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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013


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We have arrived in the grande country of China! We've been here for 3 days and are staying in a Guesthouse in the city of Jinghong for two more, before we start our next X-phase and settle in to a 6 day partner homestay. 

 

Life in this city is slightly overwhelming after spending the last month in the quiet hills of Luang Prabang. Also China is quite a shock for me compared to both Cambodia and Laos. China is a developed, immensely populated, shiny, modern, stylish version of the places we've just spent the last two months visiting. There are high-rise buildings/sky scrapers, girls everywhere with short-shorts and high heels, taxis (a vehicle we never saw in Laos or Cambodia), and an enormous city bigger and more raw than any city I've ever visited in my life. But I like it here, and it's giving our trip yet another excellent opportunity to step out of our comfort zone and expand our lens of the world.

 

We've been eating new dishes while learning the "hot pot" family style way of dining, studying and practicing the Mandarin language, walking through the twisty alleyways and side streets of the small fraction of the city we've seen, and had a lesson on cultural Do's and Don'ts in China. We ventured down to a nasty-smelling stretch of the Mekong that gets tons and tons of the city's sewage poured into it each day where we re-grounded ourselves once again by reconnecting ourselves of our intentions for the last 3 weeks of the trip and meditating on what we want the rest of this experience to be for us. The river gives us a nice reminder of all the beautiful people and places we've seen thus far on our journey and to meet it once again brings our minds back to the present.

 

Yunnan Province, where we are in China for the remainder of our trip, is one of the most ethnically diverse regions in the world. There are over 56 government-recognized ethnic groups who live here, yet the Chinese government still has many more to publically identify. We are in a hotspot in terms of diversity, and anywhere in the world we are, it is safe to say that  diversity brings its challenges. There are political, cultural, social, and religious problems that spring up whenever a group of people is first exposed to another. As we learn about the struggles ethnic minorities face here, we are also turning our attention to our experiences back home. Yesterday we had an emotional, touching, and at times uncomfortable discussion about race and ethnicity back home. In a dusty and intentionally uncomfortable setting, a vacant warehouse,  we were blindly led one by one to face a quote that our instructors wrote on the wall for each of us that was an example of hate speech in the US.  There were 12 nasty. jarring, ugly, insulting, ignorant, racist phrases in front of us, and we were told to write down the first thoughts that popped into our minds when we read them. It's actually kind of hard for me to repeat them by writing them on this yak, but for the sake of remembering, some of the words we saw were "faggot", "nigger", "wetback", "tar baby", "chink", "no dogs/no mexicans allowed", "pickanniny", and "'cap' Congress and 'trade' Obama back to Kenya."  Then we circled around the computer to watch a slideshow of racial pictures. Then we were divided into groups of three to muddle over a question written down by the instructors that focused on issues of race. For example, my group was assigned to answer the question: "where does race come from?"  After coming up with our own answers, we  returned to the group to hear what each person had to say about the questions we were posed. Instead of coming up with definite answers, we mostly ended up producing more questions. Other groups were asked to discuss questions like, "How are you racist?" and "If two applicants for a job were equally qualified, one was white and the other was black, which should get the job?" And the statement on the paper which was quoted from a professor at a university answered by saying that the black person should get the job. That group was supposed to read that and muddle over their opinions of the answer that was provided. Then, Hillary gave us a little history and background definitions for which to view race/issues of race in the future. As you can imagine, our discussion got very intense and at times it felt like we were walking on eggshells, but I think all of us can agree that we gained a lot from it and would like to delve deeper into the topic. Especially as it relates to where we are in China and the situation as it is for the millions of people who live here, as well as some of the ethnic minority groups that we will visit. Then we went out for a delicious Thai food dinner, and returned back to the guesthouse to hear Jordan tell the group a 40 minute version of his "life story". 

 

Today we had a day off to explore the city on our own, and many group members went to visit the botanical and medicinal gardens that are highly well-known for their aesthetic beauty. And we are meeting up tonight at 6 for another tasty Chinese dinner. After that we're going to a kareoke bar and awfully but happily belting out some kareoke songs! It is going to be awesome. Aaand thats about all! I really do apologize for the length of this, I got kind of carried away in the sweet memories of the past few days. :)

 

Anyways, I won't have much access to the internet for the rest of the trip and absolutely no access to facebook (thanks to communist China blocking it here!) but I hope all is well at home and for those of you who are with me on this trip, I love you and am so excited to make these the best three weeks of our lives. Lets go show the Chinese kareoke world what beautiful voices we all have!

 

Elise 

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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A really really long long yak

Elise Emil,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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We have arrived in the grande country of China! We’ve been here for 3 days and are staying in a Guesthouse in the city of Jinghong for two more, before we start our next X-phase and settle in to a 6 day partner homestay.    Life in this city is slightly overwhelming after spending the […]

Posted On

04/19/13

Author

Elise Emil

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Dear Friends and Family, 

 

I recently returned from a site visit to Lao, India, and Nepal. The Mekong semester was my first stop and they certainly set a high bar for the other trips! The group was in their final week of home-stays in the small village of Ban Xi Ngman across the river from Luang Prabang. The relaxed Lao pace of life is now behind them as they enter China for the next phase of the trip. It was a pleasure spending a few days with what seems to be a stellar a group. 

 

Here are a few photos from my time with the Mekong semester.

 

Best,

 

Aaron Slosberg 

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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Photos from Lao

Aaron Slosberg,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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Dear Friends and Family,    I recently returned from a site visit to Lao, India, and Nepal. The Mekong semester was my first stop and they certainly set a high bar for the other trips! The group was in their final week of home-stays in the small village of Ban Xi Ngman across the river […]

Posted On

04/19/13

Author

Aaron Slosberg

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    [post_title] => Impressions of Luang Prabang/ Ban Xien Maen
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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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Impressions of Luang Prabang/ Ban Xien Maen

James Brady,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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Posted On

04/19/13

Author

James Brady

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William, that was an awesome posting. It should go on the Best of Dragons... thank you!

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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Wow. Great post, William.

Jane Leggett,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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William, that was an awesome posting. It should go on the Best of Dragons… thank you!

Posted On

04/18/13

Author

Jane Leggett

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A new face with every turn; overwhelmed at the number of smiles and quick bobs of the head signifying the time for a new blessing. That sense that I am truly welcome in this village, this room, this moment. Searching for my Meh's face in the crowd, I can feel a warm glow in my stomach and my chest when our eyes finally meet and she beckons me over to receive her blessing. Her chubby yet delicate fingertips wrap the brilliantly white, thin string around my freckled wrist. Her chord falls in with the many others, becoming tangled with the myriad well wishes and hopes for the future trapped so perfectly in each taught bracelet. I feel so part of her, like a true child - a real luke sao. 

 

The attention turns to me to dance and perform for my friends and this comunity of effervescent women - the pressure to make my Meh proud. Going through the movements, slow and calculated, with my kind and gentle older sister. Hearing the low beat of the drum pat patting and the shrill melody of the village mothers' voices, matching time to my nervous steps. My eyes flicker upward to find my Meh's gaze. I expect to find a serious, understanding look of solemn engouragment. But, instead, she is just giggling, her lips barely staying closed around her crooked teeth, trapping her laugh within her like the blessings on my wrists.  

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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Untangling a Memory

Louisa Kane,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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A new face with every turn; overwhelmed at the number of smiles and quick bobs of the head signifying the time for a new blessing. That sense that I am truly welcome in this village, this room, this moment. Searching for my Meh’s face in the crowd, I can feel a warm glow in my […]

Posted On

04/18/13

Author

Louisa Kane

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Overwhelmed.  I'm not supposed to label it, but that's how I remember feeling.  From the second our blessing ceremony in Xiang Man began, I was hit with the most immense display of love and affection from my host mother and the entire group of host mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and Dragons gathered in Jesse's host mom's living room.  I took my handful of bracelets off of the flower tree, now such an iconic symbol of our time in Lao, turned to my left and was immediatly surrounded by my mom, Jesse's mom and Somsanid's mom, all grabbing for a wrist to bless, all vying to wish me luck and happiness in the rest of my journey and the rest of my life, all physically displaying their love and affection for me in the simple act of tying a simple white string around my wrist.  It was joy in its purest form - the smile on my face was uncontrollable.
Then, suddenly, as quickly as it had begun, it was over.  I was blessed, I was wished for; I had no idea what they had said to me and yet I felt safe.  I felt secure.  I know, after that, that I am part of the Xiang Maen community; I am now and forever a part of their family.  I can add Xiang Man to my growing list of places I call home.
A few days after the ceremony, as we slowly removed (most of) the hundreds of strings that had accumulated on our wrists, Jacky posed a question to us.  Is this love? I know completely in my heart that it is.  I love there, in Xiang Man, and I am loved.  A piece of my heart has been left across the river.  And for me, that is love.  
 
Any place, any people that can hold onto my heart when I'm no longer in their presence.  
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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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Blessings

Katherine Krey,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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Overwhelmed.  I’m not supposed to label it, but that’s how I remember feeling.  From the second our blessing ceremony in Xiang Man began, I was hit with the most immense display of love and affection from my host mother and the entire group of host mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and Dragons gathered in Jesse’s host […]

Posted On

04/17/13

Author

Katherine Krey

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"I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." 

 

- Michael Jordan 

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

Sam Bowie was chosen by the Portland Trail Blazer's with the 2nd overall pick of the 1984 NBA draft right after Hakeem Olajuwon and right before Michael Jordan. Bowie today lives on in infamy as one of the many draft busts of the Portland Trail Blazer's, but is only truly known for being the one chosen before the greatest ever, Michael Jordan. He is known throughout pop culture, social media, the blogger sphere as the biggest draft bust of all time - people keep asking, "And what if Portland woulda draffted Jordan instead of Sam Bowie" to quote Jay Z's song "Hola Hovito."

It is easy for Bowie's draft placement to overshadow his career, it is easy to look at his career plagued with injuries and his lack of success at the NBA level and compare that with Jordan helping the Chicago Bulls win championships and label Bowie the greatest draft bust of all time. But as is usually the case, perspective is everything.

 

Bowie played ten years in the NBA on two broken legs. He considers himself the luckiest man on earth. He is a college sports legend. He will never have to work another day in his life. He is free to watch his kids play basketball. He is a man who sees the beauty, in what he's gotten to experience. He is a man who can enjoy the small moments of beauty each and every day.

 

 

 A three month journey can seem quite long one day, maddeningly short the next. Sometimes it can be so easy to get caught up in the small stuff, the group squabbles, things not going at all the way you planned or experienced, to get in your head and simply not be present. Not being present leads to not learning anything from the world around you, in turn not being able to see beauty, and in turn not being open to the love that truly is all around you.

 

I find myself needing to take a breath once in a while.  Take a breath to see how close I've gotten with my group members - how special each relationship has become despite being complete strangers just over two months ago. Take a breath to just imagine how many more amazing memories we will make on the next leg of our journey in China. Take a breath to say goodbye to Somsanid, our Laos in country instructor, who has inspired us and become a brother to all of us over the last month that we have known him. Take a breath to see how much we've done here, to truly absorb all that we have learned. Sometimes, I need to take that breath - to return to the present, to be able to see the beauty, to be able to feel all the love. Sometimes, we need to take that breath to take a lesson from Sam Bowie, not seeing himself as a draft day bust, not thinking of what could have been, but appreciating the beauty that he believes he is the luckiest man alive. 

 

 

 

*****

 

 

I believe we are all free - that at any point in your life you have the freedom to pick any human quality that you'd like and attempt to work towards it. Curiosity, empathy, passion, life without anger, living without jealousy, living determined, living with love, to name a few. Just pick some and work towards them. Right now it is positiyvity and passion. Curiosity coming in flashes. You have the freedom to be happy. You have the freedom to live each day in ANY way you choose.

 

Soon after Sam Bowie's early retirement, he was called by the Chicago Bulls and was asked to be their backup Center. Bowie got to watch Michael Jordan, the man it would make sense for him to hate after years and years of being compared to him, practice. He said, "I remember watching Michael Jordan practice for the first time in my life. I was trying to figure out why Michael was as great as he is, and they were doing line sprints. And I never caught Michael cheat a line. I remember trhem saying. I remember them saying, 'Do 50 sit ups.' Michael never did 48, 49. He always did 50. And I sat up there and was like, people know why Michael's great, but to witness what I just witnessed at this stage of his career, success doesn't happen by accident. He worked hard, and he deserved everything he could get."

 

My goal for the rest of the trip is to steal the work ethic of the greatest ever - to work to be present, in turn to see more beauty, and in turn, to give and feel more love. To forgvie myself when I fail because we all fail, even the greatest ever, it is how we learn from our mistakes that matters. But always to listen to my heart - for it speaks the language of the world, of all this beauty, and it knows how to get me there. Right now, my heart is telling me to go join this New Year's celebration in this city so full of energy, this holiday of holidays, and to smile because of everything and everyone around me.

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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Two Lessons from the 1984 NBA Draft

William Maas,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

Description

"I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."    – Michael Jordan      * * * * *     […]

Posted On

04/17/13

Author

William Maas

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Ni hao Dragons family and friends! The Mekong group has arrived to Jinghong, China as of yesterday April 16th! We will head out to Lancand, China on the 21st where we will prepare for our homestay! Yay! City life has been pretty overwhelming after living in the lovely village of Ban Xieng Man but is none the less exciting. The food is fabulous however the internet access is not. Internet is hard to come by so emails may not be responded to (nothing personal mom and dad) but please feel free to communicate with your student over the yak board!

Lots of love to all! 

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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CHINA!

Sarah Brodsky,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

Description

Ni hao Dragons family and friends! The Mekong group has arrived to Jinghong, China as of yesterday April 16th! We will head out to Lancand, China on the 21st where we will prepare for our homestay! Yay! City life has been pretty overwhelming after living in the lovely village of Ban Xieng Man but is […]

Posted On

04/17/13

Author

Sarah Brodsky

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I was once a child, and in prospective may still be. However, I have been pleasantly welcomed back into the spontaneous language of game playing. I am one without sense or direction but rather one indugling in the delightful acts of impulse. I am free to contort my face in any way that seems right (or in some cases seems wrong) and experience perfect acceptance with an excited reciprocation. I find myself singing in most places I would keep quiet. I sing about babies and sticky rice, both things I am never without sight of in this amazing little village. I feel safe to do how I do, I feel free.

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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One With Children

Sarah Brodsky,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

Description

I was once a child, and in prospective may still be. However, I have been pleasantly welcomed back into the spontaneous language of game playing. I am one without sense or direction but rather one indugling in the delightful acts of impulse. I am free to contort my face in any way that seems right […]

Posted On

04/15/13

Author

Sarah Brodsky

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    [post_date] => 2013-04-15 00:00:00
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OK This one's gonna be short! We just finished our 3-week homestay in Ban Xien Man, just across the river from Luang Prabang. We are spending our last night in Luang Prabang tonight, and first thing in the morning we're leaving for a 15 hour bus ride up to the Yunnan Province in China. Yay! We've spent the past four days frivolously splashing water at each other for the Laos New Year and getting splattered in paint. While it's sad to say goodbye to our lovely host families, I can't deny that I'm pumped for China. We have one month to go and it's going to be awesome! 

 

I promise I will post more later!

Elise 

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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Good bye Laos, off to China!

Elise Emil,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

Description

OK This one’s gonna be short! We just finished our 3-week homestay in Ban Xien Man, just across the river from Luang Prabang. We are spending our last night in Luang Prabang tonight, and first thing in the morning we’re leaving for a 15 hour bus ride up to the Yunnan Province in China. Yay! […]

Posted On

04/15/13

Author

Elise Emil

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