Friday, August 21, 2015

A Return to Blogging ...

I am gearing up for another trip to Haiti. Last year I organized a group of 10 willing volunteers to go to Jacmel and spend a week doing pediatric general surgery. Over the next few months we are raising money and finishing the plans for our return in November. I will be posting blog posts about our Journey to Jacmel 2014 over the next few weeks. 

But for now, I wanted to introduce you to another project, and a bit of a collision of my worlds. I took a trip to China last year with an established volunteer surgical group (Children of China Pediatrics Foundation: CCPF). Many serendipitous forces conspired to make it possible, and fantastically rewarding. My father was the first "Welcome House" child in Pearl S. Buck's humanitarian project to help children of mixed race. China was Pearl S. Buck's home and heart. The CCPF was traveling to the area of China where Pearl spent her childhood and early married life. As my worlds collided, I was able to participate in a worthwhile mission and learn some valuable lessons about an important part of my family's history. I wrote this blog post for Pearl S. Buck International and encourage you to check out the link if you are further interested in the organization. I am working on returning to China again with CCPF and encourage you to check out their website too. And now .... A return to blogging. 

Surrounded by girls at the Chongshi Girls School, Zhenjiang, China

“If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” – Pearl S. Buck

It was a last minute trip – a chance email followed by a phone call and I was on my way to Nanjing, China. As a replacement for a surgical colleague who could not make the trip, I was going to Nanjing to work with the Children of China Pediatrics Foundation and to perform surgeries on orphans.

While I hurriedly prepared for the trip, my quick search of information on Nanjing turned up a mention of the Pearl S. Buck House at Nanjing University. As the first Welcome House child, my father, David Yoder, shares in the rich legacy of Pearl S. Buck’s humanitarian work. With help from Janet Mintzer and Pearl S. Buck International, I was able to arrange a visit to the house and the nearby Pearl S. Buck sites in Zhenjiang. Ultimately, these opportunities allowed me to better understand China of “yesterday” and helped me to make sense of China as I was experiencing it “today.”

I have had the privilege of travelling rather extensively and have spent time doing service work in places as diverse as Mongolia, Vietnam, Haiti, Bolivia and Tanzania. Despite my thick passport my initial experiences in China were intimidating. The airports were massive, the cities crowded.  Shiny modernity is pushed up against ancient sites of unfathomable age. With no talent for languages, eastern characters and sounds were lost to my understanding. Cultural sites of human dedication and persistence – the Great Wall, the Terracota Warriors – were perplexing in their massive scale and crude beauty. Of the places I have been, none seemed so different from the place I call home. China “today” is hard for me to understand.

As a fitting start, I toured Pearl’s house in Nanjing on the day of my arrival. Tucked in the University grounds, there are photographs and books displayed throughout the two story structure. It has beautiful windows which open out to the campus and let in the purposeful energy of the bustling students. There is a quiet in this place, a respite from the frenetic noise and clutter of the city and perhaps a recollection of a more simple “yesterday.”

The work of the Children of China Pediatrics Foundation took me inside two hospitals and an orphanage in Nanjing. I worked with other volunteer doctors and nurses and gave lectures to Chinese providers. We had banquets and parties and saw the great historical sites of Nanjing. Interwoven through these experiences was my growing understanding of Pearl Buck’s love of this country and especially these people.

Towards the end of the trip, I left my group in Nanjing and took a half-day trip to Zhenjiang. The modern efficiency of the bullet train beautifully contrasted with the historic home of Pearl S. Buck and the accompanying museum. Carefully curated the museum paints a vivid picture of Pearl Buck’s life in China and beyond.  I surprised the tour guide when I pointed out my dad (David Yoder) in one of the pictures of children from Welcome House. She was excited about the connection I had to Pearl S. Buck and more excited to hear my dad would be joining the PSBI cultural tour in September or 2015.

After a great visit at the house and museum, the highlight of my trip was the visit to the Chongshi Girls High School. Pearl S. Buck was a student at this school and later taught English on the campus. I it was here that I best understood Pearl’s passion and love for China and her people. My tour guides were two enthusiastic, curious, smart girls. Their beautiful English was punctuated with earnest teenage silliness. They showed me the cafeteria and the classrooms, the cool hang-out loft with beanbag chairs and pool tables. They were proud of the school museum and the areas for learning and practicing calligraphy, traditional dance, meditation and make-up application. I could have stayed there all day, soaking in their chatter about their studies and their plans for the future. Both girls were participating in upcoming trips to the United States – one with PSBI and one with a sister-city student exchange program - and they were both nervous yet excited about these far away adventures. This was the China of “today” that I could relate to and understand. This was the China that I am sure Pearl S. Buck loved – this hope, energy, enthusiasm, dedication and commitment – this “today” owns the beauty and passion of a more simple, but just as determined, “yesterday.”

China is still intimidating to me. Unlike our culture in so many ways, its rich ancient, history, it’s complex “yesterday” guides its modernizing “today.” Touching the parts of China’s past that captivated Pearl S. Buck helped to personalize my involvement in work in this country. Her love for the Chinese people, children and culture, so masterfully expressed in her writing, live on in Pearl S. Buck’s legacy in China and beyond. I am proud to have a connection to her story and hopeful that my work in China can, in some small way, honor her legacy.

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