Monday, May 19, 2008

Three Minutes

2:28 pm. Marking the exact time of the earthquake that rocked this country one week ago- I along with the rest of China- stood in silence for three minutes to remember those who have been lost in this devastating tragedy. In a symbolic gesture of wailing and mourning, all cars, trains and boats blew their horns for the entire three minutes.

I stood in the comfort of my home watching the CNN coverage of this event. As they flashed from scene to scene- different areas throughout the country standing in silent solidarity- the overwhelming sound of horns grew and wailed. Horns were coming from the TV, the boats and barges along the river outside my building, and from the cars, taxis and bus' stopped along the roads of the city. I just stood there, and as the crushing noise surrounded me- I thought of all of the people in their last moments; the parents, the children, grandchildren, grandparents, sons, daughters, husbands, and wives- and I felt an overwhelming sense of grief and loss.

This whole tragedy is hard to take in. While Shanghai was untouched by this earthquake- you can't help but feel like you are in the midst of the devastation, and it is overwhelming. As I was watching the news coverage, my ayi (auntie/ cleaning lady) looked at the TV and told me that she just found out that her mother, sister, and aunt died in the earthquake.

I wondered what she was doing here- but I realize she can't go home right now. Things are too unstable with all of the aftershocks. So many buildings are gone. She cannot afford to take the trip home. Hopefully she will allow Phil and I to help her and her family- because we will certainly try.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Miao Sister's Festival

A simple lack of anything creative compels me to be honest here- I just don't know where to start or what to write this evening. I have a lot to share and talk about; I simply lack motivation and inspiration. As fog engulfs the city and a steady flow of rain pelts against the window, my desire to curl up under a blanket and watch a movie grows stronger with each drop. But alas, the sense that I need to write compels a bit more. So while this lasts- I should get to the point.

The point is- I have been on two amazing trips and travelled to a number of beautiful places throughout China in the last month. I have encountered people and seen places very different from my experience in Shanghai. I have had my fair share of adventure, taken a vast number of photos, and now it's time to share some of my experience with you.

Though my most recent journey along the Silk Road is more prominent in my mind, I must honor chronological order and start with the trip I took to Kaili and Shidong. Only one month ago, I along with 18 other people, embarked on a trip to Shidong in Southern China. The primary purpose of our travel was to experience the local Miao minority people and observe one of their yearly festivals known as the Sister Festival.

We flew into Guiyang and transferred to our hotel in Kaili. Though Kaili is a two hour drive from Shidong, it was the closest place to stay with a modern, moderately decent hotel. So each day we boarded our bus and started our two hour drive through the mountains into the town of Shidong. As daunting as a daily two hour bus ride may sound, the scenery was absolutely beautiful.

As the bus wound its way along the mountain road, each bend gave way to one beautiful vista after another. Villages peered mysteriously through the rice terrace stacked hills as farmers and their water buffalo worked knee deep in rice fields. This was the China I had been looking for; the China I had seen in pictures, imagined in my mind, and longed to experience.

The first day we were in Shidong we ate at a local family farmhouse (the only restaurant in the town), visited and watched a silversmith, and went to the local market. For me, wandering around the village and going to the local market was great. For such a small town, the market was an impressive size. People from all over- travel to this market to buy and sell anything from food and livestock, to their famed Miao embroidery, silver, and clothing.

On our drive back to Kaili we stopped at a local school. As a group we donated money to buy needed supplies for local school children. We were going to the school to deliver the supplies and meet some of the children face to face. I can say in all honesty that this was the absolute highlight of the entire trip for me. What we encountered when we arrived at the school was overwhelming and humbling. Over 300 children from the school were there to greet us. They lined the walkway clapping their hands and playing drums. After ushering us in, they proceeded to gift us with traditional necklaces, a dance, and a song. We spent about two hours- walking through the village, interacting with the children as well as some curious villagers, and giving some of the supplies we purchased.

The following day we went to a local Miao village close to Shidong where the festival was being held. The Sister Festival is a traditional festival for young people to find their love. There is a lot of dancing, singing, and eating. Each Miao woman wears her traditional, often richly embroidered costume, along with their famed silver jewelry, accents and/or headdress'. Girls sing and dance by the river and boys show off their horse riding skills. In the evening the boys sing to the object of their affection. If the girl feels the same way- she will give the boy a traditional ball of multi- colored sticky rice with a trinket inside. Each gift represents something different. One thing can mean "I am breaking up with you", while another means "I love you", and yet another meaning "I like you as a friend". Unlike the common Starbucks break-up here in Shanghai, the youth of the Miao minority have found a more creative and gentle way- a ball of rice with a trinket in it.

My travels through this area have given me a greater appreciation for China and its people. The beauty of the region was breathtaking and the richness of the culture- deep. I have chosen a portion of my photographs from this journey to share with you. While they cannot fully capture the beauty of this region and its people- I hope it gives you a glimpse. Simply go to the photo album link to the right and find the one creatively titled "Miao Sister's Festival".

Enjoy! -Jen

Pictures and Stories on the Way...

Creative title- I know. I just want you all to know that I am currently uploading and working on photos from my recent travels. I will be posting very soon- so stay tuned!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Back to Blogging

I'm back to blogging once again. It's not that I ever left, I just haven't been entirely present for...oh say 3 months now. So much has gone on in our lives over the last 3 months, I've barely had the time or space to wrap my brain around it all. But here we are on what I like to think of as the other side of that journey. We are now in our new home and expect to be completely unpacked and settled within the next month. At this point we are waiting for funds to be transferred (also known as our landlord getting paid); then we can expect the delivery of much needed office furniture, a dryer, a gym membership, and a few other little comforts. After months of existing in a static state of "transition", it feels really good to be settling in. I have checked a great deal of "to do's" off my list and am now able to get back into daily life.

Now for those of you who have read my previous entries- you may be wondering if we have fallen back into that all too easy place I have written about- complacency and taking life here for granted. I am pleased to announce that we have not allowed that to happen. Still immensely aware of the gift that this time is, I am attempting in as human and flawed a way as I am capable, to enjoy every moment of it.

Monday, May 12, 2008

All Is Well On the 55th Floor...

Just a quick note here to let you know that Phil and I are safe and well. If you have been watching the news at all- you have probably heard about the devastating earthquake that hit Chengdu China yesterday afternoon. You may have also read that this earthquake was felt as far as Thailand, Taipei, Beijing, and Shanghai. This is no exaggeration-Phil's office building, along with any other high rise building in the city, was evacuated.

Fortunately I was not at home in our 55Th floor apartment at the time. Another resident of this building who lives on the 52ND floor said she felt the building start to sway, followed by the curtains and hanging lamps, and then... she was out of there. Pretty scary.

As this tragedy continues to unfold in the regions close to the epicenter, we just ask that you keep the people here in your thoughts and prayers- many lives have been lost and changed forever.

Monday, May 5, 2008

I just got back to Shanghai this afternoon. My travels along the Silk Road were nothing short of amazing. It was 9 days full of adventure (oh do I have some stories), challenge, and great fun. Traveling through an area so rich in culture, history and tradition- has been such a great experience. It will take me a while to process through everything, but I look forward to posting stories and pictures as I am able.

At this point- I desperately need a shower and days sleep.