No, I’m not making up excuses for my lack of public notoriety. I actually have no interest in becoming a celebrity, despite my Hollywood looks, Nobel smarts, and Olympian athletic skills.
After spending some time in China, in fact, I have realized that being famous can be much more of a chore than a luxury. Sorry, Mom. Now for those curious where I am heading with this blog, let me quickly tell you that I have not become any type of celebrity in Kunming. Yet it is true that I have drawn more than my fair share of attention in the city streets and the classrooms that I have been frequenting. When I go running at the park I have random strangers snapping pictures of me. While riding the bus strangers have asked to touch me. I’ve even had students that I am teaching ask for autographs. To be honest this experience is something all my TBB colleagues have encountered to some degree. Some of us like the attention more than others – right, Connor?!? I feel, however, feel it is undeserved and don’t really know how to respond. After all, the level of attention that I’m getting is a result of something I’ve tried to rid myself of for years . . . curly, red hair. It seems as though, there aren’t too many curly, redheaded Chinese people walking the streets of Kunming these days. Go figure!
Aside from the paparazzi, I have really enjoyed my time in China, which is one of the reasons why my blog postings have been so infrequent. Instead, I have been endlessly exploring the diverse culture and customs of the Chinese people. It is amazing to say the least and I don’t have enough time or space in this blog to effectively communicate what my senses take in each and every day.
Beyond the culture, I have immersed myself in the Chinese educational system. For the past four weeks I have been teaching two English classes a day in a local school. Along with my two teaching partners I have been assigned to teach one 8th grade and one 10th grade class. Together we have taught our students a variety of things about American culture. Given the time of year, one of our big emphases was the tradition of Thanksgiving. Of course this lesson plan included the obligatory pumpkin pie. No, I didn’t make one all on my own. I had the help of my Mom, despite her being 5,000 miles away. Tucked away in my suitcase was here special recipe for occasions just like this: 10 dollars and a map to the nearest bakery! Beyond the customs we have introduced our classes to American geography, specifically of the regions where we live, and answered their insistent queries about American pop culture. All in all, while we found teaching a class of 60 to be extremely challenging, the reward was equally gratifying. The students were very eager to learn from us and to have a break from their daily textbook learning which primarily focuses on reading and writing.
Of course, my time in China hasn’t been all books and photos, during my independent study weekend I had the pleasure of traveling to Shanghai—which the locals were proud to proclaim as the New York City of China.
Wow, what an experience this was!
From visiting the Financial district, to having dinner with German racecar drivers (Sam, you aren’t as good as you think!) it was an unbelievable trip. The city is amazing and one that I hope to come back to some day.
That is a very brief overview of my experiences in China the past few weeks. Like my time in Ecuador it has changed me for the better. Enriched my life and nourished my soul. And on a lighter note, my time in Kunming has even helped me overcome my fear of getting lost. This is due to the fact that 5-minute bus rides have routinely become two hours and traditionally quiet taxi rides have become entertaining games of charades with the driver. I can now unequivocally communicate to all forms of people where I need to be—even if it is in the strangest of manners.
Sadly, I leave my host Kunming family tomorrow morning. Once again, I regret the fear I had enter the relationship with. Expected to give to these wonderful people, I feel I have only taken. I am blessed to have experienced the dynamics of a loving Chinese family. I was taken into their home and treated as family. They were so kind and so gracious. It is a common thread that links the industrial city of Kunming with the rainforest of Ecuador.
My family never complained when it took me 5 hours to eat dinner with chopsticks or when I flooded their shower floor multiple times. My host sister has made me realize that I should never complain about having to study—it is a privilege. My host mom has taught me how to cook pig brain—one never knows when that will come in handy. And my host dad, the gentle soul that he is, has told me several times that I will look so young, when I am so old. With people of generous heart, language is never a barrier and enduring friendship is always the result . . .
Tomorrow, I leave the bustling city life and head off to a small rural village named, Shaxi. There the TBB group will spend just 10 days with families. This experience will allow us to compare and contrast urban and rural life and education in China. I am looking forward to seeing the countryside, but not as excited to sleep on wood floors or to use outhouses in the cold temperatures. If the past is an indicator of the future, however, I will be writing on this blog in no time how sorry I am to leave these wonderful, caring people.
I’m off to our farewell party, now where I am performing a Chinese dance with my host sister! And people thought I was a celebrity before!