Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Truly Unique Experiences

Imagine getting to spend the day learning about, helping to take care of, and feeding these amazing creatures...

Brianna and the other students in her group spent the day at the Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding.  The Research Base is a world class research facility, and panda conservation education center.  Established in 1987 with six pandas rescued from the wild, it is now home to 83 giant pandas.  While there the students watched a movie about Pandas and how to conserve them in the future, and also had the glorious task of cleaning up poop and bamboo!  Their efforts were rewarded with a rare opportunity to feed the panda cubs!!!!  Brianna seemed to be very excited about this experience, however I think she may have been equally excited by the fact that they had McD's for dinner that night!

After leaving Chengdu, they boarded a plane and headed to Guilin in Guangxi Province.  After a super late arrival due to some weather delays, they settled into their hotel for the night.  In the morning they took a three hour bus ride to Chengyang Dong, a small rice farming community that has survived on subsistence farming for centuries. On their way they stopped to purchase some straw hats and rubber boots (if you could hear me you'd know I'm laughing out loud now!). Here they will spend their mornings working side by side with local families helping to bring in this year's harvest.  Here's a little about where they are in the words of Scott von Eschen.....

"Daybreaks around the world are remarkably similar. Dark, dark silence followed by the distant call of a too early rising rooster, a creak of a door, the echo of a dog barking across the valley. The soft glow of morning begins to bath the homes in color, in seconds transforming them from black and white to technicolor. The village slowly emerges with the cry of a baby, and the whispered farewell of a worker’s early departure for a day of toil.

I’ve just watched Chengyang Dong emerge from darkness. It reminds me of so may other dawns I’ve experienced around the world: Costa Rica, Fiji, Tanzania, Guatemala, Tahiti, Thailand, Phillipines, Greece, Belize. The cultures might be dramatically different, but the way they greet each day in the same.

Chengyang Dong is a treasure of a town. Imagine a Hollywood movie set depicting life in a 16th century Chinese village tucked high in the mountains and you can get a sense of this place. Labyrinth-like passageways lined with multi-storied wooden homes–pigs and ducks living at ground level, the families living above them. A river, the center of everything here, winds through the village bringing life.

Water wheels line the river’s banks to feed the rice paddies. Small holding ponds are built to raise fish for their meals. Women and children wash themselves and their clothes in the river.

Everywhere we go there is a giggle at our passing, a delighted “Ni Hau” or “hello” followed by a laugh. The people are incredibly friendly–not many outsiders make it to their town and they are curious and gracious and welcoming. Tiny kids follow us through the streets wanting their picture taken and are delighted to see their image in the viewfinder.

This is a farming community, with rice as the main crop. Everywhere you look are terraced rice paddies belonging to individual families.

We’ve come at harvest season and the fields are filled with families irrigating, cutting, reaping, harvesting and drying their rice. The people work incredibly hard. Their incentive is obvious. Their rice yield now will feed their families until the next harvest in May. If they come up short, they go hungry."

In the afternoons the group will be working in a local primary school teaching English.  According to their trip leaders Brianna's group worked hard last night preparing for their time at the school, coming up with lots of creative ideas for teaching. They are reportedly very anxious to try them out!  The students there walk to school from villages as far as four hours away, and therefore spend weeknights boarding in the dormitories. School hours are from 7:55 in the morning to 8:20 at night!   As part of their experience, Brianna's group will spend a night in the dorms. All students, many of the very same age, yet living very different lives.  I wonder what each side will take away from their experience together...what lessons will be learned. 

Word from Brianna is that she's feeling much better since leaving Tibet and returning to a normal altitude.  I was worried about how sick she was feeling, but really felt she'd be back to normal once the altitude wasn't an issue any more.  One week from tomorrow, we'll be returning to the airport to get her.  Ella, who can now talk about Brianna without crying, is planning all sorts of things for her return.  Things like balloons, and streamers, and a wide assortment of favorite foods!  She even has suggestions on how the food should be displayed across the counters! And of course, I'm not allowed to breathe a word of her cuteness....because she wants it to be a surprise :)

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