(Note: Cross Cultural Solutions is a Non-government agency that performs humanitarian work in foreign countries. ARMY ROTC Cadets were placed with several of CCSs programs to help with humanitarian efforts.)
The non-government agency we were volunteering with (Cross-Cultural Solutions) would pin up a sign-in roster on a tack board every weekend. On this sign-in roster would be a list of events to which they would take the volunteers in order to mingle with the locals. This helped us with our cultrual immersion. Out of initial excitement I signed myself up for every event listed for the week, including Friday morning at the City Park.
As I woke up Friday morning I felt tired and groggy from the lack of sleep the night before. There is so much excitement and nightlife in China that it’s impossible to get a decent night sleep if you intend on maximizing your experience. I rolled out of bed at 7:30 a.m. to the sound of my alarm and slowly walked to the roster to scratch my name off.
“What are you doing?” Makayla, the CCS staffer questioned.
“Going back to bed,” I replied.
“If your name is on the board for an event, too bad, your going to that event,” she directed me sternly.
Makayla was not an ordinarily pushy person. She was about 5’ 2”, 100 lbs, and had a very sweet personality. The truth is that she already reserved the van and was expecting that the only 5 who people to sign up for the trip to the park would actually go.
“Roger!” I exclaimed in a military fashion. I threw her a quick sarcastic salute and ran to throw some water on my face and prepare for a day at the park.
As I stepped out from the van at the City Park the first thing I noticed was a giant wall enclosing the area. I remember thinking how shady the whole thing looked that in the middle of such an industrial city there was an enclosed park. When we entered the walls my perception quickly changed. The park was gigantic, there where trees and paths and little ponds as far as the eye could see. Exercise equipment littered the park and locals mingled around waiting for their turns. There were copious badminton games and mini ping-pong tournaments being held. I came to the park to mingle with some locals so I decided to try challenging some people to a badminton match.
Back in high school I was quite good a badminton when we played it in gym class. I have always had good hand-eye coordination and a natural knack for sports. Here in China, badminton is a national pastime and the players take it very serious. In China, I found, I am a mediocre at best badminton player. I was able to keep up and hold my own with the locals but there is only so much you can do when they spike the birdie in your face – on to the next game!
The next game I joined in was very similar to a game of hacky-sack. The object was to kick the small toy with feathers attached and laden with mini weights up in the air so the other teammates can kick it and return it. This game I fared well at. Once again, I have good coordination and this game definitely called for it. The locals high-fived me and gave me plenty of thumbs-up and approving gestures that they were impressed with my sweet skills!
The interaction with the local Xi’an population made this day at the park a stand out in my trip and provided me with a fond memory that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.