When I signed up for this blog post it was before our trip to Hong Kong and China. I knew I would want to write about and share our experiences, but I had no idea what it would be about. On the plane ride back to Sydney, I thought more about the trip; what was the highlight and what should I write about?
I could write about starting FTC in Hong Kong and how excited everyone was. How they couldn’t ask enough questions and the eager, almost hungry, look in their eyes as we talked about FTC.
I could write about the FRC competition. About the ability to show FRC off at the largest robotics event in Chinese history. An event sanctioned by President Xi and attended by Vice Premier Liu Yandong (the 3rd most powerful person in China)
I could tell the funny stories of trying to get batteries through Chinese security (does anyone know how to say “nickel metal hydride” in Mandarin?) or of celebrating team members’ birthdays at every possible moment (How much long-noodle soup can a person eat in a week?)
And then it hit me, the part of the trip that I needed to write about was our last leg to the Fujian province. See, I’ve always loved underdog stories and as a result my favorite FIRST teams are the ones no one ever hears about. I love the rural and remote teams, the ones who reach the forgotten children of the world. And the Fujian province is part of forgotten China.
The Fujian province is the closest to Taiwan, right on the coast and fairly far south. When we first arrived, we breathed deeply enjoying the smog free air. The scent of trees and nature was almost overpowering after a week in Beijing’s record breaking smog.
The first day we started at a high school 2 hours outside the capital of Fuzhou in a low income area. This school had won the 2014 FTC Asia Pacific Invitational and had an FRC team that attended the 2015 Australian FRC Regional. The students recognized us and they were excited to show off their robot. They showed us their labs and we had fun together.
Right before lunch, we went outside and did the Cupid Shuffle together. That’s when the day’s real excitement started. The entire school seemed to come out to see us dancing together. After the dance finished, we were swarmed. When one of the boys in our group gave a girl in the crowd a hug, the whole group screamed. It felt like we were major celebrities, everyone swarmed us, wanting picture, hugs and autographs!
Eventually, the teachers stepped in and helped get us to lunch in a private room. After lunch, we went back into the main area of the school where we found a number of students were standing around waiting for us to come out. More hugs, pictures, and autographs followed. One girl even gifted us with her favorite book! Before leaving, a few of us went into the karate class and got to give it a try. Every time we did a move, you would’ve thought we were royalty with the way they cheered!
The next day and a half was filled with more travel and presentations throughout the province. In all the other locations, we were treated as celebrities, though not in the same way as the first high school.
Afterwards, one question kept floating in my head “why?” Why had we been treated like celebrities? Why were we so valued? It was because we were probably the first white people they had ever seen. Just stop to think about that for a minute. We were the first caucasian people these students had ever met in person.
That is the power of FIRST. It is to show students like those in Fujian that regardless of race/ethnicity we can all speak the common language of robotics. That no matter what religion we follow or politics we promote we can work together. And that maybe, by putting aside our differences and focusing on our similarities, we can work towards peace.
This blog was written by Sarah Heimlich from FRC Team 3132, The Thunder Down Under. To see all the photos from their trip to China, click here.
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