Sunday, August 31, 2014

Shaanxi Province & Xi'an, China - Feb. 2014 - my 3rd & 4th volunteer projects abroad!

Volunteering in Shaanxi Province, China & Xi’an, China – Feb. 2014


Landed in Beijing and took a week to explore.


So then came China!  Of course, I couldn’t go to China without seeing the Great Wall, so I planned a week in Beijing before starting to volunteer.  I was blessed to meet amazing people that voluntarily invited me to dine with them, 2 girls invited me to a restaurant my first day (and they paid) and a husband and wife I shared a taxi from the airport with invited me to their family’s home for the “Chinese Lantern Festival” traditional dinner and the next day the husband took me personally to the Great Wall and his wife packed sandwiches for us.  It was an incredible experience and not a lot of money was spent out of pocket.  Not to mention I stayed in a great little hostel called Sanlitun Hostel in the center of Beijing.  Great price, lots of people to meet, a billiard table and little pub as well and free wifi in the lobby.  To boot, it was walking distance to the metro which I quickly got acquainted with and loved using.  The tickets were 2 yuan each way (about 0.32 cents USD).

 Picture taken Feb. 12, 2014 - Beijing, China



Beijing Subway Map - in less than 2 days I was already switching lines easily and knew the lay of the land.  Great subway system!


Thank goodness a sign with my name on it was waiting at the airport, even if the driver didn’t speak English.  After the previous night’s experience, it was a very welcome and comforting thing to see.


Then I flew to Xi’an to start volunteering for a month.  I was picked up at the airport by a man who didn’t speak English and he immediately handed me his phone to speak to someone who did.  I was told the taxi ride was one hour till I got to them.  I was exhausted after a long night of dealing with issues communicating with locals at the airport due to our flight being canceled and thereafter being shuttled to a nearby hotel.  Once I did make it to Xi’an and the taxi driver started driving (it was so cold and snowy out that I couldn’t see anything around me as he drove and I fell asleep trusting the fact that I was being taken directly to the volunteer house).  As soon as I got there they welcomed me (about 3 staff and a few other volunteers) and they had a warm meal waiting for me and a bed to go take a nap in.  They gave me the choice of staying the night in Xi’an and leaving for Shaanxi Province in the morning (which was risky as the roads had a chance of getting snowed in that night) or to suck it up and travel the 3 hours to Shaanxi that same night.  I chose the latter.  I figured better safe than sorry.  So I ate, went out real quick to get a new SIM card as I was told using the one I bought in Beijing would be considered long distance where I was and would eat up my credit quickly.  Then I took a short nap and only a few hours later was on the way to my new accommodations in Shaanxi.

My selfish decision to work with pandas and some statistics.

I admit, selfishly I planned China just to get the pleasure of the experience of working with panda bears, a species that is nearly extinct.  Depending on which statistic is looked at, there are approx. no more than 1,500-3,000 pandas currently in the wild and there are only 239 living in captivity in China with only 27 others living in captivity outside of China.  Btw, if they are located in another country, they are on “loan” from China.  Here’s a link to more info. on pandas:

Pictures taken Feb. 19, 2014 - Shaanxi Province, China
The process of a panda becoming an adult.  They look like little rats when they are born.  LOL!

The baby is born.  No resemblance of a panda.... yet!

Awe, the panda colors are coming in.  :)  Still a tiny closed eyed baby.

Aweeee, the inky binky baby is now starting to really resemble a full grown panda.

Here I am, all grown up!


Arriving to the property in Shaanxi – Sam, Leo and Mr. Ding

So I finally get to Shaanxi and I have NO idea what to expect.  Next thing you know I am greeted by Leo, the program coordinator that would be living in the volunteer house with us.  He was a very nice young man.  We hit it off right away as he actually got my crazy sense of humor.  He would crack me up whenever he wanted to know if I liked something because he’d say in a sly voice with a big smile, “do you loooovvvveeee it?”  When I finally explained that “love” is a strong word and he should say “like”, he then tried to change it but I told him that sentence is such a part of him that he shouldn’t correct it. 
Picture taken Feb. 20, 2014 - Shaanxi Province, China

Leo is ordering our food for us.


 After I met Leo, came Sam (Samantha from the England).  She was very young and kind.  She’d been there about 2 weeks before I arrived and was staying at least 1-2 weeks after I left.  She had dreamt of working with pandas all her life and then made her dream a reality. 

 Picture taken Feb. 28, 2014 - Shaanxi Province

Sam and Apple (his name was pronounced slightly different in Chinese but no matter how many times Leo told us how to say it, we still thought it sounded like "Apple".


Because it was the brunt of the winter, we were the only volunteers, ironically.  When I arrived I actually first noticed that I was in a “winter wonderland”.

 Picture taken Feb. 28, 2014 - Shaanxi Province

I have finally arrived to the panda property after a delay at the airport in Beijing the night before, due to the airport in Xi'an being closed because of the snow storm.  What a beautiful winter wonderland that welcomed me.  This is the path I walked down every morning to get to the pandas I worked with.
Just one week later, all the snow melted, it had warmed up about 10 degrees Fahrenheit, and you can now clearly see the path I walked down every day.  Personally I enjoyed it better when it was covered in snow.

 We were then taken to our “hostel” on the property.  It had about 5 bedrooms with multiple bunk beds in it but it was an uninsulated ice box at that time.  There was a big room in the front with a sitting area for volunteers to hang out together and to watch movies, but that wasn’t an option at this time.  To put it into perspective, we had to think twice if we wanted to brave going to the bathroom and let alone to shower (which I couldn’t muster doing daily as there was no heat in the bathroom at all).  When I first got there Sam quickly explained how she barely did anything at night other than sleep by about 5pm because it was so cold in her room that she couldn’t even leave her arms out to read a book, so she’d cocoon under her blankets and go to sleep.  There was an “aircon heater” on the wall but it didn’t seem to be doing it’s job.  So then I picked another room that only had 2 beds in it and Leo turned on my aircon heater and then took Sam and I to have dinner. 



The sign on our hostel - to the left of the front door



The front door to our hostel - the round room to the right is the "common area" which was nice and big for many volunteers to congregate together, however there were only 2 of us and it was winter and the inside was an icebox, so we never hung out in that room, though we did "borrow the tv and vcr" and moved it into our room for the time we stayed there.  ;)
This is a picture to the left of our front door to our hostel.  The hostel was not insolated at all, so we commonly referred to it as "the ice box", but we still got creative and survived!  :)  Albeit toilet breaks and even more so showers, were definitely rationed as we never wanted to brave the cold of the rest of the house that wasn't heated by our space heaters in our room.

That’s when I first met Mr. Ding, the kindest and funniest chef around.  It didn’t matter that we didn’t speak a word of each other’s language, we managed to laugh all the time.  The system was you come, he feeds you a freshly cooked meal, then you pre-order you next meal and then you come back at the next feeding time for the next meal (being spoiled Westerners, the idea of figuring out what we wanted ahead of time seemed like a daunting task).  The room we ate in was something like a cantina.  It was literally a tin hut, but they burned coal to keep the room warm for us and the workers that came to eat there.  Our meals were all covered through the volunteer fees we paid for our weekly stay on the property.


Sam, Mr. Ding & I.
Though he didn't speak any English, we still communicated quite well.
The first weekend I was there, Sam went to Xi'an for the weekend and I stayed on the property so Mr. Ding & I used his Chinese to English book to ask each other questions and get to know each other better.  Even though that was the only time we used the book, he still made us laugh when he'd communicate with his hands to joke with us.  Such a funny man, always happy, and...


When we returned to our rooms after dinner that night, there was a noticeable shift in the temperature in my room, to a more comfortable living environment.  Sam had used a space heater as well in her room but it just wasn’t cutting it.  As soon as she saw and felt how warm my room was in comparison to hers (not a sauna by any means, but more “liveable” she expressed her shock and disappointment that she’d been freezing every night for 2 weeks.  So I quickly invited her to join me in my room and then we pooled our resources.  In addition to the wall aircon that brought the temperature up to a bit more tolerable than freezing, she brought her space heater from her room and I had one too and soon enough we had the room warmed up to a much more livable temperature.  But leaving it to go to the bathroom was a whole other story.  At night, we would invite Leo to come hang out with us and play cards and listen to music (rather than leaving him by himself in his room as there was no one else in the house but the 3 of us).

In the morning my panda project would officially begin.


This way to the panda garden and nursing room (though seeing the "baby panda" is a mission as they only let her out in the BIG yard for one hour a day and she's supervised the whole time - but if you're lucky enough to be passing at that time, you will see her.  We caught a few great peeks a couple of times during the 2 weeks I was there).  See pics below.

The good and bad of working with pandas in captivity.


The good and the bad!.... the good was that I physically got to work with them cleaning their cages (the poop, urine and bamboo) and I got to feed them too (bamboo and sometimes some carrots, apples or “panda cakes” as treats in addition to their bamboo).  It was a very rewarding experience. 
Pictures taken Feb. 20, 2014 - Shaanxi Province
Sam cleaning the poop and broken pieces of bamboo the panda already ate.
Me giving "Grandma" her water.  She was such a sweet panda and the oldest one they have. 
And yes, she is a grandma, hence the name.
Sam and Mr. Ma (the main caretaker) moving the bamboo into the pandas individual yards.
Sam picking up all the big pieces of bamboo the pandas already ate.
Every day, twice a day the bamboo that has already been eaten needs to be removed and large stacks of fresh bamboo must be brought in for each panda. 
It is a lot of work!  But the reward is knowing we are helping the pandas.
Saying hello to Ching Chyuan (my "talker").

Here's a video of Ching Chyuan talking while I was cleaning his cage and singing to him for the first time, he was in the holding cell next to me barking away.  Eventually as I kept singing, he stopped barking!

Video taken Feb. 19, 2014 - Shaanxi Province


But the bad is, they do not live in the wild and I was not contributing in any way to help them get back to the wild (but luckily there is less than 10% of them in captivity, all with the hopes of helping to breed them so they will no longer be extinct).  But while that seems like a great cause, the reality is, until they can figure out how to create more bamboo spread out all over China that the pandas can get to on their own in the “wild” AND more importantly, how they teach the pandas to go gather their own bamboo again, it’s not likely they can return and those that are out there on their own now suffer from lack of bamboo and may not survive. 


Facts about pandas – they are not social – they live in solitude and only come together to mate.  And once the mom gives birth to her twins, she rejects one and leaves it to die.


The catch 22 is, that currently there’s not enough bamboo in one area for them.  And pandas ARE not social animals.  After age 2, the mother rejects them and they are on their own.  With the exception of mating, they do not stick together and they want to be alone, which requires that much more land and bamboo for each of them.  Also, mothers give birth to twins but immediately thereafter, they reject one.  They know they can’t care for both, so they pick the stronger of the two and leave the other behind to die!  It’s a sad fact!  Since they are nearly extinct, they have taken some into captivity in hopes of helping them breed more so they can bring them out of their near extinction. 


While in captivity, the pandas rarely mate on their own and often the mother is artificially inseminated (a very sad fact as she doesn’t even know she’s pregnant till she gives birth which often leads to her not wanting to care for even one of her babies). 


Once the mother gives birth, they take both babies and start to bottle feed them.  Then they “try” to give mom the opportunity to rebond with her baby(ies), one at a time, but often she will try to kill them as she doesn’t know what to do with them.  So the answer is far from black and white.

Ironically I found the picture below at the 2nd volunteer project I worked for (the one where I was teaching).  David, the one who organized that program used to work for i-to-i but he then changed over to work with IVHQ.  He had a board with pictures taken by volunteers in the past and that's where I happened upon this picture and I asked him if the brown baby panda was "Chee-za" and he confirmed that it was.  Then I showed him some of the pics I had of Chee-za all grown up now.

This picture was taken a few years ago (I took a picture of the picture).
Notice the only "brown" panda in the middle.  He is the only brown panda in the world. 
His name is "Chee-za". 
I got to see him (though I didn't work with him personally) when working on the panda project.
Pictures below taken Feb. 20, 2014 - Shaanxi Province

Here I am reaching down into Chee-za's big yard to give him some bamboo.  He came over to the far end of his big yard to come see us, so it was the least I could do.
Aweeee, Chee-za is so happy to get a little itty bitty extra bit of bamboo
(this is after he's spent a couple hours already eating a huge pile of bamboo).
It's never enough, they always want more because their systems were actually built to eat meat, yet they eat bamboo and get very little nutrients from it and in turn they must eat a LOT of bamboo every single day to survive (this is why we brought them 2 huge piles of bamboo every day when cleaning and feeding them).
If you scroll back up, you will see a link I gave in the very beginning of the blog info about the pandas that gives more information on how their system works and how much bamboo they need each day to survive.

Happy Chee-za strikes a pose!

Chee-za (his name is written in Chinese on the picture above).
THE cutest (and only) brown panda in the world!!!


Saving a baby!


In fact I was told that just a year before I arrived, one of the pandas gave birth and after the caretakers made sure the baby was healthy, they immediately took it to her to let her bond with it.  She did not recognize it and actually may have thought it was pray and took it in her mouth.  One false move and the baby cub could be dead.  So the caretakers took a quick thinking risk.  One of them stuck their hand in a jar of honey and put it up to the momma’s face.  He risked having his hand bit off, but it did the trick.  Mom quickly dropped the baby and the other caretakers were able to catch it before it hit the ground and the caretaker with the honey on his hand was able to safely get away before mom chomped on his hand.
Pictures taken Feb. 24, 2014 - Shaanxi Province
NOTE: They are NOT of the baby that was "saved" re the story I just wrote about.  That had happened a couple years prior and that "baby" is now full grown.  The pictures below are of a NEW baby that was born only a few months before I arrived on the property.

Up close picture of the new baby panda.  We were not able to come close to it or touch it.
We stood about 100 feet away on the outside of the big yard the baby was in.
I asked one of the caretakers to take some pictures for me.

Another close up. 
I think I can, I think I can!
Climbing up the rock formation in my BIG back yard.
I'm still very little and need constant supervision and only get to play in the yard 1 hour a day.

I'm certain I can get to the top even if I hobble and wobble and have to take several breaks. :)



Well, besides simply doing the physical labor that is required on a daily basis to take care of these phenomenal creatures (which they can’t afford to hire many people to do, so they rely on volunteers to help), I honestly didn’t do much else rather than dote on them.  There was one panda in particular named Ching Chyuan who was a “talker.”  Apparently after his last care taker left, whom he felt very close to, he started talking even more than before and often barks and yells at those helping him.  So, I made it a mission to bond with him and make him feel comfortable and safe with me.  I decided to sing to him every time I was in his cage cleaning it while he was waiting in his holding cell pacing back and forth and barking at me.  I sang “Raindrops on Roses” and “These are a Few of my Favorite Things” from the musical, “The Sound of Music.”  He quickly started liking this and would get much quieter or often even stop barking all together.  His care taker told me that it’s evident he will be very sad when I leave as well.  I told her that it’s probably best that she teaches all volunteers to sing to him and/or that they play music for him to make him feel more at ease. 

Picture taken Feb. 19, 2014 - Shaanxi Province
Some graffiti art on one of the walls where the baby pandas used to live.
Done by a prior volunteer.
Pictures below taken Feb. 20, 2014 - Shaanxi Province
Taking a walk around the property to see some of the other pandas in their big yards in
"the circle."



Hello, whatchya lookin' at?



Selfie.... with the big panda chillin' out behind me.

Grandma is hanging out in her yard enjoying some bamboo!

Another view of Grandma busy eating.

Ding Ding is taking a nap!  I just loved when I'd looked through the window on our way to or from dinner, and he'd be curled up in a ball asleep on his bench.

Sam and I are giving Grandma some fresh water.

Grandma came to say hello and thank you!

The very last day I was there he let me feed him apples directly into his mouth which he took with his huge teeth ever so gently from my hand.  I even pet his paw and though he pulled it away, he was very gentle and not aggressive at all.  This was a great privilege as they don’t usually let you touch the pandas because the pandas don’t know their own strength and while they don’t normally set out to hurt you, they are very strong and can be forceful and their teeth and claws are very dangerous.  But Ching Chyuan and I had formed a bond and it was clear that he knew I truly cared for him and he was ever so gentle in his last interaction with me.

Pictures taken Feb. 28, 2014 - Shaanxi Province
After 2 weeks of working with Ching Chyuan, he now trusts me and I'm allowed to personally feed him an apple as a good bye treat.

Ching Chyuan takes the apple from my hand ever so gently.
While he looks small here, don't be deceived, he stands all the way up to my chin.

Saying my goodbyes to Ching Chyuan.
Tears were shed!!!
NOTE: This is just his cage area, which DOES have a door in the back of it that remains open at all times so he can exit and re-enter to/from his yard in the back at any time he wants to.  For purposes of public viewing, the pandas that Sam and I worked with were viewed through a glass window that was right behind me (in front of the cages).  So if those pandas were in their yards, no one passing by (that didn't work there) could see them.  On the other hand, the other pandas on another part of the property called "the circle" have all their yards next to each other in a big circular area that people visiting the property can walk around (and their cages are located in the center of the circle where only people that work there can pass by).  Since we did not work with the pandas in "the circle" we could only walk around from the outside to see them (this included the baby panda and Chee-za and many others).

Video of Ching Chyuan talking (note: it is sideways, oops).
Video taken Feb. 20, 2014 - Shaanxi Province.

So while I didn’t make any long term difference, I at least helped in the daily chores that are needed to upkeep these animals’ lifestyle, which btw, they all have yards that they have access to 24/7 so they are not stuck in cages only.

We also assisted with other projects around the property, which were based on our own merit and desire to do some extra work to help the other animals that lived there too!

Michael was a very special little monkey.  Both Sam and I fell in love with him right away.  One of the prior volunteers from the UK helped pay to build him a large play house that he now lives in (located to the side of the moon bears and leopard).  Unfortunately, though there are "golden monkeys" on the property (many of them in fact), Michael cannot go live with them as golden monkeys only socialize with their own family members.  Even if another golden monkey were brought into their space, they would not accept it and in fact would fight it, so Michael cannot go live with them. 

Michael was found abandoned in the wild.  They feel that someone may have found him when he was a baby and raised him and later abandoned him.  He couldn't care for himself so he was brought to this property to be cared for.  Unfortunately, they will not bring him a "friend" as that would mean they would have to intentionally capture another monkey of his same bread, from the wild, in order to bring it to live with Michael.  And apparently he cannot be released back to the wild.  So sad!

So Michael lives in solitude and we wanted to make sure we visited him regularly and gave him special treats.  Apparently, he had a mirror in his cage before which he loved to look at himself in, but had broken at some point.  So I asked if I could replace it and when I got the green light, Sam and I went walked to town to try to find a mirror.  Within a couple minutes of letting him hold it through the cage (he's not allowed to have it inside with him for safety reasons), he had already broken the handle off.  So we found a way, with the assistance of his caretaker, to attach it nearby so he could still admire himself on a daily basis!

We also bought him lots of monkey nuts and other treats that he loved receiving and would reach through the fence to take from our hands.

Michael is eating some grass I gave him while admiring himself for the first time in the new mirror I bought him.

Time to get to business.
Give me that mirror!  Give it to me!
Oops, I broke the handle off right away.
I don't know my own strength.

Up close of Michael.
I'm so handsome!
This is why I'm so vain and must look at myself all the time in the mirror.  ;)

Hello Michael, and how are you today?

I'm just chillin out waiting for you to give me some more treats please!

We also helped the large Moon Bear who had broken his swing.

Another project that Sam, Leo and I took on was fixing one of the large Moon Bear's swings.  He had broken it and the caretaker couldn't fix it alone so the 3 of us went in one day (of course, he was removed from the cage while we were in there) and we fixed it.  Such a rewarding experience.  He immediately got back on it afterwards but my camera battery died and I wasn't able to grab a picture.

The large Moon Bear who broke his swing (the swing is laying partially on the ground to the left of him in this picture).

The Moon Bear is taking a nap. 
This was on a separate day from the day we went and fixed his swing.
Pictures below taken March 19, 2014

Figuring out how to attach the swing securely so it will work again AND hold the Moon Bear's weight.
We got it!  Success!
Sam and I stand on the swing to test it's ability to hold our weight, knowing the Moon Bear is quite heavy and needs it to be very secure.


The job is done.  We feel great knowing we fixed the Moon Bear's toy, which he immediately got back on as soon as we left his cage and he was allowed back in.  :)

Some other lovely creatures on the property.

The leopard has an injured tail.  She is here to be protected as she is in danger if she's in the wild in this condition.

We were not allowed to touch her or come closer than the outside of her cage.  The very first time I saw her, I felt I connected with her.  She seemed so sad and like she given up, when I first saw her.  I know she felt me feeling sorry for her and then she looked at me and let out a low and very weak sounding roar ("meow").  As soon as I heard her, tears started to stream down my face, knowing there was nothing I could do to help her.  :(

The beautiful injured leopard circles around her small cage when we come to greet her.

A close up of her.  The very end of her tail is injured.
When she walks around, she always has it down (never raised) and she walks very slowly and cautiously.
One of the lovely peacocks strutting his beautiful feathers.
Another beautiful peacock.

This is a "Talken."
Ironically, the first time I met one (on a different day), I decided to make a moo-ing sound and it responded.  I proceeded to "talk" to it for at least 15 minutes and every time I would moo, it would answer.  It was quite an amazing interaction, but we didn't think of videoing it as it just happened, it wasn't planned.  We went back on the last day to try to find the same Talken and intrigue him to talk again, but we weren't able to.  Not one other Talken responded that day I spoke with the one that was responding, btw.  It truly was a beautifully surreal interaction.

This is the exact position the Talken was in when I was talking to him.  I was standing on the other side of the fence looking at him face to face while having our conversation.

The "red pandas" are taking a nap.
Snuggle time!

Their caretaker let us go inside to greet them face to face.

Hello there red pandas!

The baby Moon Bears are playing.


Close up!
Just one of the many Golden Monkeys on the property.
There are 3 very large enclosed areas of Golden Monkeys. 
Each of them is a separate family as they do NOT allow any non-family members to live with them and will fight them if they are near by.
Some more pictures of the various pandas we worked with and/or that were on the property with us.
Pictures taken February 28, 2014 - Shaanxi Province

One of the pandas is in his large back yard in "the circle" and he came over to greet us.

Apple says, "whatchya lookin' at Willis?"

Ding Ding is enjoying a carrot as a treat.

Apple up close and personal enjoying his carrot!


Ding Ding is in bamboo bliss heaven!!!
I see you!!!

Here's another panda whose name is Lola.  Cute short video.
Video taken Feb. 20, 2014 - Shaanxi Province


IMPORTANT FYI, re the pandas on this property:

By 2015, they are moving their property up into the mountains where there will be acres of land and they can start to introduce the pandas back to the "wild" in hopes of eventually releasing them, if the pandas can do well finding and gathering their own bamboo on the big property that they will roam free within its enclosed area.  One can pray that this will work and they will be completely released one day soon!  Nonetheless, this is a big step up from where they are now, but at least they are not confined to cages only and do have access to yards as well on this property, but they still deserve to be free!  The yards in “the circle” area are HUGE btw!  And interestingly, the pandas rarely walk around that space, they just park it where the bamboo is and they eat all day.

Traveling back to Xi’an to start my volunteer teaching project.

After that I left Shaanxi Province where I worked with the pandas (the deep freeze had lifted by the second week I was there and all the snow melted, but it was still cold out). Then I went back to Xi’an to start my next volunteer project teaching English at a local school.  I lived in a house with 9 other girls.  We had two bedrooms upstairs with several sets of bunk beds in each room.

David, was the one who ran the volunteer project and his parents helped to cook and clean for us.

Me and David, the volunteer project coordinator. 
This was taken the night that he took all of out to see the Chang Dynasty Show.

These are two of David's assistants.  I was the first volunteer to arrive to the house.  The guy on the left, Don had just started this job and was very nervous about working with the volunteers and about his English.  He was very nice and on my last day he gave me a picture with a note, telling me that he would always remember me as I was the very first volunteer he ever worked with.  Whenever he'd get nervous around all of us, he'd shreek, "ohhhhh my gawd!!!"
Btw, he pronounced his English name, "Dan" but he insisted it was spelled "Don."  The marvels of phonetic translations - a vs. o.

Me & the other volunteer girls out on the town.
This was 2 nights before I left and I was fighting a bad cold, but I had promised them for 2 weeks straight that I would go out with them one night, so I finally did, just for a few hours.
Front row - left to right: El (Australia), Natalie (Australia), Jasmine (Miami, FL), Hazel (England).
Back row - left to right: Rebecca (England) and Nicole (Miami, FL).
AnneMarie (Austin, TX) was the only one that didn't make it out with us that night.



The first day I was supposed to start working at the elementary school, they were closed for Parent/Teacher day so I was sent to work with some mentally disabled children.  It was a wonderful experience and great break through.  Emily had been with them the prior day and she was unable to accomplish anything as she felt a barrier since she didn't speak any Chinese and the people that ran the program didn't speak any English.  I had given her some ideas on how to communicate, including asking David to type up a few sentences in English and Chinese so she could point to them to ask what she wanted to ask, such as "can I play with the children?" or "can I draw with the children?" or "can I try to teach the children the alphabet?"  Etc.  Ironically the next day after I gave her those ideas and she did get David to type up the sentences, they sent me to her school with her.  I had also had the idea to get some toys or balls or drawing materials she could bring to the class to use with the kids. 

As soon as we got there, I used the limited Chinese I had learned so far, to greet the teachers.  "Nee-how" (hello) and "Nee-how-ma?" (how are you?).  They immediately lit up as soon as they saw I was trying to communicate with them.  Soon we were interacting with the kids (some are actually adults but their brains have never developed) and we were teaching the alphabet and drawing with them.  It was a wonderful experience and I wish I could've gone back to work with them more but I was already assigned to teach at the elementary school and couldn't switch projects.  I did help Emily with more ideas and chipped in to buy supplies for them when we went shopping in the evening together.

This is Lily.  I think she has cerebral palsy.
She cannot open her hands and has a bit of trouble walking and she cannot speak.
She was very sweet and was soooo happy when I "helped her draw."
I would hold her hand and move it to help her draw a picture and then color it in.
When I walked around to help some of the other kids, Emily took over and tried to help Lily but she didn't feel confident grasping her hand strong enough to help her stay within the lines of her drawing so Lily quickly got frustrated and came over to me and with her sign language, she communicated that I must come back to help her. 
She was very excited to take a selfie with her finished product and with me!  It's too bad the picture is a bit blurry and you can't tell that the carrot has a face on it.

This young man also has cerebral palsy.  He speaks a few words and is very smart, though his communication is limited!
Tears came down my face when he knew I was leaving for the day and he said,
"goodbye, see you tomorrow."  Yet, I knew I wasn't going to be able to come back and see him again the next day.  :( 
I tried to explain this to him, but I don't think he understood.  He also knew the entire alphabet in English and every single word for the pictures that were associated with the letters.

Here is taking a picture with me with one of the boys.  I think he's about 26 y/o and the boy is in his early teens.  The boy was mentally disabled, but communicated well with sign language and enjoyed drawing with many of the others in the room (he'd often get up and go sit with others instead of sitting in one place the whole time.
This picture was taken at the end of the day right before I said my goodbyes.

Working with my teacher at the elementary school.

My teacher, Qi-Yuan literally let me take over her classes by the 2nd day.  The kids were wonderful.  I got to teach 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade.  I don’t know if I touched one particular student or not during this time but I do know there was one girl who made it a point to try to talk to me regularly and clearly truly liked me and there was a little girl from the US whose parents had moved to China to teach and she spoke English and Chinese fluently and she was soooo happy as soon as she saw another “white” face around and she automatically knew I spoke English and then she could barely catch her breath to talk to me the first time we met while all her classmates stood around her in awe as we had a little conversation (she was in 2nd grade so I didn’t actually get to teach her myself but she was already fluent in English, so she really didn’t need my help). 


The school system in Xi’an.


Teaching in this school was an enlightening experience.  There was a clear regime but it kept most of the kids disciplined.  When they would exercise they would march around in circles and chant stuff that was drilled from the time they started school.  If they ran into an elder in the hallway (including myself) they would salute me (sort of like the salute Hitler used to use), but it was very innocent and yet respectful.  Working with 4 different grades helped me see how the kids develop from year to year and what areas they improve in naturally and what areas seem like they haven’t improved at all, leaving them seemingly at the same knowledge base as they were in prior year(s).  They used the “drilling” method all the time.  Drill, drill, drill…. Ie- I say the word and they repeat it as a whole group.  If I feel they are not pronouncing it correctly, I break it down syllable by syllable and show them the phonetic spelling on the board, which they do actually understand the phonetic symbols (which I didn’t know had to cheat out of the book to know how to properly write the words phonetically).

Me & my teacher, Qi-Yuan.
I'm sitting on her scooter in the playground.  She had just ridden back on campus when I asked to get a picture with her.

Observing my teacher teach.
By the second day, she let me take over and teach all of her classes and she sat with the kids in the room and would simply assist me when I needed her to translate.

Some of my fans.  :)
The girl in the front in the middle really liked me.
One day she came up to me and said,
"I have a surprise for you.  This weekend I go to park.  You can join me?" 
I felt bad having to tell her that I couldn't.  :(


My last meal with the administrative staff – the principle, vice-principle and several teachers.



First off I have to note how blessed I was while working here.  From day one the principle personally greeted me.  He spoke limited English but was ecstatic that I was there to help even if it was for only 2 weeks.  Every single day I was there, I was taken to lunch and wasn’t allowed to pay for my meal, whether he was present or he had other teacher(s) take me out and he’d give them money out of his own pocket to do so (not out of the school’s budget, I came to find out).


I spoke with the other volunteers I was living with and not one of them got this same treatment.  Most of them got lunch in the cafeteria with the kids eating the same goop they ate.  Nothing wrong with that (I did it in Thailand later on), but I again was blessed with a little extra special treatment without asking for it.


The last day I was there the father of the little girl who had been born in the US, whom I had met on a separate day, joined me and my teacher and the other admin people that took me to lunch and he helped to translate what I wanted to tell them and vice versa.  His daughter also joined us.  He was more than happy to do it as it gave him the opportunity to get closer to the heads of the school which normally he wouldn’t be able to.  The admin loved me and they were very grateful for the time I had contributed at their school.  It was truly a warm and fuzzy feeling when I left. 

Right after the lunch was over, my teacher surprised me by insisting that we would walk together to her home so I could meet her baby boy.  We had just had a large meal with the administrative staff so I wasn't expected to be greeted with an entire meal's worth of fruits and snacks and tea, but this is part of their culture, as it would be improper of them to invite me to their home without treating me.  I was greeted by her mother and her mother-in-law, who both help her while she is teaching during the day (she's blessed to have them both helping and that they both get along with each other).

Here she is with her mom holding up the little outfit I bought for her son as a gift from me.

Her son cried as soon as he met me.
She warned me that he had never seen a "white person" before and he might cry because I clearly look different (the eyes might be a slight give away).
But I tried hard to convince him I was a good person and finally my "funny faces" won him over for a few minutes.

I did get to hold him for a few minutes before he realized what was going on and that I was him and mom wasn't.  It was truly a blessing to be trusted and invited into her home to meet her baby.


Living accommodations while teaching in Xi’an for 2 weeks.


My living accommodations was in a dorm like house that the parents of the guy who runs the organization helped to manage and cook and clean for.  The mom, though she didn’t speak a lick of English, fell in love with me cuz I tried to communicate with her every day and I even brought her flowers to thank her for all she did.  On my last day she hugged me profusely and refused to let go telling them to tell me that she didn’t want me to leave.  Another warm and fuzzy! 


Me & David's mom.  David was the coordinator for the Xi'an volunteer group.
His mom & dad cooked and cleaned the house the 10 of us lived in.
Though mom didn't speak a word of English, we still communicated well and she didn't want me to leave when it came time for me to go  This was our last day, saying our goodbyes.  :)




So overall China felt like another win.  I had gone in and helped with kids and with pandas and they were all happy I was there and I actually did assist them, even if it was only temporary (but that’s how volunteering goes).  I gave of my time and labor and I found it a very rewarding experience and in the meantime I also got to explore locally and see some amazing things, such as the Great Wall of China (in Beijing) and the Terracotta Warriors (in Xi’an)… a truly magnificent site!



The beauty of the Chinese people

I like to believe that good things happen to good people and… what comes around goes around.  I’ve always been of the philosophy that when we give, we should do so without expecting anything in return.  The universe has a way of returning it to us in little unexpected ways (like my housing accommodations and experiences with people feeding me and taking me out on the town for free).  I found Chinese people in general to be VERY kind and giving.  They love foreigners and actually love US citizens.  They often like to grab you and ask you to take a picture with them even if you’ve never met them and are just walking by.  And if you stop to chat, then there is a warm welcome and wonderful conversation follows, even if there’s lack of a common language to speak in.  And once they talk to you for more than 10 minutes, suddenly you are their new best friend and they are inviting you to do activities with them.  Such a wonderful experience… besides the horrible, horrible smog levels in their country, I would definitely love to return as I know I barely scratched the surface of seeing all this amazing nation has to share with the world!  They may be communist, they may block all social media, but in the end, I didn’t miss Facebook for the 49 days I was there and I loved having the time to make friends in REAL TIME face to face!


Until next time….