Just finished our Week Without Walls trip with this year’s 7th grade students…WHAT A GREAT WEEK! Our days were long but full of good, fun and new experiences.
Day 1 was taken up by an 8 hour bus journey that quickly turned into 10 because of morning traffic in Shenzhen. Luckily, once we found our way out of the city it was a scenic and gorgeous countryside view for the rest of the journey towards Yangshuo. After arriving at 18:00, our bodies were stiff and our stomaches were growling. A little walk later we came close to West Street and ate as a large group, sharing laughs, food and an anticipation for the rest of the week to come. The room was buzzing with energy -- this was going to be a great week!
Day 2 started off with our students getting their blood flowing with some Tai Chi in the morning. Some of them thought of Tai Chi as a slow moving dance that the older generations did in order to stay in shape. Little did they know it was a disciplined form of martial arts; the SWEAT was dripping off of them!
The afternoon kicked off with the middle schoolers organizing themselves for a bit of a camping expedition. After packing a large bag in preparation for a week of activities, they needed to reduce their possessions down to one small backpack: they were going to be hiking in AND out of the campsite over the next 24 hours with it. Some of them didn’t get the hint and had a more difficult (or heavier) walk than others. One of my more favorite quotes was from @NathanLill1, “You pack it, you rack it.” The kids thought he was joking... ha!
After arriving at the campsite the students had some down-time to get acquainted with the surroundings. This time was quickly filled with a game called “Ninja.” Anywhere from two to ten people stand in a circle and take turns trying to hit the other participants below the elbow with only ONE quick strike. If you were being ‘attacked’ you were allowed only ONE move to avoid the attack. I highlight ONE, because of the repeated times they complained, “Mr. K you can’t just keep moving!!” ...my bad. After I decimated each of my challengers (though, not really), it was time to set up tents for the night.
Observing the tent-setting could have been a favorite highlight of my trip. Even though some students had done it last year, you could tell they had forgotten how! I had to get my camera out and become a ‘close-up’ sniper, taking surreptitious shots of the lost expressions on their faces. They were priceless; it was almost as if we had asked them to figure out them most challenging algorithm known to man. Actually to be fair, some of the kids would probably have enjoyed that much more.
Several “China-style” BBQs were set up and small groups huddled around them making sure that their meat was cooked just right. The vegetables were left on the table. No falls, burns or miscellaneous fires to report; everyone was fed. [Editor’s Note: I am sure you can imagine a hoard of 8 middle schoolers trying to use and open flame to cook the only food they were going to get that night. ]
We finished up the night with a couple of night games and the third annual EPIC chicken feet eating contest. The ‘Hermanator’ ran away from his competitors. Raw video footage has been taken and the movie will be on YouTube soon enough. I don’t even want to ruin it with any more words!
After “sleeping” in the outdoors our Day 3 started off with a trip to the MUD CAVES. Sixty minutes upon entering the caves using a very old metal boat tugged forward by the driver using a rope, THE KIDS GOT INTO THE MUD! (I used that term “kids” loosely; among the students were teachers as well. No matter who nor how old you are, when mud is involved, EVERYONE becomes a kid at heart. It took us almost an hour to get ourselves “clean” afterwards by swimming in the still water pool at the entrance. Clean may not be the best term here, but it describes the state of being, at least, less muddied.
Mr. Lill gave explicit directions to the kids when he boarded the bus: “we have 20 minutes until we get to the rock climbing site. Maybe it would be a good time for a nap?” Thanks to the power of his suggestion, I was also able to get 19 minutes of much needed shut-eye (as did ALL of the students). After being woken by the jerking halt of the bus wheels, middle schoolers spilled off the bus looking with NO energy or will to go climbing.
If it wasn’t for our AWESOME guides pushing our kids towards “Swiss Cheese Mountain,” I don’t know if anyone (other than Alli) would have been into climbing that day. The Aussie guide named Loki got it all started, jumping right in and explaining what was going to happen. There was to be no excuses, no whining, no questions.
I have never seen such a great climbing result from first time climbers! I am getting the chills just writing this. I saw students bang into jagged rocks, fall from failure to hold on and come to the bottom in full-on muscle convulsion (the kind you get when you spent ALL your energy) AND NOT ONE DID GIVE UP! I was sitting at the base of the cliff face snapping as many photos as possible. I felt like a proud papa in that moment. There was the constant shouting of encouragement, congratulations and the excited sort of energy that you can only feel at the base of a wall. It was just amazing. To end it, Alli hit the highest point on the mountain possible as her 7th grade cohort watched in awe from afar.
Let’s just say that curfew was not a problem for our kids on this third night, that was for sure.
No Tai Chi on the fourth morning, just food and a short trip to get our bicycles. Going through Yangshuo on a bicycle is a “must-do”, if you every visit this place. Too much scenery and brilliance would be missed if you only got around in a vehicle. It doesn’t hurt to get some great physical activity and fresh air, as well. Some students had to work harder than others; there were a few spills off a bumpy trail amongst the field plots, some bloody scrapes and a couple of broken bikes by the time we ended our 10K journey at a “mom and pop” farm for lunch.
THIS IS WHERE IT HAPPENED. This is where I have had the most organic, savory meal of my entire life! The tastes were unreal! Everything we ate was harvested and picked, quite literally, minutes before we arrived. The vegetables were “so fresh and so clean, clean!” The meal was prepared by the ma and pa farmers themselves and the scenery through the open windows was something out of a novel. Rice paddies, orchards and crops grew next to the elevated lookout room we all ate in. My goodness, it was just a treat!
After food, we got the digestive juices flowing by getting onto our feet. 800+ steps later, we found ourselves above Yangshuo cradled by Moon Hill. This would be our last panoramic view on this trip, a trip that saw it’s difficulties, successes and most importantly: growth. 2013‘s Week Without Walls is about giving students something they don’t normally get; it’s about pushing boundaries, creating bonds and experiencing something new! This year’s grade 7 WWW trip did it all and then some!
Thanks our awesome 7th Grade team that could make it happen and Mulan and her crew for guiding us!
Simply put, this trip was BOSS!