had a beautiful overhead view of all the architecture of Xizhou. It felt like we could see all of Xizhou. The effects of modernization could also be seen from up there. On top of every traditional roof, there was a huge power box (not sure what it was) with huge coils of wires sticking out from it.

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As a break from our stressful (kind of, not really) week, I got invited (with the all exclusive gold pass) to go on a trip for Dali Old Town. As much as the name may imply that the town is a traditional Chinese town, it seemed to be equipped for Westerners instead. The town seemed to offer mainly Western restaurants and shops, even the Eastern food were mainly Indian, Malaysian, etc.

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After a long battle of the brains, Alaskan Billy Goats in the lead with 72 points, Connect Four running right on their heels with 70 points, Sweet Baba (us) trails the two leaders, while the poor old 8th graders are far away with only 13 points. The game host announces the final round, risk as many points as you want, if you answer the 5 out of 6 questions correct, your score is doubled. The teams argue between going all in or playing it safe. The leading teams glare at each other using their amazing knowledge of game theory to predict the other team's choice.

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Two friends of mine decide to join me at Pessoa Coffee, however to work off the fat we were going to get from intaking the red velvet milk (Pink Drink). We decided to go for an exploration around the Linden Centre first. We found a small exercise park where it had many different small machines to do some small exercises. We decided to spend our still time trying out the many different machines (they were all facing a beautiful old twisted tree). We had lots of fun trying to figure out what each machine was supposed to do. One of them, we decided, was apparently just to massage your leg.

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We had just recently tried to invite our most solid connection to become our partner. However, she seems to be hesitant about the offer so far. Despite her constant ramblings about the corruption of the government and the hard life of the normal citizens, she seems quite wary about her words becoming broadcast? We plan to go back tomorrow and reexplain that all we want to learn about is just her childhood life and memories. We also tried out the Xizhou version of Boba milk tea, it was a lot more sweet than most of the ones I have tried out in Shanghai.

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It's interesting how much the world has to offer when we finally break away from our smartphones. Now, I must admit I sound like one of those old cranky teachers that would complain about kids being too reliant on phones. However, as much as I admit that smartphones bring us many benefits, perhaps taking a break once in a while and instead choosing to take notice within our world would not be so bad of an idea either. Normally I wouldn't have noticed our home was set up in a particular way.

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At first glance, the towering mountains capped with snow seems tiny, it seemed like an easy challenge. However, after a hour in, hope begins to disippate as fast as our sweat. Meters and meters of climbing slowly uphill, dirt crumbling away beneath our footsteps. As we finally see our destination, none of us let out a single cheer, it was difficult to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment with our numb and sore feet and worn out backs. Yet, reaching the top was only the beginning of our long journey as we just arrived at the Jade Belt. 

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Microcampus students continue to further deepen connections with residents of Xizhou. Visiting each other becomes a daily routine, before we know it, many of us are invited into their homes. I spent time at two places today. One, of course, was Pessoa coffee. Brandt L. and I was invited to see their courtyard home. They grew many different plants within their courtyard, ranging from mint leaves to lettuce. We found out that Peter often used the mint leaves for his drinks! Apparently all the coffee shops were friends with each other and lived in similar places!

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Today, I visited the local hospital of Xizhou. The experience of it was completely different from the hospitals of Shanghai. The biggest difference was that the Xizhou hospital felt more like a small campus. It was arranged with buildings facing one big outside garden. Another difference was that the hospital was almost empty, with only a few folks wandering around. None of them seemed worried or rushing, they were all relaxed and taking their time before going off to their appointment.

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It is hard to believe that Monday and a Double Digit day hit the Microcampus students at the same time. Last night, before the weekend ended, some Microcampus students went to the Linden Centre for a performance of "traditional Bai music". It was mesmerizing to watch the traditional instruments play a soothing tune while people swayed across the courtyard. Other times, it was intense and fascinating to watch the Bai people wield make shift spears with such grace and do it flawlessly. At the last song, they invited the audience into a circle of music and laughter.

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Pessoa Coffee (it is funny how no matter how many times I have been there, I still do not get how to spell it), run by the man himself called Peter Chen (who also eats lunch at 2pm), has become my favorite place in Xizhou. Mr. Chen was with his friends this time (apparently they run similar shops next to each other and often stop by each other's business to help). We got to know a lot more about Mr. Chen and his background.

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The weekend finally arrived! We were looking forward to (for once) relax for a bit or go out in the village and enjoy the view/make more connections. We were also introduced to an amazing Chinese history lecture conducted by the genius Mr. T. It was quite interesting actually! Anyway, we went out in the village to find partners for our service learning project. At first, it would seem awkward to go in a shop/home to have a conversation with the residents, however after one or two, our openings and introductions got more smoother and our conversation got more interesting and insightful.

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A week has passed since the first time I have stepped into Yangzhouruan! It is hard to imagine that so much time has passed, even now I still feel new and awkward around here. Anyway, we had a chaotic SAS essential session (a block of time to do schoolwork). Many of us were trying to solve the line of best fit (the purpose was not actually to learn the equation but instead of understand and experience what it was), due to the complicated nature of the equation, many of us failed to understand it.

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Today was not the best day. I was quite excited about the afternoon, to go out into the field again after the amazing and friendly time I had with Mr. Chen yesterday. In fact, today in the morning, I went to revisit and have a drink with him discuss things unrelated to medicine! We had an insightful discussion about his business life, his background, and his views on the protection of Erhai. I was in a good mood and was pumped up to talk to other people as well. However, it seems many other people associated with medicine did not appear as comfortable or willing to have conversations.

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"We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with out fellow men; and among these fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects." -Herman Melville (author of Moby Dick). 

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Today was the first day where we were all on our own! After three days of learning guidelines and the area, we finally got to explore Xizhou all by ourself. As daunting as it should have been, it really seemed like a breeze. The best part when we biked to the lake by ourselves and viewed the area at our own pace, no rushing, no lecturing, just us in control of our lives. Just watching the ripples on Erhai spread from one side to another was a charm, something that kept me focused for almost half a hour.

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Finally, FINALLY! We had our first real Microcampus regular schedule (for the first time, I felt truly productive with my school day). We also rode our bikes through narrow alley ways and open fields to eventually reach the lake of Erhai. The view of it was beautiful but the pollution effects were still noticeable, especially the algae growth among the rocks. The sounds of waves splashing on the stones were like a melody reaching out to me and pulling me from the chaotic work from Microcampus work and SAS essentials.

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At the first full day of Microcampus, everything felt quiet chaotic. All of us were still adjusting to the new life in Xizhou, we often made mistakes that were habits back in Shanghai. For example, during dinner time, we were required to step away from "one use containers" which sounded simple but many of us ended up with plastic bags or popsicle sticks were are still considered "one use containers". We also took a tour around the village viewing the different landmarks such as the ficus tree, the wet market, the bank, etc.

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I traveled to Xizhou today! The plane ride was quiet bumpy, it felt like the pilot was calling turbulence every 5 minutes! When we arrived, we had to pack our 18 suitcases into the bus compartment all by ourselves (Anders was the leader). At first, it seemed supposedly easy since the bus drivers do it by themselves all the time, however a few minutes into the process, we ran into huge complications. The positioning of each baggage had to be precise less we were to have an extra piece of luggage unable to fit.

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After Microcampus, my life has been greatly affected by the new and different experiences that were offered during Microcampus. From being able to work efficiently and effectively to having meaningful conversations with (at first) strangers around me. I know understand the difference between "giving" and "trading" and the awareness of impact. How that perhaps people in need aren't necessarily always wanting gifts, but instead a trade, a bond, an understanding between two drastically different people. I also realized how much could be gained from just viewing the world around us and not just our smartphones and computers. For once, I noticed how the buildings were set up in a certain way or how some certain art was covered, I feel this type of education has been more effective than any other program I have ever tried out.