I find myself sitting in a loud, crazy internet cafe writing today. I've been sick the first half of the day and spent a few hours just lounging around. After 4 days in Bengbu, I'm exhausted! I have to say that it is well worth it. Returning to Bengbu in many ways has been returning to where I needed to go. Yesterday I stood in my old teaching building lecturing to over 60 students about social enterprise. It was very exciting to see their responses and interest to the subject. I shared with them about my experiences with Acirfa and about how they might be able to apply such concepts to their professional life in China. I have been able to meet with members of my church this week, former students, and old school administrators/friends. Each time the response has been overwhelming: each person is pretty surprised at how far my Chinese has come. It's exciting to get to spend time with others and actually speak the language of their heart. The bottom line that I have learned is that without learning another's language, it is extremely difficult to ever really understand another's needs, their desires, and the role we should play in their growth.
After a great time in Shanghai I arrived to the coastal city of Ningbo. I'm traveling with Lu Zhao(Peter) and it has been so great to have an old friend to travel with. He is completely servant hearted and constantly helps me overcome all my cultural mishaps. Every interaction is so exciting and on the trains I get to practice my Chinese and am learning so much about recent changes here. I arrived to Ningbo and met my friend Yu Xing Ping(Michael). He is a young economics student who has recently become enthralled with the notion of finding a girlfriend. After much difficulty trying to divert his attention from noticing every girl that we walked past, I finally gave in later in the day when we met a girl he recently has had a crush on. I challenged him to ask her out and he did. Then I got him and all of his friends to arm wrestle in their dorm room at a birthday party later in the night to help him further affirm his masculinity. It's very interesting to observe the liberalization of my students who just a few years ago were so shy in social settings and were very quiet about discussing anything controversial. Big City living has made many of them more exposed to the world. Though I miss the nievity of their days in my class, it's exciting to see them critically thinking and to hear them discuss many challenging topics in the complex world that we live in. The next day another student named Xu Ye(Nikki) met with us and we walked around the city before leaving for Hangzhou. Nikki now works for a large company in after-sales service. She works very hard and lives in a work dormitory. She took leave from her job to spend the day with us and we went and ate at a small market and tried local specialties. The next day I went to Hangzhou. I met with three students besides Lu Zhao and we went out to a great meal. I stayed in a small hostel for $5 a night and then we got up in the morning and went to visit a local university. We ended up climbing a mountain behind the school and spending the afternoon in a teahouse.
My second day in China I started the adjusting process. Jetlag has been rough on me this week and at the end of most days I feel like I have been hit with a ton of bricks. I stayed with my friend Caleb who was a student of another ESEC teacher in Shanghai. He and I have stayed friends and he actually came to Monterey to visit me last year. Caleb recently got a new job and also moved into a new apartment. I stayed in his new apartment which was in a really interesting old area of Shanghai. I slept on the ground and his apartment was a tribute to old-school cultural revolution housing. There was paint peeling off the ceiling and it was a very old room. Although a bit rough around the edges, it taught me again that people are really the most important part of life. We shared some great stories and laughs and had a great time running and praying in the mornings. That night I met up with one of my Taiwanese students from a very long time ago. Her name is Ashley and she now works with a company in Shanghai. She lived in France for a while and loves the new post-modern art scene of Shanghai. We went and had a great vegetarian meal in the French Concession and shared old stories of our times back at APU working with the Chiao-Tai program. The next day I connected with to other students named Cherry(Zhou Chang e)and Peter (Lu Zhao). Cherry now works with a large German company. Having conversations with my students reminds me of what I am most passionate about while I remind them to pursue their passions.
Today was my first full day in Shanghai. After staying at my friend Caleb's home and quickly getting a cell phone provided by a Taiwanese friend who I have known for 10 years, I was contacted by almost 15 students to meet. One of my closest students, Lu Zhao, timed the quitting of his job around my trip so that he could travel with me for the next three weeks! It is incredible the things my students are doing. One girl, Maggie, works with a large German firm and has travelled to Germany with the company. Another, Tina, is attending one of the best graduate programs in China for economics. Frank, a guy who was never in my classes but who I used to teach English to, works with a large granite company and is a mid-level Chinese manager. Before he was a poor student from a very rural area who just wanted to study English. Another exciting interchange was with three of my students who recently quit their jobs. Actually, they quit their jobs to become entrepreneurs. The crazy thing was that they had actually developed their business idea while in my class 4 years ago. They had always dreamed of starting it up and now are pursuing their dreams. They have clients all over the world and they sell bamboo socks, underwear and bamboo ballet apparel. They told me that they think daily about everything they learned in our class and that it was actually the foundation for the business that they now run. I was completely in awe of the impact that has been made. That 96 students from a rural town in China are quickly becoming global leaders in international trade. By the way, the name of the CEO of the company is "Sparkle."