Local boys tell an eastern tale

MIDDLEBURY — After climbing mountains on the outskirts of Hong Kong, hiking through rainforest in southern China and delving into foreign treats on a stick from the Far East this summer, Middlebury Union High School students Nate Wulfman and Micah Lynch will return to school this fall with a lot of stories to tell.
Part of a six-student team, Wulfman and Lynch traveled alongside other young Vermonters for three weeks last month to explore Hong Kong, Guangdong Province and Hainan Province under the auspices of the Shoreham-based nonprofit Green Across the Pacific (GATP).
First entering Hong Kong, the team had a two-day acclamation period before jumping aboard a bullet train to Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong. In Guangzhou the group stayed with Chinese high school students and then headed down to the Hainan rainforest together.
What did the GATP students find?
“English was everywhere and it seemed like (our Chinese counterparts) could connect easier with us than we could with them,” said Lynch, who commented that he was really impressed with the language abilities of the Chinese students.
“The fluency of the students and how developed their English skills were was amazing,” said Wulfman. “Compared to MUHS, (which) has students (that don’t take a) language or are in a second level language class in their junior or senior year, these kids all knew English with the ability to communicate what they wanted to say, and some of them were in their freshmen year.
“I want (U.S.) language programs to be good and help kids learn that (languages are) important to know because (they open) up greater opportunities,” he added.
Peter Lynch, GATP executive director and Micah’s father, agreed.
“I think we’re doing our kids a great disservice by not rigorously teaching a (foreign) language from fourth grade,” said Lynch, who has a long history of conducting biology research in China.
When Peter Lynch traveled to China in 2010, he was glad to find the city of Guangzhou cleaner than it had been in years. At that time, the city was preparing for the Asian Games by shutting down factories to clear the skies, much like Beijing had done two years earlier for the Olympics.
When he returned last month he was curious to see how the environment had changed.
“One of the questions for me was has (Guangzhou) remained clean or gone back (to being polluted), and it’s gone back to the way it used to be,” Lynch said. “It’s not surprising, but it’s unfortunate.”
He explained that the previous method of cleansing the air by shutting down factories and other pollution sources was never going to be sustainable because of its heavy impact on the city’s economy.
There is consensus among the father-son Lynch duo and Wulfman that the highlights of the trip were an excursion into the rainforest and the meals.
“Experiencing the rainforest was the coolest thing for me,” said Micah, who was awed by the enormous tree ferns.
“Being up in the cloud, out in the middle of the rainforest, surrounded by exotic beetles and moths and snails and (other creatures) was very cool,” said Wulfman.
Peter, who also visited the Hainan rainforest for the first time, encountered a rare treat: the vine snake.
“It’s one of a handful of snakes from that part of the world I hadn’t personally encountered yet,” said Peter. “So for a herpetologist like me that was pretty cool.”
As for the meals, the Lynch duo enjoyed the wide range of mangoes and various stir-fries. But most of all they relished the social experience of Chinese dining — sitting at a round table, facing their friends in attendance, sharing food from a central Lazy Susan and telling stories.
“The food is really a social conduit in addition to tasting really good,” said Peter.
Micah and Nathan agreed; the meals brought everyone closer together. When they sat down with the Chinese students for a meal, the boys felt like they could really connect with kids from the other side of the world. 
“We felt like that was the first time we got to know the Chinese students really well,” said Micah.
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected].

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