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The final week of our DukeEngage program has arrived, and I don’t think the reality of the fact we are leaving in about 5 days has hit me yet. I guess this could be a good thing, because right now I am too busy being caught up in the stress of the final performance to realize I’ll be back in Mason, Ohio in a week.

Acting class has been a huge challenge since the start, and it still continues to be troublesome to conduct the class. We have decided to perform four scenes from Harry Potter: You’re a wizard, the Sorting Hat, Dumbledore’s Death, and the Final Battle. It has been an ambitious project, and many challenges have presented themselves. Many of the kids like to talk while they aren’t part of the scene, and just keep on talking when I turn my back on them after silencing them. Some don’t take acting very seriously, and keep laughing and smiling as they say their lines. I understand that they are just kids though, and I really appreciate all of the hard work that they have put in to get thus far. In addition, I think I wasn’t a very good teaching partner at times when frustration was building, and I hope to keep improving in the future. I am still very anxious for the dress rehearsal that will be taking place tomorrow, and I really hope that everything will be able to come together for the final performance. We haven’t been able to get a clean, complete run-through yet, and all there is left to do is hope it will all work out.

As we are leaving in less than a week, I realized that I never talked about my host brother a lot. I don’t know why I haven’t as of thus far, but he truly is such a great kid and I really want to show all that he is worth. Leo is 13 years old, but I feel like he is already more mature than me in multiple senses (I know that some people probably think I’m about as mature as a 10 year old, but just bear with me). For example, whenever his parents aren’t home to cook dinner, he will bring me to a restaurant, order food for us to eat, and pay for our meal (he wouldn’t let me pay in the beginning and so I’ve just come to accept this whenever we go out). I don’t know if it’s just the different culture, but I sure wouldn’t have been able to do this when I was his age. He isn’t afraid to ask the waiter for more sauce or a drink or the bill, and he does it so casually. It must be weird, or even slightly demeaning, to have to take orders from a small child that looks like a cute teddy bear.

One time, Leo took me shopping at the local store/mall (I’m not sure what to call it, but I’m talking about Vanguard for fellow DukeEngage-ians), and he was going through a mental grocery list of fruits and vegetables to buy for his mother. He loves politics and I’m pretty sure he knows more about the American governmental system than I do. He always continues to surprise me with the tasks he’s able to accomplish, and he certainly is wiser than I was at his age.

At the end of the day, however, Leo is still just a kid. He loves his soda (no matter how much his parents scold him for drinking it), knows more about cars than I do, loves Steph Curry and basketball, idolizes GEM (a Chinese singer that I’m pretty sure he is in love with, his profile picture for everything is a picture of her), and he loves his video games. One time, I came home to see a band-aid on his neck, and I learned he had gotten into a fight (I later was informed by other sources that it was with a girl). I guess he has his fair share of girl problems too (not that I have any or anything). While I was writing this, he just burst into my room with an ice cream in his hand and proudly announced that he had returned home. He then proceeded to ask me if we received a lot of summer homework in America.

One cultural difference between China and America that I’ve seen a great deal of this trip is the emphasis on studying and good test scores. While I understand that many students in America prioritize their studies and some students in China may not care, I think that the culture of Chinese people, in general, leans more on good test scores than American culture. The ninth graders of No. 9 middle school just finished their ZhongKao (the standardized high school entrance exam), and the test score of every single individual was posted outside of the school gates. In America, at least where I grew up, this would never be allowed. I don’t agree with this practice either, and it makes me feel sympathetic towards students that may not have scored high or just had a bad day. All the parents pass by the sign, and make a mental note of which kids did well, and which did not. It pains me to think that one day Leo’s scores will be up on that board alongside his classmates, and I just hope that when parents pass by, they will make a mental note that Leo was one of the high scorers.

This week was a break from the normal hustle and bustle. We left for Yunnan early in the morning to catch our flight, and visited two cities inside the Yunnan province: Kunming and Dali. We interacted with some high school students during our short day in Kunming, and in the span of only a few hours, three students had their phones stolen. I think they were able to be reunited with their devices later, but at the cost of a pricey ransom. Time was short but tragedy still struck. During dinner, me and Aditya were able to connect with a student through League of Legends. He didn’t know many character names, so we imitated their abilities and were able to convey our message across, despite the language barrier. I know I’m a nerd, but it was so fun.

In Dali, we lived in a small hotel that resembled a summer camp. The small city’s walls were enclosed by walls, shops were scattered everywhere, and to my delight, horse poop littered the ground. While some of the conditions resembled an older style of living, the culture within the community was so prevalent. The Bai People loved to wear their traditional clothing, and dancing with them during our last night was fun and refreshing after spending the past few days climbing mountains and enduring long car rides. The views we saw wherever we went, though, were beautiful. Whether it was on the edge of a cliff on the mountain (that past the barbed wire and sign that said “do no pass”, yeah I know I’m a rebel), from the rooftop of a house in the Muslim village (I’m pretty sure that it was at this place that we all contracted some bacteria that caused us to have diarrhea for the next few days), or the edge of a lake with the mountains in the background. The culture was alive, the people were neighborly, and the views just made it all better.

On a few more random notes, it was during this trip that I started listening to GEM, and she really is great. I see why Leo loves her. I also was able to singlehandedly win a game of mafia for the mafia team, even though I was a good guy. I’m quite impressed at how badly I screwed up. Sorry David and Nadia and others haha.

Anyways, happy Fourth of July and Happy Birthday Aditya. I’m pretty surprised you’ve made it to 19 years old considering the choices I see you often make. Just kidding. I hope you enjoyed your Durian cake (which was absolutely disgusting). Daniel out.



Yes, that is a princess cake


On the edge of a cliff


Eric fanning the sweat from our backs with his model plane