After returning from Tibet, we looked forward to spending the week in Shanghai and taking a break from travel the following weekend. I have found that it is best to travel one week and then to stay local the next week in order to maintain some level of balance. We have also really enjoyed breathing normally in Shanghai again after living at such a high elevation while in Tibet last week.
This week was all about getting back into the rhythm of classes and enjoying spending time with friends on the weekend. We were really blessed to visit Mona (one of the staff members) in her home which is outside of the city. It was refreshing to be in someone's home, and Mona was so dear to make homemade dumplings and a very delicious lunch for us. I always tell Mona that she is my pretty and smart friend, so she wrote that I am hers in Chinese calligraphy for me.
Kendall (our RA) also helped us find "Charlie's," which is a burger joint in the Kerry Center. Sometimes a good 'ol American burger, fries, and milkshake is what a girl needs. Thank you, Kendall!
Monday, 10/22: Left Shanghai and headed to Xining
Tuesday, 10/23: Visited a mosque and monastery in Xining and then got on the train to Tibet
We left on Monday and took a plane to Xi'an, which took about 2.5 hours and then another flight to Xining. We spent one night in Xining and then visited a mosque and a monastery the next day before getting on a train for 21 hours heading toward Tibet. Yes. That was not a typo - 21 hours! My number one praise is that we have all acclimated to the altitude well. There are complaints of headaches and nausea but nothing major. We are at about 11,450 feet, and the highest point during our train ride was over 16,000 feet! I can feel my lungs working hard.
Tuesday, 10/23 - Wednesday, 10/24: Journey on the Train, Arriving in Lhasa
On the train, the staff reserved hard sleeper cars for us, which means that we all had a bed! This was wonderful. It was tight quarters with 6 beds to a room, but we made it work.
Once in Lhasa, we were super spoiled staying at the St. Regis. We were supposed to start our first night with a simple dinner at the hotel but about 15 plates came out! After dinner we went straight to bed to rest before a full day of sightseeing the next day.
Thursday, 10/25: Norbulingka Palace and Sera Monastery
Two comfortable buses along with English-speaking tour guides came to pick us up this morning. The staff have done an amazing job organizing the hotels, meals, and tours. Today we visited Norbulingka Palace, which was the summer palace for the 7th-14th Dalai Lamas. We also visited the Sera Monastery, one of the 3 famous Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Tibet. Over 90% of the people here are Tibetan Buddhists.
For dinner this evening, we had a traditional Tibetan meal, which consisted of a lot of yak dishes, and we enjoyed a show by some musicians and singers at the restaurant after dinner. For the last song, the performers invited us up and we all enjoyed dancing together.
Friday, 10/26: Potala Palace
Today we visited the Potala Palace which is where the 14th Dalai Lama resides before being exiled to India. The palace is at 13,000 feet so the altitude gain is challenging. Some websites say that it has 300-400 steps to climb to the top. The palace has over 1,000 rooms and we only saw 18% of them. Over 90% of the Tibetan people practice Tibetan Buddhism. The palace is filled with so many Buddha statues as well as lots of strong smells from incense burning and yak butter candles. Yes. That’s right. Yak butter. The city is filled with so many people all chanting and spinning prayer wheels and smoking or spitting 🙊
After the visit to the palace, we had another Tibetan meal at a local restaurant and then headed to an art school where underprivileged people come to learn a trade. They make Buddha sculptures from copper or other metals and also carve wooden art and paint tankas. The students drew a Buddha and stamped a Buddhist mantra. I learned that only 9 years of school are compulsory for young people in Tibet but only 60% of them attend because their families can not afford supplies. Before 1989, our tour guide said that school was all free but now families have to provide certain supplies.
I didn’t feel very well after all of our activities this afternoon so I came back to the hotel around 4pm while the others went to the marketplace to bargain for souvenirs. I think that the day and all the smells just wore on me and I needed rest. And my stomach is not happy for some reason - I think it’s from all the travel and eating out. Tibet is interesting but also challenging in many ways. I know that this is an unforgettable trip that many will never be able to experience. We are all grateful for the opportunity.
Saturday, 10/27: Yamdrok Lake Day
This was my favorite day in Tibet. Although the bus ride was long and windy, the destination was spectacular. It was so wonderful to be outdoors in the fresh air! It was also a treat to meet Tibetan mastiffs, hold a baby goat, and to sit on a Tibetan yak at stops along the way. When in Tibet...
At one point along the drive up to the mountain, the tour guide said that we should consider going to the bathroom outdoors since the bathrooms would not be as nice at our next stop. Wow! I did not take her up on that, but that gives you an idea of what the restrooms are like here. Most of them are squatties, and we need to bring our own toilet paper and antibacterial sanitizer or wipes. But this is just a small sacrifice that is quickly forgotten after seeing the beauty of Tibet and learning from its culture and people.
Sunday, 10/28: Long Day of Travel Back to Shanghai
We left the hotel in Lhasa by noon and returned back home to Shanghai at about 1am. It was a long journey home, and there is much to unpack from our suitcases and our hearts and minds. How blessed we were to be one of the few in this world who can say that they have visited Tibet! Thank you, Pepperdine!
My week started off a little challenging because I was not feeling well. I was frustrated by this because I had just gotten over the stomach flu from the other week. I am certain that the travel to Xi'an and all the poor air and constant smoke blown in my face from all the locals triggered my sinus congestion. After reaching out to friends for prayer and resting, I began to feel better as soon as Tuesday of this week. Praise God!
The students have been very stressed because midterms took place this week. I spent a lot of time meeting with them to encourage them and also to advise them with their academic plans as well. Many of them still have questions about their majors and their undergraduate pathways. I enjoy advising them and getting to know them all better during these appointments.
Besides getting through midterms, we are preparing for our upcoming EFT (educational field trip) to Tibet. Many of us watched "Seven Year in Tibet," and we have also received many orientations from the program staff about how to pack and knowledge about the culture and customs of the area. We are all concerned about elevation sickness but are also praying for our trip to run smoothly and safely. We leave on Monday, Oct. 22 and will return to Shanghai on the 29th.
Terra cotta soldiers: Imagine being the farm workers who were digging for a water well and uncovered the site where over 6,000 soldiers were discovered! Over 38 square miles of this historic monument have been excavated since 1974. The site is known as the 8th wonder of the world. It has been a dream of mine to see the terra cotta soldiers in person, so it was breathtaking to be in Xi'an to realize this dream.
Big Wild Goose Pagoda: We were fortunate to visit the Big Wild Goose Pagoda around noon and be present for the daily water fountain show. Beautiful!
The Ancient City Wall: Built in the 14th century and still truly impressive, the ancient city wall is an outstanding site to visit in the middle of the city.
The Associate Dean of International Programs, Dr. Ron Cox, visited the Shanghai Program this week. We enjoyed seeing a familiar face from home. He shared a devotional with us during Convo, and Richard and I were able to spend some time with him as well.
My days get filled very quickly and easily. Teaching, advising, grading, preparing for classes, spending time with students, preserving time for me and Richard, and then trying to stay connected with family and friends at home -- our days are full! We praise God for this wonderful opportunity and for days filled purpose and good work!
I am so impressed by the benefits of our Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card! I know that this will sound like a commercial, and trust me, Chase is not endorsing me in any way! But I just have to share with my family and friends how this credit card has really blessed us!
AIRPORT LOUNGE: On the way back from Hong Kong, we were able to wait in an airport lounge. It was beautiful! There were nice bathrooms, showers, charging stations at every seat, comfy chairs and tables! AMAZING! There was also a full buffet, hot entrees, delicious pastries, two espresso makers, endless drinks, even free beer (though I didn't have any)! This was all FREE! Part of our benefits as credit card holders. We could have also brought a couple of guests.
TRAVEL POINTS: We just booked a hotel in Thailand for a trip later on in the semester, and we were able to use some of the points we accrued from making travel purchases. Our hotel ended up being free too! A 5-star oceanfront hotel!
Aside from these recent benefits that we enjoyed, the credit card has also covered our TSA Pre-Check and reimbursed us for $300 worth of travel, which offset the enrollment fee. It also covered four meals at LAX before we left for Shanghai! We were able to treat two students to lunch in the terminal before getting on our plane. I think we had a $60-$80 credit at the restaurant in the terminal. So the benefits really pay off!
If you travel regularly, I highly recommend checking out this credit card.
Every Thursday from 10:30am-12pm, our group meets for Convocation ("Convo"), which is a weekly assembly. Our RA's lead the meeting with announcements, we typically have a speaker, and we end with "JIA-firmations," which is a sweet time to affirm someone in the program for something specific they have done.
This past Thursday was the first time that I spoke at Convo. I called out to all my prayer warriors to lift me up in prayer. I had so much that I wanted to say to the students, but I wanted it to STICK. I didn't just want to talk, talk, talk, talk, talk... AND, they had all just returned from our long travel weekend, so the likelihood of them falling asleep if I was not engaging was HIGH! :)
I focused my talk on 3 main points:
1) JUST DO YOU!
2) INVEST IN A MENTOR!
3) DON'T MISS THE RIPPLE EFFECT OF YOUR SHANGHAI EXPERIENCE!
1) JUST DO YOU: This is a message that has been heavy on my heart. I feel like we all tend to have some level of self-doubt. We ask ourselves if we are enough? Will I be good enough? Is someone better at us? Our insecurities tempt us to think less of ourselves…I am not tall enough, blond enough, pretty enough, rich enough…and my message to the students was: JUST DO YOU! YOU ARE ENOUGH. When I feel low and tempted to doubt myself, I reach out to my prayer warriors and ask them for encouragement. Recently, I did this and my dear friend Julia shared these CHRIST-breathed words with me:
“Stella - get behind my eyeballs for just a minute - and I see an astoundingly powerful person of humor, gentle wit, intellect and intuition sent to this earth in your small person. Such an amazing presence you are! Maybe God made you small because if you were big you'd be too intimidating So, as to thinking you are not enough (fill in the blank) just stop that nonsense! God made you perfectly and you are following and seeking him so that's the plan.” [THANK YOU, JULIA!]
I shared this with the students and then asked them to write in their journals about someone in the program. I asked them to start off with: “[NAME], get behind my eyeballs for just a minute…” and they shared what they see. They shared the entries with one another out loud. Tears flowed afterwards and the room was filled with love.
2) INVEST IN A MENTOR: I wanted to be sure to tell the students how valuable it is to intentionally invest in a person in your field of interest who you can learn from, who shares your values, and who can be your cheerleader and open opportunities for them. I encouraged them to think of this now – to email professors who they respect, meet with people in the industries that they are interested in pursuing, to invest in a mentor. Do it now. Not after you graduate. Do it in Shanghai. Do it after. Just do it.
3) DON’T MISS THE RIPPLE EFFECTS: The Shanghai experience will transform the students. No doubt. I encouraged them to consider the ripple effects of this experience. It’s not just one and done – they will be transformed intellectually, spiritually, socially, emotionally…in so many ways. Their actions and decisions made here will impact their futures. I shared this so that they are aware that this is a transformative experience.
After the talk, several students came up to me and asked to spend time with me and others texted me and shared that the message resonated with them. I was so grateful for that! I pray that God uses these words to teach them just one thing. Yes, I pray this is so.
NATIONAL HOLIDAY: October 1st was Chinese National Day, which gave us our first long travel break. In the European Pepperdine programs, the students do not have classes on Fridays. Therefore, they are able to travel more feasibly on the weekends. But here in China, we actually have classes scheduled on Fridays, and then we are given two longer travel breaks during the semester. China is so large that it's really hard to get very far on short weekends. The flights can be unpredictable as well. There is plenty to do and see locally, but if you want to get to places outside of China or far from Shanghai, it is best to save those trips for the longer travel breaks.
TRAVEL DESTINATIONS: On Friday, Sept. 28th, no classes were scheduled and classes did not resume until Thursday, Oct., 4th. Richard and I decided to travel to Hong Kong. We are on travel visas, which require us to get out of the country every 60 days. The students are on different visas, and so they are not allowed to travel out of the country yet. The majority of them opted to visit Yangshou, while a small group went to Beijing and Xi'an.
LEARNING TO TRAVEL: I LOVE researching travel spots -- hotels, restaurants, activities, etc.! But what I have learned is that doing this research takes A LOT of time. Finding the time to do this AND teach AND serve in my many roles as the faculty in residence is challenging. Thankfully Richard helps a lot in this area. He is great at being in charge of transportation and mapping -- how to get from the airport to a hotel, where the metro station is from our hotel, etc. I feel like every travel group would benefit from having a "Richard" in their group! :)
Students don't have as much experience doing this research. They are learning how to travel-- learning which flights to pick, learning which hotels to stay at, learning how to transport themselves from the airport to their destinations. They are also learning their limits. A majority of the house has become sick -- we have had cases of the cold/flu, stomach flu, and scrapes and gashes from different random accidents. The students clearly needed rest upon their return...only we had class! FUTURE FACULTY: If there is a travel break and you are teaching the next day, I HIGHLY recommend that you do something INTERACTIVE! Keep them moving and engaged, or they WILL fall asleep.