Monday, March 2, 2009

Never Say Goodbye

Fresh off the home stay weekend, the students were full of stories this morning. One student attended a baby shower. Others went to Mt. E'mei, a Buddhist and Taoist Mountain famous for its hot springs and golden Buddha statue at the summit. It is one of the world heritage sites. Others went to see the Giant Buddha in Leshan. Still others explored more of the city of Chengdu with their host families. All were full of stories that reflected the bond that the students have developed with their host families.

To start our final full day in Chengdu the students went to visit primary school classrooms. Our students were the first foreigners these students have had the opportunity to meet. Students played games with the fifth and sixth graders, sang songs together, showed one another dances from our respective cultures, and answered questions about life in America.

Once again we had the feeling of being rock stars as the children asked for our signatures and email addresses. Truly, the students were rock stars in our eyes as they joyfully shared with the children their interests, talents, and culture.

After our visit with the primary school children, it was off to see the pandas at the research habitat.

We were all overcome by our love of these endangered species. They are so cute. We saw the black and white giant pandas as well as the smaller, raccoon-like red panda. The kids could not stop taking pictures and cooing at the sight of these bears. Even more panda gear was purchased to remember these special creatures.

Another amazing multi-course meal kicked off our afternoon in the ancient town of Huanglongxi. We all enjoyed looking at the classic architecture and doing some shopping to spend our last yuan before heading out of the country tomorrow. Our growing comfort and familiarity with the country is evident. One student remarked, "This feels like home. I'm not even surprised to see some of these things now" or when responding to a question about "your family" first taking this to mean "host family."

All the host families and students came together for a classic Sichuan meal of the hot pot. It is a boiling cauldron of hot oil, spices, meat, and vegetables. A trip to this area would not be complete without enjoying this local favorite. The Chinese characters that we translate into English as hot actually mean fire. This is not only because the cauldron is heated from below with a flame but also because of the fire within that these spices create. The energy in the room was delightful as we all came together for our last group meal in Chengdu.

Tomorrow we set off early for our long journey back to see our friends and family. We are wiser, more worldly, and full of stories to share with those we love.

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