I know I’ve said in my other blog posts that every day has been amazing, but that doesn’t even begin to describe today.
We started off the day like normal- wake up, get dressed, and get on the bus to head on down to our next visit. The first thing that was different, though, was that we got to wear casual street clothes rather than our business clothes. We didn’t really understand why until we arrived at our destination.
First off, we weren't dropped off in front of any tall office buildings like we usually are. Instead, we were dropped outside of a very run-down, poor looking neighborhood. There was dirt and trash everywhere, and the people who stood outside the patched up frameworks of houses seemed to match. We even saw a man crouching in the entryway to his building, brushing his teeth and holding a cup of water. Now, I want to make it clear that I am not saying these things with an upturned nose- I was just genuinely shocked at what I was seeing. For the entire length of our visit, sure, we had seen some less-than-decent living areas. But we had always seen them from a distance, never up close and personal like this. So being suddenly immersed in it was quite an eye-opening experience.
The place we were visiting was also pretty different from what we were used to, obviously. We went to a little one-room building that had been made into the New Century Migrant Children Library. The place was founded and run by social entrepreneur Mister Wang Li, and his graduate student assistant, Lucy Young. They worked together to give a very touching and thought-provoking presentation about how the migrant workers and their children do not have a great amount of access to reading material or education (the same goes for a lot of rural China). So Mr. Li's goal had been to create a social mission-driven organization which earned some income with the intent of achieving a social objective while being financially sustainable. And while this kind of business runs into many problems, including lack of funding or government support, they still tried to do as much as they can for the migrant workers and their families that make up the small community.
They organize field trips, parent-child reading days, teach English, and put together occasional summer movie nights in the park. Wang Li's talk was very moving and inspirational, because you could feel the passion he was putting into this operation. However, the most touching part of the visit had to be when Mr. Li took us to the local school to visit the young children. They were so excited to see us, since we all looked so different from the people they're used to seeing everyday, so there was a lot of squealing and energy going around. A lot of our group members hit it off really well with the kids, and got to take pictures with them (which the kids absolutely loved). It made us feel better knowing that while these children may not be growing up in the best conditions, they could still show off happy, outgoing personalities and faces. It was hard to tear ourselves away! But once we finally did, it meant our academic part of the trip was officially over, so we were back to being tourists! The first stop we made after saying goodbye to Mr. Li and the kids was a the the Beijing "bird's nest" National Stadium where the Olympics were help in 2008. Because we were short on time, we weren't able to go inside on tour or visit the Olympic Water Cube down the street (which I would have loved, since I'm a swimmer), but getting to see it was incredible, anyway!
The bus took us back to the hotel afterwards, since we didn't have anything else planned for today. But a couple other students and I decided that we wanted to make the most out of still being in Beijing while we could, so we decided to take a taxi down to the Yonghe (or 'Lama') Temple, which is a Buddhist monastery. Going in, we didn't really know what to expect, but what we saw there blew any expectations clear out of the water. The numerous buildings from the outside reminded me a lot of what we saw at the Forbidden City in the beginning of the trip- red walls, cold roofs, and elaborate paintings along the tops of the buildings. Inside, however, were magnificent carvings and statues of figures related to Buddhism. One of the most fantastic sites was the 90 foot tall statue of Maitreya Buddha, which was carved out of a single sandalwood tree! We were asked not to take pictures inside the temples out of respect for the people coming to pray, but I don't think we could have captured the awe of that statue in a picture. It was just incredible.
By the time we made it back to the hotel, we had to immediately turn around for the farewell dinner. We were having it tonight instead of tomorrow, the day before we're leaving for the States, because Dean dt ogilvie is leaving tomorrow morning for a business appointment in Shanghai. Of course, the food was incredible, as usual, and it was all served on one of the turning tabletop style dining tables so that we could pass around and share the dozens of different plates of food. It even came with an after dinner show, where we had three performers come out to entertain us. The first was a girl who did a dance to traditional Chinese style music. The second was a contortionist who bent her body into more positions that we thought could ever have been possible! And the third act was a man dressed up in a crazy costume. He came out wearing a red mask, but throughout his performance he changed it a dozen times, each to a completely different mask! We still can't figure out how he managed to do that.
Today was just so incredible that it makes it hard to remember that we only have one day left in this country. Yes, we're all a little homesick, but we know that this is going to be an experience that will last us a lifetime.