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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?




We Are the World

T-minus 7

That’s right, everybody, ONE WEEK from today your children and/or spouses will be back home! This journey ends and a new life-long journey begins.

Congratulations to you all! You have succeeded in making it to the last of the major checkpoints. The hard part is now officially over! Listen carefully . . . One - week - to - go! That’s right, just seven more days. Each day will now be the last of that day of the week left. In other words, tomorrow will be the last Thursday away, last Friday, etc. Feels good, doesn’t it? It’s time now to begin the welcoming home preparations. Get to work on those signs and banners this weekend! Yeah . . .

But first, many of you are hearing news of an earthquake that has shook southwest China. It appears the the hardest hit area is about 1,300 miles southwest of Hohhot, in Yushu, an area in Qinghai Province. The JE group is safe and sound. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people there.

Brendan Connor (right)

Two former JE students make the news today. Brendan Connor (photo above - Tom and Jenny Connor’s son and JE alum) has arrived in Hohhot to spend a couple of days with his parents and the JE 2010 gang. Here’s Tom reflecting on Brendan and the program:

    Brendan was 15 when he came to China in 2000 and is now 26. We never considered when we started this program that first time that Brendan, who was then in the tenth grade, would return to China numerous times, this time as an investment analyst for the company he works for in New York. We have other alums who have lived, worked and/or studied here in the past including: Geneva Holden of Newfane; Torie Gervais of South Wardsboro; Johnny Redmond and Callie Sopper. I expect that there have been others and will be more in the future.

Very, very cool. We’d also like to take a moment to highlight Morgan Mahdavi’s story on the front page of today’s Brattleboro Reformer. Morgan is spending time in Senegal working for the volunteer program, Projects Abroad. Morgan is a JE 2007 alum, and her father Bahman, and brother Emmet are on this year’s journey. Amazing!

We had a jam-packed day yesterday with what might have been a record number of photos. But today is no slouch either. We’ve got lots of photos, a couple of audio files, and two student reports.

Here’s Quinn’s report on the first few days in Hohhot to get us started:

Quinn iconQuinn Darrow, Junior, South Newfane

Arriving in Inner Mongolia was very exciting. Although the fields were brown and fairly dull in color, I could tell that the drab hills would spring to life in a few months. The mountains lining the highways are abrupt and startling. Like an explosion from the ground they almost seem to tear at the sky. No trees grow on the bare peaks and rocks stab out of the sides and peaks.

The mountains here in Inner Mongolia make Vermont’s “mountains” look like a person could sleep on their soft, round tops.

The second day, today, we woke to see bits of a very familiar and unfriendly old acquaintance; snow, falling from the sky. Once we walked outside we knew why. The wind that whipped at our faces was something that even we “winter-bred” Vermonters rarely experience. This wind seemed to go right through my flesh and bones.

The first school that we visited was another very well funded primary school with an astro turf soccer field surrounded by a track. When we went to the conference room where we were introduced to some of the staff of the school, the children were beginning their morning exercises. The routines consisted of the entire school lining up in perfectly symmetrical lines (which were perfectly visible from our vantage point) and the students would all go through a series of synchronized exercises; all except for one boy in the center of the group, that is. This boy decided that it would be fun to punch and kick at imaginary enemies, and eventually at his own classmates. I figured that either he did not know the steps or had gotten bored with the taught moves and decided to create his own. He started to run back and forth between the 8 kids surrounding him, causing mischief. Luckily, the exercises ended before he could be caught.

The second school was a Kindergarten for children of Mongolian ethnicity in which the students learned Mongolian dancing, singing, and instrumental music such as the horsehead fiddle. These children, aged 3 through 6 amazed me with their talent and skill, performing in a way that I don’t believe American children of the same age could perform.

But, these kids aren’t the only thing that is quickly growing. China is growing extremely fast; from the multi-story buildings that are replacing one-story ramshackle buildings to the 6 and 8 lane highways that are a common sight. It is very clear that China will be a very big world power; soon.

Okay, so let’s get up to date and see what the group did yesterday. First up is the visit to the Dazhao Lamasery. Let’s check out the photos:

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The Dazhao Lamasery is the earliest temple of Lamaism which was built in Inner Mongolia in the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Hohhot became a religious center for people from all over Mongolia who came to worship at this temple.

And here they are all together! And Brendan (back row, second from left) in the mix again ten years later!

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Next up is the visit to #1 Middle School. Here’s Tom to give us the scoop:

    You’ll see our kids playing basketball on a court surrounded by hundreds of students, who were literally right up to the end and sidelines of the court. The Chinese were a little distressed that most of our basketball players were girls; who some of the Chinese boys were reluctant to guard.

    Kind of interesting, actually; Alex wanted to have someone play a little tougher defense on her but the boys seemed to be a little timid about physical contact. As you can see from the photos, it was lots of fun. We visited classes, as well. I shot some photos of my "pod" in the English class we attended. Another great dinner tonight.

Alright, let’s check out our “Rebels” as they take to the ball to the hoop!

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So they got some soccer in recently, and now some basketball. Wonder what’s next...

Now, let’s go inside the school and into the classroom:

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The school’s philosophy:

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Let’s hear what Sarah has to say the group’s visit to the Lamasery, the middle school, and the game of basketball:

Sarah iconSarah Dickson, Sophomore, Jamaica

The buildings near the Lamasery were a mix of Mongolian and Chinese style.
On one side of the road were a cluster of elegant pagoda roofs with tiny wooden figurines adorning the corners, while on the other there were tall buildings topped with bright blue and gold domed roofs. At first I thought there they were a Russian design but then it occurred to me that Mongolian and Russian architecture are likely to be akin to one another due to the proximity of the countries.

Just as I began to wonder how long the bus ride would be, we turned into a parking lot across from one of the Mongolian-roofed buildings and there we were. I was surprised that the lamasery was not out in the middle of nowhere, or settled into the side of a desolate mountain, cut off completely from society. Instead, it was in the middle of a well-populated area in the city of Hohhot.

The lamasery is an outdoors tourist attraction, so the first thing that many of us noticed as we waited for the tickets to be purchased was the cold that cut through our clothing down to the bones.
Some of us had come to China expecting to brag to everyone at home about how much warmer it was, but now we are shivering in 40 degree weather while everyone back home is working on their tans. Fortunately, it wasn’t quite as windy today as it had been yesterday.

In the lamasery, we were led through a series of rooms full of Buddhist sculptures and relics. In one room there was a painting meant to depict a story about Karma, where a servant is rewarded while a greedy boss is looked down upon. In another hall, there was a giant white Buddha with scriptures in protective cases up and down the walls beside it. We were led through two other large rooms with prayer mats in the center and surrounding them was a barrier of golden cylinders inscribed with ornate designs and characters. We were instructed to touch them all to get good luck. Since we went through two, we must be really lucky now.

In the back of one of those rooms with the golden cylinders there was a dark room with yet another giant Buddha.
This one had an arch of dragons in front of it, as well as a full donation box. We then went into a room lined with female Buddhas, all looking deeply serene and mostly identical, until the very last one on the left wall. It was terrifying, with the face of an outraged, three-eyed dragon.

We then got a chance to try and bargain for silver bracelets, incense, prayer flags and whatever else we could find in the shops at the lamasery. Not surprisingly, they all had the same products, but for different prices. Fortunately for us, we had a couple of students from the Arts College with us to help us bargain. There was one store where the woman was being particularly stubborn but she was good-natured and, after “heated” debate over a price, she finally gave in. Others weren’t quite as accommodating. We shopped until our appendages grew numb from the cold and then we finally sought refuge in a heated store that sold incredibly expensive art supplies.

    [The manager/director of this store, which was really a gallery, was Mr. Wen Yuting, former president of the Arts College. -Tom]

From there we went to lunch at an amazing restaurant that is famous for its dumplings. The food was sweet like dessert, but we didn’t mind. The dumplings were great, though not as varied as I had expected.

Following our meal, we visited No. 1 Middle School of Hohhot. It was impressive, and, with the exception of the kindergarten we visited yesterday, it was probably one of the best schools that we have been to. The students were friendly, but not overwhelming as they had been in some of the previous schools we had visited. Many of the students spoke English very well. We were shown two awards halls, making Leland and Gray’s accomplishments pale in comparison. Part of it, though, is the culture; in Chinese culture they value past achievements and how successful their students become post-graduation. They keep records and, in so doing, they build a basis for students and faculty to be proud of their school. At Leland and Gray, other than sports achievements noted in the trophy cases, there is no record of accomplishments and we don’t seem to keep track of how successful alumni have become. There are sports and music awards scattered throughout the school but many are outdated. There is little source for pride in the school. A difference between our cultures is that the Chinese care enough about how well their students do in life to stay in touch. They value their country and encourage their students to actually go somewhere in life, to make their country better and to make their school look better. Leland and Gray, as well as many other schools in the U.S. does not appear to have these same values.

Dazhao 143 copyFollowing the awards halls, we visited classrooms.
I went to an English classroom where all the students were eager to speak to us. Many were too shy to talk much but there were others who made up for that. They asked questions about our daily lives; what sports we like (they all like basketball); and our favorite singers (I said Lady GaGa and they all loved me). At the end of the class we acted out a play by Mark Twain called “The Million Dollar Bank Note.” The part we read was probably just an excerpt, but it seemed to lack a plot.

The day ended with a heated game of, guess what, basketball; Americans vs. Chinese.
I’m not sure who won, but I don’t think anyone paid much attention to the score, anyway.

Clip 4-14A -- Clip 4-14B

Tom describes the audio clips:

    [4-14A] is the class of 64 in a room smaller than the classrooms at Leland and Gray singing a song to us at the end of the English lesson. [Clip 4-14B] is a four minute recording of three or four Chinese kids plus Jesse Newton reading and acting out a Mark Twain short story.

Okay, let’s take a look at today’s events:

Here’s Tom:

    Off to Mengniu and Zhao Jun Cashmere Factory this morning and then to the new campus of the Arts College and a performance this afternoon.

Have you noticed how most of these kids have shared personal revelations about themselves? Their home? Their school? How this journey has helped them discover something about themselves they either didn’t know or didn’t believe they had?

I had this thought during a previous journey and I think it is worth sharing again. I was thinking about how these journeys are very much like a popular movie we have all come to embrace as one of the great classics of all time: The Wizard of Oz.

Think about the similarities between the characters in The Wizard of Oz and the kids on their journey east. The Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Lion each wished for something they believed they didn’t have: The Tin Man wanted a heart, the Scarecrow a brain, and the Lion courage.

I’ll bet many of our students also believed, before this journey, that they too were lacking some personality trait, confidence strength, or ability. This journey, much like that of the trip down the Yellow Brick Road, will reveal to our kids that they DO have the things they felt they lacked. And the journey will also provide opportunities that will lead to discovery of other qualities, abilities, and talents otherwise left undetected.

Even though they won’t come back with a heart-shaped clock, a diploma, or a medal of courage (I suppose they could, if they luck out at one of the outdoor markets!), many of these young people will come back as different people (internally grown) with more confidence, courage, and compassion about the things they can do and achieve.

One thing for sure, when the kids are back home and settled back into their American lifestyle, they will often lay awake at night wondering if this was, in reality, just a dream. A magnificent dream that has left them  . . .

  • more powerful than a locomotive,
  • faster than a speeding bullet,
  • able to leap tall building is a single bound.

I warn you though, while you’re trying to digest this food for thought, pay no attention to that man behind the screen . . . hey, get that dog away from that curtain! Hey! Come on! I am getting all serious here and stuff and your dog is ruining everything!

Okay, everybody, it’s been quite a day so far. Might have more later, one never knows . . . well, maybe the Shadow knows . . .

Enjoy the sunshine everybody!

[JE2010] [April 13] [April 14] [April 15]

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