March 31, 2014
It is currently the tail end of my two-month-long spring break, and I have just returned (April 1, after a 16-hour delay) from China.
Finishing the First Semester
The end of my first semester went as smoothly as I could have hoped. My reading students, while not so stellar on their chapter reading quizzes, studied hard for their final exams and did fairly well. My writing students wrote humorous essays on their ideal future lives. On the last days we took class pictures and said farewell, see you around!
My Transformative Two-Month Travels
I have just returned from an epic spring journey to the Kansai area of Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and China. The first leg of my trip was a visit to Osaka, where I planned to meet with as many friends from my time as a student as possible. After a very busy first five days, plans were foiled when I suddenly became very sick, the mild stress cold I’d caught in Tokyo combined with physical exertion with winter cold and finally some sort of stomach virus. I was feverish and bedridden for my last three nights in Japan, only recovering right before my trip to Indonesia. I’d lost weight from eating very little, but the worst was over. The next night I was zooming through Banda Aceh on the back of Karl Orozco’s motor scooter through crazy Indonesian traffic.
Indonesia (Banda Aceh, Yogyakarta) – two weeks
Arriving in Indonesia was shocking for a handful of reasons. The contrast with pristine and orderly Japan was immediately astounding, starting with a confusing Medan airport experience in which I met sleeping attendants and somehow accidentally bypassed customs. After staring at a ceiling and being under the covers for the past few days, in Aceh I was suddenly surrounded by summer heat and radically new sights, sensations, sounds. I was greeted by a whole reunion of fellows: Karl, Anabel, Amelea, Xenna, Lissette (who flew in the same day), and Tino, whom I met for the first time. Charlotte would also stop by Aceh for a few nights. This trip to Aceh was a transformative time, as more than ever in my life I was constantly pushed out of my comfort zone. I was immediately greeted by unfamiliar Bahasa, street food, spicy dishes, squat toilets, bucket flushes and showers. Constantly surrounded by the contagious energy, enthusiasm, and vitality of my amazing and hilarious co-fellows, I slowly shed the self-suppressing instincts I’d cultivated in Japan and began to embrace and seek these new experiences that would previously have given me pause. The exhilarated apprehension on my first motorbike ride turned into exhilarated love for it. On Valentine’s Day we went to and participated in a coffee shop poetry reading, during which I quietly wrote and passionately performed a three-minute poem in front of countless Indonesian strangers, surprising and moving my friends. One day I cut my hair short for the first time in my life, and Karl and the others cheered for the “New Cassie”. The wonderful memories and friends we made made leaving Aceh difficult. The Indonesia trip ended with a few days in Yogyakarta with Julie, who was an excellent hostess. Highlights were visiting Borobudur and watching a UGM performance of Javanese dance, the Ramayana, right near Prambanan. I decided that two weeks in Indonesia was not enough, and decided to try and go back before my fellowship ends.
Philippines (Manila, Baguio, Iloilo, Manila) – 3 weeks
I spent three weeks in the Philippines with family, including my mother and two aunts who had flown in from New York and Ontario, Canada. It was a challenging adjustment from going out and exploring with friends all the time to relaxing in the house most of the time, but it was wonderful to see all my relatives again. After eating street food for two weeks I felt strange eating in nice restaurants again. Each night was a feast with at least ten relatives and as many different dishes. It’s not a trip back home to the Philippines unless you’ve gained ten pounds. This time around I was more active in studying Ilonggo, the dialect my family speaks in Iloilo. I spent my last day with an aunt in an upper-class shopping area, and then at night with a cousin I walked through and got scammed by a horse cab driver in dirt-poor, garbage-filled Old Manila. It was astounding to experience those two drastically different sides of Manila in a day. I’ve begun to consider spending at least a consecutive year of my life in the Philippines sometime after Shansi.
China (Beijing, Taigu, Xian, Beijing) – 2 weeks
My first visit to China was another jarring and incredible experience. I stayed with Alessandra in Beijing, then visited the Taigu Fellows, took a solo trip to see the terracotta soldiers in Xian, and ended the trip back in Beijing. My first two days were spent apprehensively adjusting to people’s normal interactions (directness and a lot of yelling that contrast with Japanese indirectness, politeness, and quiet) and getting tricked once again by a tricycle driver who okay’ed one price before the ride and asked for double at the end. I soon became accustomed to the street spitting and babies pooping and peeing in the streets. It took a bit, but I also learned to be more direct in ignoring or turning down people hoping to sell me things, and also got used to pushing forward rather than waiting for non-existent lines to form. While I loved spending time with Fellows in busy Beijing and laidback Taigu, where I sat in on four of the five Fellows’ classes, I appreciated my solo time in which I could quietly observe society as it moved and worked around me. I also enjoyed practicing the Mandarin I’d learned at Oberlin, though it took time to get comfortable.
A Delayed Homecoming
I had the worst and best possible ending to my travels when my Pakistan International Airlines flight from Beijing to Tokyo was delayed by 16 hours due to equipment malfunction. I spent over 24 hours with people of all ages from China, Pakistan, Japan, London, and South Africa. Many of the Pakistani travelers were eye doctors and surgeons on their way to a conference in Tokyo. Together we waited without updates for four hours in the airport, were bussed to a hotel for supposedly the rest of the night and paired with strangers in rooms, were suddenly with ten minutes of warning returned to the airport for a 3AM flight, and were pushed through security again, this time with new friends. While I may have been stressed out about this roadblock in the past, I had a wonderful time and treated it as a surprise end to my adventures. I saw good people find humor in an undesirable situation, and witnessed and experienced friendships formed among strangers. I have only been with Shansi for a little over one semester now, but I feel I have grown and changed so much in that time. I am so grateful for these opportunities to travel, and feel confident and excited about going into the world and building even more new connections.