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Wednesday, March 2, 2011


February 28. Ben, Jade, Erik, David, and I were the only ones on the bus. As I looked around, I felt that half of me was missing. Not wanting to talk to anyone, I plugged in my headphones and stared out the window. Looking back, it seems unreal. I said “see you later” to Jade and Ben (who was staying another 2 weeks in Fiji). I don’t remember much of getting to the plane after that. Whether from exhaustion or depression, I couldn’t tell. Maybe it was a combination of both.
My first flight was to Hong Kong and the plane was packed accordingly. I felt more foreign than any other time and knew this next month would be nothing but that feeling. Even in Fiji there were people who spoke English and shared most of our customs. I was thrown into a dizzying culture shock. I stumbled over to my seat. When I sat down, the person next to me (who was of Asian descent) stared at me. He didn’t stop staring for at least 5 minutes. I wanted to confront him. I wasn’t in the mood. Then I remembered something that Erik had said about their customs. “Staring isn’t offensive in China and because you’re a foreigner, you’ll get it a lot.” I bit back my retort and stared resolutely ahead of me. I just put in my headphones and closed my eyes. I felt an overwhelming sense of exhaustion, and the grief was nearly as bad. Not wanting to feel anything, I fell asleep.
I woke up when someone poked me asking if I wanted lunch. I refused the food, although I hadn’t eaten anything in about 12 hours. I don’t think my stomach could have handled it. The person next to me had left his seat and had joined his friends who were watching the inflight movie. I stretched out, with my back against the window. I reflected on the past month. I didn’t think about what we had done, I didn’t want to relive anything of February, but I thought about how it affected me.
In high school I was slightly self-conscious and didn’t fit the day to day life. The continued monotony was draining me of who I was. I was never me during those years. I was always trying to please people’s opinions of me. Now I am myself. For one of the first times I feel completely comfortable in my shoes. My confidence surpasses even my fears, because I haven’t felt any fear since I jumped the Nevis. It’s not a cocky confidence, but one that I can use to make the best of the moments around me and make the most of the time I have. I was sometimes afraid to be criticized for some actions that I did, while I was at home that is. Now I know that those who criticize you aren’t worth a single glance. I was glad to be mature, immature, or just whatever whenever I wanted. I also know how I’m a stubborn guy, sticking to what I believe is right, and how sometimes I have to work hard at some things, whether it’s jumping off the Nevis or being thrown into a group of 11 strangers, but I know that it’s even harder to make me give up. I’ve also realized that family is one of the most important aspects of life. Whether it’s the family you develop within the span of a month or the family you have back home, they’re all vital. My brother is someone who I used to take for granted and get in constant fights with, but now, more than anyone, I wish he was here to experience all this with me, not only as my brother, but as a best friend.
Coming out of my reverie I saw that the next meal had started. I hadn’t realized how long I had been sitting there. Maybe I had even fallen asleep. I was slightly hungrier and wearily took my food. I don’t usually eat the airplane food, but it felt good to feel something other than pressure in my stomach.
About an hour later, the plane had landed. We had about 3 hours until our flight to Kunming so I Skyped my family back home, wanting to feel some connection to someone I knew. It made the next 3 hours a bit easier. David and Erik were with me, but out of all the people on the last trip I had gotten to know them the least. Then the flight to Kunming was upon me and it was just David and I (Erik couldn’t get a flight until the next day).
A tidal wave of realization hit me as I was walking with David. It was just us 2 now. I did have my cousin coming in the next 2 days, but I couldn’t even fathom that fact until I actually saw her. I laughed falsely at any jokes he threw out, but inside I was far from laughing. I didn’t say much during the flight or through customs. I think David knew what was going through my head and I think much of the same thing was going through his. He didn’t talk about much, except joke occasionally, and I was grateful for it. After customs we set our stuff down and sat for a long time, waiting for our pickup.
 Finally, Leung came to pick us up. He was a welcome change to the atmosphere. Leung is a 26 year old, small, Cambodian man. He has a great attitude to life and rarely stops smiling. He knows 5 languages (French, Cambodian, Chinese, English, and Cantonese) and is a master of Kong Fu. He led us out apologizing furiously for being late, telling us how much traffic there had been. We got out to the street, and not until then did I realize that it was nighttime. It took about an hour to grab a taxi outside the airport. None of us were aggressive enough to step in front of a person who had stolen the taxi we had just waved down. When we finally got one, we drove 2 hours to the hotel. The city was so chaotic. Mopeds zipped wherever they wanted, car lanes were strictly disregarded, and people ran across the street without warning. I was surprised to see plenty of locals driving brand new Bentleys and Mercedes. From all that I had learned about a communist country, there should be an even distribution of wealth, but that clearly did not exist here. The language barrier was another huge shock. Everything was in Mandarin, and, to me, that looked as welcome as graffiti.
 In the dead of night, we arrived at the hotel and checked in. Without elevators, we climbed 6 flights of stairs with our luggage and came to the room. I threw my luggage down and launched myself into the bed. Bad idea. The Chinese like hard, stiff beds that resemble the comfort of a wooden floor. The crash shook the room and smashed my chest with plenty of force. In order to make for a more comforting sleep, I took as many blankets as I could find and made a makeshift mattress. David didn’t seem to care about the bed and fell asleep immediately. After I was thoroughly satisfied with my bedding, I lay down and slept peacefully.
Sorry about the delay in all the posts. It was hard to find time to blog in the last few days when all I wanted to do was spend time with my group. Here in China, there is internet everywhere, but I wasn’t able to blog until I bought a VPN in order to access my blog sight, which is blocked here. Thanks for the patience. Look out tomorrow morning, because I will be fully up to date by then.

The End of the Beginning

February 27. I didn’t even realize it was the last day until Erik had mentioned it. I wish he hadn’t. I became subdued when I remembered that this month must come to an end. Yet again, I had to fight the gloom and make the most of this last day. Most of the group woke up much later than usual, most not even caring weather it was breakfast or not. Some people were in random hammocks and others were in different beds, while the rest had either been led to their beds or had miraculously found their own way. Nobody really cared what we did today, so most of us packed our things, checked out of the room, and laid on the beach while we waited for the boat to bring us back. Personally, I read in the shade of a palm tree, still exhausted from the night before, and laughed with everyone else about last night.  A few people went kayaking, but since I had drained my cash and didn’t feel up to ANY physical activity, I didn’t join them.
                The boat came at 3pm, yet I, at least, was hoping for it to have crashed on the way. The trip back to the eco lodge went by in a blur. I don’t remember much. I mainly talked in order to get my mind off of the rapidly approaching next day. As we pulled into the eco lodge, I wondered vaguely where the day had gone.
                The eco lodge overlooks a soccer field, where a game was being played when we arrived. Brian, Steren, Ben, Andrew, Claire, Olivia, and I joined in on the game. I hadn’t played a game of soccer since freshman year of high school, yet I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. All the Fijian players were as well built as any Fijian and their skill at soccer matched their physique. Brian and Claire were assigned to one team, while the rest of us were assigned to the other. Then the game started… if you could call it a real game of soccer. There was little coordination between sides and Fijian players often expectantly switched sides. I still don’t understand the reasoning behind it, but it effectively made the game confusing. I played midfield, or at least I would say I did, because players frequently switched not only sides, but positions. The locals kicked the ball with deliberate force in any direction, thus I took a few punts to the chest, though not as many as Andrew. He took around 5, but never faltered in his game. The only thing I can compare him to is a brick wall. Everybody played to their best efforts and I have to give some props to Steren, who played goalie. I’m not sure if he played soccer in high school, but he was a fearless keeper. I don’t know who won and I don’t think I cared, but it was exactly what I needed to raise my spirits.
                We had dinner afterwards. It was nothing special, yet it was no less delicious. Oro and the others at the eco lodge provided us with a goodbye kava ceremony. I couldn’t be rude and not take a last bowl of kava. So I grit my teeth and drank down my last bowl of dirt water, hopefully forever. The rest of the night was spent talking, and most of us talked late into the night. Claire didn’t have to leave the next day, but the day after. Understandably she didn’t want to wake up at 5am to say goodbye to those of us who were leaving at that time. I said “see you later” and hugged quickly. It’s a lot easier to say “see you later” than it is to say “goodbye.” The rest of us didn’t get to sleep until 3am. I only got an hour of sleep before being woken up by Erik. At that moment I hated everything about him.
                I quickly threw everything together and said “see you later” to Steren and Andrew who were still half asleep. I put my stuff on the bus in a hazy state, still exhausted from almost no sleep. Ariana, Brian, and Olivia got up to see us off and I had to put on another false smile. Oro and the rest of the staff were up as well and I said my farewells to them. I think I’ll miss Oro the most out of the house staff. Good thing I got his Facebook. And then all too soon, I was off.

Relax and Party

February 26. None of us were ready to wake early this morning. Most of us were tired from the events of last night, but breakfast was at 8am. Although they call this place Beach Comber Resort, it isn’t the typical American resort that most would think of. It’s more of a hostel setting, with strangers sleeping in rooms with other strangers and bathrooms being shared. Yet, since our 14 bed room consisted only of our group, we never had to share a bathroom with anyone. The one difference between hostels and this “resort” is that that they make a surprising effort with the food here. It’s all scrumptious. Omelets, pancakes, bacon, sausages, cassava (which Fiji seems very fond of) and fruit were on the breakfast menu today. After we were full to bursting, we were ready to chill on the beach until noon. The beach was too hot for me and a few other guys so we spent our time in the water, throwing the Frisbee and snorkeling just off the break. Being close to the water with a perfect temperature and great climate is causing me to crave some surfing. If only this beach had a decent break, I would never want to leave.
We planned to go catamaran sailing today, but the wind was nonexistent. Most of the fun activities that are advertised here require some wind to have fun with. There’s parasailing, regular sailing, and windsurfing (which I would love to have tried) and they are all incredibly cheap. The only ones left for us were jet skiing or diving. Both were somewhat out of my price range (jet skiing was $280 for an hour and diving was $200 for a two tank dive) so we contented ourselves with some president, the only thing in the world that makes me outwardly display anger, and B.S. After a couple hours of both, I became bored and left for a nap in the shade. Even in the shade the temperature beats down on your body until you are forced to accept defeat and retreat to your bed.
After an hour of a choppy nap I came back to find the group at the bar. I joined them and found they were recounting the hilarious and embarrassing events of the past month. We spent a good hour before dinner continuously laughing until my throat, stomach, and head were throbbing with pain. It was strange, however, to talk about the past month. It finally made me realize that this trip was coming to an end. I fought back my sadness. I’ll feel that on a later date.
Dinner was the same as last night and happy hour started at 6pm. I watched as the group became wilder with their actions and I was soon forced to act as ridiculous as them. The live band brought out a few fun elimination games tonight. The first dance consisted of Ben, Steren, and I. We had to stop dancing when the music stopped playing. Simple, right? We were eliminated in the first round. With Steren’s infectious upbeat attitude combined with both Ben and Steren’s alcohol influenced actions, I couldn’t stop moving. The second dance comprised of Jade, Andrew, Ben, Brian, Steren, and I. The band would play music and when they stopped playing they would yell out a number. Everybody had to latch onto one another in order to make a group that consisted of that number of people. It was chaos as we shoved and pushed for our partners and, consequentially, there was plenty of face planting and close lining. Surprisingly, I placed third in this competition. It was a fun night, even if it ended in Olivia and I escorting a few people home.

Beach Comber

                February 25. We were all excited to go to Beach Comber Island today. Its diameter is approximately a quarter of a mile, so it’s a tiny island resort. We packed only our backpacks for 2 nights and 3 days. It took about an hour of driving and an hour of boating to get to the island. It was even smaller than I perceived it to be. We pulled up right onto the white beach and jumped from the boat, eager to explore the layout of the beach. The entrance to the resort was 20 feet from the beach and opened into a bar on the left and the dining room on the right. We checked into our room, which thankfully had exactly 14 beds so we didn’t need to share with anyone, and walked over to the notice board to plan out our day’s events. At 2pm there was a free 45 minute snorkel that Caitie, Steran, Andrew, Jade, Ben, and I signed up for and until then we ate lunch in the dining hall. There are 3 free meals a day here and all are buffet style. Consequentially, there was a huge line consisting of all 50 tourists on the island. The meal entailed pita bread, rice, beef curry, pineapple, and cassava (a root that resembled and tasted like a potato). At 2pm we rented masks, snorkels and fins and headed out to the reef with 20 other snorkelers.
                The reef was beautiful with grey, crumbled live rock and an abundance of fire and brain coral. There were many tiny fish with exotic features and colors. Bright blue starfish littered the sea floor and you occasionally caught sight of a moray eel peering curiously at you as you swam by. The reef was about 7 feet from the surface of the water, but after the edge it became somewhere closer to 25 feet. We could swim to the bottom to see stingrays and larger fish, but trying to hold your breath combined with constantly equalizing the pressure made it a cumbersome dive. We collected plenty of unique shells in our allotted time, but all too soon we were called back to the boat to go home.
                By 3pm it was too late to do much except lay on the beach and wait for dinner to start. The surrounding beach is different in certain areas, which surprised me because it’s probably only a half a mile stretch at the most. Some parts are gorgeously clean with white sand and no rocks, but others are filled with live rock, which tries to murder your feet as you stride on them. There is also a distinct smell of seaweed constantly being wafted into our room. It is also dangerously hot as well. I’ve had to reapply sunscreen twice already in the past 4 hours. You glisten with sweat in your first 30 minutes of lying there and you’re drenched after another hour. The beach is not meant for human habitation from 11am-2pm.
                Dinner consisted of fish, cassava, and salad. I have recently taken a liking to the fish here, which is surprisingly because I rarely eat fish at home. Dinner was followed by the Bula and a limbo, which I lost miserably. The nightlife here is fantastic and energetic. It is really hard to find time to blog here because there is no internet and I want to make sure I make the most of the last days I have with this fantastic group. I doubt I’ll be able to post the next few days until I get to China. I want to make the most of time I have with my group. I sincerely apologize for making you all wait on these posts, but for those of you who can spare about 30 minutes to catch up on the last few days, you can be sure of some great days ahead.