Weekly Musings

Student thoughts from our adventures over the past few weeks (haven’t had a Friday in school to reflect in a while).  Had a lot of pictures lately, so unfold your glasses, grab a cup of coffee and enjoy.

Hua Shan

We arrived at the South Peak, and, like in every other pagoda, vendor selling luke-warm diet cokes stood atop it. Looping around the side of the peak, ending behind the pagoda, was a large line of people; the only thing preventing them from falling off the mountain was a fence, only thigh-high, made of old, grey stone. Under the misleading presumption that the line was descending the mountain we joined it. As we approached the front of the line it became clear that this line was on anything other than the beaten path. At the beginning of the line there was a man. “30 kuai,” he told us. We looked past the man trying to figure out what he was selling, and saw another man putting nervous, sweating people into mountain climbing straps and clipping them to a yellow rope adhered to the side of the peak. It dawned on us that we had found the infamous Hua Shan mountainside trek. Some of us were discouraged by our fear, while others thought of this obviously near-death experience as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, impossible to turn down for the price of 5$.  Those of us who were not faint of heart then commenced the scariest experience of our lives.

After we were violently and carelessly strapped and harnessed to the thin yellow rope we walked down the steepest set of metal bars that have ever been referred to as such, moving along a set of foot ledges carved into the mountain. This lead to a wooden plank ramp, stapled together, and nailed to the mountain. This was probably the most difficult part, because people coming back in the other direction were also desperately trying to get around without risking their own lives; all the while unclipping and reclipping our carabineers every two meters.

-Rachel and Borja

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Would you please chu fa* already?!

Mahjong has turned us all into old, cranky Chinese women and men that live for nothing but to swindle money and patience from each other. When we are all seated around a mahjong table, the clanking of tiles and the occasional swears substitute for sleep. Inevitably, the next day despite the bags under our eyes, we are back for round two.

We’re practically addicts.

Mahjong, a traditional Chinese tile game, is a four-player game of mind and might. There are some rules that are standard throughout each province’s own gameplay, but there are differences between say Shaanxi rules and Fujian rules.

Mahjong has gotten us into some fun situations, like when Roy’al, Izzy, Borja, and Amir started a game at the Xiamen train station, while waiting for our overnight train to Wuyi Shan. What started as a game on the floor quickly transformed into a crowd-gathering spectacle, where a cleaning lady brought over a bucket and sign, to build a makeshift table. From then, began a 40-minute mahjong session consisting of a few games, during all of which passing Chinese women and men offered their advice. Sadly, our game ended as we boarded the train. While on that 16 hour ride to Wuyi Shan, Amir and Yeolim spent a confusing two hours playing mahjong with the strangers in their compartments according to their native Fujian rules.

Nothing makes us feel as old or as Chinese as mahjong does. We’re all very grateful for Mahjong now being a part of our lives and will never let it go.  We hope to be playing in our old age and to be chu fa-ing as we were in our youth.

*Chu fa means to send out a tile

-Yeolim and Roy’al


Impressions of a Jungle Graveyard

Gu Lang Yu is the most tourist-centered place in all of Xiamen. After we toured the island we fractured into groups. Diego, Izzy, and Amir, found the most unique place on the island. They encountered a missionary graveyard.

Diego: When I was a kid, my father always used to take pictures of my sister and I in graveyards, so I have always had a strange and nebulous connection with such places. Do you know that grey feeling, as in an awkward conversation, when you do not know where to put your arms? that same feeling overtook me as I stepped into the graveyard. Light leafy emeralds, dappled in sunlight, surrounded us on all sides as we left the main clearing, and ventured deeper into the jungle. The path through the wilderness led us to a tree covered hillock, which we proceeded to climb; the journey through the thick underbrush was not easy, and slips and stumbles were abundant. Once we reached  the paramount view, the landscape stretched out before us, an ocean to our left, mountains to our right, and jungle everywhere in between. The sound of faraway tourists crept along and tickled our ears – vastly overpowered by the innumerable and varied sounds of the forest below us. This place was magical, and so, to preserve the mystery, just as the religious cadavers below were waiting to come back and uncover whatever truth they had not found during their first visit, so too were we leaving, so we could have something to come back to.

Izzy: Diego, Amir, and I were walking along a stone path on the island down to the beach to join our friends when we passed by a small iron doorway in the side of the wall. I walked by with out giving it a second though, but Amir noticed it and we decided to go in. The graveyard we found was quiet and filled with stone graves of varying sizes that were overgrown with trees and tropical plants. As we walked around we examined the stones and tried to read the characters printed on the graves. The graveyard had a mysterious and magical air, and when reached the back of the clearing the writing switched from simplified characters to traditional. Quickly, we passed through the back wall of trees and discovered the graveyard was much bigger then it had first appeared. As we hiked around we found large stone graves hidden in the underbrush, spider webs, and a hill. When we reached the top of the hill, a giant jungle, or so it seemed, stretched out below us, along with the tourists who were climbing to the island’s peak off to our left, and the ocean. After a little more exploring we found a large drop that would have taken us more time then we had to explore, and we left the graveyard, leaving nothing behind but some footprints.

Amir: An entrance to a jungle graveyard appeared in my peripheral vision and I was helpless to refuse. Immediately me, Diego, and Izzy entered. The plaque, covered with overgrown weeds, told me that there were about 500 Christian graves in this missionary resting place. The jungle that stretched out on our right beckoned and again, I was shaken with the mere thought of refusal. We trekked upwards, as we entered the jungle, childhood memories of Little Mogli popped up like bubbles calling me farther into the treenery. The place felt like Miyazaki drew it with the intent of creating an environment more mystical than all his previous works. Bugs bit and stung our bare calves, the smell of the sea tickled my nostrils: my eyes were basking in the sight of these historical, Christian, Chinese graves- some large, others magnanimous, some unknown like their lives or social positions, all of gray rock. Stone and bamboo formed roofs over the buried souls; paths to the unknown jungle drove us on, charmed with adventure and crazed with a feeling of helplessness I have looked for everywhere in China, I left the graveyard through the way I came: with no connection to the floating land and a sense of bewilderment at seeing so many tourists with wide gazes which I imagine had to have been akin to my own.

-Izzy and Amir


Happy Birthdays

Six cakes, countless 生日快乐s, and a week later, Josh and Diego continue to celebrate their birthdays.

Josh’s came first: on May 7th, we boarded a flight to Xiamen that took us there in a little over two hours. His family had celebrated it with him the night before, preparing seven dishes and ordering a cake and then showering him with gifts—from an expensive tea table to a Chinese chess set, all of this recorded by camera. He was swept away and touched by his first experience participating in a Chinese sense.

That night, we met up with Ted’s dad and he took us unexpectedly close to our hotel to eat some of the Xiamen classics. We walked in to the restaurant and Sunny tried to get Josh to choose food, but he had no idea what was good, bad, amazing, or awful. Eventually, they all returned to our huge room encasing us all and we feasted on our first fresh seafood. After our meal, Josh had his second cake in two days.

Several days later, on May 11th (the last night before leaving Fujian), Mr. Wolf took Diego to reserve a Mah-jong table—nothing out of the ordinary; we had done the same thing every night since we arrived in the province. Upon our return upstairs from the lobby, Diego went into the room to get everyone to play Mah-jong. Instead, Mr. Wolf called a meeting. They sat him down in a chair by the door, and commenced to conduct a denunciation meeting. Each of the other members of the group took out a Little Red Book and made fun of him like only friends who had been together for four months could. The cake came out afterwards, and we ate to our heart’s content, finishing the day with a couple of hours of Mah-jong.

The week of our return we had a few more celebrations—Diego’s host family got him yet another cake, and then on Friday, May 16th, the school brought a cake in the middle of what was supposed to be Chinese class and we proceeded to paint each other’s faces in whipped cream and frosting. The presents have been plentiful, the people beyond kind, and it is easy to say that celebrating a birthday in China has been an experience all on its own.

We’ve learned one thing above everything else, however: cake here is just not that good.

-Diego and Josh



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