In China classes live, work, eat and breath together. On your first day freshman year you are assigned a class number, and you will stay with those classmates for the next four years. I have mixed feelings about that type of system, but right now I am happy for it. That’s because every spring classes tend to take a special day trip together, and this week, I was lucky enough to be invited along!
It is a class that I haven’t taught this year but they were one of my favorites last year, and we still remain really friendly. Sometimes I feel a little weird when they invite me to do something, like it is more a chore for them then fun because they have to speak English, but these kid’s are now juniors and I didn’t feel awkward at all. They were really considerate and spoke mostly English when I was around. It also helped that the other teacher with us was Autumn, who is a good friend (and an excellent English speaker) so she could fill in where the students couldn’t.
I had no idea where we were going, which was a little scary and a little fun. Turns out our first stop was a cave place. We piled into these little boats, and was rowed through some amazing water caves. The place was lit up with multicolor lights to illuminate special stalactite (or is it stalagmite? I always get those mixed up) that resembled funny shapes. There were rockets, and crocodiles, and famous characters from Chinese literature. The caves were dark, and cool and slightly surreal feeling. For a couple of minutes I felt like I was at Disney and any second I’d see a little skull and crossbones saying “Dead men tell no tales.”
Eventually though we were spit back out into the hot, bright world. At the end of the cave journey, before you climb a huge flight of stairs to get out, they took your picture in front of an especially nice cave formation. We all initially protested, we didn’t want to pay, but the guy said it would be free. No charge. Turns out a teeny, tiny version of it was free, but to get the full picture you had to pay 10 yuan. Some of the students bought it just because they were afraid what would happen to it if they didn’t. I prefer my tiny one and think it makes for an even better souvenir.
After our caving adventure it was time for lunch. We went to a beautiful park area that had grills set up for us to cook at. (The students had brought the food.) It was a covered tiki hut type area, and the place was absolutely packed. We weren’t the only class out on a trip. Our grills were just being started by an old man who was fanning our flames with a blow dryer. The funny part was only a small outhouse, way off to the side, had any electricity, so to power the hair dryer he had to drag along this monstrously long extension cord. Since there were so many people walking around of course it kept getting tangled, or stepped on, and he kept yelling and pulling on the cord. It seemed a bit illogical just to get a fire going, but who am I to say.
While this grill was the first to be lit, it was actually the “starter” grill. They used this one to get the coals going, and then transferred the coals to the other grills. So we waited, and waited, and waited. People at the other grills had started cooking, and even started eating, and we were still standing around waiting for our grill to be ready. At the end of their patience, some of my students started to tell the person to hurry up because we wanted to eat. One said, “we have a foreigner here and she’s hungry!” I hate to use the foreigner card to get special treatment, but this time I didn’t mind one bit because I was hungry.
The students had all gotten their own food beforehand, as and I didn’t bring any (they told me not to!) I was at the mercy of their generosity. Some of the BBQ food in China is the same as us, corn for instance, and chicken wings and legs, but most of it is different. They had skewered full fish, fried mantou (which is a type of bread) and all sorts of veggies. They grilled spring onions, bok choy, and long stringy mushrooms. They bought all the food from BBQ restaurants and everything came on a stick, which made it super easy to eat.
As the teachers, Autumn and I were treated like kings with all the students sharing their food with us. Autumn even snagged a cold bottle of beer. At one point I went to go visit the boys at their grill, just to say hi, and walked away with a chicken leg. Score!
After stuffing ourselves with BBQ, we headed out the exit. The exit was conveniently located right past the horse stable. They had three little horses available to take a ride. Usually I hate those things because the horses seem tired or overworked and abused, but I will say these seemed okay. They weren’t frothing at the mouth (despite the heat) and there eyes looked sharp. For only 10 yuan ($1.50) students could go around the wooded rink one time. What was amazing was despite it being their first time on the horse for many students they were allowed to go around totally unsupervised! The first two students to go, Tommy and Steven, just got on the horses, and the horses took off, going their own pace and their own way. I think that was a little too trusting, but maybe that’s just because I’m a paranoid liable/sue-happy American.
Then it was time for our wild river rafting adventure! At least that’s what I was told. They even sold ponchos outside to protect your clothes because it was that crazy! But, if you take out the ‘wild,’ and the ‘rafting,’ and add ‘peaceful slow boat trip,’ you’ll have more of an idea of what it was actually like. Some of the students got lucky on a bamboo boat, but most of us got in a big wooden dragon boat. It was fun, and incredibly peaceful, but hardly a wild rapid adventure.
It was a long day, but a really fun day and we all headed home with big exhausted smiles on our faces. When I first came to China I was expecting to have decent students. I just wanted bright, eager listeners that would be willing to have fun in class. But what I found bright, interesting people who want to have fun both in and out of class. And even better, I found a whole bunch of new friends.
This class was one of the first classes I ever taught, and next semester, I will be one of their last teachers they ever have. Like a school circle-of-life or something. How poetic.