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Ask any middle schooler about what kind of music they like to listen to, and <<See You Again>> by Wiz Kalifa ft. Charlie Pruth will most certainly make it into the conversation. It’s from the movie The Fast and Furious 7, which seems to have been very popular here. Figuring out the origins of this obsession took a bit of unearthing in the beginning. There are various ways that students translate this back from it’s Chinese name to it’s English one, the cutest of which we’ve heard collectively is the title of my post: Speed and Passion.

It’s become a sort of inside joke for our Duke Engage group, but I guess now you are in on it too. Welcome! These words are helping me organize my thoughts and process recent events.

1. We’ve covered a lot of ground in these past two weeks– a special education school, a vocational high school, Jilin University, gardens in Zhongshan. This week we’re traveling in Yunnan to visit Kunming, Dali, and Xizhou. In every place we’ve been we’ve had the opportunity to meet lovely people. We’ve made lots of new friends. It’s unclear if they will turn into friendships, or just become good memories.

Winnie and Mia are majors in Tourism Management at Jiling University in Zhuhai.

2. I think of my host sister and all of the ways that she is so grown up. It’s partially a result of having to rise to meet the pressures of life defining standardized testing at such an early age. While we wash dishes and hang laundry together my host mother often sighs, “It’s not because of me that I have to push her. It’s because of this society that I have to push her.” My host sister doesn’t have the same life pressures that her mother had growing up, but my host mother does want her to keep climbing. “I want her culture to be better than mine,” she explained to me as we toke the longer route home on our walk back from the hair salon.

In Chinese class, we learned a word for climbing to enter the middle class. It’s the same character used for climbing to get on a bus.

3. Ruben is a boy in my host sister’s home room– sweet, very smart, and slightly addicted to Minecraft. I remembered that he helped us in our first scavenger hunt activity (from blog post 1), so I was very excited to sit with him on the bus on our way to the gardens in Zhongshan on Saturday. Our mission for the day became looking for the stone sheep he showed me on Baidu maps (basically the same as its Google counterpoint). As we scoured the grounds, he talked to me about the other types of plants and statues we ran into. We concluded that while many animals are seen as auspicious symbols in Chinese folklore, if you ran into a lion on your way home from school, this would not necessarily make you a lucky person.

Ruben posing on the side.

1. I didn’t think myself a very unlucky person when I hurt my ankle a couple of weeks ago after running. I thought it was just something minor, so I kept walking on it as usual. Last week the hurt persisted and started to get more serious, so I started to reconsider. No one has time for a swollen ankle at Duke Engage Zhuhai! I finally told my host parents about it. They scolded me, like caring parents, all the way to the Chinese doctor’s office. Dr. Shen’s establishment takes up three front rooms of what seems to be his home in a old and well-worn apartment complex covered in the shade of willowy trees and clotheslines. Inside is dim and humidly filled with the smell of crushed herbs and medicine. I limped my way over to an open seat in the corner. The doctor brought me old pictures and newspaper articles. He is over 80 years old but he buzzes around, tending to the full room of patients. He pulled out a fountain pen and wrote down 6 bits of poems for me to take home as a gift. I wonder if he knows that the whole experience had been such a gift all on its own.
2. My host mother’s oldest sister came down from their hometown in Fosan with her husband, 15 year old, and new infant son. Saturday night we had a picnic on the beach. On Sunday, we had breakfast and toured Dongmen together. Even though everyone is so busy working, or raising children, or being children, I love that they all make time to be together.

The family at Dongmen

3. Back to Ruben. When we boarded the bus again, he pulled out his notebook. “What day is it?” he asked. “I think it’s Saturday,” I replied. I thought to myself, ‘How can it already be Saturday?’ Ruben interrupted, “Help me remember. What did we do first?” We reviewed our garden adventure: We crossed the bridge, we fed the fish, we bought a drink, you explained the qilin statue, we met that man who told us where to find the sheep, we saw your last name on the wall…

The last thing Ruben wanted to do in the gardens was to stop, make a wish, and hang it on the tree at the front gate.

I’m aware that our time in China is drawing to a close, and I’m happy that we are making such efficient use of our time. As much as I want to be able to remember and feel something again, I know I can’t catch all of these experiences to keep like souvenirs on a trinket shelf. Speed is valuable and there is beauty in the necessity of ephemerality. When we shake things out a few years from now, what will be left? It’s not time to worry about that yet.