Alex Morrow, Freshman, Townshend
As the days remaining in China dwindle, the atmosphere of the Journey East group starts to change. The feeling of sadness and excitement fills all of us. How close we are to going home and yet the joy of how fun today was going to be. The day began by being jolted awake, by loud, explosive sounds. which I quite frankly disliked. Unlike Vermont, in China there is no law banning the use of fireworks. So, the Chinese are able to set off big fireworks at any time during the day. Even at the ungodly hour of 7 am. After the fireworks show, I got ready for the day, making sure to dress in work clothes. We were on our way to help at the Eco-Garden of Inner Mongolia Communist Youth League Commission, planting trees to continue the friendship between the Journey East Program and the Art College of the Inner Mongolia University.
The Eco-Garden was much different than I had imagined. We arrived on the crowded bus and began to file out onto a cement parking lot which faced a beautifully decorated mosaic building, guarded by soldier-looking men. Now you might be wondering, where’s the garden? And where are the trees? Don’t worry, there were plenty of withered trees, most of them looked like they could use some TLC, and that’s exactly what we gave them. Shoveling, watering, planting, and taking billions of photos are what we accomplished at the garden. Julia, Emma and I introduced ourselves to an extremely nice broadcasting student, who helped us plant our very own tree which we named Brucey the Sprucey.
During the entire planting ceremony, we were photographed and interviewed constantly. It was a tad overwhelming, but I have to admit, I loved all the attention I received. After caring for the older trees, we made our way back to the bus, where I decided to sit with my new Mongolian friend. I chatted with her about my family, friends, and life in America. She was a great listener and I learned a little more about Chinese culture. The ride was short and soon the restaurant gateway came into view. The part that still freaks me out is how the Chinese use metal reclining fences to surround buildings. For me, it sends the vibe of being in a cage. But I soon forgot this feeling, for it was time to eat a wonderful lunch; I even had the chance to talk with the Mongolian English teacher. On the walk back from the restaurant, I saw an eagle-type bird that was chained to a plastic log. The image was sad. I felt truly sorry for the imprisoned bird. However, I didn’t have much time to think about this, for I had a busy afternoon to prepare for.
Getting back to the hotel, we were all supposed to have a two hour break. Unfortunately, Sarah and I had issues with our hotel room and had to move, giving me about 15 minutes to prepare for the special activity. Each of us were going to spend the afternoon and evening with a host family. I was thrilled, for this was the opportunity that I had been looking forward to all year. Jackson and I were going to stay with Mr. and Mrs. Miao.
At 3 pm, I made my way downstairs to the lobby of our hotel, to find the smiling face of Mrs. MIao, waiting for Jackson and me. We made our way to the parking lot and stepped inside this chique white car, the inside of which was covered in fake fur. I was surprised to learn that in China, wearing a seatbelt is not required. We soon pulled up to the apartment, and the outside made me feel like I was in an extremely rundown neighborhood. However, inside the apartment was quite cozy, sophisticated, and welcoming; just like the rest of the family.
The family included a mother, father, grandmother, daughter, and translator. The daughter was 12 years old but looked to be about the age of eight. She was unbelievably shy, played the cello, and spoke excellent English. Her favorite things were Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Hello Kitty, and Tigger from Winnie the Pooh. To us, these things sound like something a preschooler would enjoy, but in China, girls of all ages enjoy them. The father was adorable and dressed in sweatpants, making me feel right at home. He enjoyed the NBA which gave Jackson and me a topic to discuss right off the bat. The mother was very friendly and always helpful, just like the translator, who I ended up learning much from. For example, she explained to me the Chinese education system and how different it is from the American education system. The Chinese spend on average about 3 hours studying each night, if you’re around 12 years old, not giving them much time to socialize, since they go to school from 7 am to 5:30 at night (included in this is a rest hour.) Lastly we met the grandmother, who lives with the oldest son, our host father. This amazing woman taught me a little bit of the art of calligraphy. I learned how to write my Chinese name, and I received a private lesson on the strokes of certain characters that I wanted to learn. Some of them were friendship, purple dragon, luck, and China. The lady even presented Jackson and I with gifts; calligraphy she had written, which welcomed us to their home. The thought was sweet and I loved the artwork.
Soon after, we made our way downstairs to the small kitchen. The kitchen contained an oven, refrigerator, sink, and everything a kitchen in America would have. In the kitchen we got a chance to make dumplings! I learned the proper technique on how to fold the perfect dumpling, and also an important lesson: even if mine didn’t come out as well as theirs, it still tasted scrumptious. In total, we made about 75 dumplings, each containing beef and all made by hand. The part that amazed me the most is how careful and precise the Chinese are in most everything they do.
Dinner was served and I tried the dumplings. They were divine, just like the other food that was served. At the table there was little talk, but somehow Jackson and I agree that we felt at home, each of us part of the family. The hosts made sure that we were full. Oh, by that time I was on my way to exploding! Telling them this, smiles lit up their faces. Cooky, the translator, explained that it’s a Chinese custom that the guests must be full, thus making the host family happy, because then the host family feels that they have furthered the relationship with their guests, which I hoped would be the case. I love my host family and plan to keep in contact.
As soon as we told them we were full, we went into the living room, where we watched Chinese opera, NBA basketball, and chatted with the family. I told them about my family, showed the pictures of Vermont, and answered questions they had about American culture. The entire time was also spent taking hundreds of pictures. On one occasion, something hysterical happened. My host mother started screaming in Chinese at the camera. I was able to understand some, which I won’t repeat here. It reminded me of my own mother, who isn’t the best with her technology either. When all the pictures were taken, we received an instrumental show. The daughter played a cello-like instrument, and the tune was beautiful. She was unbelievable and had only been playing for 20 days. It was a great way to end the evening.
At around 9 pm, we started down the six flights of stairs that would lead us to the ride home. During the ride home I was able to look out the window and see China from a new perspective. The feeling of being a tourist finally disappeared.
I knew the final goodbye was coming soon, as the lights of our hotel came slowly into view. I tried to think of some meaningful words and the perfect farewell speech. But in the end, the simple thank you and goodbye meant more to all of us. I truly hope that one day I will be able to participate in another host exchange, for today is an experience that I know I’ll remember for a lifetime.
Wow, great report! Students of past journeys has often commented on the “rundown” conditions of the houses on the outside and then find a gorgeous home inside.
We appreciate so much the time and effort taken by these host families to help ours students learn about real life in China. The same thank you goes out to all of Vermont host families over the years. It is such an invaluable gift. Thank you all!
We said, when the group arrived in Hohhot, that the stay here was the “heart” of this journey. It is where the wonderful lifetime friendships are created. And those relationships that already existed, become have even stronger.
We have often referred to the people of Hohhot simply as our hosts. They, in turn, have traveled to the U.S. and we were their hosts. Now, after several exchanges between us, Hohhot has become our “home away from home.” And our Hohhot friends have become much, much more than hosts and guests. They have become family. We can never thank them enough for all they continue to do for our kids, our group leaders and chaperones, to say nothing of the overall success of the Journey East program.
We will say, as we do each year, collectively and from our hearts:
Thank you, Hohhot!
Simply said, Hohhot Rocks!
Hard to believe, but today is the last day in Hohhot for the gang. They spent the day shopping and enjoying free time, recovering from their powerful and exhausting final collaborative show the night before. They celebrated tonight with a farewell banquet.
The farewell banquet was indeed a very busy night for all. Tom was involved with every aspect of the event with speaking, presenting people, presenting and receiving gifts, etc., to the point where we won’t have any more photos today.
This usually results in a boatload of photos the next day. Let’s hope!
Just to keep the day from being a visual shutout, we do have a few photos overflowing with color. Let’s check them out: