Journey East Trip to China 2005


Created at Leland & Gray High School in Townshend, Vermont, supported by the Asian Studies Outreach Program (ASOP) at the University of Vermont (UVM), and funded primarily through a grant from the Freeman Foundation,

Journey East, as a whole, consists of the Asian Studies Academy and Sino-American Performing Arts Exchange at Leland and Gray Union High School; the integration of an Asian Studies curriculum throughout the Windham Central Supervisory Union, and the introduction of Chinese language programs into the district.

Dr. Juefei Wang, Director of the Asian Studies Outreach Program University of Vermont, is a recipient of the prestigious Goldman Sachs Award for Excellence in International education, on behalf of the UVM, Asian Studies Outreach Program.

The Leland and Gray Journey East program is deeply indebted, and extends its heartfelt thanks, to Dr. Juefei Wang, without whose effort and support this program would not even be possible!

Thank you Juefei!

Leland & Gray
Journey East IV

Tom Connor
Program Director

Ann Landenberger
Artistic Director

Matt Martyn
Music Director


T-minus 7

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Congratulations to you all! You have succeeded in making it to the last of the major checkpoints. Listen to me carefully . . . One - week - to - go! That’s right, seven days. Count ‘em. Each day now will be the last of that day. In other words, this is their last Wednesday away. Feels good, doesn’t it? You can officially begin the welcoming home preparations! Yeah . . .

Okay! We have a big day for you. But then, we have a big day EVERY day, don’t we? Hey, are you all having fun out there? I know I am. Each day, when these photos come in, Kim and I look through them together as she points out things she remembers from her journey in ‘02. There are many new things the kids are doing, but regardless, for each group, everything is new.

But, (Oh, here it comes. This is where he says “Before we begin.” or something like that. Sheesh, why can’t he just get on with it?) before we get started, we have another birthday announcement. Everybody now:

Happy birthday to you . . .
Happy birthday to you . . .
Happy birthday to Paaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat . . .
Happy birthday to you!

Happy Birthday Pat Stevens! (April 16)

Before we can move ahead two space (rules are rules!), we have to take one step backward. Brandon’s report is up next and it is my duty to warn you. If you have to go to the bathroom, let the dog out, kiss your kids goodnight, or whatever, please do so now. And I might suggest you get something to drink. You know, most movies last about two hours. But then there are movies like the Ten Commandments, Cleopatra, Lawrence of Arabia , , , okay, I think you get the point. Settle back and prepare to be entertained, amused, informed, and downright satisfied as Brandon takes the stage and brings you his epic thriller: ”Everything you wanted to know about what happened on April 18th!”. . . Brandon, you are on:

    Brandon Peterson, Senior
    April 18, 2005

    Today started like most of the other days since we arrived in Hohhot-wake up call, breakfast, the usual. We then left the hotel at 8:30 for our trip to He Lin County. The drive there was about an hour minutes long, but the scenery was incredible. As Ray pointed out, it was strikingly different from Qufu or Xi'an. On both sides of the road, dusty grasslands and fields populated by sparse, skinny trees stretched out to a horizon of eroded hills, some adorned by faded terracing, with distant mountains barely visible through the dust. The grasslands where interrupted by fissures and gullies where the deep top soil had been eroded away.

    Further off, hillsides rose up sharply in the places where their slopes had been worn away by wind and time, exposing the crumbling earth beneath.
    In several places, eroded hillsides spilled red sand down to the flats below; these mineral deposits made it look as though the hills were bleeding from the wounds inflicted by the erosion that plagues this area. Once we got to more populated areas, the landscape started to change.

    Piles of suitcase-sized rocks adorned the side of the road, either pulled from the fields to make the ground farmable or collected and waiting to be
    made into a wall or other structure. The fields were covered in evenly spaced, calf-high piles of night-soil (human manure). It was incredible; every field was like this. It was my first real experience with the night-soil phenomenon. Every now and then there would be a smaller field with some livestock on it, but the cattle and sheep sightings actually became more frequent the closer we got to the town.

    The capital of He Lin County, He Lin City, and its surrounding area were dusty, and tightly packed. Nearly all the buildings were made of brick, with stone roofs. There were no wooden structures to be found in this dry climate. Wherever there was any sort of elevation in the town, normally a rise of three to six feet, there was a brick or stone and plaster retaining wall supporting the soil, stopping the ground from eroding away right beneath a block of homes. The streets were smaller than the ones I've seen lately in the cities, and there were several small alleyways between the diminutive brick buildings. To my surprise, many of these alleyways were used as a pasture for cows or sheep; I saw one alley with more cows in it than many of the fields. The traffic here was much less than in the cities, and the buildings were lower. The two memorably large buildings were the middle-school, and Mengniu, the largest dairy in northeast China, covering several blocks with its huge warehouse-like buildings. For the most part, though, the buildings were low to the ground, offering a barely obstructed view of the hills in the distance.

    As we approached our destination, I started to see small pagodas and
    pavilions on the hills. Our destination, the One Hundred Pavilion Park in He Lin, was amazing. My camera maxed out halfway through our visit, and I cursed my foul luck.

    The visual experience was incredible. We walked and rode in small electric trolleys around the windy, chilly hillsides, which were dotted with pavilions and short trees and outlined with gorges and fissures, more marks of erosion. We interacted with and were guided by students from the middle-school (like our high-school), which is how I met Wang Cai Xia. She showed Katy and me around and told us about the various sights. We talked a lot and got along great. When we crossed a shaky rope bridge over one of the gorges, she told us that even though she's been across it many times, it still terrifies her. She also told us that she thinks Tom is very handsome, and she loves the color of his hair. That made my day. Cai Xia pointed out various pavilions to us, from little ones just big enough for two people to sit in, to large three-story ones which would have been reserved for rich, high ranking people. One in particular was the Love Pavilion, shaped like two pavilions (similar to gazebos) joined at the hip. It symbolizes the husband and wife, and how through love, two can become one. Cai Xia also showed us around the Altar of Chinese Coins, with statues depicting 108 different kinds of Chinese coins and currency, from the ancient seashell to the modern 100 Yuan note. Several kids tried to throw coins up into to statue of the seashell; the Mongolian students told us it was good luck to get a coin into the four-foot wide stone shell seated on its twelve-foot high pedestal. I noticed the practicality of the ancient Chinese as Cai Xia explained how certain coins were shaped so that they could be used as knives to cut bamboo or as tills for planting. The altar sat on a hilltop, and I could look out across the dusty, stooped skyline of the city on one side, and off into the majestic green and tan hills of the park on the other.

    [intermission -- please visit the snack stand]

    Our next stop was at a statue of the benevolent goddess Kwai-yin, which
    towered over us at a height of 18.8 meters. With the statue's placement on top of a scenic hilltop, I was reminded of Rio de Janeiro's famous Christ the Redeemer. There were three sides to the statue, each one depicting Kwai-yin holding a different item. Coins and books symbolizing wisdom, and a string of beads symbolizing freedom, something valued highly amongst her worshipers who brought her about during a time when China was ruled by kings and emperors; when oppression was common and freedom was rare. Kwai-yin is female because her worshipers consisted mainly of women, and they modeled their god in a familiar, comforting image. Around the bottom of the statue are 18 smaller carvings, depicting Kwai-yin's lesser gods. Cai Xia told e that the lesser gods were once mortal bandits, who stole and murdered. They were rounded up by the emperor's soldiers, who cut off the arms and legs of the bandits, and threw the 18 men into the forest and left them for dead. The bandits, still alive, despaired, until one of them thought to call to Kwai-yin. They all did, and Kwai-yin, hearing their pleas for help, and hoping to change the bandits' evil ways, came down to them and healed their wounds. Upon being restored to their whole selves, the bandits were extremely grateful, and pledged their lives to serving and protecting Kwai-yin. Thus, they became lesser gods, charged with the protection of the goddess Kwai-yin.

    After this dose of religious mythology, we went to a large, western-style building made of white stone with an orange tile roof. In front of this mansion were several trees that reminded me of driftwood. They were barkless and gnarled, stooped and twisted, calling forth images of disproportioned athletes in some alien sport. Cai Xia informed me that the trees, now dead, were 3,000 years old, and can live for 1,000 or more years. Inside the western building were more natural wonders.

    We saw a hall full of "strange stones," as our Mongolian friends described them.  Rocks of every imaginable type were on display, naturally shaped like flowers, castles, people, spheres, tn_Dishes of rocks from around the world02snakes, and many other things. There was a big table with glass over it that looked like a large meal had been laid out on it. On closer inspection, however, one saw that every piece of bread, meat, and vegetable was actually a stone that had naturally come to resemble some sort of food. There were also many valuable stones on display; one was worth 5,000 Yuan. Almost all the rocks came from Inner Mongolia. I thought all of it was amazing, and I wanted to capture every stone on film. Curse my camera.

    We descended the mountain and headed back to town for lunch which was tasty, hearty, and a little exotic in some of the dishes. This style seems to be the norm in Inner Mongolia from what I've seen. The mutton that the area is known for was delicious.

    After lunch we bid our Mongolian guides adieu and headed out to the day's venue. The performance was something else. When we got there to set up almost two hours before the performance was supposed to start, the audience was already there. It was in what seemed to be a lecture hall, with a flat floor and rows of desks and chairs for the audience, and a low carpeted stage with barely any wing space and no backstage. We prepared to adapt. Good thing we did, too, because we had a lot to adapt to. Not long before we were going to go on, Cory wasn’t feeling well enough to perform. We had to figure out what to do. We worked quickly and cut some pieces of the show and found replacements for others. A little more than halfway through the actual performance, Travis (or Rav, as we've taken to calling him) also became ill. He had become dehydrated, an easy thing to do in this climate. We worked quickly to arrange replacements for Rav's parts, but he insisted he could carry on, and he did. As Ann said, he defined the word "trooper." I'd like to offer my praise for Rav, as well as Katy (who performed amazingly with her hurt toe), Riley and Pat (who filled Cory's roles at the last minute), and everyone else in the company who came together today to support each other and cover for those who couldn't give their all. Today was a real lesson in what it's like to deal with the unexpected and recover gracefully. You make me proud.

    After our performance, we watched the performances by the Mongolians.
    They were fabulous. Soudanna performed her dance with the cups of flame that many of you will remember from the Mongolian group's performances at Leland & Gray. She was amazing, as always.

    After the performance, everyone was tired and eager to get to the hotel for dinner and sleep, but the farewell was also a little sad, as we had to part with Wang Cai Xia and the other Mongolian students. Cai Xia gave us a parting gift of eight Chinese coins tied into a tassel with a special knot symbolizing good luck. I appreciated the gift more because I had learned that eight is a lucky number in China, associated with prosperity, and the round shape of the coins with square holes in the centers represented heaven and earth, respectively. We said goodbye to the middle-school students, took lots of pictures with them, and after loading hundreds of pounds of equipment onto the buses, we pointed our sails homeward and cast off.

    Now I'm typing this in Matt's hotel room as he snoozes on his bed. Despite the usual socializing that goes on before bedtime, it's obvious that everyone is really tired. Today was a long day, and tomorrow promises to be equally packed. I hope you all have a fine Monday. You're in our hearts and minds, prayers and dreams. Good night.

What else can one say except, well done, my man!

Wow, now that explains what that plate of “food” really was in yesterday’s pictures (repeated today convenience!)

Not another word -- let’s see the photos!!!

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tn_Sun Xiaoyan (translator) and Jin Long, horsehead fiddler





Let’s hear from Tom as he explains the photos above: Tom . . .

    The series of photos [you are seeing] today are of class visits we took in the morning yesterday; an exhibit of art work by middle school students of the Arts College Attached Middle School; the fashion design class at the college and a dance class. The students were fascinated and impressed by the art work, as they were by the fashion design and the dance class with the college students. Suodanna, Li Jing and Liu Xuan, past participants in the exchange to Vermont were in the dance class. 

    We then had a dance and choral collaboration, a few photos of which I have included and then had the tree planting ceremony at the Friendship Forest. The day concluded with a visit to a sort of theme park and a great meal of Mongolian food.

    Some of our students were in a room with a "Kang." There is one for people to look up. Actually, it is a very ingenious combtn_Katherine and company seated on a kangination, bed, couch and dining room. It is an elevated platform with a fire and pipes running through it, which carry heated smoke from the fire throughout the platform and then out to the outside. You see many of these in north China. The platform is a mass of concrete, brick or stone that stores the heat and then radiates it. It is sort of like a European stove. Once the mass is heated, it retains the heat for a long time.  —Tom

Whether he knows it or not, Tom is always teaching. And, as a result, we are always learning!

Now, planting a tree may not seem so special to any of you (especially living in the land of trees!), but the group joined with several Mongolians in a joint tree-planting effort at the Friendship Forest. As Tom stated yesterday:

    The tree planting ceremony this afternoon is also symbolic of the close and long term relationship between the American and Chinese students.

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Okay, excuse me here but I couldn’t resist:
This is Pat and a musician friend “comparing ‘notes.’”


I feel like I am on an infomercial as I say, “and that’s not all!” Nope, it’s not. Normally, a report like that and several photos fill the bill. But today, we have a very special report. Mimi Wright has taken the time to share her insight and wisdom into the deep meaning and rewards of the Journey east adventure to China. This is really great stuff . . . Mimi . . .

    S P E C I A L  R E P O R T
    What is Journey East all about?

    Mimi Wright, Chaperone

    I am one of the fortunate adults traveling for a month with a group of 25 high school students, participants in Journey East 2005. It's been fantastic to observe them as the experience this journey. They are learning so much on so many different levels; it's hard to fathom. This is huge in their lives and they will never be the same after this experience.

    After focusing full time on the study of China since January, students are now immersed in China. They are living, breathing, eating and smelling China. Some of the input is overwhelmingly beautiful in its art and history, while some has been an assault on their sensibilities. They are gaining a new appreciation for the word "old." They are seeing things which date back 2000 years as opposed to the 200 years we consider "old" at home. They have wandered through temples devoted to Confucius, the first teachers, trying to put themselves back in time. They have walked steps the Emperors walked. They have straddled the Great Wall. They have seen, first-hand, how very few of their contemporaries here -- roughly 7 per cent -- are able to get an education beyond high school. They have seen how eager the Chinese students are to meet them and practice their English. "Hello, hello! Welcome to China," they chime. "My English is not very good." Our students see how hard they work to learn English and the West-- to get ahead.

    They are struck by the sheer numbers of people, the frenzied traffic and the activity of China. They see the massive effort China is making to become an equal with the United States globally; they can see the effort
    the Chinese people are making to get personal gain and nationally to build its infrastructure and industry.

    Sometimes our students recognize how different they are. They find themselves more guarded, less likely to kindle friendships or exchange e-mail addresses on first meeting. Other times they connect viscerally, leaping over barriers. They may see smiling faces with neglected teeth; they recognize how privileged they are. What they are doing traveling the globe is so far beyond the wildest dreams of the people they meet. They are getting a sense of how Americans are viewed in other parts of the world.

    They are also learning on a personal level. They are away from home for a month, living as a group, some of the time on a college campus. Our students are not only performing a show which they wrote, they are taking it "on the road" which is a whole new challenge in itself. There is no replacement duct tape in China!

    They are now working collaboratively with the students at the Performing Arts College of Inner Mongolia. Here they are exposed to the rigor and discipline that a Chinese artist learns. Meanwhile, the Chinese will feel a certain amount of envy of our creativity and freedom of expression. They love our kids and the feeling is mutual.

    Our students recognize how much they have in common with the people they are meeting. They know that these kids standing next to them, giving the peace sign for a photo or singing a tune, are the future leaders of China. They are realizing that we had better wake up and appreciate this massive giant on the other side of our tiny globe. They have made friends and built bridges--bridges that join us together. I, personally, feel extremely lucky to be here with them observing them, and helping them process what they are experiencing.

Wow. Thank you Mimi. It is so good to be reminded of how full and complete the journey is. It is a complete mind/body experience. Mimi has explained the journey well. Please read her report again.

We set a record today folks. Some days hold the record for most photos, others most reports, (Brandon certainly holds the record for the longest!), or even the most variety. This day holds the record for the longest page. Now we know why that little roller thingy on the mouse was invented.

The group’s plan for today is an early performance at the Inner Mongolia Nationality Junior College and then they visit Zhaojun's Tomb, the Dazhao Lamasery and the Five Pagoda Temple (more) in the afternoon.

A special “Rack and Roll jam” evening has been planned for tonight and it promises to be one rockin’ house! Tom has promised a load of photos from that event, so Get Ready, cause here they come! Uh, huh!

Good day everyone!

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moment of zen . . .

Look Mom, I’m trying out for the lead
in “Titanic!”

[JE trip 2005] [Dress Rehearsal] [Itinerary] [Press release] [March 29]