Winding Down

I’m sitting in an internet cafe in the Chengdu airport where I have about 3 hours left before my flight to Shanghai departs. I’ve been in Chengdu for two days, visiting some local sights, including the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base and a school that is hosting some of the kids displaced from their home village by the spring earthquake. A nice young man named Kie, who is a friend of Jessie’s, has treated us like royalty here, moving out of his bedroom to make room for us (he and his girlfriend slept in a tent in their living room) and marshalling several of his friends to accompany us on our sightseeing trips.

Tomorrow night I leave Shanghai for home and I’m excited about it! The last week has been wonderful, but stressful. I’ve had a bad cold that I’m almost over, and a stomach virus that nearly forced me to cancel my Chengdu trip. Coming to Sichuan with a temperamental stomach seemed unwise but the thought of seeing the pandas made me forge ahead and I am happy to report that within 24 hours I was feeling well enough to enjoy the spicy local dish known as “hot-pot.”

The pandas were wonderful. I got to see six young pandas (born in July and August and now weighing about 20 pounds) but they were sleeping: still – incredibly cute. Older Giant Pandas and the beautiful reddish-colored Lesser Pandas were in abundance and the reserve is a very nice place, with plenty of room for the pandas, the only downside being that distances between the various areas of interest require a lot of (up and downhill) walking. I have many photos but cannot easily post them here in the airport.

Our visit to the school today was brief but we did get to meet some 2nd-grade kids housed there while the earthquake recovery efforts proceed. Apparently, these kids are not orphans – their families are still up in the mountains where the earthquake destroyed everything, living in government-provided temporary housing. Their teachers are here with them and told us that there was still much uncertainty about what would happen to the kids in the future. The kids are members of the Qiang ethnic minority group and lived in the county known as WenChuan which was the epicenter of the earthquake. They appeared to be in good spirits but were living in less-than-optimal conditions: 16 kids to a small room (two in each bed) and they get only one shower a week. Yalda and I met them briefly on the playground and we were of great interest to them as they haven’t seen many westerners. They were quite shy at first – if we moved toward them, they smiled and moved away. But within five minutes some of the braver ones were saying hello and shaking our hands. It was quite moving to think what they have been through and we both felt a great desire to help them. But since we are both winding down our volunteer teaching assignments, we knew there was little we could do at this time.

On Thursday, I had a very emotional day saying goodbye to my friends and students on ChangXing Island. I still feel very moved when I think back to the tear-filled eyes of many of the kids and to the love my teacher friends showed as they excused themselves from their normal teaching duties to escort me to the ferry for the last time. I cannot possibly explain how significant this has been to me so I won’t try further. I’ll just say I came here hoping to make a connection with people and in that I was very successful. I guess the downside to making such a connection is in the dis-connecting.

All for now: if I have any time in the Shanghai flat tomorrow, I’ll try to post some photos of the pandas.

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