Every day in China, especially when typing students’ entries, I've wanted to sit and write the reflections and epiphanies that have filled my head. The 24/7 nature of what we’re doing, though, has kept us in Energizer Bunny mode. I love it, actually. And I also love the time to reflect. So it’s my turn to at least make a dent in all I want to write.
The stay in Qufu was wonderful. Since the first Journey East stop there in 2000, I’ve looked forward to revisiting Qufu and have, each time, been sad to leave. Being on that campus one enjoys the buzz of academia and the genuine good nature of students and staff. Our students connected with Qufu students as mutually interested peers: Many were even invited to sit in on English, dance and music classes. E-mails were exchanged, as were promises to keep in touch.
Our performances were a blast: much bigger crowds in bigger venues than those we’ve played in Qufu before. Our kids learned quickly, effectively and irrevocably that they really need to project—not just the voice, but emotions, meanings, gestures and characterizations. They need to be big. It’s a lesson that will serve them well from now on—on stage and off. If they can present to over 1,000 non-native speakers in a crowded hall filled with chatter, laughter and applause (at the most unexpected moments), they can present for anyone at any time, I’d wager. Many Chinese students who’d seen one of our shows stopped our students the next day on campus to compliment them. Several apparently said that the show helped their English; it helped them understand America and what it is about America that spawned jazz. Mission is being accomplished, I guess.
We said goodbyes in Qufu and worked our way up to Jinan through miles and miles of developing land. The amount of building going on now in China would lead the more savvy among us to think of investing in the construction industry here. Wow. And it seems to draw an even sharper contrast between old and new, modern and traditional, prosperous and impoverished. I find it ironic that we’re in a country that boasts such a rich heritage –a country that unified a couple hundred years before Christ --and we, coming from such a pipsqueak of a nation are calling China a “developing” country. Of course in the global economy, such is the case, but culturally China’s riches are too great to count. There are some things you can’t pick up in book work. The lasting lessons are gleaned in being here.
En route to Jinan where we were to catch the plane for Xi’an, we stopped for the better part of the day at Mount Taishen, one of the five sacred mountains in China, and one which bears spiritual significance for many Chinese—and has for hundreds of years.
We reached a spot near the top of the mountain by cable car (a Dopplemeyer) which wafted high above ragged mountains covered in forsythia, budding trees and apple blossoms. Once at the top, we climbed hundreds of steps while exploring the various buildings and locales of the spiritual community at the top. One could see for miles around and just imagine how transforming it must have been to view that 360 panorama hundreds of years ago. Most of the people with us up on Mt. Tai were Chinese—and all were clearly there as if it were a “must see”—almost as if they were on a pilgrimage. In fact, some were climbing the 7,200 steps from the bottom of the mountain as a part of the pilgrimage. There’s nothing we Americans can liken it to be cause we have made a big deal of separating spirituality from other functions in our collective life as a country. As our students soaked it in, it was clear that they could appreciate the importance of Mt. Tai. We benefit from such a variety of exposure here and this stop is an invaluable one.
After that, we over-nighted in Jinan—a city of several million, then flew to Xi’an where I’m writing now. All is well.
-- Ann Landenberger
P.S. Here’s to a wonderful and safe journey for Mr. Paytas and his group traveling to Belize next week—and to Ms. Hanson and the group headed to Mexico.