© 2009 Steven Wong

A lot of doing… something?

Ok, at long last, here’s the sequel to my first post about the volunteering trip to Henan. If you haven’t read about the splendour of overnight trains in China, check it out here, but basically, the agency who I applied through for this semester of Mandarin instruction in Beijing organized a trip during China’s national holiday to go to Henan for some volunteering and sightseeing.

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Truth be told, there wasn’t really a lot of volunteering involved. We didn’t really get to do much. We visited an AIDS orphanage and a kindergarten, but all we really did was to bring some gifts or supplies and spend an hour or so with the kids. There wasn’t any teaching or building or anything of that sort of work. I felt like we were just passing through and dropping off some stuff.

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A missed opportunity in my opinion. Partially because I would’ve loved to have done something much more constructive, or at least helpful, but mostly because the rest of the trip was spent largely getting from one place to another, whether by train or by bus.

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Then again, it’s hard to figure what you can do for these kids in an afternoon. I’m not even sure what we could do for them if we were there for a few days. But I just think it could’ve been structured so much better, so that it didn’t feel so… chaotic and aimless. Our time visiting both locations could’ve and should’ve been much more productive.

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I can think of at least one place, the Xixia dinosaur egg park, which was entirely forgettable and not worth the time. The only redeeming feature of that place were the carnival rides which we scored for free because we were foreigners.

Do not pass "Go": local villagers waiting for bribes from passing traffic

Lest you think it was 5 wasted days, I still enjoyed myself. We did see a much more “real” part of China than the mini-UN that is the university district of Beijing we live in. Village life doesn’t appear to have changed much, aside from some additions of modern technology like mobile phones and TVs. It’s still very agricultural and still very poor. In fact, I’m sure that the roadblock we encountered on the way to the kindergarten was put there by the local villagers in order to extort a bribe from passing traffic using the detour.

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We lit our own wish-lanterns and saw them float away, during the Mid-Autumn festival in a park in Nanyang. We climbed a mini-mountain (and almost fell off trying to reach the very top), then took a zipline and a slide back down. We also visited the Shaolin temple near Zhengzhou, where we saw some pretty cool demonstrations of Shaolin kung-fu.

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I was one of the fortunate few who was not stricken by some illness (one friend got tonsillitis, another was felled by some allergy or infection that he needed 4 medications for). The hot pot dinner we had at one random place may have been the best meal I’ve had in China, but another guy got so sick, he was still a zombie after 2 days. I also really liked the self-grilled street meat we had in Nanyang.

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And the icing on the cake had to be the two nights in the same club in Nanyang where we befriended a whole gaggle of people including the singer who did a remarkably decent MJ cover and the Russian dancers who spoke neither Mandarin nor English but understood completely the meaning of gambei (bottoms up).

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I’ve got loads more pics in this flickr set. Check it out!

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