Kaylene Samuels, Sophomore
April 22, 2005
I never thought I'd set foot on the Gobi desert of China, rolling around in the sand, filling each pocket as I tumbled. We got an early start this morning and left our hotel at 7 since we had a three hour drive ahead. Yes, it was long, but nothing could compare to our 13-hour plane ride.
We took a bus and a fifteen passenger van because ten Mongolian students came with us. We were encouraged to mix up in the vehicles so I joined the big van of Mongolians with Steph, Jessie, Ali and Matt. To pass the time on the long ride, we took out our I-pods and let the Mongolians listen to samples of American music. It was so much fun because they speak little English, if any, so we had to communicate with actions.
When we arrived, I was surprised to find almost no wind and the sun shining. Lots of people, in fact, got sunburns. There couldn't have been a better day! Once we got to the desert, most of us opted for the 30 yuan camel ride. It was really fun --- interesting, yet scary because the sand was constantly shifting under the camel's feet. We were sometimes walking on the edges of the sand dunes and all the camels were connected, so if one had slipped, the train would have collapsed and all would have slid down the dune.
After the camel rides, we had a blast. The first thing Steph and I did was run up the sand dunes as fast as we could. As we did, we'd look down to discover the sand sliding out from under us as we barely made it to the top. Once we finally got there, we rolled down the dunes, not caring about the walk back up. The second time up, we decided to throw our Mongolian friends down the dunes, but most of the time it ended up that we were the ones thrown. I ended up completely covered in sand. When I got really tired of walking up the dunes, I decided to go off a little into the distance to write a reflection on the trip.
We've only spent several days with these Mongolian students collaborating for only a few hours each day. Even so, I've felt a connection with them since the third day of our collaborations (even though their English is so limited). It was then that I realized how hard it's going to be to leave them, knowing that I may never see them again in my life. But there's not one part of me that doesn't want to come back here. Being here in China, I have realized how great Chinese and Mongolian people are. They are the kind of people who'd give you the shirts off their backs, giving something even if it's from the little they have. Little things have led me to this conclusion, such as how they always offer to carry my backpack and show bag, even sometimes taking it from my hands.
They always know how they can make themselves better at a subject such as English, for example. I always compliment them on how well they speak English and some of them deny it. When we visited the English class in the middle school (equivalent to high school in the states) on the campus of Qufu, I was surprised to see how well disciplined the students were.
When they were called on by the teacher, they would stand up to answer her question and wouldn't sit back down until she gave them the "OK." I remember hearing a lecture that touched on life in China when we were in
Xi'an. The guest was Tom's Chinese friend, Wang Ping, who has a son in middle school. She said that her son goes to school from 7:15 AM until 7
PM and when he gets home, he studies until midnight while other students stay up 'till 1 am. This creates quite the sense of competition considering only 7 or 8 per cent of China's students go on to college.
When I walked by classrooms at night in the college campus of QuFu, I would see students studying with piles of books in front of them. Education is an extremely important aspect of their lives: Students who are college bound let nothing get in the way of getting a good education.
We've learned many other things about the Chinese people here. When Riley and I spent the day with my host family, for instance, they wouldn't stop feeding us. We had a huge lunch and dinner with snacks in between. This is because they're so worried that we'll go home hungry and that would be seen as a disgrace. Hujia even told me that another greeting and conversation opener, in addition to "How be you?" is "Have you eaten?"
It makes me sad when I think of how most of the Chinese and Mongolian people I've met always think of another before themselves: In America, it seems, there are fewer people like that. I think that this has to do with our background. We focus on individualism, as the Chinese focus on teamwork. But it makes me feel even worse to think of how much the Chinese and Mongolians praise and look up to us Americans.
Wherever we go, they stare at us and treat us with the greatest respect as if we were famous. They want our autographs and e-mails, knowing nothing but our names. Yet the Chinese culture seems healthier than ours in many ways especially in that they think about others first and work so hard together to get a job done -- even if the job takes a long time. The Chinese know so much about Americans, but what do we know about them? Several students ask me questions, like what type of Chinese music groups I know and can I speak Chinese? Who's my favorite Chinese actor/actress? What's my favorite Chinese movie? I truly feel embarrassed and don't know how to answer. I'm speechless.
Overall, this trip has been amazing and when I really think about it, it would be really hard to answer the question, "How was China?" because I have so much to say but there are not enough words to describe it. This is the best experience of my life.