Category Archives: Travel

China 9: Final Thoughts

Well, I’m not typing any of this in China. I arrived back in the US of A on Saturday evening, and now that it’s Wednesday I figured I should write something on concluding thoughts for my China trip.


It’s not my first trip to China, and it’s definitely not my last – same with the organization I worked with. But this trip was special in its own way: I met people, I did things, that all left an impression on me. For starters, the people: I have always visited ND with my family – not a bad thing, but if you’re with people you’ve been with your entire life, it isn’t a terribly new experience. Coming to ND by myself, on my own, was very different and I loved it. One of the things I really appreciated about ND was their emphasis on community. They really encouraged a community feel among the workers and staff there, which really enriched the experience. Have you ever enjoyed working with people you talked with on an as-needed basis? I loved being with really great people, and not Americans either – Ireland and England joined the party too. Secondly, the things I did there at ND were different than what I had done in previous years. I taught my own class (!!!), and assisted in teaching another class. Teaching both special needs kindergarten and middle schoolers both gave me confirmation: regular early childhood education is where I want to be. I loved both classes, but they were not something I would want to do long-term. Still, I have a lot more respect for middle school and special ed teachers.

I have been blessed by the opportunity to travel to China again, on my own, meet so many fantastic people, and grow in so many ways. I am encouraged to see so much of God’s work being done through this organization, and through the willing, faithful, dreaming people working there. They inspire you – the children and the staff – to search into the faith from which they draw so much strength from, the simple love that they share, the community bond – and above all, the joy despite the circumstances they were put in. Which goes into my next point: their circumstances have become testimonies to God’s power and work. God’s will has been done through these people, and the difficult times have only brought a bigger testament to what God can do.

China is more than just my heritage; it is a culture and a place I’ve had the privilege of growing up in, and now returning to. As I eat the food, experience the subway system, learn the language, I’m just getting a taste (sometimes literally!) of the God’s Kingdom that is so much bigger than I comprehend. I am excited for what’s ahead, not just for what I’m going to learn when school starts up again in a few weeks, but for God’s will in my life – wherever that will take me.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we ask or think. Glory to Him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations, forever and ever! Amen. -Ephesians 3:20-21, NLT


China 8: Weekend Limbo

This weekend, the summer staff (several people I’ve mentioned so far that have, like me, spent at least six weeks in China) went on a retreat, to bond and reflect with each other on our time here, about a week before we leave. It was… limbo? It almost doesn’t seem real. It was actually an extended weekend, because it went over into Monday as well. Limbo? Well…

Every other Saturday, I have been assigned to work at something. Usually, this entailed an ‘English Corner’ for English learners in the community.  This week, though, English Corner had finished for the summer, and after waiting for an hour, there was no assignment. What better to do than… nothing? A few of us had a dance party, very unbalanced food throughout the day, while killing a lot of time meandering through the village. I had very little energy, so my dancing was not up to par. By the end of the day, I had worked up my energy to shake my body like a cyclone. In a few words, it was a grant ole time found through a lot of aimlessness.

At 8AM on Sunday, we set off on another grand adventure – the Great Wall, round two! First, we had to have lunch. Nobody from our group had been to this area before, so we found out Sunday that the only place to eat was a high-class hotel. Imagine about 14 people in hiking gear walking into a fancy hotel to have lunch! We felt a little underdressed… but we went with it, and then got on with our adventure. This time, we went to another section of the wall. We were told that it would be an unrestored section of it, but in reality it was rather restored, but probably not frequented as often by tourists. It was a hike! We had to walk a long time just to get to the wall, and once we had gotten there, the wall was up and down mountains. I took a picture, and if the wall we were hiking was not at a 45 degree incline, it was something close to it.  It was a long and hard walk, and I wimped out of climbing farther, because I was just not feeling up to the hardcore-ness of this time. Not only was it a scorching hot day and we happened to be climbing in the heat of the afternoon, I had accomplished even more than I wanted to last week. So I turned back and enjoyed a prolonged break. Funny thing, though – I dropped my phone! I had brought my iPhone to take pictures of the views, and then on my way back down, I dropped it! It has an OtterBox case, which makes it virtually indesctructable, so I wasn’t worried about it cracking. But there were some windows near the base of the wall, and it tumbled for a while before it stopped, coming dangerously close to falling out of the window. It was a close one! (If my phone had fallen into the valley below, I probably would’ve cried. My wallet had just gotten stolen, with all the money I had left the day before at the local farmer’s market. Although it’s not a terribly big deal, my love of China dimmed a bit. But to see my OtterBox save my phone from the Great Wall – well, that’s a story to tell!)

After we finished hiking (just hiking, no ski lift or toboggan down this time), we got in the car and travelled over to a place in the mountains. We all stayed in small rooms surrounding a courtyard. There was a stream that ran down from the mountains that had super-cold water – that’s how they refrigerate drinks! We had an awesome dinner, which included the entire body of a chicken (yes, including the head and other entrails!), as well as a bunch of other yummy food. Afterwards, we talked a lot and then went to sleep on a very hard bed. (That’s the short of the longer full story, but I’ll just leave it at the synopsis.) After waking up and having breakfast, we drove to the next destination: white-water-rafting-except-not. It took a lot of waiting to discover what in fact we were actually doing – all we knew was that we had to prepare to get sopping wet. As it turns out, we were waiting for the water to be heated. We finally got to a place with little rafts, helmets, life jackets, and small handled buckets. Basically, there is a man-made ‘track’ that you and your partner ‘raft’ down. All the experience of white water rafting, without the paddling. There were those mini buckets that we got, so we could scoop water out of our rafts. When we finished our first ride, there was a lot of still water that we waited at for several minutes. All the other Chinese people there (complete strangers!) thought it would be hilarious to play a game of ‘splash the white people’. It was rather fun, though, and with those buckets we got a lot more water in the air. There were several rounds of this – down the track of white water, waiting for a bit, down the track again, waiting more – but eventually we stopped and had to get out of the rafts. It was very fun! Afterwards, we got changed into our dry clothes… in, of course, a Chinese changing room/shower. If you’ve ever been in one before, you know that everyone is butt naked and 100% okay with it. Well, everyone except the white people. I’ve been in this situation many times and still am not used to it. It is what it is, I guess.

After that, we went to lunch, followed by the car ride back (AKA sleep time), and turned up at ND at around 3:30PM. It felt like 5:00 at least! Since it was a Monday, we still had English camp. Someone else ran it that day, but since it was raining and we had told our kids that we weren’t going to be there, they didn’t show. Out of fourteen, three kids showed up. After that, we went to get baozi (steamed stuffed buns) from the baozi guy (the legit one that we decided to rename). Thomas was pals with him, so we took a few pictures with the baozi guy. When we told him that today was Thomas’ last day, and tomorrow he’d be going to America, the guy gave us all a free baozi! Probably because Thomas was his #1 customer… Thomas had an obsession going on with that baozi. I probably appreciated the gesture more than everyone, as I had like 17yuan to my name, so it served as a part of dinner.

So, do you understand? This weekend has been strange. Sometimes I wasn’t sure what to do. Other times, I didn’t know what was going on, and when I did it was really rather strange… Most of the weekend was all supposed to be a surprise, so I suppose finding out what I was doing next played a role in that, but the being confused and awkward, not understanding the reasons behind why this or that is done – that’s China, I guess!

(This post was written on August 5 – a little late, but I hope you enjoy it!)

China 6: Great Times, Great Views, Great Wall

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Sunday we went to the Great Wall. In short, it was awesome. In long, we began our expedition at 8AM, in a van that has no comfortable position for the average human, and remained there for two hours until we arrived at the wall. Road trip! We talked a bit about our previous road trip experiences, but of course had to create one of our own. We played a song game, where we think of a word and everyone goes in a circle to think of a song that has that word in it. For example: night. “Goodnight, my someone” (Music Man), “Tonight’s gonna be a good night” (I got a feeling), “Just the way you look tonight…” (Frank Sinatra) “Can you feel the love tonight?” (Lion King)… you get the idea. You keep on going until someone runs out of ideas. Or, the way we ended up playing it, everyone runs out of ideas and is tired of sing-alongs. After we finished that, we quieted down for a pre-hike nap/rest time, so when we arrived, we could take on Subway to the best of our ability. You can’t do the Great Wall of China running on empty! It was a really early lunch, but that proved to be a good idea, because we would’ve been starved had we waited till after our hike. Of course we had to ride up to the wall in luxury – this is generally done by ski lift, which we opted for. It was a great ride, and an even greater view! I rode with Chloe (my traveling partner, accountable for my death and other such liabilities) on the lift, but we were able to see almost everyone. It was fun to give a little wave to our friends behind and in front of us!

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So here’s where your quads get worked…

Well, we had to get to the wall eventually. Once we began our walk, let’s just say it was closer to real China than before. Laborious walking, that is. Maybe it’s the steps that aren’t even, maybe it’s the fact that it’s so hilly, maybe it’s just the fact that it’s the Great Wall. Whatever it was, it was leg day. For a reason beyond my understanding, Greta and Thomas decided to race up certain parts of the wall, and then Thomas went lone-ranger on us and ran up to who knows where. We found him eventually, but it was… well, yeah, that’s what it was. We walked for maybe an hour or two, but made about a mile’s progress. Spoiler alert: it’s good exercise. So when we looked back at all our efforts, they amounted to a tiny bit. Still a great view, though. After we got the second watchtower, there was a closed off section of the wall that kept going. Naturally, we went through. We made it to the next watch tower in about 15 minutes – that’s the time it should take someone to walk from watchtower to watchtower. Once we’d gotten to the next stop, we stopped and enjoyed the view for a while. However, Sam and I decided it would be even better to go and enjoy an even bigger view of the valley below, surrounding a farther-down section of the wall. It was a short, easy, but rather destructed part of the wall – the road not taken, in other words. It was incredible. The view was amazing. I didn’t take any pictures at that view – I think some things are meant to be enjoyed. But I did take several before and after that time. Naturally, after that we trekked back. This time, it was almost just as difficult on the way down because my legs were shaking so much. We got to the end though, and then we got a toboggan ride down! I wanted to go faster but Chloe, who was in front of me, went fast, but not fast enough… All in all, it was a fun expedition and I had a blast.
After the Great Wall, we went to a restaurant that specialized in Peking duck. It took about two hours to get there, so I arranged myself in the least uncomfortable position to try and take a nap. We then arrived to an Chinese acrobatic show, which had a lot of acts (half of which weren’t really Chinese). My favorite act, though, was with two ribbon-rope things down the middle of the stage and dancers flying through the air on it. I’m sure it took a crazy amount of practice and strength, to make it that beautiful. Other acts, like the clown or motorcycles in the cage: they might’ve been exciting for some, but I wasn’t the biggest fan. But that flying… that will take your breath away.

All in all: we had a great time. We saw great views. After all, we climbed the Great Wall.

“This is a really great wall.” -Richard Nixon, upon visiting the Great Wall

China 2: Power of the scorpion

Today we went to Beijing. We were out by 8: the smog was out and so were we. Nine of us session two summer staff, plus a few old (AKA experienced) summer staff, prepared to take on China’s public transport. If you know anything about Chinese public transport – well, it’s almost the exact opposite of public transport in the US. Crowded, each-man-for-himself, and absolutely no personal bubble are a few defining characteristics. We first walked about a kilometer, and waited for our bus. Turns out, bus 49 that we had waited for so long on Sunday was, in fact, a left turn instead of a right. After about an hour-long ride, we transferred onto the subway and continued to ride and transfer from train to train on the subway.

We went to the Temple of Heaven Park, walked around, joined in on a dance-exercise class (Chinese Zumba?), then after walking around some more, at the subway we broke up. KK and Emily had to go to the Embassy to see if they could work out some visa issues, May and Greta weren’t feeling very well, so it was Chloe, Abbie, Thomas, Sam (who hadn’t been in China 24 hours yet), and me, taking on the back roads of BJ. We went to one touristy area, with small shops and food stands. There were a couple stands that sold scorpion. On Thomas’ list of things to do was to eat a scorpion. After looking high and low and finally finding a bathroom in the middle of a mall, Thomas finally got his wish. Except that these scorpions were smaller, so they were sold in 3’s. So we had three scorpions. Sam ate another with Thomas, for comradarie and support. One left, and I ate it. Turns out, they’re crunchy and a tad salty but otherwise very bland. I ate it half for bragging rights (how many people do you know have eaten a scorpion?), half because somebody needed to finish it off and nobody else was going to!

After the scorpion-eating, the rest of the day was a vague memory… I feel that if you walk the distances we walked, that tends to happen. The important part is that we got back, safe and sound. Empowered by scorpions. rawr.


This post was originally written around June 5, but I needed access to a VPN and free time, both of which I finally got today. Hope you enjoy it!