Vera Grace Menafee ’20 shares her experience reflecting on the midway point of the China trip and going to a special gathering with the Deerfield community, and Dr. Curtis, in Beijing.
With all the busy days we’ve been having, beauty sleep was calling our name. Other than the teachers who went downstairs for breakfast, everyone slept in until 10, 11, and even 5 minutes before we were called down to lunch at noon. We stayed in for the morning, tidying our rooms, throwing loads in the wash, and catching up on our trip journals. Before we knew it, everyone headed down for another meal. Today, a new dish sat in one of the metal pans: a crispy, golden crust wrapped around fluffy dough filled with red bean paste. Quite the treat coming from the cafeteria.
After lunch, the group gathered to reflect on our past ten days together. We congregated around the lobby staircase, sitting crisscross applesauce, staring up at the laoshis. They asked us about our stories so far in Beijing. It started off slowly, but soon we were on a roll, listening intently to our classmates’ recent memories and sharing our own experiences. Fernanda mentioned how she finally introduced herself to the old ladies we see every evening doing T’ai Chi around the corner from our dorms. After discovering they only spoke Chinese, we learned the women were not, in fact, doing T’ai Chi, but rather another form of the martial art for the elderly, and had been living here for forty years. They even invited us to come back and join them. Kat talked about meeting the eighth graders, allowing her to talk to someone in the area and chat with her on WeChat, the most common way to communicate in China. Even Mr. Armes made a new friend out on the basketball courts. The rest of the day was spent sitting in our rooms and journaling or talking with each other, laughing at the memories brought up moments ago.
The real party came around 5 when we all headed to the Hong Kong Jockey Club to meet alumni and Dr. Margarita Curtis for a small dinner. Immediately after walking in, I knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore. We were greeted by an expansive ceiling adorned by a shiny black and gold design and slick tile floors. Beyond the walls was their Spring Garden. Clear boxes of water sat above fresh grass, and were surrounded by trees and circular, stone corridors we could walk through.
After taking yet another group picture, we found ourselves sitting in thick leather chairs in the cool air conditioning and waiting for other guests to arrive and get the evening started. We ended up reading the latest issue of The Scroll until we were invited inside.
Moments after, Dr. Curtis arrived and greeted us with her signature smile, bringing us all a little piece of home. She was thrilled to hear about our Chinese speaking and the places we’d seen already. She even suggested we show off our “skills” during the dinner, but we all shuttered a bit at that, and immediately refused the proposition. We entered the dining room and spotted our name cards before approaching the assigned tables, and eventually roaming from them to talk with everyone and snack on peanuts and spicy crackers. I had endless orange juice all night.
Dr. Curtis clinked her glass, beckoning us back to our seats to allow for an alum, Oliver Barron ’03, to welcome everyone to the event. Dr. Curtis followed, eloquently speaking about the new facilities being built on campus and her appreciation for the students taking advantage of the Global Studies program. She mentioned her departure following the next school year, but said Deerfield will always have a place in her heart, and that once you’re a part of the Deerfield family, you’re always a part of the family.
Then, dinner was served. The meal was a total of nine courses, and I can definitely say more than half I’d never had before, let alone heard of, and barely even knew how to pronounce them. Dish after dish appeared before us, each more extravagant and exotic than the last. We started with pork, but soon things got more interesting, and I found myself trying a sea cucumber and something called an abalone. The dishes were getting more and more dicey, but I still tried just about everything. The whole group let out one huge sigh when we saw the fruit bowl at the end. Not only had the entire meal been a whirlwind of an adventure, but we hadn’t had any watermelon or oranges in the past ten days. A fruit platter never looked so good.
As the evening wrapped up, and the dishes had all been taken away, the mother of an alum, Jack Chen ’08, spoke a few words. She sincerely thanked Dr. Curtis for all her work, mentioning how only 3 or 4 Chinese students attended Deerfield before Dr. Curtis, and now the student population from China is around 25. She also spoke on her son’s behalf, touching on just how important Deerfield was – and still is – to him, and said “those were his happiest days.” She asked that we all sing the evensong, and everyone found it fitting after hearing her words. We wrapped our arms around each other and waved back and forth while the adults sang along, some recording the whole thing.
We said our goodbyes, and walked back to the bus, greeting our dedicated and funny tour guide, Tian laoshi. He never fails to spark my curiosity on our adventures and constantly helps me see Beijing through his eyes. Bellies full and eyes dreary, we watched the lamplights fade into the night on our drive back to Shiyan. Meeting with alums and seeing Dr. Curtis before her last year at the Academy reminded me of home and the family I have found in Deerfield. I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to bring a part of Deerfield with me in this completely new place and on my first journey out of the country. I look forward to all the memories and bonds I will continue to make.