Having secure and stable internet access is quite a challenge here in China. My blog is blocked here, so I have to email text to my office to post on the blog—that’s when the internet is working!
We spent our first day with the students setting the context for the journey by watching and discussing a documentary about the end of the Qing Dynasty and rise of the Nationalist and Communist parties. Then it was off to Zhangjiajie, a national forest for a 7 mile hike to shake off the jetlag.
On the trip are 10 students from Concordia International School Shanghai and two teachers and students from the US who were invited to participate in the study tour. The following thoughts are from Kristin from New Jersey and Brooke from Missouri:
“The red-faced monkeys with their bright red bottoms stare intently at you with human-like eyes. These monkeys in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park have learned the many tendencies of tourists—the clicking cameras, the plastic bags full of snacks. And so they have developed a dependency on the endless stream of tourists entering the park to see the standstone towers day after day. I watched two monkeys corner a poor tour guide, like they have done so a million times, and attack her plastic bag of food, which would feed their entire family.
And like the red-faced monkeys, the native people of Zhangjiajie have adopted a dependency on us tourists to feed their families. Their livelihood depends on the people that the natural beauty of their surroundings attracts–the uneven set-up tables to display their plastic jewelry and embroidered bags, dressed in traditional, bright costumes and silver headdresses. But the men—this broke my heart a little—carry makeshift thrones on their shoulders, eagerly calling out to passing tourists and offering a ride. Old, wizened men, shoulders bent forward underneath the two bamboo poles, or perhaps weighted down and bent over by rigors I could never understand. As I looked at these men hauling lazy tourists past the jagged, burnt-orange peaks rising from a sea of green—a beauty they do not have the luxury of appreciating—did tourism bring a blessing or a curse? I can only speculate at the changes, for better or worse, that the past few years have brought for these people of Zhangjiajie.
Before I came to China, I expected to see natural and man-made phenomena—the sandstone towers of Zhangjiajie, the neon-lighted towers of Shanghai and Changsha—that would make me feel insignificant and fill me with speechless awe. But I did not expect to become so invested and interested in the people of China. In this country that is stuck between its sensitive history and its desire to move on, it is difficult to determine what the people want. Hopefully through this trip, I will be one step closer to finding out.
“My teacher and I had to do a lot of fundraising for the trip to China. We received donations from local clubs, churches, businesses, and family. We also had to prepare ourselves mentally. I pictured China as bright and loud with busy streets. I also had the beautiful picture of China from my favorite Disney movie, Mulan. When I got off the plane it was dark outside, so I couldn’t see much but even the night sky couldn’t hide the smog and traffic. At first I just thought it was fog, but when the sun rose the next day, the sky hadn’t changed. It was grey and sad; nothing like my pictures.
The next day we took a tour of the school which was amazing. The school is so modern and beautiful; I would love to go to school there. That night we took a tour of Shanghai, and it made all the negative events disappear. We went to the river walk and on one side there were glass skyscrapers and the other side were stone buildings. They were beautifully breath taking. After the first couple of days, I fell in love with the experience.”