02.05.2015 - 10.05.2015
On Monday, I took my second big test. I did not know until earlier that day that it was actually a continuation of my midterm exam, so I had to do well as it counts as thirty percent of my overall grade! I feel I did pretty well on it. Later that day, my Daoism class took a field trip to some local folk temples. The ones that we visited were a culmination of Daoist, Buddhist and traditional customs and beliefs. The first room that we entered was filled with dozens of elderly people sitting around tables drinking tea. In Chinese, they said, “Look at all of the foreigners,” and I responded, “look at all of these Chinese people.” They got a kick out of it and, being surprised to hear me speak Chinese, they asked me to join them for a cup of tea. They told me how they’ve seen China change over the last fifty years. One man said, “I remember when Mao Zedong became the chairman. Things sure have changed since then!” Although they wouldn’t say exactly what it was that had changed, they seemed to be pretty optimistic. Perhaps memories of the great starvation and violent flares of the Cultural Revolution left a negative impact on them. I finished my tea, thanked them all, and was on my way. We continued our trip through temples, Buddhist libraries, and gardens. I always enjoy getting away from the busy city and relaxing in the quiet temples.
For the next two days, I locked myself away in my room and studied for the remainder of my midterms. By the end, I discovered that I earned all B’s on my tests; not bad for taking them in a foreign language. I met Ivo and his thirty year old Chinese friend who secretly discussed the truth about Chinese politics with us. Although he gave us a very objective history, I couldn’t help but notice his negative tone when speaking of the events during the Cultural Revolution. However, he did say that without many of those events, China would not be what it is today.
On Friday, I went on my final ISA excursion; a trip to Ganbao, a rural Tibetan village west of Chengdu! I met Yoyo and took a four hour bus ride outside of the city. We drove through rough, steep, craggily mountains that rolled on and on. The sky was totally blue and there was almost no pollution. When we arrived, I took my first breath of fresh air in over two months! Generally speaking, this part of China does not have that much industry. Very few remote buildings stood at the highway’s side. In the distance, one could see herds of sheep walking in a line. The ground was dry and it was evident that there isn’t much rain. The village of Ganbao was simple yet beautiful. Made from stone and mud, most of the homes were one story. The streets were narrow and springs ran under the road, creating a miniature geyser randomly in the street. The vast majority of people were Tibetan and wore traditional Tibetan clothing. I met a group of elderly women who told Yoyo that they hadn’t had any “outsiders” come in quite some time. I believed it as everybody I passed looked at me as if I were an alien! However, every single person that I met smiled and often offered to assist me in finding my way back to my room. Although I understood about ten percent of everything that was said that weekend, I managed to communicate through body language and my limited vocabulary of the Sichuan dialect. I learned that most of the village was rebuilt after the 2008 earthquake that devastated much of western China.
The house that we stayed in was occupied by a middle-aged Tibetan couple and the husband’s mother. The wife cooked us wild vegetables, mutton, sausage, greens; more food than we could possibly imagine finishing. I was told later that it is considered disrespectful if a guest finishes everything on the table and that the host will often cook too much food to avoid the situation. They spoke of their two sons who are studying in Tibet. The husband’s mother, who appeared to be at least ninety, came in to check on us. She told Yoyo and I, “I never went to school but I know how to count money!” “That’s all you need to know anyways,” I replied with a smile, and she walked away. What a nice lady! We hiked around the villages mountains for a while and learned of their traditional religions. Apparently, they have many different gods including the sheep god, explaining why sheep are so revered in their culture. I entered an empty prayer site overlooking the entire village. The door was about two feet tall but I managed to squeeze in. Small trinkets and tattered posters of the Buddha lined the walls and slate rock stacked in the shape of towers surrounded the site. In the distance, snow-capped mountains like something out of a painting towered over the surrounding peaks. It truly is one of the most naturally beautiful places I have ever been. I never knew places so rural and so culturally different existed. The inhabitants are almost pure of outside media pollution, mainstream societal propaganda and foreign cultural influence. It was sincerely an amazing place. I believe that my three day trip to Ganbao was my most influential experience yet!