Monday, December 8, 2008

I'm Sorry!

Ok, I know I haven’t updated in forever, I’m sorry! There are no excuses. I’m a terrible person. This’ll be a long one, or maybe I’ll make it two. I’m in Vietnam right now, but before I get to that I should do Shaxi and Cambodia.
Our last week in China we went to Shaxi, a tiny town in rural China. It looks like something out of a movie or a time machine. There’s a little town square with a Buddhist temple, a market, a bunch of little family run stores, a school, a few guesthouses, and not much else. The houses are large and well taken care of, with three walls of rooms built around a courtyard and the curved roofs that I associate with Chinese buildings. Shaxi was recently restored by a European architect or something so it’s really nice, but it hasn’t yet come to the awareness of many tourists so it’s still quite and very real.
I lived with a family on the edge of town. I literally mean the edge- the town was to our back, if you left our gate you faced the fields and mountains, and had to walk to a gate to enter the main town. The stars were amazing, because we didn’t even have the town’s light pollution in our way. I lived with a mother, father, grandmother, and two girls of fourteen and eight. They spoke not a word of English (just like my Kunming family!), but were so friendly. I felt way more at home in their house after a day than I did in my Kunming house after three weeks. The kitchen had this huge pit for dumping waste, and two enormous stone bowls over a fire for cooking. The parents gave me their room while I was there, which was beautiful. Oddly enough, it had optional red, yellow, and green mood lighting. There was a latrine, and no shower.
Shoot I have to run, I need to go follow some scavengers around and collect trash for a couple of hours, I’ll be back later and finish this. I promise!
Ok I'm back, and I just remembered you can edit these posts so I can keep going! Quick break from Shaxi- that was so interesting. We went to the place they bring all the trash and hung out with the people who pick it up and sort it. They are all very poor. They work about fifteen hour days, or fifteen hour nights depending on what shift, collecting trash from families in Ho Chi Minh. Then they bring it back to the center and pour it onto the sidewalk, to sort out all the things they can make money selling to a middleman (who then sells it to the recycling companies). Up until about five months ago they were making 7,000 for the kilo, now they are making 4,000. They don't know why, they just accept the prices given by the middleman. Our interpretation is that it has to do with the economy, but the middlemen are running a very tight (and illegal) operation, so it could just be that they felt like having a little more for themselves. We tried to talk with some of the middlemen afterwards, but they ignored us, and as we persisted started cursing at us. One woman we spoke to had been working there 31 years. She has a lung disease from breathing all the disgusting fumes. One woman said she'd been to school through third grade. She wants her children to go to school, but with the cut in wages she doesn't know if she can afford to not have them working.
Back to Shaxi. Teaching there was very different from teaching in Kunming. The students were far behind their peers in the city, and the classes moved at a much slower pace. Zach and I were teaching together. In our first class we moved at a normal pace for Kunming, maybe a little slow, but at the end of the lesson were told by the teacher that we'd covered five lessons worth of material and had not been understood at all. Our second class was much, much better. We did an easy lesson on prepositions, and got all the kids involved and active which they really liked.
Our last day there was market day. I woke up around five am to hear my family slaughtering a pig. When I actually got up hours later there was pig blood all over the courtyard, and a dead pig in a wheelbarrow outside the gate. I helped push it to market! The mother, father, little sister, and I all pushed the wheelbarrow dripping pig fat up the hill. I wish I could have taken a picture of all of us.
Our last night, there was a concert with traditional dancing and music. The costumes and dancing were so interesting. At the end, we were asked to perform a traditional American dance and song. We danced the Macarena while Isabel sang it in Spanish. We couldn't think of a song everyone knew, so we sang the 'Let's get down to business' song from Mulan. We were not nearly as impressive. I think Robin got it all on camera, so that'll definitely be blackmail in a few years.
I had the plague literally the entire time we were in China. When we were in Shaxi, it moved into my lungs which really sucked. I got some medicine which kicked it back out, but it didn't actually go away for ages after. I still have a slight cough. Hopefully I'll be cured by the time we leave Vietnam- I think carrying the plague across two continents and four countries is more than enough.
Cambodia. I spent most of my time chilling in my room. I did very little. I totally didn't take advantage of it being Cambodia, I just wanted to rest. I mean sure, I did some things, but overall I stayed in the hotel. One of the things I did do was go to Angkor Wat at five am to see the sunrise, which was very cool. I got a couple of traditional massages, which were very odd and somewhat painful. You have no idea how much I miss traditional Swedish massage!
We went as a group to the killing fields and genocide museum, which was incredibly sad. The things that happened in Cambodia are incredible, all the more so because of how little we learned about it in school. I don't remember even hearing about it, although realistically they could have mentioned it during one of the many lessons I spaced out during. There was one tree they showed us at the killing fields, which was used to kill babies. Soldiers would take them by their feet and swing them against it. The museum was in a former school which had been a jail during the genocide. They had on display all the mug shots of the people kept in the jail. Some were of very small children.
Vietnam. We're all staying in a large guesthouse. The guys are two each in a hotel type room with bathroom. We girls have two rooms with five girls and a Vietnamese student in each, and we have one toilet/shower set up to share for the twelve of us. Whatever. Our rooms are nice, and we've decorated them with Christmas lights and hung our socks on hatstands serving as fake Christmas trees. We're reading books about social entrepreneurs and how to make a big impact on the world, as well as books about the environment. Our seminars are so interesting! I'm also reading The Fountainhead just for myself, and I love it. It's maybe my favorite book I've ever read.
Everyone here drives moped things. There are hundreds on the streets, and they don't follow traffic rules. They go every which way, on both sides of the street, at all times. The honking is incredible. To cross the street you basically just wait for a small gap and walk slowly and consistently, and hope they know to avoid you. You almost don't even have to look, it's not like that helps at all. I really, really, hate the traffic situation here. Also the pollution. We keep getting hit by things, though not badly. I got hit by a bike. People drive on all the sidewalks too. You have to be aware at all times of everything around you. I wonder how people live like this their whole lives? The food is good though.
We talked to a guy who runs a landfill here, and he had some really interesting things to say. He talked about how, with the economic crisis and all, people aren't buying toys. So China isn't making them. So they aren't buying the cardboard to package them. So paper, which used to be a huge commodity for the scavengers, is no longer useful. No wants wants to buy it to recycle, because it won't be bought off them in the long run. So the scavengers no longer separate it, which means the trash going to the landfills is not as separated, which is bad for the environment, and they don't make money off it. The man was telling us how recycling is market driven, and interestingly the next day there was an article on just that in the New York Times.
OK, thanks for reading all this. I promise to be quicker about updating in future!


Peter said...

Ooh, I saw that NYT article. My friend was asking about Ankgor Wat, so loots like you got that covered. And we briefly covered Pol Pot and Cambodia in the APUS vocab project over spring break, so its understandable it slipped your mind.
Send my regards to Vietnam and I'm waiting for my letter!

McG said...

Hi, I'm Becca's friend also gapping, and the stuff about recycling being market-driven is really interesting. I'd never thought about that before.