Lauren Scott, Hohhot, Inner Mongolia 4/19/08
Today was probably the best day of the whole trip. Usually I say that at the end of every day, but I really think I mean it this time. With the number of days slowly dwindling, and trying not to think about how we are leaving very soon, I try to make everyday the best. Today I didn’t even have to try.
We started the day off with another collaboration/rehearsal day with the students from the Inner Mongolian Arts College. Sitting in the dance studio looking enviously at all of my friends who were lucky enough to wear the traditional Mongolian costume, I was bummed because I didn't have anything to do. I wasn't in the dance or the Mongolian rock piece, all I did was sing, and that was later on. I was really and truly upset because I thought I had ruined all chance of collaboration. Earlier on in our stay in Hohhot we collaborated with the same students, and for me, I got a lesson on the Matoqin, otherwise known as the horse head fiddle. To put it plainly: it was awful. I felt horrible. The teachers I had were extremely intimidating, and I did not do well. I was close to devastation that I had ruined my one and only chance to collaborate, I was quite upset, and being back at the college, with nothing to do made me revisit the same mood. About three seconds after I had finished that thought, Mike popped his head in the studio and said, "I got you a lesson!" Thrilled, I hopped up and felt determined to make this one better than the last.
My teacher was another student with the name of Erchis, who spoke next to no English. We started off with bowing exercises. Immediately he started slapping my shoulder down. He meant I should keep it down. He then slapped my wrist, it wasn't loose enough. My arm apparently wasn't straight enough also. His new instructions were buzzing around in my head: shoulder down, wrist loose, and arm straight; while concentrating on all of this I was making the sound equivalent to a dying animal. He started to laugh with an underlying note of frustration and he tried to motion how I looked while doing all of this. He scrunched up his body and then he loosened and relaxed, and with his eyes he motion to me that I should do what he just did. After I continued to do the exact opposite of what he did (not on purpose, of course) he spun me around in front of a mirror to show me what my mistakes looked like. That helped tremendously. We finally got to playing real songs, and I was feeling great about it. That first part was frustrating but like I said, I was determined to make this better than the last. I learned a traditional song, and then got a short break as he frantically searched for a music book. He found a song that seemed to please him and then started to hum it. I recognized it almost instantly as "Ode to Joy". That attracted a small crowd too, first, the window on the door of the classroom, and then from the hallway through the open door and into the room. Finally, we finished with "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." It was easier to play the songs that I was familiar with, it made everything go a lot smoother.
The lesson went really well, and not only was I pleased that I felt good after and that it went will, but also that I got to experience a style of teaching that was completely different from ours back in the States. The teachers at home don't get that 'in your face' or slap you to make you change your form on something. It made the learning experience that we have back home look wimpy and pathetic compared to this. I feel like we have the easier way out, but at the same time, I don't think I would want the American teachers acting like that.
Later on in the day, we went off with families to host us for dinner. Each family had two students. They brought us home for dinner and exchanged gifts with each other. I was with Graham and we went off to the apartment of Wurina, a dance instructor, with her and her brother, whose English name is Alex. We took a taxi to their apartment with Alex, while Wurina and her friend went to a market to buy some food. I enjoyed taking a taxi because it felt like we were experiencing the city first hand, like we were one of the locals who live there every day. After realizing we got the wrong apartment building, getting the key stuck in the lock, and laughing quite hard about it, we settled down in the correct apartment in the right building. It was really great because Alex could speak English very well, so that made things a much less awkward. We talked about all sorts of things: music (Alex was a drummer in a band in college, or was it high school?), movies, what American credit cards are like, American and Chinese holidays, Chinese TV, the educational system, and a whole lot more. He was really surprised that we could choose some of our classes. He thought it was very cool. I got the impression that he thought that everything American was cool. I get that impression from almost every student I have met so far. They are just wowed because we are Americans, it's like we are celebrities. Usually that makes me feel a little uncomfortable, but with him it wasn't as extreme, so it was great. It was actually really comfortable.
Graham and I both played for them, we made dumplings, and all sat around the living room, and the specifics of everything are just in a blur of happiness right now. I really enjoyed being there and getting the family we did. It felt so simple and basic, and genuinely sincere. They welcomed us into their home, and were good hosts, but at the same time it felt like we got a view of what their everyday life was like.
Each one of these journeys, standing alone, is without a doubt, a fascinating and inspirational experience. We can’t begin to describe the impact each of these journeys have had on these kids. Each journey, in and of itself, is a capsule of Chinese and Inner Mongolian life, from top to bottom, side to side.
When the two dozen kids are selected to participate in each semester-long Asian Studies program, there is no guarantee of success. There are so many factors to consider. But Tom, Mike, and Meg (and Ann, Matt, and Ron in past journeys) carefully put together this puzzle, so-to-speak, with a picture in mind. The picture becomes a little clearer each time out, but one thing for sure, all the the pieces MUST fit.
There is no room for failure here. The pressure to succeed is immense. This is not a joy ride or a pleasure tour, but rather a mission of international consequence. Inappropriate incidents can be costly. Every move these JE-ers makes is being watched and analyzed by a huge international audience. This Journey East program is the model by which other programs are being considered and developed. I know this might sound a little “heavy,” but for those of you new to this program, that’s because it IS!
As parents, you should be very proud to be involved in this program. Your child will not fully realize the value of this experience for years to come. And the realization will come a little at a time.
So, now the group begins final preparations for the Farewell Banquet and presentations of the Maple Scholarships -- closing ceremonies to their stay in Hohhot. This performance will be the biggest and last of their journey. The students will all feel a very special “buzz” with this final show.
We just finished the dress rehearsal at the main Concert Hall and the students are off for dinner. Final performance and presentation of the Maple Scholarships to students take place tonight in what will be a gala affair, to say the least. Kids are doing well. What a nice group. [Tom]
Cool. In the meantime, enjoy yet another beautiful day in Vermont.
We leave you with a great photo that appeared on a Chinese news web site. Here is the link to the web page: http://www.nmg.xinhuanet.com/2008-04/16/content_12995958.htm
We leave you today with a little music of our own (sung to New York, New York):
Start spreading the news, I'm leaving today
I want to be a part of it - Hohhot, Hohhot