Like the the noise coming from a tree falling in a forest when no one is around, we may never truly know. What we do know, however, is that I have been decidedly quiet since the middle of December and there have been no forests around!
Existentialism aside, so much has happened in the past month, I'm not sure where to best begin. So let's wind the clock back to December 26th, elevate to 35,000 feet and take a look at what I was running through my exhausted brain . . .
Wow! What an unbelievable experience rural China was for me. Shaxi, a village in the Yunnan Province was home for the first three weeks of December. The landscape was beautiful. Mountains provided the canvas, while rice fields as far as the eye could see was the detail. Gone were the skyscapers and bustling traffic of industrialized China. What a blessing. With the peace, however, came reminders of rural Ecuador, of a society, a culture largely forgotten for the past 100 years. Once again I was sleeping on a rickety wood plank mattress. Indoor conveniences such as a shower or a toilet were only a dream. When nature called, my toilet consisted of a hole in a middle of a cow pen. The contrast between that and the Juicy Couture boots my Mom sent was not lost on me. And while the temptation was to use the boots for something that were not made to be, I resisted and relied upon the conveniences provided. My hope was to use the cow pen as little as possible - even to the point of bloating - but that was not possible since a bout of food poisoning once again tightly gripped my internal systems.
Like everywhere else I have traveled over these past four months, my host family was extremely caring. Language, however, was a constant barrier. Even the survival Chinese that I had learned several weeks earlier was useless, since the local dialect was quite obscure.
During our time in Shaxi our daily assignment was to continue to explore the Chinese educational system. In this case, comparing and contrasting the opportunities available in rural China compared to the city we had just left. My immediate impression was that the students did not have many of the same benefits the urban children had and this was reflected in their knowledge of the English language. It was minimal - think Maddie's knowledge of Chinese. This provided for some frustrating moments in the classroom, but one to be learned from just as well.
In addition to the classroom work, we spent much time working on our media project. You will find that posted below. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did putting it together.
During our final night in Shaxi the villagers put on a performance for us that consisted of traditional music and Bai dancing. The time and emotion that put into their performance was touching and reminded me of the tearful farewell in Ecuador.
All in all, the time in China went by very quickly, quicker than Ecuador. I suppose that is because I'm more comfortable traveling and better adjusted to daily living away from the United States. That brings me comfort in some respects, but is also a foreshadowing, I suppose, of how quickly the last half of my Thinking Beyond Borders adventure will go. There is more than a touch of sadness in those words for me.
Once the goodbyes in China were complete our itinerary whisked us off to Cambodia. And if I have found melancholy in some of the living conditions I have experienced in the past two months, they paled in comparison to the Killing Fields. The silence amongst the group, in the air was palpable during our visit. The emotions that ran through my minds chaotic. Have you seen a tree that was used to beat thousands of children? Mass graves that held many more? I had not. Did your educational system find it important to teach you about such events? Mine did not. Should they?
I suppose most Americans, of any age, are ignorant of the actions of the Khmer Rouge. Is ignorance really bliss?
New days come, but not soon enough for many. For me the sun rose again quickly as the tour traveled on to Siem Reap. There we visited the temples of Angor Wat by foot and bike. The exercise lifted my spirits, not to mention Christmas, which was now only a day away.
My Christmas was anything but normal, but fun nonetheless. Christmas Eve was spent eating a typical Cambodian meal and watching the locals dance celebrations. On Christmas Day I did some last minute gift shopping and went - of course - swimming. Mom and Dad you certainly did the same in Minnesota, didn't you? I must admit, I truly missed my family traditions - things like fighting with my sisters and crying about the gifts I didn't get. That's what family and holidays are all about, right?!? No seriously, the holiday was indeed a bit empty without my parents and siblings to share it with. . .
As I wrote at the beginning of this entry it is currently December 26 and a new journey awaits. We are onto to Jaipur, India, where a new adventure most definitely awaits.