Every day in China is different, but the days all start and end the same way. Each day begins with a delicious traditional Chinese breakfast and ends in a fierce athletic battle to determine who cleans up meals the following day. Roughly around 8 am, we gather for breakfast. All the meals here are amazing. The food prepared for us is always diverse and nutritious. Over the course of a day, we come across baba (Tibetan bread), soups, 1000-year-old eggs, noodles, and different meats and vegetables. Day after day, the CERS staff (which stands for the China Exploration & Research Society – our host community partner) continually takes excellent care of our group. The facilities and accommodations have been great.
Until recently, we have been exploring the community surrounding Shangri-La in the mornings, but we now have moved into our “camp phase.” Every morning, we hold a camp for the local kids. The camp is supposed to start at 9 am, but we hear the kids’ running and laughter throughout the CERS Center as we eat at around 8:30. From then until noon, we run the camp with the kids. The main goal of the camp is to teach the children English, while having lots of fun along the way. Each day is a new topic: first was numbers, then colors, next body parts and so on. We usually begin by introducing ourselves and do the initial teaching of the information to the kids. Then we split up into smaller groups and play fun games to reinforce the material. Each camp day also has its fair share of sports. The kids seem to have a great passion for basketball, but we also play soccer, tag, sharks and minnows, red light green light, and driveway bowling.
After a fun yet tiring three hours of both teaching and learning with the kids, it is now time for lunch and a brief period of relaxation before our adventure time. We are so lucky to be in a very culturally rich city that holds so much history and variety. There are many different groups of people within a three-hour radius of us. Dr. Bill, a CERS resident who acts as our guide, told us that just simply crossing a river could result finding a completely different dialect and culture. Our time for exploration never gets old, as there are endless things to try and explore. One of the group’s favorite activities was when we explored the “old town” of Shangri-La. We got to roam the cobblestone streets, look at the old architecture, and take in the breathtaking view atop one of the six sacred mountains of old town. Most recently, we visited the top of another sacred mountain, the Shika Snow Mountain. We traveled via gondola up to the peak of over 14,500 feet. The views were breathtaking, but the hike around the top was made difficult by the ultra-thin air.
Then comes workout time. Two days a week, we go to a great gym in town to do more formal weightlifting. On other days, we have the opportunity to use the mountainous area to our advantage. Many of the ACE team members enjoy long runs along the Napahai Wetlands, while others enjoy hill sprints and hiking through the logging trails behind the CERS center. Being at altitude makes for a tough workout, and the occasional yak encounter always seems to spice up the exercise.
The evenings here seem to be very consistent. After a full dinner comes the coveted basketball game. While there may not be any varsity basketball players here in this area, the effort is unmatched. The long and challenging game to 15 usually ends with a close score. Postgame, everyone gets together for reflection time. Here, we take the time to get to know each other better, break down the new things we learn, and better frame our cultural understandings of this place. Following reflection, we spend an hour learning from Dr. Bill, who presents us with countless interesting films and talks about Tibetan Buddhism, people, culture, symbolism, and more.
The time is now around 9:30 pm. For most, it is time to wind down and play some cards together, but Noah and Matthias have to squeeze in their daily grudge match of ping pong. This high intensity battle determines who clears the table for the next day of meals. The series score is currently 3-3, as neither has been able to claim the upper-hand. The long day ends around 10 pm so that everyone gets enough sleep to conquer the next day. We are so lucky and grateful to be here, having this experience together. We cannot wait for what the next two weeks have in store. Stay tuned!