Care, Care & Pandas in China by Channing Chi
I live in Colorado and am a junior in high school. Volunteering in China was definitely one of the best opportunities I’ve ever had. I have been to China before; my family is from Jinan, Shangdong; however, being placed in Chengdu was a completely different world to me: a different dialect that I couldn’t understand, a different environment that I didn’t know, and different people that I had never met before.
My Care placement
In my first week, I helped at a facility that helped autistic children. This was the completely different environment to me. From my experiences in the US, I expected this place to be a pleasant, clean and safe environment; however, turning into an alleyway for the first time, I knew it was going to be a wild ride. I had to walk about around six or seven flights of stairs just to get to the location, which was quite shocking to me considering the fact that these are children who have a disability. However, these children were all so happy and so knowledgeable, something I completely did not expect.
All of the children were doing certain exercises in order to help with their body strength and knowledge. All of the staff there were extremely helpful despite the language barrier, pointing to certain places in order to let us know where they wanted us to help. I helped the children do certain activities that they enjoyed and activities that were a daily routine such as squats or jumping on the trampoline.
One child in particular cracked all of us up. He would run up to us and say a bunch of gibberish and run away. One of the other volunteers began to copy him, and we were all so amused by this exchange. I did this for a week; each day helping out in a different way whether it was crafting for the children, helping the children do exercises, or learning with the children. By the end of the week, it was quite an emotional departure as I had just begun to understand how to help these children and becoming attached to them. In fact, one of my biggest regrets was not helping out more in the beginning of the week due to my shy nature. However, I still get to “see” them as I am still in contact with some of the staff. It’s quite amazing to see how much progress each of the kids has made and to know that I contributed to their life in a very small way.
We helped farmer’s children one of the days in the first week by doing a scavenger hunt with them. The children were extremely upbeat and lively. We went to a rural area with a street full of different shops and restaurants to show to us the culture of Chengdu. While there, we had a really spicy noodle (which wasn’t that spicy, but I only had one strand of noodle!), a red bean sugar-filled bun, and we made our own crafts using clay. Chengdu’s weather is scorching hot. I was literally sweating buckets while there and had to beg the staff to stay in an air-conditioned store. In the end, though, I survived and had a great time not only helping children but also learning a bunch about Chengdu’s culture.
Working with pandas
The second week was the week all of us were looking forward to: the pandas! We had to travel by bus to a different city on the outskirts of Chengdu, Dujiangyan. However, our first barrier occurred when we walked into our hotel for the first time. Looking at the bedroom, it was quite normal; however, as soon as one walked into the bathroom, there was the issue: a squat toilet. Somehow, we all managed to survive through the squat toilets!
The first day we were going to the Panda Base, I got up bright and early because I was so excited. Going in, we got a tour of the place first so we would know the place better, and then it was time for the dirty work. We were first assigned to clean the panda’s cages. They are a mess. There were bamboo shoots, ice water, and their excrements everywhere in the cage, and they have their cages cleaned out about twice a day! It’s incredible! We also got to feed them; however, we were told to be careful because pandas are still bears and in the end, so we couldn’t pet them. Feeding them was the cutest thing ever! They would bite using their back molars and could eat carrots, apple and panda cake (which is basically just bread with a bunch of sugar in it).
At the end of the week, with enough persuasion, the panda care takers allowed us to pet them a bit. Surprisingly, pandas are not soft and fluffy at all. Their fur is really spiky and quite thick, but at least now I can say that I've petted a panda! The panda staff was definitely really friendly throughout the week being really lenient on taking breaks and seeing pandas at the base. The staff knew English really well and could carry out a conversation without any hassle, which is definitely a huge help.
The counsellors that went with us to the different places were some of the best people I’ve ever met. They were all so friendly and helpful. They were basically parents spoiling all of us. They would buy us food, give us water, and take us to different attractions in Chengdu, such as the Wide and Narrow Alley, a Chinese opera, a water park in a mall, etc. They were extremely lenient on the activities as well. If we were tired one day, they would cancel that day’s activities and let us stay in our rooms and just relax. They would accommodate to our needs accordingly, which is one of the most helpful things especially being from in a different country and all.
Leaving Chengdu was extremely emotional. Not only was the city beautiful and vibrant, the friends I made in Chengdu made the experience just that much better. Reflecting back on it now, I had a blast going to China. I’ve made new friends with not only people in China, but also people from England, Canada, Netherlands and different parts of the United States. We are all still in close contact with each other and know ourselves as the Chengdu family.
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