The world is a small small place.
During the Sichuan welcome party (09/13/14), I met a man at Savage who had just graduated from Cal Poly Pomona (‘14). He immigrated to America a while ago and was back in Chengdu visiting his parents. I mentioned briefly about Panda Express and my mother, without skipping a beat he says, “I know exactly who your mother is.”
On the morning of Sunday 09/14, my Laos student Li Baohua asked me if I would go watch him perform that night at the Leshan JiaZhou ChangJuan, a reconstructed ancient town for exhibits and special events. Sichuan’s 1st Annual International Travel Expo took place in Emei, with Leshan opening up for Thailand and Indonesia. Li Baohua has been in China for 2 years, studying finance at our vocational & technical school before transferring to Leshan Normal University to complete his bachelors degree. His Chinese is magnificent, far better than mine. Though I had class that night until around 7:15PM, I said I’d try my best to make it. It would be about a 45 minute bus ride to get there, 10 minute taxi ride, if I was lucky.
Class ended around 7:18PM, and with my two students, Pepper and Candy, we ran to catch a taxi only to realize that we’d be dropped off about half a mile before our destination due to traffic. So we RAN. Weaved in and out of the crowded sidewalk, in my new yet to be broken in boots to be able to catch my Laos student in action, translating the entire Thai performance on stage. Needless to say, he killed it on the stage. Confident, proud, and his makeup also made his face shine.
After watching him perform, my students and I roamed around before stopping at a food stall. This beautiful woman was selling Tom Yum soup and papaya salad, and I was already drooling by the time I reached her. After a brief conversation and introductions, it turns out that many of them were familiar with Peace Corps and their work in Thailand. After showing my appreciation for the food and saying good-bye, my students and I crowd around this bowl of delicious Tom Yum soup. They’ve never had anything like it, and needless to say, they LOVED it.
I decided to double back for some papaya salad and I got an extra special heaping portion of it from the friendly lady. They stop mid-working to talk to a man who looked friendly and very welcoming. As I was speaking to my students and the workers in English, he stops my conversation to ask my nationality. I mentioned I was an American and a Peace Corps volunteer, in which he responded with, “Wonderful! My teacher was a Peace Corps volunteer!” Turns out, I had just met the consul-general of Chengdu! Even more small world, he knew Yienfanh, a very close friend and brother of mine in Peace Corps. They had spent Song Kran together last year at then consul-general Peter Haymond’s house.
For as big as China is, it’s a wonder how we can be so connected with each other.
What a wonderful feeling.
WHAT A KICK ASS SEPTEMBER.
In August myself and 5 other volunteers took 25 of our students + 2 teachers to an organic farm in Pixian County, on the outskirts of Chengdu city. I was first pretty skeptical about the trip, because I already knew what it was like to live on a farm (every visit to my grandparents in Taiwan was on the farm). The eco camp also coincided with my birthday, which turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life! My students made incredible friendships, met different foreigners, and got to see China from a different light. They now eat healthier, speak more English, and are more independent than ever. On my birthday they also successfully surprised me with a cake, and one of most memorable parts about it was Jack Attack breaking out in the ‘Happy Birthday’ song and dance any chance he got. I think he got up to 6 times.
But I digress.
Part of the requirements of being a nursing student at my school is that each student has to have an advisor and a summer project of their own for the summer. Something meaningful and helpful to the community. Because of this rare and special Eco Camp, my students were 1 of 10 groups selected out of the 5000 student body to present a powerpoint and Jack’s Eco Camp video to the entire department.
On the night of the presentation, September 25th, I ran into the auditorium and sat with my students. As a viewer, students were not allowed to film, take pictures, or stand up. This is where I come in. I disrupted the entire auditorium with my screams and hollers, because I was SO proud of my students who were presenting and what we were doing. It was their time to shine, and they did me a little favor by introducing Peace Corps and U.S.-China Friendship Volunteers.
After they were finished I went back stage to talk with my students. It was then when I figured out that the winners were already pre-selected (in true China fashion). My students had won second place, even though it should have been first. Part of it had a lot to do with the fact that their advisor (me) was not recognized or acknowledged as an important member of faculty, which is truly disappointing. They should have won 1st place, not because I am biased, but because it was different, refreshing, and special compared to what the other students had presented.
When the awards ceremony came around, I went to the front to take pictures, only to get my camera snatched by another student of mine and pushed on stage to accept the certificate. Due to unbelievable stage fright, and the fact that I knew over 1000 of my students were watching, I froze on stage and the only thing you could see was my glowing teeth.
An amazing memory, and a wonderful start to the new semester. I couldn’t be more proud of my students, who they are and who they have become.
Best of all, this couldn’t have happened without the support of my fellow volunteers, friends, family, and most of all, Peace Corps.
I went to my usual Pilates class at the gym, sitting in my usual corner with the mats provided by the gym. A lady screams bloody murder in which I heard through my loud ear phones and only looked up to find a rat staring at me right in the face. It took about 5 seconds for this to register that the rat was hiding in the corner, MY corner where my umbrella was before I freaked out. Of course, no one wanted to tell the front desk, so the foreigner had to do it. The entire time I’m figuring out that the little pebbles on the floor wasn’t dead bugs or dust, but actually rat droppings.
A man comes in with a metal bar, which at first I assumed was a giant taser. And then I realized we were in rural China, and this man was about to use a regular metal bar to beat a rat to death. As he’s in the corner between the stacked yoga mats and the wall, loudly trying to beat a rat to death, the rat escaped into the other corner before going up the curtains. I’m not sure why the rat didn’t choose to run away then, because it came back down.
The entire time I’m trying very hard to read my book and listen to music, wondering if there was a more humane way of taking care of this before a man in pressed athletic clothing walks in. He speaks in Leshan hua, and if I’m correct he says, “are you really going to use a bat??” Finally!! I thought someone is going to offer to let it live!!!
"Can we just step on it???"
I’m not sure what I was expecting, but a few minutes later I look up and watch the old man pick up the smooshed rat by the tail and out the door while the rat was dripping blood all over my yoga mat (it was still there) and the floor.
It’s 7:20PM, and class would start in 10 minutes. The man comes in and quickly mops the blood away and wipes the blood off the yoga mat (still leaving blood stains) and says, “okay! All done!”
7:30PM - class begins, everyone in their positions. I’m in a new spot, closer to the door in case I need to run for any reason, and of course, the rat droppings are still present.
Friends, the few times I’ll ask for a donation. Even a 1USD makes a difference. Raising this money will allow rural students have an opportunity to see how fun education can be aside from learning in a classroom.
search “Patwell” for 5th Annual Eco Camp.
Thanks, beauties. #peacecorps #tefl
How we’ve kept in contact since college. Happy National Siblings Day. Love ya to pieces
20 year old abandoned amusement parks become the perfect photography spot for wedding advertisements. #Peacecorps #China
You do get a few shots during your service, but none were in the butt. It’s just your normal shots to prevent you from getting sick. Not too bad!
Beauty queen at the exotic fish market
I get clingy. My best friend is in Taiwan.
Photo submitted by Keith May
Story and Song by Keith May
The week before Peace Corps staging, my father passed away.
We were close and I had been expecting him to be one of the people most closely following my Peace Corps experience and broadcasting it to everyone he knew (and he knew EVERYONE).
"Keith ate pig brain!"
"Keith sent me pictures from a Chinese car show!"
I could imagine him saying while he would fumble the name of my site,
"Yeah he is living in Gingerman, Gayjoe."
I wasn’t sure how his passing would influence my experience. I just knew that he would not want it to have a negative impact. Despite this, I was really worried that my days in Peace Corps would involve frequent and random sessions of weeping.
As a 41-year old, married man who chose not to have children, I would never have guessed that my students would play a part in helping me deal with the loss of my father, both encouraging and inspiring me, while helping me understand myself better.
This semester I spent considerable time in-class/off-campus/online with my students. I fully embraced the “Say ‘Yes’ to every invitation you receive” philosophy. As a result, I was surprised at how much time I spent laughing and enjoying myself in their company. We share many similarities:
- We are far from home
- We are meeting new people and forging new friendships
- We are doing an incredible amount of learning
- We miss people we love
In my office, there is a homemade board game created by previous volunteers, called “The Conversation Game,” which acts as a good icebreaker when students come to the office for the first time. It is like Candyland, but with conversation starting questions like, “What country do you want to travel to?” and ”Who do you most admire?” One of the questions on the board is:
“How often do you say, ‘I love you’ to your parents?”
When students land on this question the response is always the same.
But then they are quick to follow up that answer by saying that they show their love through their actions (being helpful, studying hard, making their parents proud).
When my first semester came to an end, I started reflecting on the four months I had been at the University. The students had obviously been doing the same thing as I started receiving heartfelt emails and messages. The most surprising thing is the amount of times I received a note with the words,
“I love you.”
I know that even typing this must have been emotionally risky to them. Knowing this, gives it additional weight to me. At first, I would respond with a heartfelt, “That is SO sweet!!” What I started to realize, though, is that we have unconsciously filled roles that we needed each other to play. On occasion, my students will tell me that I am like a father to them. It is a role that I chose not play in American life, but it is a role that my father played well. To say that I enjoy being their teacher and school “father” is an understatement. When I admit to them that I have been calling them my “daughters” for months, they are pretty tickled.
After a week of getting “I love you” messages, I changed my response to,
"I love you too."
"Honest" is the first song I have written in China. It was written and recorded two days before IST. Whether you choose to make connections with fellow teachers, students or others in your community, I think there is a wealth of people here who care about you.
“Love in Chengdu”: Photo by Katie Fassbinder
Poem by Mira Brown
The sun beats down in a glorious outpouring
Sandals smack on the cobbled sidewalk
A cotton dress sways at my knees
Every step brings me closer.
Dodging motorcycles and scooters,
We cross the intersection
Maybe a roundabout is not
The best place to cross
But I don’t care
I’m so close I can smell it
Waves of turquoise and jade crash,
Froth bubbles on the sandy strip
As we walk along,
Searching for a spot to sit.
We stop at two beach chairs and
An umbrella made of palm fronds.
A woman approaches to collect money for the chairs
A negotiation begins.
“Hold that thought!”
I throw down my bag and kick off my shoes
Down the slope I run, sand flying
Running like a dog set loose from a leash.
My feet enter the cool, sea water
I dive under an approaching wave
Invigoration and nostalgia flow over me
Through my hair, over my skin, in my pores
Hands stretch to the sky as I break the watery embrace.
My heart’s smile spreading on my lips,
A laugh bursting at the sky.
A culmination of months’ anticipation.
Reunited at last with an old friend,
”Ocean Lover”: Photo by Jason McFarland
Poem by Sydni Phelps
I have taken
Now I am
under the covers
clawing for you
You were good to me
you were good
to me you were
good to me
“Somebody’s Favorite”: Photo by Sydni Phelps
Poem by Tye Rabens
Today was the first snow.
The night before the first snow is always
ominous, cold and dark
clouds, the sky a human
uncertainty about what
will come next. Then everything made beautiful
and delicate by little particles
Snow flecking your dark waves
of hair and forest
—green coat, woolen & sound.
On the bus I tell you about Sundays
in my childhood, Dad and I
pleading: “We don’t want
to go to church!” You snort
laugh at me, and I feel
something like honesty. The temple
door opens finally and easily
and Dashi isn’t here but one
disciple is sweeping snow.
He leads us past two geese
(They’re smart, he whispers, they can open
the door and also guard it)
to the worship hall. We take
the shoes off our frozen feet
and I turn away to let you pray
in Tibetan phrases you’ve memorized
and sometimes understand, I turn away
to look at the timeless, Technicolor murals
on the walls. I make up stories
for the minor monks.
We light candles
with a stick of wax that looks
like a cigarette. I listen
as you explain the meaning
of each statue:
“Guanyin cries when bad things happen
and her tears turn into flowers and
her disciples transform into 21
different animals, all to help us
cope with hardship. She has 1,000 hands
because 2 are not enough to help everyone.”
I don’t know what to say, except
damn, I’m into you, girl (inappropriate, but
true). Instead I ask
questions. You like to teach
me things you care about.
“I think Bodhisattvas appear when
we’re not expecting it, as beggars
or prostitutes, teaching us
our realizing.” We help Disciple make lunch.
As we eat I finally get him
to laugh at stories about chopsticks.
We can make each other better, but
you have more to risk.
the hill behind the temple, your left arm
looped around my right,
and at the top there is a stupa
ringed once by wooden poles
where prayer flags dance helplessly
in the chilly, snow-less air.
Your melancholy silhouettes without
expectation on the ancient wrinkles
of the mountain range behind us.
Your eyes are chestnut, oval, & crest
—fallen as you try to find
the prayer you wrote last year. “I didn’t expect him
to be here, but I’d hoped
Master could help me know
what to do next.” “Do you want me
to leave?” You want to
dance in the wrinkles of the mountains
among the swirling prayers, released
by a fierce wind, something new
and free. You hesitate.
“No. Don’t leave. Dashi isn’t here.”
We could make each other better, but
you have more to risk.
for cappuccinos back in town, jackets off,
contemplative and thawing.
“Either I was secreted away
to another town to keep from being
aborted, or I was
adopted,” You say as our small cups
arrive, and before I kiss you like yesterday
on the second floor in that squeaky booth
under soft, saffron lights
that made your face glow
and me change my mind.
You want me to write the lyrics
to You Are My Sunshine
and I do so in red pen. Your fiancée
won’t know until next week. We won’t
know until after that. We could
Guanyin has 1,000 hands because 2
Today was the first snow.
#Peacecorps #China #Leshan
Tacos happened tonight. Carnitas, corn&black bean salsa, homemade tortillas.
Leshan Grand Buddha. Aka, my neighbor. #Peacecorps #China
Belated Christmas card from an anonymous Redditor. His/her sibling is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. The world contains lovely people. #peacecorps #pcweek2014