3/3 The Views Make Up for the Flight Delays

Looking back on my two months in Asia, I had many incredible experiences and learned a few lessons along the way thanks in part to my first year at Davidson College. One of my goals for this trip was to improve my fluency and confidence in speaking Chinese. What began with me hesitating when trying to speak Chinese during daily conversations such as ordering lunch and buying a train ticket quickly turned into me being able to hold conversations I never imagined possible. Long flights to destinations that I did not know existed before arriving in China often turned into Chinese practice sessions. Whether the passenger seated next to me was a schoolgirl from Chongqing, or three teachers from Mongolia headed to Guilin, or a flight attendant on a Cathay Dragon flight departing Hong Kong, I found myself delighting in the shocked expressions of people throughout China who were excited to learn about who I was and what had brought me to China, while I was able to learn about their life and our cultural differences in return.

 

Caroline, Alex, and I at the top of Elephant Hill in Guilin, China.

 

More than practicing my Chinese, this ability, along with an East Asian History class I took my freshman year at Davidson, landed my friends and I in situations and places that were as incredible as they were, for lack of a better word, quite sketchy. My friends and I were wandering through the city of Guilin one night trying to enter a park when a simple “hello” on the street turned into a man telling me that he wanted to show us a temple that was a twenty-minute walk from where we were. While we followed him through a run-down, dimly lit alley alongside Guilin’s Karst Hills, I was feeling considerably uncomfortable as this man did not speak any English and I was not sure if I was even correctly understanding where he was taking us. After walking in near silence for a while, we came across this beautifully detailed and elaborate Buddhist temple nestled into a cave. From what I could understand, the man explained to the monks that we were foreigners and simply wanted to take a look around the inside of the temple. We were shocked when the monks allowed us to enter the temple since only a few weeks earlier, we were denied access to a temple in Beijing (the monks believed we were Christians and therefore said we could not enter). For some reason, the monks allowed us to enter this temple, walk around and take pictures, which I am grateful for as I have not been able to find any trace of this temple existing in Guilin anywhere online. I was able to understand from our new friend that the temple was built about 300 years ago during the Qing Dynasty after connecting the dots between the word “Qing” because of learning about it in my East Asian history class and the Chinese word for dynasty, which I did not previously know.