It’s come full circle

Closing ceremony today was very similar to what we have at BHS including all of the emotions.

20140526-184609.jpgEveryone gave speech and our families were there, it was a nice way to wrap it up after packing our books and study materials.  After lunch we took some last photos of the empty classroom and all went our separate ways, home to finalize/start packing.

20140526-184700.jpgOne last photo with the Gaoxin students.

20140526-184723.jpgAs the title mentions we have come full circle; yesterday we went out to lunch with students from 3 years ago, this past fall, and, the youngest of the bunch, the ones that will be coming to America in a few months (students from 2 years ago had class, yes it was Sunday). It was great to be able to sit and meet these students, as well as have them be able to talk to  students from years past.  The teacher is a very enthusiastic lady and is really excited to be part of this continuing adventure.

-Mr. W


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


Acting and Singing

Its been almost two weeks since the performance itself, but I have finally pulled together all of the videos and edited everything out.  I am really upset my camera ran out of memory in the middle of the play, it was hilarious and the audience was loving it.  We really didn’t have much time to prepare for this and its really amazing what the students were able to do with so little practice.  Newton South’s choral group was there as well and they were fantastic, in terms of singing they were a tough act to follow, but we were more for the comedic value. Enjoy the video.

Huashan #2

After a refreshing and energizing lunch we headed up to the South peak.  The climb was relatively short compared to the morning, but again their were the stairs.DSC01992Looking back on what we had accomplished in the morning, the West peak.  Notice the camera in the foreground on the post, China is always watching, or maybe its for show just like the metal detectors; I wore my leatherman knife on my belt this entire trip through the subway and train stations.   DSC02008As mentioned before, the weather was beautiful, and combined with the mountains themselves, made from an amazing day.  We even felt a little bit above the haze that has become such a part of our lives.DSC01995Teachers and Rachel, and oh are those two heads by the outcropping in front…There were carvings like those in the foreground all over the rock faces around us on the mountain, every turn seemed to have a new one.DSC02005Roy’al enjoying the summit of the South peak.DSC02002Somewhere in this multitude of locks is a deep love for someone. On top of the South peak.DSC02007I have an awesome group of students with me, and some wonderful Chinese teachers; just below the summit of the south peak.DSC02016Scattered all over the mountain are several different temples (Daoist I think??).  While many are newly constructed, like this one, they still hold a special aura when you walk by them.  It is impossible to miss the significance that many years ago, before modern connivence, people ascended, lived, and worshipped on top of this mountain.  Most of what you see now represents the efforts of modern Chinese tourism.DSC02019Diego, Josh, Roy’al, and 张老师 talking with a monk about their life devoted to another power.  If there was ever a place to practice a religion, the top of this mountain would be it, close to the heavens and steep as can be, although not that secluded anymore.DSC02017Surveying the cliff face enroute to the East peak.DSC02021Hmmmm…I know you are not wearing a harness because of the sunshine, no matter how bright it is…DSC02024Oh thats because you are on a sheer cliff face about to climb out to a viewing point via the appropriately named plank road in the sky.  If you are terrified of heights, you may just want to skip to the end.DSC02023The ladder down to the path across was no less terrifying.  It didn’t help that the safety lecture consisted of a guy putting a harness on you, clipping it to the safety line and then pushing you forward so he could help the next person.  Common sense was something that I stressed the entire day, maybe we were a little crazy…DSC02027Remember hearing about the tour guide from Yunnan…DSC02039The craziest part of this whole thing, was that there was only one path, so you return the same way you went out.  This meant you had to stop to wait for the people to walk around you while heading out,DSC02040There is a saying teachers use when a student leans back in their chair, “Four on the floor’, referring to keeping all the legs down so you don’t fall back.  Borja is not following that. DSC02042Its almost like Titanic; except on a foot wide platform, a couple hundred meters up a sheer cliff, holding onto a chain, while a light breeze blows through your hair.DSC02059They say never to look down, I don’t always listen, sorry mom (she is absolutely terrified of heights).DSC02044Most of this was about the journey, and what a journey it was, to a small vantage point, but the views were amazing along the way.DSC020475 students, 3 chinese teachers, one bad ass Kung Fu teacher, and me; safe and enjoying the views.DSC02065We had to make sure the harnesses still worked before we headed back.  This was a once in lifetime mini adventure in our excursion to 花山, something you will never find in the US, and I am proud of the students who completed it, and even more impressed by the students who knew their limits (and had more common sense).DSC02068After this we headed up the East peak.  While it seemed like just another summit, is was equally spectacular.  I can only imagine how great the sunrise must be up here.DSC02071I am here in China with a fantastic group of students, we met at the bus stop at 6 AM and didn’t return home until around 10:30-11 that night; they conquered this mountain in day, never complaining, and continuously interacting with the people and nature around them.  It is great to see how close they have become with their teachers and each other, and how much they are working to improve their language, even while clambering up stairs. I am a lucky person to be here with them.DSC02077花山 is an amazing mountain; while it may not be the tallest it is one of the most spectactuar in both the views and steepness.  This was a fantastic day that really will not be forgotten for a long time.DSC02074

-Mr. Wolf

Work hard play hard

With the busy weekend and the rough draft of the Independent reserach Paper due on Friday I pulled some strings and yesterday we headed to hike 花山 for the day.  Mount Hua’s reputation is of being one the the steepest, most precipitous, mountains in the world; along with an incredible religious significance.  So we woke early, got on a bus to the subway, which we took to the train station, took a train to the town, and had another bus bring us to the entrance of the park, and the final bus (pictured below) brought us up to the cable car loading station.DSC01928Everyone was surprised that we said we were hiking 花山 in only one day; lots of people hike up during the night or in the afternoon and camp on the top, all so they can watch the sunrise.  For us logistics didn’t work out so the cable car made our lives easier.DSC01929We really covered a lot of different types of transportation, and were happy we didn’t have to do the full hike up.DSC01931This view from the cable car gives you a good idea of how they have built stairs on the mountain, lots and lots of stairs.  Its not like hiking in the Whites of NH.DSC01934We covered some elevation pretty quicklyDSC01936One of the first things we see is this hostel/hotel built on the mountain and of course the rest of 花山.  There are several places to spend the night and the amount of construction, including the stairs themselves, is impressive on such a steep mountain, OSHA would not approve of many of their methods.DSC01941The cable car drops you off close to the North Peak, which provides a good vantage point of the other peaks.  花山 is made up of at least 5 separate peaks, depending on your definition of peak; West is on the right side, East is the high point on the middle left, and South (actually the highest even if it doesn’t look it from here) is between the two.This was taken on top of the North peak, and between here and the east peak is another small summit.DSC01947We had a beautiful day, it was amazing, we are so luckyDSC01949The locks are for lovers who want their relationship to last forever.  Secure them to the chains that are at the top and then throw the key over the side.DSC01944The problem with hiking up stairs is you any time you look up you are staring at someone’s butt.  It was crowded by American standards, but not by Chinese ones, I can’t imagine being here on the holiday weekend that begins tomorrow.DSC01953The steep reputation is well deserved.  The views were fantastic on this gorgeous day, and I think we may have even been a bit above the ‘haze’.DSC01954Hiking up towards Jinsuo Gap, everywhere you go stairs.DSC01955A look back at what we have done so far, the cable car is the silvery building in the right half farther back in front of the North peak.DSC01959Our group was a little more prepared for the stair climbing, I mean hiking then most others; not completely because we were in shape, but mainly due to their clothes.  While I only saw one woman with about 4 inch heels, the majority of everyone else seemed dressed so that they were ready to go out for dinner. DSC01961Some points were steep enough that it was almost a crawlDSC01963Our Kung Fu teacher came with usDSC01966Along with 5 out of 6 of the college students who are our Chinese teachers, here is 张老师 and 邰老师。DSC01968It was bright out, but not this bright, my camera got put on a strange setting. Here we are at the summit of the West peak.DSC01971Caution Slip, I guess that means the edge of the cliff is on the other side of the chain…DSC01980Oh directly on the other of the chain, lasting for about a few hundred meters.  This would never happen in the US, and I hate that; its common sense, which we need more of at home, it should be simple survival instinct,don’t stand too close to the edge (This coffee is HOT).DSC01979Amir and the teachers, or most them at least.DSC01983Found a great spot for lunch, in the shade and away from other people.  This is a coffee bar, which appeared closed, that happens to be built on a cliff right next to a buddhist temple.  DSC01989The after lunch goals, South peak on the right and East peak in the middle. View from the top of the West peak.  The afternoon’s adventures will follow in a second blog tomorrow.DSC01976

-Mr. W

Model UN

Students participated in a Model UN conference on human trafficking over the weekend, impressing both myself and all of the others in attendance.  They were role models for the entire conference in their abilities to debate and at the same time work together with others to try to reach a resolution.  For those unfamiliar with the MUN, like myself before Saturday, students represent countries and try to solve a real world issue, while sticking the the beliefs of their country.

Here are the opening ceremonies, with words from the assistant headmaster.DSC01887Its almost as if this auditorium was built specifically for this.DSC01889 This is an actual flag from the souvenir store of the real United Nations I was told. DSC01890Probably the only picture of Yeolim really smiling this whole trip, she loves her funny faces, and Diego the MUN leader of our group, this is one of his many passions at BHS, representatives of China.DSC01894 Zambia, represented by Amir and Borja, would use all of their diplomatic ability over the 4 sessions to establish themselves as a world power, they really did some tough negotiating.DSC01898Iran, Josh and Roy’al, and Syria, Izzy and Rachel, listen to a motionDSC01893Syria presents their case for more education.DSC01913An unmoderated caucus where the countries try to agree on their goals.  Our students English gave them a clear advantage for the conference, however they were really able to benefit everyone involved while working on their debate skills,DSC01905Syria continued to present strong arguments throughout the two daysDSC01902One of the best things for me was passing notes since I was just an observer, but this was also a major way to get things accomplished between countries (or decide where to go for lunch).DSC01906 The awards section: Zambia, by far the most persuasive country, and winner of the best resolution contributor.  The resolution is what a coalition of countries will write in an attempt to solve the issue presented.  It is then voted on by all of the countries; two very well written resolutions did not make it past the majority vote, each failing by less 2 votes. Shows just how important compromise is.DSC01919Surprise!! China won best delegate, I like to think its because of the duo belowDSC01920  Closing ceremoniesDSC01924 DSC01925The leader of the MUN club and the best guide/friend we have met so far here in China, 石老师 KevinDSC01926

-Mr. Wolf

Weekly Thoughts: Culture Classes

Every afternoon, we all have the opportunity to take part in Chinese culture classes.  These bring out our creative nature and some of the best conversations.  Below are student thoughts about them, and pictures, of which, the majority are from the beginning of the trip, notice the short hair.

Calligraphy and Traditional Painting

Calligraphy class begins with Mo Zhi Laoshi and ends with despair. Everything in between consists of conversations about food and the crookedness of our lines. Somehow ink brushes and paper excite our appetites more than cooking class does. We always seem to talk about the best and worst western food we have or have not had in China. Perhaps the thought of filling our stomachs with American comfort food distracts us from the disaster before us.

Straight lines have never been so crooked under the guidance of our shaky arms. Each class we seem to forget our previous frustrations, exclaiming, “That looks easy!” as the laoshi effortlessly demonstrates his artistic expertise. Then, tragedy ensues.

Alternating every other week, we spend Mondays and Wednesdays either doing calligraphy or painting “beautiful” masterpieces. Calligraphy consists of writing a few characters, getting annoyed, and then trying something new until Mo Zhi laoshi comes over and spoils the fun. Borja will usually say something along the lines of “Laoshi, girlsss just wanna have f-un!” and then make some reference to some movie he hasn’t seen. It’s too easy to identify Mo Zhi laoshi’s demo character among ours: just look for the decent one. Mr. Wolf usually blames his brush for his ineptitude. Roy’al just goes way too fast, and Amir just has too much water on his brush, all the time. Seriously it’s amazing. How has he not figured it out by now?!?!?!

The key to a breathtaking painting, is to add as many random strokes as you can. Our first couple of painting sessions only consisted of black ink, but once we finally got to use the color palettes in our desks, we got to add gas to a fire. Mr. Wolf has unleashed a surprising but nice talent for not making his “paintings” look as terrible as the rest of us do. Every once in a while, someone will make a stroke by mistake that makes their entire painting look good, then claim to have done so on purpose. Amir doesn’t even bother because his hand shakes too much.

We end with our tears diluting our mozhi pots and our cries scaring Mo Zhi laoshi until the next class.

-Josh and Yeolim

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Kung Fu

The Kung Fu teacher is a short, fit, quick to criticize, Chinese woman with short black bangs in a classic coconut cut. At first glance she seems like a frail, innocent, sour but kind lady. In actuality, she is a cold blooded killer. With each demonstration of her kung fu prowess, she strikes fear into our hearts and urine into our pants. Even before she went with us to Yunnan, her hurtful criticisms and emasculating strength made us realize that she’s a bad ass mother-of a six yourself. We realized she’s even more of a bad ass when we met here huge, muscley, stout, sweatpants wearing, colorful Nike decking, Super white Hanes cotton shirt filling, Mercedes driving, chain cigarette smoking, after shave smelling, championship belt wearing (realtors). At the beginning of Mrs. Zhang will start off by laughing at our many shenanigans, rejecting Amir’s offer to fight, and telling us we’re too weak to ever make it in the underworld (like she has). We then do exhausting stretches that last about 5 minutes. Every class we learn about 2 different moves that are part of a full cycle of moves that we will be later tested. Being tested by her is nerve racking to say the least. If you don’t retract your punch fast enough, she’ll slap your hand and call you slow. Right now, we are learning how to use swords. Kung fu class is always the highlight of all our cultural classes and she is by far our favorite culture class teacher.

-Amir and Roy’al

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Although this class was presented as cooking class, we don’t actually cook. Chef, our teacher, comes in everyday wearing his chef hat and his Lordans (fake Jordans.) When we walk into class we are all asked to dawn colorful, checkered aprons that have various animals on the front, inkling cute rabbits and dogs. Every Thursday afternoon Chef cooks classic Xianese food for us. As we stare at Chef chopping scallions we all ponder the unspoken truth; this is eating class. This was only ever acknowledged once, when we came into class to find the words, “tasting class,” printed up on the board. Some of the best dishes Chef has cooked for us so far have been the famous Biang Biang Mian and dumplings. Biang Biang noodles are fat, belt shape noodles that can be found in an even better form at the bustling streets of the Muslim Market. When we are lucky enough to participate in the making of our food, we have always experienced the repeated sensation of cold, smooth dough lingering between our fingers. Besides touching the flower, Chef also loves fondling… the dough. Chef also touches us, specifically Josh, Diego, Amir, and Boe. Let us be clear, Chef is not a pervert, Chinese culture is just different, and we find this different. Chef is relatively quiet guy, but he loves to smile. Although we talk in English with each other, we do talk to Chef in Chinese. He loves to talk about food, detailing the specific kinds of meat that need to be cooked with different kinds of oil. Besides Biang Biang and dumpling, other food Chef has made includes, bao zi (steamed buns), rou jia muo (meat sandwich), ma tuan (sesame ball with red bean paste), and more bao zi (this time with bean paste).

-Borja and Izzy

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Friday Crafts

You never really know what to expect on a Friday. Chinese class in the morning might constitute a movie or a game or perhaps an impromptu discussion among all three classes about life in China (so far we’ve watched two Jackie Chan movies, one about a dancer, one about the last Emperor, one about the Gao Kao, and one about learning English). Although our schedules say we have “Independent Research Paper discussions,” we usually end up writing journals, blogs, and cleaning the classroom during American class on Fridays, and by the end of the day we have one of two Culture classes: Paper cutting or gourd painting.

In China, paper cutting is an art. In our classroom, paper cutting is a pain to clean up. The teacher stands at the front, menacingly manipulating a surprisingly sharp pair of scissors, encouraging us to make impossibly small and unbelievably intricate cuts in a precisely folded piece of paper in simple English: “very easy, very easy.” Some of us manage to make it beautiful; others end up with a tableful of minced paper and a cutout that looks more like it’s been through a shredder than carefully constructed by the delicate hands of a craftsman. As Roy’al would say: “why do we need fifty minutes to cut a piece of paper?”

And then there’s gourd painting. The rarest and most mysterious of our culture classes, gourd painting occurs only once in a blue moon—three times so far on the trip, to be precise. The first stage was doodling designs on the front: a face of a demonic-like animal in a swirly classic Chinese style, or a couple of large eyes and what is meant to resemble a mouth. Most of us ended up just copying the designs the teacher handed out on the first day. Next, we moved on to painting, which everyone found surprisingly relaxing—shades of blues and greens, oranges and reds, playing with (or more commonly against) each other on the blank face of our gourds.

-Diego and RachelDSC06967DSC06966DSC06970