It’s hard to believe, as always at the end of something you weren’t waiting for, but it’s already my last week at BBB and of the Urban Studies Fellowship period. The past weeks really had a great routine and rhythm going, and now as we approach the end that rhythm is breaking into all kinds of new energy.
In the last few weeks I’ve been finishing up some design projects and meanwhile getting some good time in with the neighborhood kids!
We give the crew a little task every day so that they can finish their second kid-sized bamboo bike together. This day they helped each other measure and align their bamboo before sawing for the next few days.
I also got to support another one of our interns, Yuyuan, in putting on an extra workshop for some of the 5th grade kids in the community. There have always been BBB’ers who have suggested using our leftover bamboo for crafts and even bike accessories like baskets and racks, so Yuyuan took charge of organizing an instructive morning crafting workshop. She partnered with the local neighborhood committee, which is required to host events that fall under certain banners for the community and was all too happy to make phone calls to the families in the area with kids of the right age range. They presented the workshop as part of the community’s 环保 (huanbao / environmental protection) programming. Yuyuan allowed the kids to split into groups and taught three simple bamboo crafts to warm them up: pen/chopstick holders, flowerpots, and windchimes. From there it was an intergenerational free-for-all, with kids, their parents, and grandparents helping each other saw, drill, and paint.
The main takeaway I had from this event was that speaking the language of your community is everything! This project was originally one that I was taking ownership of, and it was being proposed to a bilingual research group as more of a design-thinking and somewhat mechanics oriented project. That would have been taught in English to an English-speaking group, and probably would have worked out fine that way except that it didn’t end up happening. It was amazing to see Yuyuan adapt bring this kind of activity to the kids in the community, which feels more in line with the spirit of BBB anyway. She presented everything in Chinese to her Chinese-speaking audience, and everyone else took a supporting role. I think this was key to the whole activity’s success in the end– often we are able to offer some kind of service or workshop in English to primarily Chinese-speakers, and they often seem to run smoothly, but it never feels like both parties fully sink into the activities and community at hand when that kind of language dynamic is at play.
Last night, we held a year-in-review dinner, which gathered all the BBB leaders of the past year or more since it all started in March 2014. It was a time for a leadership hand-off, lots of reflection on the past and future direction of BBB, and most of all, continual recognition and appreciation for all the people in the room. There was a no-crying rule, and some people followed it. I was reminded how important it is to spend time and space recognizing what people do, and to be emotionally invested in any work that we do.
BBB leaders, with many not present. An amazing group of people who all joined on at different times and kept coming back to volunteer time for any number of reasons. This was one of the first times we got everyone together talking big questions like this.
“Bodystorming” to generate ideas of what the future of BBB is hoped to look like. Might look a little wishy-washy from this photo considering that I’m supposed to be a flying bicycle–but truly a helpful activity to generate insights and discussion!
During the meeting we also spent some time revising a mission-statement-in-progress and translating it into Chinese. As it stands, version 0.1, which has not been released yet, focuses on empowering and teaching people to think with their hands together and build a community that is part of a new mobility culture. As we discussed the current mission statement, I kept recalling the first blog post I wrote when I got here. I feel just as strongly as I did then that the space currently fulfills the empowering and community aspects of its mission statement, but what’s new is an even stronger sense of what a community can be in a city like Beijing. Although most of the communication among those in the community is virtual over WeChat, people at the dinner kept on stressing the importance of being called together in person to work together. The workshop as a physical space has always felt somewhat magical, and my experience in it every day is that the people there are trying to raise each other up. Everyone shows up to help everyone else be better and believe in each other, and not only in terms of hands-on learning, as the mission statement might have one believe. I feel so moved and grateful to have been able to show up there every day so far this summer, and I truly hope that any readers who get the chance to visit the workshop in Beijing will get to soak in this sense of collective belonging as well.
Thank you so much to Deland, my wonderful advisor over the last few weeks, and the Urban Studies Fellowship and community for making this incredible learning journey possible. I never forget how lucky I and we are to have opportunities like this!