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The International Writers Magazine: Hacktreks
“The seatbelt sign is now turned off; feel free to move about the cabin.”

View from the Clouds
• Blair Biersbach
The ever jubilant, Mickey Mouse, a neon green leaf and a misspelled quote from “The Sound of Music” stared up at me from my dirty, worn out journal. This small book was my first purchase on Chinese soil, and despite its chuckle provoking cover, at that moment, it was the most important thing in the world to me.


It held and protected my experiences, fears, hopes, new friendships, and moments of inspiration. I clung to it like a mother to her baby, hoping that I would never forget the way I felt the past seven weeks. As a thin, Jennifer Aniston like flight attendant went through the aisles offering complimentary soda and pretzels, I knew it was time to look out my window, and say my goodbyes to China. The scenery appeared the same as it did when we first landed in Beijing, but everything else seemed different. 

In an attempt to control my discomfort, I carefully opened my beloved journal like I had each night in China. I flipped and skimmed through its pages, remembering trekking up the Great Wall, talking with new friends in hostel lobbies, the frustration of Mandarin classes, and the excitement of kung fu lessons at the mystical Shao Lin Temple. I stumbled upon one of my favorite entries, and I let myself fall back into the emotions of that day.


'My eyes fluttered open, and I rapidly felt aware of the dry dirt covering every inch of my perspiring body. The six hour rutted trek up the mountains in the unforgiving van left me with the taste of dust and a lousy attitude. I reluctantly forced my exhausted frame out of the van, missing the luxuries of an American road trip. We were at our first village overnight stay in the mountains of the Gansu Province, and we would be teaching English, delivering supplies, and painting classrooms. The view of the Qilian Mountains from the Taoshui village was breathtaking, but I was jetlagged, hungry, and still felt lonely among the twenty-five volunteers from all over the globe.

While walking silently, feeling sorry for myself and wondering if I was really strong enough to be on this adventure, I began to hear an unfamiliar musical arrangement. I looked up, and in the distance I could make out the smiling faces of children proudly welcoming us to their village with a song and dance.  Swiftly and carefully, each dancer adorned in vibrant fabrics, moved in unison to the unique, beautiful rhythm of the village band. While clapping and cheering, I snapped out of my sullen mindset.

After the performance, the students eagerly grabbed our hands and gave us a tour of their gorgeous school which had recently been constructed by another group of Free the Children volunteers. In a village where most families earn on average eighty US dollars per year, this new school brought hope to the entire community. 

For lunch and dinner we ate an unrecognizable yet delicious assortment of colorful vegetables and meat. We learned an innovative custom which involved eating atop one’s bed with a wooden plank centered upon it.  Whenever we needed to use the facilities, we had two options which included a tiled hole that lay adjacent to the chicken coop, or two shaky logs from which you never dared look down from.

bonfire While setting up our sleeping bags on the dusty floor of the classroom, a horde of little hands grabbed ours and led us outside where we discovered a humongous bonfire reaching towards the sky. All seven-hundred villagers danced and sang around the flames in their most spectacular costumes. Tears of joy surprised me as they fell down my face. I was frozen. The children, still holding our hands, looked up at us bewildered by our expressions. Trying to make us feel comfortable, they led us through some of the easier dance moves and laughed as we made silly attempts to mimic their striking style of movement.

Mothers handed their babies over to me to dance with them; young girls hugged me and looked at me with a sense of solidarity.

Wholeness and understanding spread to every inch of my sixteen year old body.  I was dirtier, sweatier, and more exhausted than I had ever been, but I was undoubtedly happier as well. I knew in that moment that there was more to life than my suburban existence. These people were barely getting by, yet they welcomed us into their community with open arms.  Dancing around a bonfire in the rural mountains of China was not something I pictured myself doing, yet I felt at home.'

“Would you like anything to drink, miss?”
“Jennifer Aniston,” had reached our aisle. The English pierced my ears. I shook my head, forcing a smile.

I closed my journal and gazed back out the airplane window. Guilt came over me. I felt guilty about the meal my mother would have at home waiting for me, guilty about the oversized house I was about to return to, and guilty about the presents I would be getting for my birthday the following month. I knew that there was no way I could push my experiences to the back of my mind in order to cope with these uncomfortable feelings because doing this would mean denying and destroying the connections I made these past seven weeks. It would mean looking down on them like I looked down on the distant cities below the clouds with unfamiliarity and apathy.

The truth was that even though I do not know every person hidden below the blue and white billows, we are all connected. My friends in China enlightened me in so many ways, and at that moment I promised myself that whether I return to China or not, I would forever utilize my resources and new outlook on the world to create positive change.

 As I gazed out the oval window, a sea of blue and white billows created complete stillness, quiet and peace over the complex world below.  Leaving my experiences and reflections safely protected in the journal’s binding may have felt comforting, but it would also be selfish.  It was my responsibility to share this journey with as many individuals as possible, hoping that they too may learn to view the world and global neighbors in this new and beautiful light.

© B.B May 2012

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