HELLO ONCE AGAIN LOVELY READERS!
I am deeply sorry for my absence, I really have to get better at this time management thing. When choosing to apply for the opportunity to write a blog for CIEE, I never quite realized how it can make time move so very quickly.
It seems as though I wrote my last post just last week, and now i've seen it's been almost.... a month! HOW????
Anyways, here's what you missed.
Since this has been such a long absence, I have been trying to figure out a way to separate the important things that must be shown to the world and the things that can simply be left secrets between China and those who experience all she has to offer.
I believe I've found the perfect solution: in small adorable animals. For some reason over the past month, there has been an abundance of fluffy miniature happiness following us around this beautiful country.
In september, us gap students were blessed with the priviledge of having our first community service out reach with a center for people with disabilities. Exchanging songs from both American and Chinese culture, it was truly unique and unforgettable. Every Friday we make our way just around the corner to visit our new chinese friends and sing songs and teach dances and play sports with them. Here's a picture of our first meeting!
A few days after our first lovely greeting, the gap students had the absolute honor of meeting 3 representatives from the Beijing Opera. En route to CORE class, where we met the representatives, I always am able to see one of my favorite furry friends (he has yet to be named i'll keep you posted)...
After a period of deeply rooted sadness not being able to bring my little cat to class with me, I have an excellent opportunity to distract myself as I watch a very, very small representation of what the Beijing opera actually sounds like, complete with Arhu and all. The Arhu is a beautiful Chinese instrument that two of the Gap students are actually learning to play! After once a week lessons on these beautiful instruments these two gap students and other students from CIEE will show us all their hard work at the programs gradution ceremony! (((Shout out to Alec and Samantha, I would not be able to manufacture any kind of pleasent noise from this instrument.)))
And, a decision I'm sure they later regretted, we also got to try to sing as those in the Beijing opera do. I did record it, and I did try to upload it, but it seems as though the universe believes that special noise should be a secret only the lucky ones present had the honor of witnessing.
Later that week I had to opportunity to participate in one of a series of events CIEE has created for us called "Old Shanghai". This particular event took place at Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center. It showed what Shanghai used to look like compared with what it is today...and what it may be in the future... amoung other things. Like this!
This is a model of Shanghai. Pretty cool right? Except, no, wait, this isn't all of Shanghai, in fact it is 1/60 of how large Shanghai actually is. The university I study at isn't even included on this map. Did you freak out? I sure did. This world is literally MASSIVE. It takes things like these to allow me to realize that sometimes.
It was very educational and i truly did learn alot about the city that I am supposed to call home. Yes, supposed to. I know... 'Veronica it's already been a month, shouldn't you be comfortable with calling Shanghai... home?' Well, I suppose. But home is a very specific term for me, and I don't think I was quite there yet. How can something be home when there are so many unfamiliar things about this place?
Honestly, around this time, I was having a hard time. With all the school work, and 0 authentic American comfort food, I was feeling a little out of sorts.
Don't get me wrong, there were amazing moments such as eating this to-die-for food at this to-die-for park...
Or drinking some authentic to-die-for Chinese tea with some classmates...
Or participating in the next activity in Old Shanghai, a night cruise down Huangpu River. Truly amazing.
Pictured: The lovely gap students (Jon, Bradley, me (Veronica), Alec, Samantha, Lara & Eddie).. minus Alexa of course. She exists I swear, there are 8 of us!
Even with all these wonderful occurences, I was still feeling out of sorts. And, like clockwork, the universe gave me exactly what I needed when I needed it: a PUPPY!!!
.... Aaaaaand a break. The most fantastic thing came our way, a whole one week break. (Sadly without the puppy). Some of the gap students and I made the best decision of choosing to go to a lovely nearby town called Huangshan.
Huangshan translated means "yellow mountain," and a very fitting name that is.
That Saturday 6 tired teenages boarded the bus at 6 A.M going somewhere we didn't know with people we deemed friends by the best of circumstances and chance. And so began one of the adventures I've experienced.
About 4 hours in I woke up trying to remember where i was and how I got there when I looked out the window and honestly forgot my questions about my whereabouts and didn't care. Because for the first time in a while we had the pleasure of looking at what I personally believe to be the most incredible sight in the world: mountains. Simply beautiful, not polluted, unotouched, naturally dirty; mountains. I was wide awake and didn't sleep for the next 3 hours upon arrival.
While at Huangshan we experienced and witnessed a series of misfortunes such as the incredibly eye opening living conditions of the locals, or the fact that we booked a hostel very far away from where we wanted to be.
Seeing the extreme poverty and desparation of the people who lived there was enough for me to call this trip successful for it reminded me of how truly blessed I am with the things that I have.
Feeling down and a little guilty being there, we all decided to walk. So far we'd seen purely green mountains (not a bad sight, obviously), and run down buildings filled with what seemed like run down people. Until finally, we saw why this hiking location is one of the most famous in China, why the chinese hold this place as a very sacred place of China, why tourists from all over the world come to this small town instead of choosing to stay in one of the biggest cities in the world just 6 hours away.
The next day after eating some incredible American food made by a man who spoke english fluently and with an English accent even we began our 3 and a half hour hike up that beautiful mountain. We started from half way up, a decision we all agreed was brilliant because otherwise we would not have made it.
It was hard. To say the least. I wish I had words to explain the pain that climbing nothing but stairs produces. Just... pain. This is me in pain climbing stairs.
Honestly, I've never been happier.
Once reaching the summit a sense of accomplishment slowly filled my body as i gazed at the view I waited to long to see. The interesting thing is, when I think back to the view I saw, I don't remember the view very well. I don't really remember the people that were around me, I think there was a crying baby somewhere and someone playing ancient Chinese music. Someone was yelling at someone and someone was laughing maybe but none of that has really stayed with me.
The one thing that has stayed with me-- the one thing that I will never forget, is how looking at the nature around me made me feel absolutely alive. I felt like i weighed 3 pounds and everything around me seemed brighter and enhanced as it had before.
This may sound dramatic, which we all know i never am, but being on top of Huangshan I feel honestly woke me up from an 18 year sleep. Like everything in my life before then was just a vivid dream.
I wish, dear reader, that I could accurately explain to you all the adventures we experienced, the way we felt going from extreme hunger to extreme exhaustion to extreme ecstacy and adrenaline. I wish that the pictures I show you could accurately show what it is like to stand at the edge of a mountain with the most kind, and wonderful stangers around you. I wish I could have captured the amount of stars we saw and how we watched them in perfect silence because the stars were loud enough.
But I can't. It's a secret just Huangshan and I shall share. And I'm okay with that, because it honestly changed my life forever. Its ironic that it took having my head in the clouds for me to become so deeply rooted to the earth.
Many rain storms, mis- haps, and let down's that turned into victories later, we made our way to the bus to go.... home.
After getting home, everything was the same yet to me everything seemed different. I felt tethered to those who shared this experience with me in more than a metaphysical way because I grew so much as a person on this adventure and they were there for that.
The Chinese believe that Huangshan is the link between earth and heaven. That when you climb those stairs to the summit, you're infact climbing the stairs toward heaven itself.
So, take a look, is it heaven?
I can't say that that was heaven. But it honestly was mine.
Until next time, my dear reader....