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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?




8 Days a Week!

A week ago today, you said goodbye to your child. You sent them off to an unknown world, wondering what this thing called Journey East was all about. Well, here you are, 8 days into the trip and the group has, through essays and pictures, painted us a fantastic view of their journey.

Before we begin with today’s events, we have Julian’s report from a couple of days ago. Julian shares with us his Chongqing and Dazu Stone Carvings experience. Julian . . .

julian iconJulian von Wodtke, Sophomore, Guilford

China has always been a leader in development. As we make our way through Chongqing, it is clear that they are still holding that reputation.. Whether being taken down for something bigger and better or buildings going up, Chongqing is filled with construction – everywhere. (Our host, Mr. Li, says that Chongqing is call the “forest of concrete.”) If you look around the number of building cranes you see is absurd. It appears that about 50% of the buildings have cranes on them.

Not only is China developing in its industrial aspects, but China is working to develop their environment, as well. Surprisingly, China’s environmental concern has pushed them to plant over 900,000,000 million trees in Chongqing Municipality alone, in one year. This is a huge leap that China has made, considering that this is the number of trees that they had planted in the previous 10 years. (I was a bit skeptical of these numbers until we drove to Dazu and saw thousands upon thousands of newly planted trees without end, throughout the entire 2 and a half hour bus trip.)

The trip to Dazu stone carvings was filled with so many sights. When we left the heart of Chongqing we slowly entered a completely different world. Much as in the city, every little patch of ground that is not filled with cement is used for more, lush, vegetation. The difference out here in the countryside is that there is much less concrete. After we reached the countryside, we faded in and out of small cities filled with people, factories and concrete. As noted earlier, assign through the countryside makes the nine hundred million trees that have been planted very believable. Young, lush trees fill acres and acres of land everywhere and oceans of green sweep over this beautiful countryside.

Piles of rocks and dirt were everywhere on the sides of the roads due to the constant construction. Looking at China’s history and present, it is evident that the Chinese have much skill moving and working with stone. The construction of the Great Wall and much of what we have seen here exemplifies that. Not only did the Chinese put the 10,000 KM of the Great Wall together, but every perfect rectangle that makes up the wall was chiseled by hand.

As we drove to Dazu, we passed through stone mountains that had been tunneled to accommodate the vehicle traffic. The amount of effort to create those lengthy tunnels is almost unimaginable. Visiting Dazu and studying the stone carvings brought home to us that the Chinese have been doing this for centuries.

In Dazu, a small area was filled with many different hand-carved stone sculptures. These sculptures stretched hundreds of feet long and, in some instances, were about 60 feet tall. Many of these carved figures, which were created 900 years ago, exhibited the most intricate carving work I have ever seen, starting with the older, less intricate carvings and ending with newer, more intricate carvings. All of these sculptures stretched along a path through lush, gorgeous woods. Not only was the carving work amazing but the amount of stone that was moved and cut by hand was so hard to believe.

All of the sculptures were carved straight into these rock cliffs, giving this place a very original feel. Given the age of the sculptures, I find it hard to believe that they are in such good shape. I can only imagine what they must have looked like with they were freshly done and painted.

Thanks, Julian.

It must be so amazing for these kids to travel in and out of so much Chinese history each day. And, at the same time, seeing and working side-by-side with the future of China.

Okay, so moving from where we were a few days ago to yesterday’s visit to the Three Gorges Museum, we hear now Nikki’s thoughts on the Three Gorges Dam Project and her take on being a “celebrity.”

Nikki iconNikki Ires, Sophomore, Windham

Today we had the privilege of visiting the Three Gorges Museum. We explored different exhibits demonstrating modern and ancient culture of the inhabitants of the Three Gorges area/ The Ba ren(people) inhabited Chongqing in ancient times and exhibited unique characteristics that were rooted within the culture for up to 2,000 years. After the development of China’s southwest regions in the Early Han dynasty, the Ba culture fell. However, the people still maintain aspects of the traditional Ba lifestyle. In one exhibit we saw the archeological remains of a family that was tortured and buried alive, probably the result of a mistake of the father.

We also got a basic glimpse at the modern civilization previously inhabiting the TG region. The trackers, as portrayed in John Hersey’s novel, “A Single Pebble,” had an apparently brutal lifestyle. They had to pull large boats up through the rapids of the Yangtze. Finally, we saw an exhibit, which inspired my longing to write today.

There was a trophy about a foot high with a Chinese inscription indicating that the trophy represented a thank you to the millions of people who were displaced by the dam. There was a statue of half a dozen Chinese people with large grins on their faces, gingerly carrying their belongings away from their homes. The guide assured us that the exhibit was dedicated to the many who sacrificed and contributed to their country. Mr. Connor wanted us to observe deeply enough to become frustrated. We are not supposed to return with stars in our eyes. This exhibit frustrated me beyond belief. The tour guide, who was very nice and informative, painted this beautiful picture of the “harmony” between the Chinese people and the government, as if this 12 inch plaque could justify the immense loss the Three Gorges Project caused many of the Chinese people.

Today was our second day as American rock stars and I finally understand why celebrities are so pissy about fans. When we made or debut at the high school we were bombarded by Chinese teens thirsty for contact with young American students. For the first 10-15 minutes, it was the best feeling to have thousands of kids pushing over one another to get a picture with you but eventually, the muscles on the ridge of your mouth grow weary from all the smiles and your “fans” become less of a novelty and more of an annoyance. Don’t get me wrong, I more than appreciate being important to the students but my goal of modestly observing their lifestyle was an impossible undertaking.

Every day, I feel more integrated within our group and with China. This experience leaves me feeling more connected and significant.

As we mentioned before, these students are on more than “a trip through China.” This journey is an integral part of the semester-long Asian Studies program. These kids have spent the lest few months studying and preparing for this journey. They are not only learning about China and inner Mongolia, they are learning about themselves.

When you said goodbye to your child a week ago, that was the last time you will see your child as they were. They will return (in just a short three weeks!) a new person with a new perspective on life and their surroundings. They will gain more confidence in themselves as a performer, a student, and as a person. They will appreciate the things they have and the opportunities that await.

And all of what they have been studying and preparing for is now coming alive before their eyes. They are smelling and touching what they have only heard about and seen in pictures up to this point.

Within this journey are many journeys “within.”

I just spoke with Tom (phone) and the group is now in Leshan, China. They are in their hotel and settling in for the night. They have no Internet connection, so we won’t be getting any photos today. The good news is that when Tom does access the Internet, we will be getting a gazillion pictures!! Can’t wait!

leshan map

Up to this point, our kids have been visiting Chinese students of similar ages. This morning they visited an elementary school where the students were much younger. It will be fun to hear the group’s reaction to this exchange. The young children of China are always a big hit with our kids.

The four-hour bus ride from Luzhou to Leshan gave the group views of the countryside that, according to Tom, was almost indescribable. Many, many villages, endless vistas, a very special experience.

The JE gang has a big day scheduled for tomorrow (which is actually later today - tonight for us - I know, this 12 hour time difference . . .). They will take a river cruise on the Minjiang River to visit the Giant Buddha. This sculpture (carved into the side of a mountain), is so big that its fingers are 11 feet long!! (Pay attention now, remember there is a quiz at the end of the journey!).

And then they head off for Chengdu, where they will perform once again. Once they get to Qufu (in a couple of days), they will settle down and spend a week performing and experiencing a very special part of China -- and this journey.

Okay, everybody, enjoy the last of the rain here in southern Vermont. Sunny days ahead!

“Sunny, yesterday my life was filled with rain . . .”
(Bobby Hebb, “Sunny” 1966)



This is for you, Jenny!









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Program Director: Tom Connor
webmaster/narrator: John Reinhardt