ZhuoYoe English College is a generous and hospitable host, maybe too much so since the volunteer rooms have been completely full since I have arrived. The school was kind enough to put me up in the home of a staff member with an elderly Chinese couple for the first few days. I'm glad I had the experience of living with a Chinese family, but the language barrier was insurmountable and it is nice to now be living with the rest of the volunteers. Most living/working experiences are made either enjoyable or miserable by other people, and living in Yangshuo is no exception - thankfully I am surrounded by some seriously cool, interesting, and nice people from all over the world. I've hardly had a chance to rest, much less blog, email or contact anyone, since arriving because there is always a group going biking, climbing, swimming or hiking. It is a nice feeling to be perpetually busy while simultaneously having almost no responsibility. Luckily most of these activities that fill my days are cheap, or in the case of swimming and hiking, free. This is exactly what I wanted after a month of living in a crowded and dirty city doing a computer-based project; I finally have unlimited access to fresh air and outdoor activities.
The actual “work” that I do in order to earn my free food and room is actually one of the most interesting parts of my day. The role of volunteers is to engage the Chinese students in “Social Class” - which is just conversation practice - for two hours a day, four days a week. In a town with so many travelers (Yangshuo attracts a lot of backpackers) it is really nice to have the opportunity to converse with Chinese people, especially since the students at the school come from different generations, regions, and ethnic groups. Each table of two volunteers and four or five students is given a general topic and discussion questions, all of which are promptly ignored in favor or more interesting conversations about pop culture, dating, and personal histories. Conversation tends to flow more naturally thanks to the Chinese students' eagerness to practice English and learn about Western culture.
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It's been a few days since I wrote the paragraphs above, and the pace hasn't let up yet. Today I am sequestering myself inside my room to give my body a break from the non-stop activity during the day and the nightly trips to the local watering hole. Yesterday I took a long but fun day-trip to the Li Jiang rice terraces about 100 km from Yangshuo with three awesome traveling companions. Two of our group – Natasia and True – stayed the night on the terraces while Bartosh and I made a feeble attempt at hitchhiking back, and then decided to take the easy route and hopped on buses. Although most of the day was spent on tiny Chinese buses, we were rewarded with some amazing scenery which is the result of thousands of years of back-breaking labor. Check out these pictures and my other Yangshuo photos to get an idea of what I've been trying to put into words.
I have two weeks left here, so I'm going to try to rock-climb a few more times and maybe pick up some broken Chinese. Then, after our second epic (three and a half month) separation, Jess and I will reunite in Kunming – this time for good. After that, who knows. We will eventually make it to Beijing and then head West to Xinjiang and Kyrgyzstan, but for now it is one day at a time.