Thrown in last minute with only a strong desire to discover and to serve, no traveler’s guide for dummies could prepare me for the journey I was about to venture. My preconception of China was primarily composed of Communist police, the Great Wall, and Jackie Chan. Yet, I knew I had to go; it was preordained. For the whole 13 hours on the plane I hardly slept, mostly just reading up on the itinerary and teaching curriculum. No, this trip was not meant for meandering travelers seeking far off sights and ruins, this was a team of English teachers, Christian English teachers, and we were headed for communist Beijing. So we landed, and the next day acclimated to it all, haze and hills, by means of climbing the Great Wall. Every weathered, unwieldy step was a trip in itself, back to times of ancient, and in my mind formed the worn faces of determined warriors, legs larger than their bodies from the incessant climbing. Acclimation ended quickly, too quickly, for without much said I was off to teach at Cheng-ping University on a overgrown campus where the spiders are larger than life, the mosquitoes lavish themselves at our expense, and the cats and dogs roam in clans. Here the Total Immersion Program taught prospective college students and Chinese English teachers who came from provinces all over China. They were all older than me. It’s been said that I am very mature for my age, but that does nothing to hide my young appearance. However, I couldn’t dwell on that thought for very long, for before I knew it I was organizing and teaching classes of ten to twenty five different leveled English speakers. Only a couple hours were given to ready myself for the days demands. It was nothing like I ever anticipated, the “students” possessed a respect and kindness beyond that which I’m used to in the states. Not a single person, despite their origins or backgrounds, presented themselves in a hostile way. Partly because of the open, free environment that TIP provided, everyone became closer than friends, we soon became siblings. Even as their facilitator, I was immediately held into this ring of brotherhood. Singing and dancing was a daily demand from us foreigners. So much so that my Travel club students locked me in the room until I sang them an American song, which I ended up resorting to Mary Had a Little Lamb and snippets of the Lion King. Luckily they were overjoyed, despite my sorry performance, and I avoided being forced to sing Michael Jackson‘s “Thriller“. Everyday was like this, new, unpredictable, profound. Their lives aren’t bound to clothes, or any other material obsession. They are bound to dreams, goals, and wishes of bringing better lives to their families. Full of desire to see the better and brighter in life and living, they are open to new ideas, yet cherish traditional concepts. I thought I was the one going to bring change, yet I left as the one who was changed. Beijing had it’s crazy taxi rides with nonexistent seat belts, scorpions fried on sticks, squatters, with a thriving population of spitters. We saw the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall, and Silk Street Pearl Market. Yet, with all the greatness of sight-seeing and food-tasting, the greatest life comes down to the greatest relationships. I could see a mountain-full of terracotta warriors, yet not have the same meaningful experience as a conversation between two people separated by an ocean, but brought together by human understanding.
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