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Journey East web site




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.

We wish to thank Holden Waterman, Director of the Asian Studies Outreach Program University of Vermont, and Dr. Juefei Wang, (former Director of the ASOP).

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

Leland & Gray
Journey East 2010

Tom Connor
Program Director

Jenny Connor
Ron Kelley


Mary Martin
Diane Newton
Bahman Mahdavi


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Where Are They Now?




It’s Been a A Hard Day’s Night

You’ve made it to the “T.” Congratulations. This is a major milestone. We begin the traditional JE T-Minus countdown counting down the days until the group returns home.

T-Minus 10

That’s right, everybody, just 10 ten more days. This is the last full week of the journey and a full week it will be.

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The group has made it to the beach, a big beach! Otherwise known as the Gobi Desert! We have A TON of pictures of camels, sand, and lots of smiles, more sand . . . This is going to be a very full page, so settle back and enjoy . . .

But first . . .before we get started, let’s hear what Jesse has to say about the recent visit to Mt. Tai:

Jesse iconJesse Newton, Freshman, Windham

Mount Tai. I am sitting on a rock. In front of me is the horizon, a golden line that stretches two thirds of the way around me. There are no words to describe, and I believe no pictures that can really demonstrate the feeling of sitting here. I have had no experiences from my life in Vermont to compare with Mount Tai.

There are stairs that go up this mountain, 7200 hundred steep, stone steps. Chinese people journey up these uneven stone steps to honor and pray for their ancestors. We see this mountain as a sight, an experience that we will remember, but one that we can never really understand. I wish that we could have their perspective and understand what this place really means to them.

This morning we left Qufu, all of us at least a little bit sick. Qufu was amazing; it gave us a little chance to relax after the craziness of the last couple of weeks. Now we are packed and preparing to go to Jinan for one last night in Shandong before Inner Mongolia. Every place we have been so far in China has had a unique and distinct countryside. Here in Shandong, the landscape is extremely brown and the dry mountains are completely covered with long snaky stone terracing.

Near Mount Tai we piled out of the bus we found ourselves at the base of some impressive mountains, but apparently we still had more bus riding ahead us. We headed up into the mountains in a couple of smaller buses and for a while we followed the course of what appeared to be the cleanest water I have yet to see in China. It was a crazy windy road that snuck into the mountains and the Chinese bus divers pounded right up it.

The mountain rises 5000 vertical feet. In the gondola you rise up the face with cliffs and ravines below you. The view was breathtaking. Even though the smog masked the distinct features of the distant mountains, the shadow of their shapes were clear. Mr. Connor said that the gondola poles were set by helicopters and from where I sat, between the scale of the project and the terrain, I could see no other way to do it. Almost more impressive though, than the great construction projects, was the little stone paths and terraces that climbed all the way up the mountain. These features had no technology involved in their construction, no computers; they were built by human hands.

tn_elem school photos plus Mt. Tai 064The gondola ride ended but we still had a hike ahead of us. Where we started, it was a bustling place, filled with venders, stores and restaurants. It thinned out as we slowly climbed up. What amazed me the most, was the levels of the mazes of stairs, buildings and temples. I feel as though I could spend days here and not see it all. We were set loose near the top and at first I didn’t head directly to the “peak.” Instead, I went to one of the rock-out croppings to look around. Literally, I have never seen anything like what I saw. Mount Tai is one of the four mountains of worship in China and when I was out on that rock I can see why. Even cloaked in fog, looking down the mountains, I can see the hints of a city creeping in. I simply can’t imagine what a person sitting here in my place would have seen a thousand years ago.

One the way back we took a different gondola and then different buses and a different crazy road with just as many hair pin turns. The bus drivers maneuver their vehicles with incredible skill, but the speeds at which they traverse these windy little roads makes me think. We are in Jinan now, ready for a long travel day. Mount Tai was really an amazing experience. Like most things I have seen so far in China, it was exhausting and mind blowing.

Pretty amazing stuff. Thanks Jesse!

The group has spent the last umpteen hours traveling from Qufu to Jinan to Beijing to Hohhot. It was a long day and night for everyone. Here is Tom telling us about it:

    Yesterday was a long, long travel day. Up at 6. Off to the airport at Jinan. Flight to Beijing and a six-hour layover at the airport . We arrived in Hohhot at 9 last night, check-in, etc. Late meal at 10:00 or so and then a 6:00 A.M. morning call. We have an early breakfast and are then off to the desert, which is about a three hour drive. Very cold here right now but a great, warm reception from our good friends here. President Zhao Kuiwu, Yiruletu, Wu Xiyong, Ge Siqi, and He Jia met us at the airport. He Jia stayed with Jessica Young, during his visit to Vermont. A nice reunion. Welcome Banquet tonight.

So all of that took place from 6pm Friday night (our time) until 6pm last night (our time). So now they are off to the Gobi Desert (my personal favorite part of the journey!) Here are some photos taken during yesterday’s long day in the airport:

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While watching American Idol last week, I was thinking about the kids in China. In many ways, for those of us back home, Journey East is a reality show. Prior to getting accepted into the program, the participants (students) go through a rigid screening process, each hoping to make their way to Hollywood (in this case China). Each day of the journey is like the next show, where they perform and share their experiences, hoping to get better each time out. In the JE case, however, no one gets kicked off the show. Instead, they ALL become our American Idols!

jenny and RonAnd, just as on American Idol, these JE students have mentors as well. We have talked about everyone on this journey except for two very, very, very special people -- Jenny Connor and Ron Kelley.

We talk a lot about, and see many photos of the performances. These performances are much more than simply dancing, singing, and moving about on stage. The messages of each individual “act” contribute to conveying a much larger, unified story about our culture. Jenny and Ron have worked many, many (did I mention “endless?”) months with the kids to create just the right music, just the right movements, just the right costumes to entertain the thousands who will see the show.

The performances in the past were more like plays with a lot of dialogue. Jenny and Ron have created a unique performance that is highly visual and musical -- taking advantage of the various performance talents of each of the students -- that can be enjoyed and understood regardless of language.

Jenny’s incredible “one-of-a-kind” creativity (an accomplished multi-talented artist) and Ron’s infinite musical talents (is there anything he can’t do musically?) combine to give this group two amazing mentors. The success of a performance depends on the performers believing in themselves. This is a major challenge of the mentors -- transforming these “new to the stage” kids, to veteran performers in a month’s time. From what we have see so far, and will certainly see during the stay in Hohhot, these guys believe in themselves!

So, get up out of your chairs, off the couch, or wherever you are sitting right now, and let’s give Jenny and Ron one huge rousing standing ovation for the “behind the scenes” work they have done, and continue to do with these kids!! Yeah! Whoa! That’s right! Way to go!!

Thank you Jenny and Ron!

Okay, so let’s get out to the desert and check out these guys riding on camels and playing in the sand:

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Like sands through the Gobi Desert, so are the days of our lives . . .

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Okay, so now that you have seen the desert, finding your child atop a Mongolian camel, here is a quick study of the Gobi Desert so you can better appreciate the photos:

  • The Gobi is 500,000 sq mi (1,295,000 sq km), extending 1,000 mi (1,610 km) from east to west across SE Mongolia and N China.
  • It is one of the world's largest deserts.
  • The Gobi consists of a series of shallow alkaline basins; the western portion of the desert is entirely sandy.
  • The Kerulen River is the Gobi's largest permanent stream; intermittent streams flow into small salt lakes or disappear into the sand.
  • Nearly all the region's soil has been removed by the prevailing northwesterly winds.
  • fierce sand and wind storms are common.
  • The Gobi has cold winters and short, hot summers.
  • Precipitation is in the form of widely spaced cloudbursts.
  • The Gobi's grassy fringe supports a small population of nomadic Mongolian tribes engaged in sheepherding and goatherding.
  • The Gobi is crossed by a highway and by the Trans-Mongolian RR, which links Ulaanbaatar with Jining, China.
  • The railway shortens the Moscow-Beijing run by 700 mi (1,130 km).
  • Coal is mined at Tawan-Tolgoi, Mongolia; oil fields are located at Saynshand, Mongolia, and Yumen, China; and there are copper and other mineral deposits.
  • Many paleontological finds, including early mammals and dinosaur eggs, have been made in the Gobi. Prehistoric stone implements, some 100,000 years old, have also been excavated.
  • (Reference:
  • Remember the Alamo, er, I mean the quiz.

Now here’s Tom to tell us more about the day in the desert:

    We were really lucky with the weather. It was really cold here this morning before we left and when we got there the sun was out and the sky was blue. It warmed up for about two and a half hours and then clouded up and got cold again. The ride out to the desert, which is on the other side of Baotou, used to be about a four or five hour ride. New, excellent highway: 2.5 hours at 130 kmph (80 miles per hour). An adventure.

    Welcome Banquet tonight replete with singers, dancers and many horsehead fiddlers (possible photos coming tomorrow!). Diet has definitely changed. Mutton, served in a variety of ways; milk tea; yogurt with millet and sugar; cheeses; more mutton; noodles; potatoes; more mutton. Much heavier fare, which one would expect in a more northerly area. Excellent food, reflecting the geographical area that we are in.

I’m not sure, did Tom mention mutton? Unlike journeys past, there has been little mention of the food. Either the kids are really loving and find nothing unusual, or they don’t want to say anything. Hmmmm. Oh well, will you please pass the mutton?

Okay, a little info about camels and then we’ll let you get back outside.

Will that be one hump or two?

Did you know . . . one hump camels are primarily found in Arabia (check out Lawrence of Arabia!) and the two hump camels are Asian camels:

tn_Singing Sands 133tn_Singing Sands 132Bactrian Camels (Asian, Two-Humped Camel):

Length: 7 to 11 feet
Height: 6 to 8 feet
Weight: 1000 to 1500 pounds
Number of young: 1
Home: Mongolia


I am sure everyone thinks this, but contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that camels store water in the stomach (or in the hump). Although they are adapted for conservation of water, they will lose weight and strength if they go for long periods without drinking. (

Are we giving you your money’s worth here, or what? Stick around folks, you might end up learning something (hint: remember the quiz!). Plus, we don’t want you to appear completely ignorant when your kids come back and spend the next several weeks telling you about everything did on the journey!

Okay, believe it orm not, that’s it for today. Lots more coming tomorrow (and ten more days).

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And hey, hey, hey . . . let’s be careful out there!

[JE2010] [April 10] [April 11] [April 12]

Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.
Program Director: Tom Connor
webmaster/narrator: John Reinhardt