The day began with a Western breakfast of sorts – a surprise to many of us: pancakes, sausages, and even conventional white bread was served alongside a few Chinese dishes. Even after only one and a half days in Beijing, I felt so accustomed to the foreign cuisine. In finishing breakfast, many of us (myself in particular) were reluctant to take our language level placement exams; one written, one spoken.
Entering the administration building and sitting amongst peers in tiny, two-person desks gave off the most somber of atmospheres, only accentuated by the delay in distributing the first exam. This was written and came as a challenge for many of us, but I personally felt a little better about my ability to read Mandarin after taking it (now to find out the results). The speaking portion of the exam, again lead to feelings of upset, but turned out to be an enjoyable experience where many of us actually learned new phrases and words.
Later on, we split off into our excursion groups and set off for the subway. Public transport in China was an eye-opening experience, as the subway was both extremely, extremely crowded and also extremely clean; two things absent in most US subways. Navigation was not too difficult in using the subway system, but understanding bus routes was a challenge unto itself. Finding the stop, the bus number, and even where the bus will stop is something for those with keen eyes. A little help from our facilitator, Becca, allowed us to adjust and move on to our next stop: the park.
The park was immaculate, filled with many friendly people, and was quite hot. We all gathered in the courtyard to participate in team-building exercises, two of which Group 6 ended up winning. Bill Gates once said something along the lines of, “I look to hire lazy people because a lazy person will find the easiest way to solve a problem.” One challenge involved moving a ball around a tarp covered in holes in a mazelike fashion, with the only given rule being “you cannot touch the ball”. After some trial and (mostly) error, we decided to grab the ball using the tarp in order to just touch it from start to end. Maybe we weren’t being lazy, but it was nice to find an easy solution to a difficult problem. We completed both parts of the maze in approximately 1.13 seconds, which made us feel quite happy.
Moving out from the park, we settled down in a nice restaurant to eat lunch. Unfortunately, there was a surprise. Each member of the excursion group was required to eat lunch with a different physical limitation. One scholar ate while blindfolded, one with hands tied behind his back, two with their hands bound to each other’s, and one without the ability to speak. I was fortunate enough to be the one absent of speech. This challenge brought out a lot of cooperation between all group members, even in the face of such frustrating adversary. Overall, it was a pretty tasty and enjoyable lunch.
Next we moved onto The Adventure Race. This event involved our scavenging for points in order to attain an unknown prize. Pictures needed to be taken, maps needed to be read, and foods needed to be eaten. Map reading and picture taking were simple for our group, especially because we had practice in cooperation. Finding, purchasing, and eating certain foods was a bit different, though. Stinky tofu was our biggest challenge. For some reason, we were bent on finding this elusive tofu. We must have taken five different paths each directed by five different local people in order to find a stall. I was strangely excited to try some when we finally found it. Once we did, however, the vender refused to cook it for our group. We moved on and ended up in the next food-related activity.
Finding ourselves in the market, we had to acquire various fruits and other objects, some of them quite foreign to us. One item was given to us only as characters, none of which were recognizable. We asked a vendor if she knew where we could find it and she actually sent her young child (possibly 4 or 5 years in age) to guide us to our object of interest. It turned out to be the most delicious, intricate crepe I had ever seen. Cilantro, chili sauce, egg, scallions, sesame, and probably some other things all wrapped up in a giant crepe for our enjoyment. Next was durian. I was the only one in our group who knew what durian looked like, and more importantly, why one of us was required to try a bit of it. After hunting it down and purchasing it, I opened up a small package and found myself masked in a foul, sweet scent akin to rotten meat and syrup. That wasn’t too bad, as it tasted even worse and had the texture of spoiled milk. Never again will I put myself near anything durian-related. Other challenges came and went in the day, but nothing as notorious. In all honesty, the biggest challenge was getting back to the school, as each of us were extremely exhausted and in an unfamiliar environment. Thankfully we all made it back in a timely manner, but sleep was not yet to be found. One more exercise remained, and that was the Diversity Circle. Questions were asked, many of which requested quite personal answers, but the only response was to gauge one’s position in relation to a center point in a circle. One stepped to the very center to indicate an affirmative response and a gradient was formed outward until ‘no’ was reached on the outside of the circle. Just by looking around, without saying a word, so much could be learned about fellow friends and facilitators. It was a nice way to end an otherwise hectic and adventurous day.
Excursion Group 6