On a hike in Pengshui, Chongqing Province
This post is out of chronological order. It picks up after Jurassic Park: Visiting a Student in Rural Wulong County. Comparatively, midsummer appears to be the least exciting part of my summer, but for me, an experience is only half of what it could be without new people and good friends. At PC China's annual Chongqing Province Summer Project, I was fortunate enough to work with every able CQ19. Soon following, meeting new friends and revisiting some old in Shanghai. Then heading off to start the first session of EcoCamp just outside of Chengdu.
Helping Daniel spearhead the shower project at EcoCamp
Lotus from a wetland grey water purifier at EcoCamp
Chongqing Province Summer Project in Pengshui:
View from our school in the morning
Kayla, Ben (her site mate), and I took a 1.5hrs. bus from Wulong to Pengshui. Every year each PC province has Summer Project, which is hosted by the provincial education department. Summer Project is mandatory for all volunteers. Usually, it runs for about a week and volunteers are spread at different sites around the province, but we got extremely lucky this year and all CQ19s were placed at the same site. There were 16 CQ19s total. Our goal was to teach elementary and middle school teachers from Pengshui alternative English teaching methods. So, teaching teachers how to teach differently ;) 有点meta
Me, Windy, ____, Libby, and Sam
Sam and I were teaching partners. I didn't realize this until later in the summer but I have worked more with Sam than any other volunteer in the PC, and us living in the same small city is only coincidental. We taught over 100 middle school teachers in about a week and a half, teaching everyday for seven hours or so. As I understand, some volunteers focused on exposing the teachers to new concepts such as 'diversity,' while we were boring and focused on direct application of the new teaching methods, but we made it fun, I hope.
An interesting thing about our Summer Project is that the teachers we taught are older than we are. One man had 20 years of teaching experience, I have 1 and some, so we had to drive the 'new teaching methods' idea pretty hard to convince them that what we had to say was worthwhile. We didn't waste our time though. I still talk to five of them and they said that they are trying to incorporate some of what we taught them into their lessons (I apologize for the verbosity. I increased my daily time studying Chinese and it is frying my English). I think CQ Summer Project was a huge success. My favorite part was getting to see all of the CQ19s in one spot. I had a really great time hanging out with y'all.
Down the hill from our school I saw a small guitar shop, located in a garage space in an alley, ironically enough, and went to talk to the kids hanging outside of it. Most of them were in high school and they were thrilled to find out that we were foreign and interested in what they were doing. Rethinking the situation, I would not call this place a guitar shop, more like a garage that a bunch of kids sit outside of and practice guitar at. There were a dozen guitars strewn around tables in the shade in the alley. The leader kid, like in the US the one who can shred, standing to the right of me in the picture above, handed me his electric-acoustic and I played something.
As usual, the kids wanted us to sing a song with them. When I asked what song they would like to sing they responded, "21 Guns" by Green Day, almost involuntarily. I don't remember what I was listening to when everybody was listening to Green Day, it was not as cool for sure, but getting to the point, I don't know any Green Day songs, so I told them that we would learn the song that night and we would come back the following day to sing with them.
Keri Ann, Sam, Libby, and I singing, "21 Guns" with high schoolers at a garage guitar shop after teaching
In small places in China, like Pengshui, when people hear that something unusual is going on everybody comes to check it out. Small towns and cities are not yet totally absorbed in their own lives, homes, and internet. There is still a curiosity for public things, they know that they can't find everything online or on a screen and will leave there home for curiosity, but this is changing quickly.
When we showed up there was a small crowd of middle schoolers, high schoolers, kids, and elderly. The longer we were there the more they seemed to multiply. We started to sing and many knew the song and joined in. Definitely a PC moment I will not forget. Also, the nostalgia of playing shows with the bands I was in in high school only reinforced the power of the experience. Even though it was a far cry from the true elation, this little performance reminded me that there is no better feeling than the feeling that comes from preforming something you have spent endless hours perfecting and are fully absorbed in and passionate about.
CQ19s on a field trip
The CQ education department... Ministry of Education, or whatever it is called was extremely grateful for our service and brought us on a field trip of sorts. They got us that nifty minibus to take us from local attraction to attraction.
We went to this open area forest place and then our host realized we were at the wrong place, so...
Cliff and Aubrey pretend fighting like elves in the woods was the funniest thing I saw during Summer Project. Cliff's invisible bow and arrow...
Maivy and I at cave
The best part about our field trip was that we didn't know where they were taking us the whole time. Thus, a cave.
Cloud at the mouth of the cave
I forgot to mention that it was between 102-105F for most days in Pengshui, with 90 percent humidity. In China, Chongqing is known as The First Furnace of China. Moving means sweating. There was a constant cloud at the mouth of the cave. As soon as you cross the portal into the cave the temperature drops at least twenty degrees. I didn't realize how resilient the earth can be to climate.
Kayla and Aubrey in the dark
The only developed part of this cave was the stairs that lead down to the first landing area. We wanted to go further so we continued on into the cavern. The only problem was that we had almost no light. I was using the temporary flash on my camera to guide a bit. What you see in these pictures could not be seen by the people in the pictures.
There be ghosts in these caverns
I wished we had more time to walk further into the cave. But walking on wet, sleek rock in the pitch black is not the best idea, especially when you are not supposed to be there. But, hopefully I'll get my caving fix this winter in Guizhou :)
Nam at ledge
They also brought us to a viewing area of this super tall mountain. Even though there isn't an inch of flat ground in Chongqing, mountains as tall as this are very rare. I couldn't really tell, but prima facie, it looks like there is some serious climbing potential at these crags. Just, if you look at the picture below, the approach would take a full day of bush whacking.
Dan and Nam trying not to die
Our guides also took us to a stone forest on a mountain. The developers, with their brilliant foresight, built a wood plank walkway over the trail, in an environment that it wet for likely, 100 percent of the year. So there was a fine layer of super slippery moss/icky stuff that covered each wood plank. I have hiked steep snow covered passes perched above gorges, passed out because of dehydration on a trail with little water, climbed high ball boulders with no pads (all stupid), but this slippery walkway was the most frustrating.
During the weekend we went on a hike to a pagoda (pictured at the beginning) with some students. It was really really hot and humid. There is a picture of Nam, myself, and our abnormal ability to perspire, that I won't post here. When we got to the pagoda it started to rain. When the rain cleared a rainbow formed.
I am not exactly sure why, but I look at summer project as one of the best times I've had int he PC so far. I'd like to thank the CQ19s for being awesome. And, it was great getting to know those who I didn't know before.
Climbing Gym in Shanghai
I flew to Shanghai the day after Summer Project. I only had a few days so I didn't get to visit all of the people I would have liked to see but I might move to Shanghai for a year after Peace Corps to study Chinese, so it is not a big deal. I met a bunch of cool new people this time around, so I kinda hope my post-PC plan B, becomes a reality.
After Shanghai, I flew back to Chongqing city to stay with my student Jason. He is only a year younger than I am so we have similar interests. I met his family and hung out with his friends. I hadn't hung out with Chinese people my age until I went to stay with him. It definitely gave me a new perspective on Chinese youth and what they think about the future of their country.
English Eco Leadership Camp:
Farmer Gao leading Session One EcoCamp participants to the farm
After spending a few days at Jason's house we left for EcoCamp. We were to meet four of my other students in Chengdu. All five of my students had reservations about coming to EcoCamp, not because they were to live on farm for five days, do farm work, and survive on a vegetarian diet, but because their English abilities are generally thought to be lower for of the ranking of our school is not the greatest. They soon learned that these reservations were founded on little. Sam, Angelina, Daniel, and I spent a few months planning EcoCamp. After raising 6000USD, we were able to afford two, five days sessions for a total of eleven volunteers and fifty students from four of China's SW provinces.
EcoCamp has three goals: 1) teach English 2) teach leadership skills 3) to teach students new, environmentally friendly ways to live in and interact with their environment. Students were exposed to practical implements such as a biogas digester, wetland grey water filter, special ways to save water, and the farms sustainable development model. Not all activities were entirely practical, but were used to have our students build a more personal relationship with their environment, lessons include: Basics of Nature Photography and Nature Art. After hearing about Session Two, I think it is safe to say that EcoCamp was a total success. Both sessions gave a Prepost Assessment to see if the students had learned anything in the five days at camp. Session One's pre-assessment mean score was 56.1 percent, and rose to 87.2 percent. Session Two increased from 68.9 percent to 82.6 percent.
I want to thank all of the students and volunteers or doing such a great job. A super special thanks to all of our donors for allowing this to happen. We will have stuff for you guys soon :)
All students and volunteers were expected to help cook. Above, I am showing my student, John, how to make a fried dough breadstick looking thing, after a couple of my girl students had just showed me how to make it. Fried dough is a a fairly common breakfast food all over China. Below, Jasmine is cooking spaghetti with some students. All meals at the farm are vegetarian. This is a big deal for our students because they all think that you cannot be full unless you have meat in your meal.
Above are a bunch of Jasmine's students and some of us PC people. You can kinda see what the farmhouse looks like in these pictures. In the door on the right, which is covered by a mosquito net, there are generally four bunks per room.
"Get back out to the field!"
Some brits had come to the farm before and left their shower project unfinished. Farmer Gao, the owner of the farm told EcoCamp to finish their project. It was nice actually, we didn't have to pay for any building materials really, everything was already there. Props to Daniel for spearheading this project, because if he didn't take charge it is likely that Session Two would have had to finish building it and not had time to paint it.
Ming (in green), a brilliant and amiable employee of the Chengdu Urban Rivers Association, the environmental NGO that developed this area, spent the day giving talk and showing us around the area. We hope he can come back every year to give a similar presentation.
Jason takes the pre-assessment with a friend, Six-pack. She was featured in my post about the winter pilot project. She was the kitten that had caught on fire because she fell asleep too close to the fire.
My student, John, building a sculpture made of deciduous items and mud.
Student's eating with local farmers.
Daniel and Jason finishing the shower.
We had a bonfire, smore's, and campfire games on the last night to close EcoCamp. Jasmine and I had to head to Chengdu to give a talk to the new PCVs before dawn so this was our goodbye. All in all, I am confidant in saying that some of my most memorable moments in the Peace Corps will have come from my midsummer trips and activities.
Again, thanks to everybody who donated to EcoCamp. I know, for my students at least, EcoCamp made their summer (and futures) far better than it would have been without it. And, I want to thank Evan, Keri, and others for use of your pictures :)