This week was a wonderful week for this EMU cross-cultural group! On Monday we traveled to Qingchengshan to climb a Daoist mountain. The scenery and energy there was spectacular. We climbed to the top, or at least, a top, where we ate lunch at a Daoist temple. On the way down exhaustion set in for many of us, but we had a relaxing boat ride and trip back to rest.
That next day we left Chengdu for the ancient capital city, Xi’an. Other than having a wonderfully comfortable hotel, we enjoyed biking around the city wall and exploring the city center. Xi’an was certainly built like a fortress with old watch towers and traditional Chinese buildings. We were very touristy in Xi’an, and there were many neat little shops for souvenirs. One favorite was a shop selling biblical passages in Chinese on scrolls. I think the owner was happy to sell to a group of Mennonites with lots of spending money.
The Terracotta Warriors museum was also a great attraction. The amount of time and effort put into making all of those warriors is staggering, though I don’t know the exact statistics. Let’s just say that many, many pictures were taken there. After a few more visits to Christian pagodas and mosques we left Xi’an for Lanzhou by overnight train.
We arrived in Lanzhou a bit tired and disheveled. After a few long bus rides we arrived in Xiahe where we still reside. Situated in Gansu province at about 9800ft of elevation, this Tibetan town is the most peaceful I have ever experienced. Combined with the mountainous scenery, fresh air (that one breathes slower due to the altitude), a large reason for the peace is the Labrang Monastery, home of about a thousand Tibetan monks.
Yesterday we visited the Monastery and it is certainly a powerful place. One of the Monks honored us by his presence, and we were briefly educated about the ways of Buddhism through a translator. The simple lifestyle and complete spiritual discipline was intriguing and impressive.
The grasslands of Ganjia called our name today. It was really cold and the bus ride was extremely rocky but the lunch and the atmosphere was tranquil and gigantic. We also went to a nomad village and a Black Hat Monastery (different from the Yellow Hat of Labrang). The spiritual worship and brutal, yet wonderful, lifestyle seen there was quite humbling.
Most of us are loving it here, but it’s time to leave! Tomorrow we head out for more adventure.
“Adventure is out there!!!” This phrase has been adopted by nearly everyone in our group while exploring China and all it’s exciting and historical locations or even just walking around our host city of Nanchong, in most cases we find it.
This last weekend we had the privilege of visiting and staying in the ancient city of Langzhong. Langzhong is one of only 4 well preserved ancient cities that remain in China. One of the first things I noticed when walking into the city were all of the elaborately painted arches, temples, and towers that seemed to be around every corner. This city seemed to be lost in time.
The narrow stone streets were lined with little one-floored shops filled with brightly colored silk robes, beautiful scarves, handmade tunics, and other traditional Chinese arts. Throughout the weekend we spent many hours walking through these shops exploring their goods and spending way too much money.
While there, we stayed in a traditional guest house. These guest houses were beautifully adorned with plants, lanterns, and other ancient relics. The rooms themselves even made you feel like you were in ancient China with their wood walls and bamboo beds (which, by the way, were not nearly as comfortable as they looked). The only down side to the guest house was how easy it was to get lost in its many courtyards and corridors.
The highlight to the weekend was Saturday night. Myrrl and Deidre bought everyone in the group a floating lantern. We all decided we would write something on it; some people wrote their wishes, others wrote poems and quotes, and a few even wrote Bible verses on them. We then all went down to the river bank and lit the flame and let them go. It was a beautiful sight to see, 20 big bright lanterns floating to heaven with our dreams and prayers.
It was a sad moment when we boarded the bus to leave the city. Many of us were begging Myrrl to let us stay a few more days, but all good things have to end for better things. The rest of this week we have language and history classes in Nanchong, followed by a two week excursion out to western China. We are all looking forward to the many adventures to come within the next few months and we look forward to coming home with many stories.
Until next time remember, “Adventure is out there”.
-Dylan A. Bomgardner
The last week here in Granada has been a rollercoaster. Our group has had its highs and lows. But what’s important is that we are all growing; academically and spiritually.
This past Saturday we were blessed with a day trip to the beautiful city of Seville. Unfortunately, Carol, our fearless leader, and Amanda were not able to go on the trip with us, as Amanda was hospitalized for appendicitis. Carol has been with her every moment at the hospital and helping to translate the completely Spanish speaking environment. The other 19 students on the trip have been visiting her in waves to help her through this difficult time. Hopefully the laughter and smiles will help her recover faster. Doctors are working on getting Mandy up on her feet and project her return possibly tomorrow! We all wish that she would make it through her recovery swiftly and painlessly. All of us are glad that she is doing alright, and we ask for prayers from those back home who wish Amanda a smooth recovery.
Our visit to Seville went without a hitch. We got to see many fascinating places, such as the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, the royal palace, the gardens, and the Plaza España. Many pictures were taken and the rain cleared up just in time for the start of our trip. It turned out to be quite a beautiful day.
We are wrapping up our month-long intensive Spanish class here at the University of Granada. We all seemed to have made it through our final exams and are awaiting scores. Wednesday we start our second round of Spanish classes but only for two weeks. We will also be working on our Spanish Culture and Civilization class presentations this week.
We hope life back in the States is as exciting as it is here, and we look forward to the next two weeks here in Spain. Morocco is coming fast, and the adventures have just begun.
-Joshua Sauder & Amanda Vega
Sept. 21, 2013
We have been very busy since our last blog post from Spain. Since Barcelona we have spent the last two weeks settling into our new host families and school routines in Granada. Before lunch every weekday we spend 4 hours in intensive Spanish language classes and 1 hour in a Spanish Civilation and Culture class. Hungry and mentally fried we head home around 2:30 for lunch. After a rejuvenating “siesta” we spend our evenings doing homework in one of the many parks or plazas, taking advantage of the shopping, or getting together for an excursion to one of the many culturally significant sites in Granada. Weekends are filled with more sight-seeing throughout Andalucia (a province in southern Spain) and experiencing some of Granada’s vibrant night life. So far excursions have included the historic Albaicin district of Granada, the Alhambra, the Alpujarras region, and La Mezquita in Cordoba.
Here are some reflections on the difficult but rewarding task of getting to know our new Spanish families and the coinciding experiences of culture shock. Bruselas 38 is a humble apartment complex not found on Google Maps and not directly accessible by car. On the sixth floor lives a classy yet fiery elderly woman named Purificacion or “Puri for short. Amanda Vega and I have been blessed to call her “host mom” during our stay in Granada. Our first night in Granada she made certain to introduce us to the entire immediate family, including three adult daughters, their husbands, and three grandsons. She showed us her favorite Tapas restaurant and the best cafes and produce shops. She even had key chains made with our initials on them! She wasted no time in being completely accommodating and welcoming to us.
Every morning Puri makes my coffee and watches us safely walk to the elevator as we leave for school. Lunch always awaits our return and she makes sure our bellies are full to the brim until she sits and eats her own lunch. She never fusses at our pickiness or complete unawareness of social norms, such as wearing shoes 24/7 in the house. With level 1 and 2 Spanish speakers to socialize with, she has the most patience I could have ever hoped for as a beginner. We bond over the most unexpected things, such as American television with Spanish voice-overs, and our social lives between friends and family. Puri is a very hospitable and spunky woman. I know I’m going to love it here in Granada thanks to her!
Melinda’s and my host mom is a social butterfly and night owl. She is probably my grandmother’s age but moves around like a college student. When we get home after an afternoon of shopping or homework, she is either entertaining someone or on the phone. When she is off the phone she is talking to us. She tells us all of her stories and we try to keep up with her. She doesn’t go to bed until after us most nights which could be 1 a.m. some nights. She is very fun and easy to be with! I love my host mom.
The way I learn the rules is by breaking them, unintentionally of course. I have now learned to eat facing the table, to not eat French fries with my hands, and to not enter a part of the house if the door is closed. I would never have considered myself to be someone without manners, as I always say please and thank you and try to be as polite as possible. But I think my host mom would describe me differently.
Within the first week my mom had corrected how I sit at the table. Our mom sits at the head of the table and I am on the right side so I turn in my seat so that I can face her and show that I am interested (I mostly do this because it is more comfortable). I guess by the third night she had had it and so she gave me a long explanation as to why I need to sit facing the table and I should never turn in a restaurant. That was the first lesson I learned and I haven’t done it since.
The next night I helped myself to some French fries. I used my hands to get them and my host mom immediately jumped on correcting me and showed me how to properly take French fries with a fork. When that happened I just had to laugh because in America French fries are eaten with our hands, now I know to always use a fork for even the simplest foods. Over the weekend, Annika and I came home and no one else was home. I wanted to do my homework out on the porch because I like natural light. To get out to the porch you have to walk through the family room. This particular day the door to the family room was closed. I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal so I let myself in and went to the balcony while Annika stayed in the room to study. When our mom came home she went off on Annika saying that this was her apartment, and if the door is closed we don’t go there. Our mom never came to me to tell me, so I found out through Annika that I had upset her. I felt awful about it and was a little angry as well, because I don’t like being restricted to just one room. But during dinner I decided to just break the awkwardness and apologize for the mistake (in very bad Spanish). She immediately said it was okay because she hadn’t told us that before and recognized that we didn’t know. We agreed that we just needed to communicate on what is allowed. We are supposed to tell her when we don’t like the food or something. After that I felt much better and I think she did too.
It’s kind of funny for me now. Every day I wonder what new lesson I will learn. I am thankful for the little things she is teaching me and am glad that she cares enough that she wants me to act properly. She has been very generous with her home and all my needs have been met. It looks like I will be coming home with more polite mannerisms.
From the moment my host mother Mari (short for Maribel) gave me a love tap on the rump I knew we had a special connection beyond hand to cheek. Off of Camino de Ronda, the main road that winds through the buildings of Granada, Spain; Alex and I share an apartment with our host mother and her two children Paco and María. It has only been one week since our arrival and the apartment already feels like home. It did not take us long to break in the apartment, quite literally. The other day Alex ripped out a window handle from the interior of the house leaving a very large hole in the wall. Unfortunately, the damage was fatal and the only remedy was a new window handle. Alex and I were terrified to deliver the news to our host family. Once we mustered up the courage to unveil our new addition to the home’s décor we guided Mari to the room. Through both fragmented clay and Spanish our host mom calmly interrupted our confession and said “No pasa nada hijos, está bien. Los cosas están hechas para ser rotas. Como es mi trabajo cuidar de vosotros, es el trabajo de otro arreglar este problema. Si las cosas están hechas para ser rotas esa persona no tendría un trabajo.”
It is nothing sons, everything is okay. Things are meant to be broken. As it is my job to take care of you, it is the job of someone else to fix this. If things were not meant to be broken that person would be without a job.
We were surprised and incredibly relieved by her forgiveness. I think this short story perfectly portrays the relationship we share with our host family. Alex and I have felt nothing but patience and acceptance in our new home. We are foreigners acclimating to an exotic culture and despite the fact that we often show our cultural ignorance our family always responds with compassion. Mari frequently tells us that we are “parte de la familia” and even though that typically leads to two hour dinner conversations we feel blessed to be with such an inviting family.
On Friday (Sept. 20) we had the unique experience of visiting a farm located about a thirty minute drive outside of downtown Nanchong. After our morning language classes, we piled into four vans and drove to the outside of the city. Before long the paved road ended and we turned abruptly onto a dirt road that appeared to be heading straight for the forest. The trees, banana plants, vines and grasses that we saw through our open windows provided a remarkable contrast to the tall apartment buildings, concrete, and seemingly endless construction of the city.
The home we visited belonged to the extended family of our “Nanchong mother,” Wang Ying. We learned that the farm has been in the family’s possession for about five generations beginning well before the official founding of the People’s Republic (1949) and is currently taken care of by Wang Ying’s father-in-law, Duan. Shortly after we arrived and had a tour of the house, we were shown to some tables for lunch. We enjoyed a delicious meal featuring rice and vegetables raised on the farm.
Following lunch, we went with Duan on a hike around the premises to see the farming operation. We walked past some rice paddies, recently drained of water, that provide the family and other locals with food for the year. Large patches of sweet potatoes, beans, chili peppers, and greens also supplement the family’s diet and their income. The farm is located in the midst of hilly, green terrain, recently replanted with trees. Duan said that trees have been planted in an effort of environmental restoration following the events of the Great Leap Forward several decades ago. As we continued, ducks and chickens wandered around; several dogs barked, disturbed by our presence. When we made it back to the house we had the opportunity to talk more in depth with Duan, asking questions as they came up. He provided the group with a greater understanding of agriculture and what it entails in Sichuan Province.
Sunday (Sept. 22) provided us with another opportunity to journey outside of Nanchong. Part of the group met for an 8:30 a.m. worship service at Nanchong Christian Church before joining others on the bus bound for Guangan. After about an hour and a half on the road, we arrived at the city known as the hometown of Deng Xiaoping, a leader and reformist in the Communist Party of China, following the death of Mao Zedong, from 1978-1992.
We ate our packed PB&J lunches made by Myrrl and Ruthie in the shade of some trees before we went into the museum. As we ate, we became aware of the stares of some locals sitting nearby. Whenever we are together in a large group we attract a lot of attention; it has taken some getting used to. After lunch we went into the museum (there was air conditioning!) and spent the better part of an hour learning about the life and impact of Deng. Because of the reforms Deng pushed for toward a market economy, he can be credited with helping to pull hundreds of millions of people out of abject poverty. It was a neat opportunity to learn about recent Chinese history that will allow us as students to better understand what we’re experiencing in China today.
Following our time in the museum, we walked through the park area surrounding the building to see Deng’s childhood home. The building was made up of about ten rooms constructed in a horseshoe around a courtyard, and had served as his family’s home for generations. We toured the house and then met in front of the lake just outside before loading up on the bus and heading back to our host families in Nanchong.
-Painstakingly written by Malinda Bender