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Kathy Finney

On June 27, our last day in Beijing, we visited the Great Wall of China. We got to eat lunch and dinner with a local family who lived by the section we went to. The family’s father used to be a well known chef in Beijing who moved to this village to escape the crazy village life, an action known as “agritainment”. The section of the wall that we went to is known as a wild section because it isn’t being maintained by the government, and therefore isn’t a tourist destination on the wall. The paths are filled with trees and the stones are all crumbling. Our hike up the hill was hot and humid, but we quickly ascended in just about 45 minutes. From there we went into the first tower and cooled off with water and snacks, and we took lots of pictures. Then we walked up the path through 3 more towers from 11AM-1PM. We were able to write a detailed reflection in the last tower, and then hiked all the way back down the mountain and ate our dinner and reflected with each other.

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Mike Connors

We arrived at the village on June 16, and my host grandma picked me up and brought me home. Every night, me and my host grandparents would watch their favorite tv show, which was about the Chinese Civil War. My host mom lived in a different house and was the one who cooked, so I bonded with her during our mealtimes, which were each about 2 hours long. She made me so much delicious food, and was very understanding if I couldn’t stomach something or just got full. She also owned a shop on the corner of our street, so I was able to help run the store, interact with people, and just people watch. Overall, I loved trying all the new food, seeing the host’s daily schedule, and just experiencing the village.

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Mike Connors

Today was the first and longest leg of the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek. We had an early start to keep within our timeframe for the hike, and, after breakfast, we loaded into a small bus, which dropped the group off at the beginning of the trail. Today’s hike was in three parts: the morning part, the 28 bends, and the final stretch. The morning part took us from the beginning of the trail to our village lunch in about 2.5 hours. While it was a lot of uphill, the group was able push through. Putting the slowest hikers in the front allowed the entire group to keep a consistent pace, which made this leg easier, and the group had a cloud cover to cool down. Finally, we arrived at the village and entered a raised wooden building in which we ate lunch. After lunch came the 28 bends. This was the most difficult part of the first leg of the trek due to the steep trail, lots of stairs, and the cloud cover’s disappearance. Because this section was so difficult, we had to take frequent breaks to recharge. Many of us were left panting, but we made it through the 28 bends to a peak in the gorge. The view was worth it. We were on a rock outcropping, where there was a straight drop to the narrow river below. On the other side of the river were towering mountains with ice on top. A strong breeze whipped across the rock face, cooling the group down. We continued on across a flat path to the halfway house, our home for the night.

Mike Connors

The Naxi homestay was definitely one that frightened me in the beginning of the trip. I think I was extremely afraid that I wouldn’t be able to connect with my family, because of language and lack of a shared culture. This was not the case with the Beijing homestay, because I share the internet culture with the students and even the families of the students. However, the village was totally different. I was picked up by an older woman whom I assumed was my grandmother. She was very quiet with me throughout the stay, but she never failed to tell me to eat. When I arrived back to her home, I met my grandfather and my uncle. The grandfather was obsessed with swatting flies, which I found as a parallel to my mother whenever I let a fly into the house. The best part of the fly swatting game was that, if the fly landed anywhere, he was going to smack it. A fly landed on my leg at one point and I didn’t realize it and he swatted my leg. Luckily, the fly got away and I was not subjected to fly juice on my leg (well, disregarding that, which was already on the swatter).

One of my favorite things about the village was the connectivity and inclusivity of everyone. All of us were welcomed with open arms and if we wanted to explore, they were all helpful in giving us directions to some extent. I really enjoyed also that anyone could come over and there was no question as to whether they were welcome or not. Everyone knew everyone; they would never hesitate to give you food. I liked to walk around with some of the students during the days and I think the village inclusivity triggered an inclusivity in our group. We hadn’t really connected very well, but the village allowed anyone to come over and just talk about whatever was on our minds.

I am extremely saddened to know that this year could be and is probably the last year that Norfolk Academy stays with the Naxi families. Those three days were the most relaxing days of the trip, and I think that staying in a rural area in mainland China is one of the most eye opening experiences. In complete honesty, I learned how much I am not a country person; but I also learned how much I do need rest in the form of socially interacting without phones.

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Mike Connors

We woke up with a breathtaking view that we would remember for the rest of our lives. As we ate breakfast that morning, we sat around the table talking and laughing while being surrounded by the mountains. Following our breakfast, we met at the base of the halfway house where we learned about a group activity. This activity was made to challenge us, as well as make us think as a group. During the activity we learned that we needed to work as a group and think as a group. In order to work as a whole not only should you express your opinion, but listen to others as well.

Communication is key and if everyone is on the same page, it makes the task much easier to take on. When attempting to complete the task, trial and error was the best use of our time. We applied our new and improved skills to the hiking of Tiger Leaping Gorge and we were able to finish the hike in less time than predicted. Communication is key.