Well, it’s hard to believe that the trip is already almost half way over. In truth, I confess I am a mix of relieved and already nostalgic. Relieved because I have a limit on how many dumplings my stomach can successfully digest in a two-week period and, as has commonly been acknowledged thus far on the trip, my lungs apparently share quite a melodramatic love-hate relationship with Chinese air. But already nostalgic because in just five short days, I have had some pretty awe-inspiring experiences, both expected and obscure, and I have been able to take advantage of the trip’s small size and really get to know all of my trip mates.
Today began with another breakfast in the Suzhou High School cafeteria (I think I’m beginning to finally appreciate the food?). After breakfast, we traveled back to dorm room T-104 for a tea party (hopefully the first of many) featuring the Jasmine (bitter, no offense) tea of Dahai (aka Mark Whittaker). Silly as it sounds, this was undoubtedly a gem of the trip so far – we were able to forget about China and just talk for an hour before reemerging into the adventurous terrain that is the campus of Suzhou High School. In any case, we then headed over to the International Center, where we were able to learn how to sword dance. Even though my lungs were unable to handle the indubitable intensity, it proved quite interesting and ultimately rewarding to try with all our might to make our test sword wobble gracefully while we watched our teacher expertly maneuver herself around the room sword in hand.
Then, we headed upstairs to sit in and, as we soon found out, help teach an English course in Suzhou High School. The class split into small groups and we all worked to help our one group draw up a proposal to update a hypothetical computer lab. After that lesson, it was our turn to learn in the kitchen. Equipped with a pork-based mixture and dough, we made absolute magic (Mark would know, since he ate 28 of the pork-dumplings we made). After a well-deserved lunch, we settled into a classroom to attempt to master the art of Chinese painting. The teacher flawlessly drew our assigned water lilies, lily pads, and goldfish, but we did not (it’s safe to say there’s a class Chinese painting for a reason). The next (and final) class of the day involved building model pavilions – a task that proved time-consuming but ultimately beatable.
We then finished off the day with dinner (once again in the cafeteria), group basketball, and ping-pong with some students at the school. I do feel that it is worth mentioning the fact that Mr. Llanque is (not-so?) secretly of Chinese descent. Do not be fooled by his last name, slight accent, or presumed Bolivian origin! In fact, this history teacher by day is a master of all things China, including but not limited to calligraphy, sword dancing, dumpling making, Chinese painting, and pavilion modeling (and basketball, but that’s irrelevant). He is definitely someone to watch out for as we make our way to Xi’an and Beijing.