A plan. My experiences over the last few weeks have highlighted the similarities between traveling and teaching. It all started with a desire to escape the constant business that naturally occurs in a city of 10.6 billion people. The noise, the traffic, the unsettled feeling of always being on the move. Despite being a beautiful place to live and study, Xi’an is only a tiny part of the Chinese landscape. Over the first four weeks, it became clear that I had to experience what rural China was like, or I would forever regret not taking the opportunity to. Thus, trip planning began, and my excitement grew. However, the only week we would be available to travel, also happened to be the Chinese National Week of Holiday. This meant many millions of Chinese citizens would also be moving across the country, causing many unexpected challenges to emerge. Regardless of all the hurdles, after many late-night planning sessions and time spent endlessly refreshing pages to check for updated train and bus availability, we formulated a plan. We were set to leave with only a few gaps in transport to address in each city.
The day came, we were up before the sun, eager to hit the road. The experience started smoother then we anticipated, we caught a cab without hassle despite the language barrier and time of day, we passed through security with only minimal lineups and the high-speed train was spacious and comfortable. Traveling at 250km an hour, 4 hours later, we arrived in Chengdu, and we were able to navigate our way to our connecting bus with ample time. This was when our plan started to change little by little. Our 4-hour bus ride ended up being 8 hours along a bumpy, and at times highly dangerous road, due to the traffic, but we arrived at the hostel with only a few sore stomachs. The next day we explored Kangding, a stunning mountain town that rivals the sites of Jasper and Banff in Canada. After lunch, we decided to try to hike up a hill to find a monastery, with no guidance, or points of reference in the fog and tree cover, we missed our mark by a longshot and ended up summiting the entire mountain. At the top, we found a beautiful Buddhist village. It was indeed one of those “steal your breath away” unexpected travel moments! The next day, we were off to visit a town even further into the Tibetan prefecture of Ganzi, there was only one problem, we did not have a ride, and all the buses were sold out. “Not to worry!” we were told by the locals, we could always hire a car to take us. After 2 hours of waiting, attempting to find a driver, we met some very friendly Chinese university students heading in our direction. They helped arrange transport and we were off! Little did we know, that the one-hour drive would become a night spent in subzero temperatures stuck on a mountain sleeping in a car, as firefighters, police officers, and military personnel worked through the night to rescue us and many thousands of others from the mountain, due to an unseasonally tremendous amount of snowfall and freezing rain. We arrived safely back in Kangding the next day, thanks to their hard work, courage, and dedication. Our new friends engaged us in conversation late into the night. They kept our spirits high with traditional songs and our bodies warm by loaning us their sleeping bags (Thanks Jane, Richard, and Bella!).
All and all, in both teaching and travel, having a plan is important, but always remaining adaptable in dynamic situations and remembering to reach out for help when you need it, is critical to being successful in your endeavors!