Friday, June 17, 2011

Yali Middle School presents...

The Lion King, finally on Youtube!!

Part I:

Part II:

Monday, May 30, 2011

Avatar's Floating Mountains, but really.

As some of you may know, the floating mountains in Cameron's Avatar were actually inspired by a series of rock formations in the northwestern region of the Hunan province. Since I am living in Hunan, I have no real excuse for not seeing these wonders.

Well, no excuse needed!

This past weekend, I woke up before sunrise and jumped on a bus towards Zhangjiajie, home to these rock mountains.

Immediately after stepping off the bus, I realized that a hundred thousand Chinese tourists had the same idea as mine on the same day. The buzz from all the tourists and their tour guides, yakking away on their loudspeakers, was more than enough to make one want to turn around and go back home.

Thankfully, a Zhangjiajie native told me of a trail that few tourists frequent. (When I asked a park employee exact directions to said trail, she was incredulous that I would want to go there, since "tourists don't usually go there.") Half an hour after setting out, the buzzing faded away, the people shrank into ants before disappearing completely. Soon enough, my friend and I were alone in the woods, quietly skipping up the neatly arranged stone steps (China doesn't do natural dirt trails), pausing to see the occasional caterpillar forming its cocoon, or to stare back at a monkey looking curiously at us.

Unbelievable sights greeted us at every twist and turn, at every parting of trees and shrubs. These mountains towered over me like old, silent sages from the past, knobby and bent-over, sagging and whispering through the winds their collective wisdom. If only I could decipher their words...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Lion King - A Yali Musical

Since November, the fellows at Yali and I have been working at putting together a major English musical here starring the kids. Auditions, choreography, blocking, music rehearsals, costumes, set, props, mics, run-throughs after run-throughs, advertisements, ticket sales, and much more--I never really knew how much work and thought has to be put in before something of the like could be put on!

Rafiki, getting ready to open the show.

Anyway, after months and months of tedious preparation and of wrangling the kiddies to come on time to rehearsals (or just to show up), the curtains opened last Thursday to great fanfare. Rafiki belted out "Circle of Life" and the animals of the savannah chanted beautifully behind her (okay okay, so they were a little off key). The show was under way.

Auntie Scar in "Be Prepared!"

Admittedly, both shows had some problems. The music in the first show did not play correctly, and the second show was cursed with mics fading in and out. However, the kiddies responded unflinchingly--they continued to sing their hearts out, listening for signals in the songs to find their places, and when mics failed to work, they just amplified and projected their voices. In the end, these issues were... non-issues.

"Hakuna Matata"

The two performances, I hope, will be remembered for the energy, excitement, and flair that each actor and actress brought in, for the impeccable English by the students with speaking roles, and just as importantly as the former two, for the unique and quirky qualities they gave their characters. Without exaggeration or biase, I have to say that our Auntie Scar's performance was Tony-worthy. Okay, maybe some biase, but she really did bring the house down.

The audience--consisting of school officials, teachers, friends of the fellows, other Yale-China fellows, and the students' classmates, and random local townies--seemed to love it, and glowing reviews poured in almost immediately. My favorite compliment? Best Yali student performance of the year. Not that it was a competition or something, but... yes.

"Can You Feel the Love Tonight"

"This looks familiar... Oh yes, this is how Mufasa looked before I killed him."

A video will (hopefully) be uploaded onto Facebook in the near future!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Seven Days in Korea

Striking a thinking pose at Beomosa Temple, Busan.

It is my last evening in South Korea; I fly out of Seoul tomorrow at 12pm sharp. I will be leaving behind bulgogi, bibimbap, pajeon, and multi-flavored ice cream sandwiched by freshly-made waffles. I will be leaving behind blue skies (though the Koreans keep complaining of the yellow sand blowing from China), the ubiquity of password-free wireless networks, and smartly dressed young men and women. I will be leaving behind the society that gave the world the likes of Taeyang, Girls Generation, and melodramatic Korean dramas.
Traditional Korean song, dance, and drum


Upon arrival, I met up with a friend who I had gotten to know in Singapore. Because my iPhone app sorely miscalculated how long it would take for me to get from the airport to downtown Seoul, I was more than an hour late meeting her. With no means of letting her know that I was running really late, I was surprised to find her still waiting patiently at our meeting point. We ended up having a great time going through the Gyeongbokgung Palace, Itaewon district and, a few days later, the beach city Busan.

The kindness shown to me that day continued. I dropped into a random bakery to grab a quick snack on my way to my Couchsurfing host's apartment. After getting your run-of-the-mill butter roll, I asked for a coffee from the older woman working behind the counter. She then refused my payment. Her husband later came over to chat, and as I headed out, he grabbed a bag, tossed a bunch of pastries and bread into the bag, and insisted I take it along with me for the road. For free. Incredible generosity.

I found Seoul to be a fascinating city, but I did not want to stay there for the entire trip. So, on Day 3, I boarded a bus to a sleepy seaside town called Sokcho (in South Korea, you can literally get from any point to any other point in less than six hours). Why Sokcho? It was at the base of Seorksan National Park, a favorite of the Koreans and known for its massive rock formations. The legend behind the formative rock formations is quite beautiful. Simply, an enormous rock answering the Creator's call to create the world's most beautiful mountain arrived too late to be incorporated into the great mountain. However, on its way home, the rock fell in love with the beauty of Seoraksan and decided to stay there. Tear.
Ulsanbawi Rock at Seoraksan

At the peak of Ulsanbawai, I was disappointed to find heavy fog everywhere, minimizing visibility. I sat down on the rock and, thinking that I had the rock all to myself, opened a bag of the airline peanuts. However, I was mistaken. In fact, I was with three of the world's friendliest chipmunks. Observe:

My visit to South Korea was packed with trips to temples and shrines, bumping through bustling shopping districts, and stuffing myself with some of the most mouth-watering dishes. However, in the end, it is the friendliness of the people and of the culture (and of the little animals, hehe...) that I will remember most fondly.

And off I go, back to China.

A few more pictures:
Temples across Korea hang lanterns in preparation for Buddha's birthday.More lanternsTakoyaki - a Japanese snack I found on the streets of Busan. Delicious.
Waited 30 minutes to get my hands on one of these--multi-flavored ice cream sandwiched by freshly made waffles. Worth every minute of the wait.