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Yang-Yang Dispatch

The World Trek in China Begins!
June 28, 2000

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What exactly does it mean to be Chinese?
Even as I sit here writing my first dispatch, I still can't believe that all of this is really happening. Here I am, having finally arrived in China, typing away on my laptop, writing for all of you out there - the thousands of curious, smart, and interested students and teachers in classrooms all over the world. My name is Yang-Yang (pronouced "Young-Young") and I am the newest, and perhaps the last member to join the awesome, World Trek team.

I can still remember when I first discovered the Odyssey's World Trek website six months ago. I couldn't believe that something this wonderful existed. I kept blinking my eyes and poking myself to find out if I was dreaming. I felt so excited just reading everything online, marveling at the site's colorful and animated pages filled with exotic stories from travels in over four continents. I remember being fascinated by all the cool things that the trekkers had done, like Abeja living in a tree, Andrew riding a motorcycle from London to Morocco, Monica working with Braille music and my laughter at the virtual cartoons of all the team members posted on the site. I tried to imagine what my face would look like attached to one of those cartoon bodies and decided that I would look pretty silly, just like the rest of them.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would be lucky enough to join this team in their amazing journey across Asia, to experience, document, and photograph the many cultures and places we will all be learning about together. Well, my dream has become a reality and I am so happy and excited to be here!


fantastical - unbelievable, not real or seemingly not real, exceedingly great
populous - densely populated, having a large population
unintelligible - not capable of being understood
dialects - a regional variety of language
succession - the order in which one person after another follows or succeeds to a property, title or throne
imperial - or relating to an empire or emperor

My first stop along the World Trek was a visit to our home base office in San Francisco, where I spent a few days getting to know Karina, Genesis, and our organization's founder, Jeff. These three, hard-core members of the Odyssey family are "the regulars" in our office. They are the people who manage all the details and make sure that what I am typing into this laptop right now, eventually makes it up onto the website for all of you to read. It was very inspiring to meet these three as well as all the other committed volunteers who are involved in the many stages needed to make the World Trek a reality. If you're ever in the San Francisco area, stop by our office and say hello.

From San Francisco, I took off on a plane headed for China, where the mystery and adventures would soon begin. I was feeling pretty nervous as I arrived in a new country by myself but I was excited to meet the other trekkers - Abeja, Jasmine, and Kavitha. I had no idea what they would be like. Sure, I had read all about them and had been following their trek on the website, but it's a totally different thing to meet someone in person. Some of their stories of traveling through South America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia were so fantastical that I sometimes wondered whether these trekkers were real people! For example, the five-day bus ride from Bolivia to Buenos Aries, Abeja falling in love in Peru, being without electricity in Mali, the women keeping their heads covered all through Iran, and each trekker going his/her own way in India for six weeks. Often I thought to myself, "How could anyone, even an Odyssey trekker, have gone through so much and still have time at the end of the day to write about it???"

I was especially curious to meet Kavitha and Abeja. It just blew my mind to think that they had been on the road trekking and writing for over 17 months straight. You would think that after nearly a year and half of constantly being on the move, never being in the same place for more than a few days at a time, never sleeping in their own beds, always hearing foreign languages and trying different foods, having to constantly deal with challenging new situations, that they would the grumpiest, dirtiest, and most worn-out bunch. But no way, not these Odyssey World Trek travelers! When I greeted them in the Kunming airport, I met three very cheerful, pretty, enthusiastic, warm-hearted, and all around, very real trekkers. I am so proud to be joining this dynamic team as we all trek through China to discover this country's many sights, smells, tastes, and sounds, and try to bring it to life for you.

What is a Dynasty?

A dynasty is defined as a succession of rulers coming from the same line of descent, or of the same family or lineage. Typically, a dynasty is a powerful group or family that maintains its position of power for a considerable about of time. The earliest recorded dynasty, called the Xia Dynasty, dates all the way back to 2200 BC. Not much is known about this period of Chinese history except that it was the time when the imperial, dynastic system of government began in China. The well-known Chinese philosopher, Confucius (551 - 479 BC), lived during the later part of the Chou Dynasty.

The most glorious time in Chinese history occurred during the Tang Dynasty, when China's major cities served as important trading centers to many foreign nations and the Emperor's court attracted many talented scholars and artists. Dynastic rule finally ended in 1911 with the collapse of the Qing Dynasty and was replaced by the Provisional Republican Government of China, set up by Sun Yatsen and his supporters.

Why China? When many foreigners think of China, they usually think of yellow-skinned people with chubby cheeks and buck teeth eating fortune cookies and feeding bamboo to a panda bear. When textbooks talk about China, they usually mention something about China being THE most populous country in the world, with over 1.2 billion people. One of the most recent population counts, as of July 1999, estimates China's population at 1,246,871,951 people living within her borders and calling this country their home. With an area of 9.5 million square kilometers (5.9 million square miles), it's a good thing China is the world's fourth largest country because she needs an awful lot of space to house all those people! (China is the third-largest country, after Russia and Canada.)

The textbooks often also mention something about China's immensely long and rich history, which spans a period of almost 5000 years and consists of many different dynasties. Can you even imagine what it must mean and feel like to be 5000 years old? I'm only 21 years old and I already feel like I've been through a lot. China, on the other hand, has been busy inventing, building, exploring, warring, philosophizing, revolutionizing, and evolving for 5000 years. And, after all these years, she isn't showing any signs of old age or weariness yet. In fact, she's still kicking it strong on many fronts - trying to create better standards of living for the Chinese people and trying to gain a more respectable name for herself in international circles.

So what exactly does it mean to be Chinese? Does it really mean that we all have little eyes, buck teeth, and pet pandas? There may be some truth in these stereotypes (I did, after all, wear braces for three years) but I think being "Chinese" is about something more complicated and far deeper. With about 1.5 billion "Chinese" people inhabiting the Earth, there are bound to be some things we share in common and other qualities which set us apart from one another.

To Learn More About...

The demographics of China, and any other country of interest.

History of China, including a list of her dynasties

Perhaps the common quality is that we all look alike with our round faces and black hair, but then, some people are tall and skinny while others are short and chubby. Most of us have straight hair but a few have curly hair. Even our skin color can vary in shades from light to dark. We do share a common history, yet there are now people of Chinese descent living all over the world. Perhaps it's our common language, then, which defines our collective identity. But, even this isn't true because the Chinese language actually consists of two styles of writing; simplified characters are used on the mainland while traditional characters are used in Hong Kong and Taiwan (and that doesn't even include Mongolian or Tibetan.) And then, even though the official dialect of China is Mandarin, there are hundreds of different, mutually unintelligible spoken dialects.

I am excited to explore this country and to find out more about what it really means to be Chinese. I can't wait to meet the people who live in China's different regions and to find out what is distinct about their local cultures. Also, I am eager to learn what it is they think about the rest of the world. So what are we waiting for? Let's begin our journey together!


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Jasmine - The World Trek Is Bringing It Home...Kunming, China Kicks Off The Grand Finale!
Monica's Farewell: Trekking Out of India
Abeja - Confucius Says: Welcome to China
Kavitha - Buddhism? Here? Visiting the Yuantong Temple
Team - Dragon's Bones or Really Old Teeth? The Peking Man Site
Team - Making a Difference - Do As I Say, Not As I Do, And No, You Can't Have Any of My Weapons: Getting MAD About Nuclear Proliferation

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