This past Saturday, the foreign teachers set off for Mr. Dai’s hometown, Wangcun (a 2 hour drive from Jishou). We were told that we would spend the day hiking, but details of the trip were unclear. It was only while we were eating lunch that Mr. Dai mentioned the hike would be “a little bit dangerous” and would involve waterfalls and “metal chains…”
At that point, everyone who was thinking of bringing a camera on the hike (myself included) visibly cringed. I wasn’t sure how I would be able to handle grappling metal chains (??) while ensuring that my beloved Canon came out unscathed. Everyone was given the opportunity to leave all valuables behind — but, once at the hotel, Tony convinced me that I would certainly regret leaving my camera, and that I should definitely bring it. A tad skeptical, I gave in, praying that my precious DSLR would not meet an untimely death.
The nerves really started to kick in when we arrived at the hike’s starting point; Mr. Dai had not been kidding about the metal chains, although perhaps “metal ropes” is a more apt description. We saw a promotional poster of people holding onto the ropes, which had been fixed into the rocks, as they scaled the mountainside on what appeared to be steel platforms. To my horror, these steel platforms appeared to be suspended several meters above a river/body of water. Key word here: suspended. I happen to be terrified of heights. I think Cameron must have seen my face when I saw the promotional poster, for he murmured something about there being no pressure to go through with the hike. I will admit that for a split second I was rather tempted to find a way out; but, as with several things that I have encountered on this trip, deep down I knew that I had to pull a Nike and “just do it.”
Despite my initial qualms, the hike turned out to be one of the most amazing I’ve ever experienced. It was 2 hours long, and felt just like an adventure theme park ride. Grasping onto the ropes was a lot of fun, especially because — my fear of heights aside - I enjoy climbing. The scenery was breathtaking; we slid along mossy rock walls, over and under waterfalls, all the while looking down at green-blue water. The real challenge came when we had to first climb up a ladder, then scale the wall of an open cave. I happened to be the first of the SoS-ers to tackle this portion of the hike. My heart pounding, my palms sweaty, “oh-my-God”-ing with Jessica saying “You can do it!” right behind me, I somehow made my way up the ladder and slowly clambered along the cave wall without disrupting the peace of the rock-pool far below. After that stretch was over, I felt the biggest adrenaline rush I’ve felt in a long time — my hands were shaking, and I was overwhelmed with an immense feeling of accomplishment.
I realize that I feel the same adrenaline rush each time I step into the classroom and say, “Good morning everyone!” We are now in the third week of class, and I have seen so many improvements in the students’ homework assignments, participation, and overall attitude towards learning English. The more quiet students seem to have blossomed, and the other Unicorn teachers and I have noticed that they are definitely opening up. It’s hard to believe that we have a mere 10 days of teaching left — I feel as if we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of what these students are capable of.
I have pushed myself to do things I’d never dreamed of doing before coming to China, and have found myself loving things that may have frightened or disgusted me a month or so ago. I know that, just as I overcame my fear of heights, our students are constantly pushing themselves to improve their English, overcoming difficulties that I am learning about day by day. I hope that my students will soon feel the same rush, the same feeling of accomplishment that I experienced on my Wangcun hike.
Most importantly, I hope that they enjoy the view from the top.