Saturday was slightly different than the other days we have spent in China so far, but no less enjoyable. This morning we took the bus outside the city and into the mountains. Along the way, we saw dozens of stands selling fresh cherries from the surrounding orchards, and the air at seemed a little clearer. I could understand why, as our tour guide told us, that a lot of residents travel here over the weekend. When we arrived at the unassuming property, we entered through a gate into an extremely busy courtyard. A representative from the NGO we were visiting met us there and showed us around. The Children’s Village was an initiative started in 1996 by a former police officer to help the children whose parents had been incarcerated. We learned that they were funded privately through donations, and that they were currently taking care of over 500 children from around the country. We saw the children’s living quarters, where 16 kids (aged 3-20) were assigned a single “mother” that cared for them. We finally met with the kids after the tour, and the first thing that struck me was how boring it must be for them to parade around for strangers every weekend. I hope we made their day a little bit more fun by playing sports with them. I enjoyed kicking a soccer ball around with a couple of kids that were maybe middle school age. We shared lunch in their cafeteria as well, which was an eye-opening experience (the bowl of rice was in stark contrast to the morning buffet option).
The afternoon was interesting as well, as we were transported to the Wild Goose Pagoda, which is a functional Buddhist temple. Although most of China’s population is not religious, there is a widespread belief that paying homage here is good luck, and we ourselves rubbed the laughing Buddha’s belly in hopes of good fortune. We also were able to spend a fortune on fancy calligraphy artwork (which cost the artist only some paper and about 60 seconds). I was able to save a ton of money however by eating at a Muslim Street Hotpot (It cost 10 Yuan which is less than $1.50!). Just walking around the street at night was an amazing experience and one of the highlights of the trip.