Big Trouble in Little China

Having travelled for the majority of day 5, day 6 had much in store to compensate for the lengthy trip. That being said, the bullet train that brought us from Beijing to Xi’an (a distance of over 570 miles) in under 6 hours was a novel experience. This transportation feat is a perfect exemplar of China’s superior transit infrastructure, as the United States does not offer a transportation service of comparable speed and convenience.

Leaving the hotel at 8 this morning, we made our way through Xi’an to the Children’s Sun village, a housing complex for children whose parents have been incarcerated. This village is only one establishment of a larger network composed of 9 facilities throughout China. The nonprofit, nongovernmental umbrella organization that manages these facilities was founded in 1996 by a female prison officer. Realizing that the children of some prisoners, who most likely already endured unfavorable living situations, were forced into even worse circumstance upon the detainment of their parents, this woman deployed a search party to find several of these children. They discovered that these kids were not only living in poverty but had guardians ill-suited for childcare or potentially no guardian at all. Personally, these appalling living conditions seemed surreal. The foster care resources in the United States would assure that situations such as these would not arise. However, the sheer size of China, in terms of both population and area, makes the implementation of these services much more difficult.

Early in the day, we were given a brief tour of the village including the living courters, dining hall, recreational facilities, classrooms, and health centers. During the tour we learned the daily life of the village residents. I found the most striking aspect of the children’s lifestyle to be the level of independence and self-sufficiency required by even pre-school age kids. Children as young as 7 years old are made to wash their clothes and clean their rooms with the guidance of a councilor figure. As the children age, they are expected to perform these same tasks without a councilor and consistently acquire new responsibilities such as cleaning the dining areas, helping with classroom preparation, and assisting younger children. These many obligations demand a more mature disposition and diverge from the care-free outlook expected of most children in the United States. Although the village simply cannot furnish the same luxuries of the typical child, it has proven to be an invaluable resource to many kids. Not only are these children provided a healthy living environment conducive to growth and wellbeing, but they are also granted educational guidance and opportunities that would otherwise be impossible. A total of more than 700 children have filtered through the village, many of which have taken advantage of these services to further their academic career and develop ever-lasting relationships.

We were introduced to a group of young children ages 6 to 9, gave a pitiful baby-shark performance, and then offered them Hershey’s chocolate. Later, we were brought to the recreation area to play basketball, soccer, and ping pong with some of the older children of the village. I was challenged by the camp’s best ping pong player who beat me handily 11 to 3! Afterwards, we ate lunch with the children in their dining hall and said our good-byes before departing for next excursion.

Later, we visited the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, a Buddhist structure constructed during the Tang dynasty more than 1300 years ago. This pagoda served as the tallest building in Xi’an until 1980. The remarkable height of this structure holds a particular meaning; it symbolically serves as a needle into the heavens. Buddhists believe in the idea of reincarnation, the rebirth of one’s soul into another natural entity. This notion lies in tandem with the concept of karma, which states that suffering and virtuousness in one life ensures prosperity in the next. As compared to the %14 percent of Chinese citizens that adhere to Buddhism, less than %1 of the U.S. population subscribes to this religion. Therefore, these principles may seem backwards or mystical. As we approached the pagoda, we passed several buildings containing gold-colored statues of Buddhist figures in front of which many people prayed. Given some time to explore the pagoda, we were later ushered into a nearby building to learn about Chinese calligraphy. I found this short seminar very interesting, as Chinese written language is hieroglyphical rather than phonetic like the English language. Certain stroke combinations produce a symbolic meaning, many of which are derived from shorthand pictures of objects.

Although we left the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda for the hotel, our day was not yet finished. In the evening, we walked to what’s known as the Muslim Quarter of Xi’an. This area encapsulates the typical expectations of the Chinese atmosphere. We struggled to stay together as a group while pushing through shoulder to shoulder crowds. Motorbikes would shoot through the crowd, that would either part or stubbornly refuse to make way. Neon lights illuminated the customary Chinese residences that housed souvenir shops and eateries. Street vendors fried octopus, spider, or scorpion which were skewered and sold to long lines of people. This was certainly the most unfamiliar and perplexing experience during the trip and epitomized the idea of culture shock.

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