June 29-July 1
We spent about two-and-a-half days enjoying the hospitality of our partner school Jiamusi No. 1 High School. While visiting we spent a great deal of time at the school talking with teachers and administrators, as well as visiting several classes. It has been a good follow up to the visit Fu Xiao Qiu and Liu Xiaofeng paid ISA in April. I am extremely encouraged by this visit that our partnership will blossom and that we will begin to host students from Jiamusi as early as December for MUNSA XV. Here are some of the images from our visit:
This fountain is only turned on when honored guests visit. Yes, they turned it on for us:).
Jiamusi No. 1 High School was founded by a revolutionary. This poster represents a personal letter of encouragement written to the school by Mao Zedong encouraging the school.
This photo looks out onto the soccer pitch across the grounds the second of three campuses is visible. Jiamusi No.1 High School serves 3 grades levels with approximately 2000 students per grade level.
It is customary to exchange gifts in Chinese culture. Here Paul presents a gift from ISA to Jiamusi principal Fu Xiao Qiu.
This is no ordinary marquee banner. Check out the bottom left-hand side. It is ISA's official welcome to Jiamusi.
During our tour we paused for a photo in the playground of the third and oldest building on the high school campus.
On the second day we observed students working diligently as they read a passage about Halloween.
Our friend and English teacher Liu Xiulan brought in pumpkins so students could carve jack-o-lanterns. Xiulan believes that these kinds of experiences help students maintain interest in learning English. Where else have I heard this?
A jack-o-lantern is born!
We were also privileged to witness student performances on these instruments: the ruan, the pipa, the zheng (I got a lesson on the zheng after the show), the yang-qin, a Peking opera piece and a lesson on Chinese calligraphy. We also got to try our hand at calligraphy...
We had an incredible time in Jiamusi, Heilongjiang Province, China. I hope our visit is the beginning of several opportunities for students and teachers from Jiamusi and San Antonio to develop a rich exchange of culture, ideas, and friendship for a long time.
I would have like to stay longer and to learn more, and like many good things, trips must end. We flew back to Beijing on Thursday morning to spend one last night in China's capitol before making our way back home to San Antonio.
June 29, 2010
We arrived in Jiamusi, Heilongjiang Province at 9:35am. I have never been in a plane that landed and immediately swung a u-turn on the runway to return to the terminal. That is exactly what we did. The air terminal had a stairway ready to meet us and we had an exuberant welcome party attended by the principal and several faculty members from our partner school, Jiamusi No. 1 High School. We were whisked away in two private automobiles to check into the Riversky Hotel with an incredible view of the city park along the banks of the Songhua River.
Mitzi proudly displays the bouquets we received upon arrival to Jiamusi. This photograph captures nearly the entire airport which is incredible given the population of Jiamusi. We were told the city contains 820,000 people, but when including the surrounding area 2.4 million people live in Jiamusi.
Jiamusi's Songhua River. One of the teachers with us today explained that plans exist to build a bridge from this bank of the river out to an island that will accommodate foot and auto traffic.
The day only got better after this, but I need time to process and articulate all of it. In short we spent the day post-lunch with our hosts talking, touring, and getting to know each other better. Tomorrow we will return to the school for a day of teaching, conversation, and student performances. Right now I must go to watch nearly 1000 people line-dancing/marching in the park.
June 28, 2010
We arrived back in Beijing yesterday evening and were greeted by the first bit of wet weather for this trip. Fortunately, the rain did not extend into today's fun. Following two very interesting breakout sessions that provided resources for strengthening an established Chinese language program and utilizing technology as a resource to teach world languages, we participated in a final share out that allowed representatives from each of the regional delegations to give all of us insight into their experiences in seven different provinces across China. My excitement for the upcoming trip to Jiamusi City, Heilongjiang Province was piqued again as I listened to the delegates talk about all of their amazing experiences. After the banquet lunch, we transitioned into tourists once again for our final experiences as a delegation in Beijing.
Our biggest stop of the day (figuratively and literally) was the Forbidden City. Built during the Ming Dynasty, this complex covers a vast amount of territory in the central district of Beijing. It is difficult to describe the expanse of this fortress/city/palace but it is impressive.
The complex is full of ornate frieze work on the roof lines of the nearly 1000 buildings.
This architectural style has become a symbol of Dynastic China and this familiar roof line dominates the complex.
Even though it did not rain, the haze made it easy to look directly into the sun.
The Forbidden City was by far the most crowded place on the trip so far (the Silk Market later in the day would prove more dense). It was the first time we were counseled to protect our belongings from any opportunistic denizens of the palace grounds. Rob and I decided to keep an eye on our backs.
This is the Hall of Supreme Harmony. This structure is centrally located in the Forbidden City.
Stone carvings like this dragon, like the frieze work above, cover the complex.
A view of the Gate of Divine Might. We left through this aperture.
Paul picked up a souvenir as we walked back to the bus.
I have a 4:30am wake-up call for a 5am taxi ride to the airport. Then off to Jiamusi, Heilongjiang Province for a visit to ISA's partner school. I can't wait!
June 27, 2010
This was truly our privilege today as we paid a visit to Changchun City's proudest tourist attraction, Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Our guides lauded this place as a beautiful natural resource. A place to be with Nature, experience with your soul, and "breathe the fresh air." This description proved true. What started as a warm, muggy, cloudy day transformed into something completely unlike any weather we had experience in China so far.
It is no secret that the quick pace of development in China coupled with the population density of its urban centers has created pollution challenges for the country. As the capital of Jilin Province and the home to 7 million people, Changchun City faces these challenges despite its large agricultural sector, this city is also know as the car city it has at least two production plants (one for Volkswagen and the other for Toyota). Changchun's challenges are not nearly as pronounced as Beijing but...interestingly enough, Changchun seems to have taken a proactive stance on improving the environmental in the city and surrounding areas. The city seems to understand the economic advantages of this and other environmental conscious efforts. On the flight back to Beijing this afternoon, I noticed a piece in China Daily that discusses the environmental and economic plans for Jingyuetan.
As we entered the national park the weather seemed to change. The sun had emerged from behind dissipating clouds and as we ascended these steps to see the lake on the banks of the forest. As we walked the steps a cool breeze began to blow through the trees. Have a look:
These steps led up to the bell tower overlooking the lake.
Paper lanterns hung from trees to honor a beautiful summer day.
This is when the breeze kicked up and the day really became spectacular.
Changchun is also known as the movie city because it boasts a movie studio. This is an amusement park dedicated to the Eastern Hollywood.
Another view of the lake that borders the southern portion of the park. Check our the trip map to get a better idea of the park's geography.
We climbed this ten story tower to get a better view of the surroundings.
June 27, 2010
I have spent the last two-and-a-half days in Changchun City, Jilin Province, China. While I have been here, I have seen incredible food, met amazingly generous professionals, and talked and played with curious, mischievous, and precocious 7th and 8th graders and high school students. Here are a few of these images:
Everyday students participate in morning exercises. These are 7th graders from Jilin University Middle School. 2,500 7th graders fit into this courtyard for exercise.
These 7th grade girls were playing volleyball in P.E. class. All the students wear uniforms but are able to personalize things a bit. Check out the shoes.
First, we watched them play...then they invited us to play. I was bump passing with two young women at the same time (hard to get pictures of that). Then we played students against teachers to see who could keep the fewest numbers of balls on their side of the net. I think they let us win:).
This is the playing field at our second school visit, Jilin Provincial High School. There seemed to be a greater emphasis on athletics at this school.
We were treated like diplomats at Jilin Provincial High School. Literally we sat on one side of a long table to hear introductions, speeches and exchange gifts. Very interesting proceedings.
Jilin Provincial High School basketball squad took 2nd Place in an international tournament in Hawaii last year. These high school students were incredibly disciplined, polite, and talented players. The lined up for layups and nearly every player could dunk. Impressive.
At both schools we were treated to arranged music. This group of 50 high school students generated an incredible amount of decibels.
Today we will visit a national park in the Jilin province before returning to Beijing to wrap up the conference.
I won't belabor any description for today's activities post my mono script from yesterday. The better part of the day was spent travelling by bus or plane around Beijing and to Changchun City in the Jilin Province. We traveled to Changchun in much smaller groups (approximately 70 educators) to visit schools in the province and meet with the leaders, teachers, and students of these schools.
But that will be tomorrow. Today the highlight was the Great Wall. The Great Wall of China stretches approximately 6,600 km from the outskirts of Beijing to the northeast and southwest. From our pre-trip webinar and our guides, I got the impression that the basic purpose of for building the wall comes from the Chinese desire to let everything be what it will be. The wall served as a barrier to block entry to anyone wishing to change China. The section we visited today was in the Badaling region outside of Beijing. There were actually three sections of the Wall that people can visit. Here are some photos:
This is the section of the wall I climbed today. The entire section was about 500 to 600 m long and was broken up about every 100 m with a guard tower. There were five towers in this section (only four in view).
Okay, I didn't necessarily want to have an unflattering picture of another tourist. However, this picture gives one an idea of the elevation of the climb. It wasn't straight up but close. I think that my vision of the wall consisted of pictures along the plains in the North. For this section, the plane was much more vertically oriented.
I mentioned above that there are three sections of the wall accessible outside of Beijing. This is a picture of another section from about halfway up the section I climbed. The haze obscured this picture a bit. The air in Beijing is a bit like that of Southern California on a bad smog day. In fact, the mountains on which this section of the Wall is built literally appeared through the haze from no where as we approached.
I am nearly there. In fact, I was ready to quit shortly beyond this point, but some Japanese visitors who had made the endpoint gave me a thumbs up sign with smiles and said this is the last part. I pushed on.
This picture is about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way. I can only tell this because there are still several people climbing. Those physically capable of making the ascent diminished as I proceeded.
We made it. This section of the Wall ended right behind us in this picture. I climbed for an hour with a few stops to rest. It took about 25 minutes to descend from this point and my bus was pulling away as I got to the bottom. Fortunately, they were only "repositioning" for departure. Another bit about this photo. I finished the climb solo and asked another family of visitors to take a picture of me at the top. This experience led to a series of other photos with members of the family and nearly every other visitor. Initially I thought they only wanted me to take the photo for them but it became quickly clear that they wanted me in the photo too. Rob, pictured next to me, is a middle school principal from Oregon, and we posed for several photos like this one.
Yes, this is not the Great Wall, but we passed the Beijing Olympic Stadium on the way to the airport. I snapped a few shots. Just to the left, outside of view, is the Olympic Village and the pool complex.
July 4, 2010
It goes without saying that the food in China is different. Yes, many of us have eaten in a Chinese food restaurant and are familiar with favorites like fried rice, sweet and sour pork, egg rolls, etc. Food in China is different. Now one must understand that my eating experiences were also different than those of any average Chinese family. Where normal meals might be much simpler, my eating experience was much more elaborate. Many meals were set up buffet style in the hotels so we saw a multiplicity of possible dishes that may not end up on the table every meal. When I experienced a sit down eating opportunity, the meal was present banquet style where the hosts procured many types of dishes. I was even told several times that, "We ordered a little bit more so you could try everything." Fortunately, I brought my eating "A-game" and tried everything presented to me (thanks Mom and Dad for making be try everything as a kid!). Here are some of my eating experiences on the trip:
Normally I wouldn't talk a lot about airline food, but this fare wasn't bad. Okay, I wasn't sure about the blue stuff in the entrée, but it ended up being eggplant. I like eggplant. Honestly, if the airline food was good (it was) then my eating experience in China was going to be great!
When we arrived in Beijing, I was tired and not very hungry, but the hotel would be offering dinner a dinner anyway, and I was eager to see what delicacies might await. I was honestly underwhelmed by the food in Beijing, and I think there are several reasons why. This trip was designed to show us the best of China, and despite this intention, there was probably considerable attention given to the fact that there were a bunch of westerners visiting China for the very first time (see picture of this website's creator on the homepage). I'm sure that not everyone was nearly as adventurous as me when it comes to eating. So, the food had to be familiar and exotic all in the same package. This said, we saw a lot of chicken, pork, and beef in the Beijing Hotel offerings. There were a few interesting items worthy of note: 1) Squid, I had one dish that seemed to incorporate the entire. whole animal and didn't bother with chopping it up as is familiar with calamari; 2) Dragon Fruit, we would see this cactus fruit quite a bit during the trip. It looks different but tastes pretty good; 3) Chicken coconut and orange soup, wasn't sure about this when I tried it but what a taste. Think essence of coconut with a hint of orange zest in chicken broth. Yes, it sounds unusual but the flavors worked.
The food in Beijing served two very important purposes in my mind: 1) It slowly broke us in for dining experiences that would be out of this world; 2) Mixing in western style cuisine gave us enough familiarity to choose comfort food when we needed it. This would be really important after traveling for five days and wanting some pancakes for breakfast in the morning when all you could get that was to western food might be bacon. Ultimately, the dishes described above were the standout dishes at the Beijing Hotel.
It wasn't until the last night of the Hanban trip that we had some really flavorful food in Beijing. Hanban set up a final banquet dinner at Quan Ju De a famous restaurant established in Beijing in 1864 that boasts Beijing's most famous dish, Peking Duck. Although not pictured below, take it from me, it was really, really good. Here are some of the dishes that came with that final meal:
This was a type of mushroom sautéed in a type of sauce. Sorry that's all I've got. Mushroom or "fungus" as it was commonly described by our hosts was served pretty regularly at meals. Sometimes as the featured item in a dish sometimes as a garnish with meat. Most of the mushrooms I tried had the typical chewy texture and were accented with creative, flavorful sauces.
This was beef garnished with...mushroom caps and garlic. Fortunately, everyone tried it so I was not worried about my breath. The amount of garlic I ate may also explain not seeing a single mesquito on the trip.
Eating in Changchun, Jilin Province
It wasn't until we got to Changchun that many of us began to describe the food in Beijing as bland. Our first meal in the hotel blew the lid off of every dinning experience we had up to that point. It would only get better from here. Food in Changchun can best be described as spicy. You know those red peppers that end up in your General's chicken sometimes? Yeah, they were everywhere. It really upped the ante on food adventurers. Fortunately, for the less adventurous, our accommodations in Changchun offered some familiar favorites like Chow Mein and sweet and sour Pork. They weren't exactly the same as their Americanized counterparts but close enough to offer options.
The best part about the first meal in Changchun was the grill. As we sat with full plates from browsing at the buffet, one of the house chefs who obviously was not afraid to sample his creations began bringing various grilled meats to each table. About every five minutes he would show up with skewers of meat that he would offer and then cut right off the skewer. I have heard that this is what happens at Brazilian steakhouses but have not had the pleasure of that experience. First, we had grilled pork sausage...mmm. Next came grilled beef. It was peppered and on the rare side of medium. It melted in my mouth. Then we had beef sautéed in a brown sauce that wasn't quite as good as the previous dish but that didn't stop me from trying it. Finally, the only non-meat was served. Grilled corn-on-the-cob...this would normally be pretty good by itself but our master chef sprinkled it with some combination of butter and spices that made your lips tingle a bit. It was a perfect way to end the meal. Of course, I was also full and had to refuse any other offerings.
A quick anecdote about the master chef. He was very humbled and giggly when Mitzi told him how good his food was. A really cute moment.
What follows are a selection of favorites from my culinary experiences in Changchun:
By far the most elaborate set up we saw. This was the setting for the first meal we shared with school personnel. I sat next to the principal of Jilin University Middle School at this table. In case you are wondering, yes, there were goldfish in the center bowls, no, we did not eat them.
Favorites in Changchun
My second dinner in Changchun included this soup appetizer. I forgot to take a picture of it until it was about half gone, but basically this is the dish: clear broth with seafood and ever so tiny bits of bamboo. The cool part of the dish was the egg white that was cooked and formed at the bottom of the bowl. Also, there were no overpowering flavors. The dish was subtle but flavorful, a great start to the meal.
Eating in Jiamusi, Heilongjiang Province
The meals we experienced in Jiamusi were, in my opinion, tops for the trip. The two meals that were the most memorable included Sichuan style dishes. Sichuan is synonymous with spicy and these dishes fully complied:
This dish included crab, French fries (yes), and red onions. It was very spicy and remarkably difficult to eat with chop sticks. I observed our driver successfully complete this operation and attempted to duplicate it, but without much success. I ended up resorting to a fork.
This warm soup came at the beginning of the same meal with the crab dish. It consisted of noodles in a red broth garnished with roe and green onions. Heavily seasoned with what ever the equivalent of chili powder might be, the spice made my lips tingle a bit, but this sensation set the tone for the rest of the meal as my palate was bombarded with similar flavors the entire evening.
Not necessarily spicy but a unique dining experience for me. These are pig's feet. Very chewing and the bone-in made for difficult eating without much payoff, but I would do it again. Although not pictured, I also had the opportunity to try pig's ear. It shared a chewy consistency with the dish below, but we only had the firmer edge of the ear.
The dish in the fore front of this image consisted of bamboo shoots and mushrooms. Good but not what I wanted to show. Just above the shoots was a dish I really enjoyed: slices of pear soaked in red wine. Beautifully sweet and no strong wine flavor, wow!
I mentioned above that fish was a consistent offering at most of our meals. Jiamusi was no exception and like the other Sichuan dishes at this meal it was spicy, as evidenced by the Chinese red peppers present. Although not clear in this picture, many fish dishes include the entire fish (bones, heads, eyes, skin).
Think sweet and sour but with fish, mmmm....
No lie, the dishes at the center of the table were called Chinese pancakes. We had several difference versions on the trip. Some were very flaky and light others were more substantial and hardy. These two represent both ends of the spectrum.
A twist on a classic American favorite, bacon and eggs. Spicy and salty but one of my favorites and one I won't soon forget.
The Final Meals
There were lots of final dining experiences in China: last meal in Changchun (it was a lunch...good food and the memorable dish was wood ear mushrooms sautéed in butter); last meal of the Hanban trip (at a famous Peking duck restaurant described above, the duck was good and the night ended with many of us eating whole red peppers); last meal in Jiamusi (something called "hot pot" that was really fun but had me worried about singeing wrist hair); and last meal in China.
On the last meal in China overall, I have to talk a bit about dining in China in general. I caught myself thinking about how well I ate while I was on this trip, but it hit me that I was a special guest on this trip and each time I sat down it was a banquet style occasion. Each host wanted us to see the best that China had to offer, and we did. At the same time it wasn't/isn't how the average person eats. Honestly, this isn't how the average person eats anywhere unless they have the means. It was my final meal in Beijing the morning we left that might have been the most authentic, daily culinary experience. The restaurant in our hotel served breakfast and before we left for the airport we had a breakfast which consisted of porridge, dumplings, a kind of coleslaw, and hot water. It cost about 1 USD and it was filling and satisfying. It was a really basic, authentic eating experience and good way to end the trip.
June 23, 2010
Beijing is an incredible contrast of ancient and modern China.
My day began with a Skype session home that was really, really fun. I think the kids thought it was weird to see Daddy on the computer screen. Skype was followed by breakfast and a welcome ceremony with representatives from Hanban and College Board addressing the delegates.
Following the welcome we broke out into our regional travel groups for a briefing by the educational ministry from the Jilin Province. I will travel with my colleagues to Changchun City for three days of school visits and cultural exchange.
Back to today. Our after lunch agenda was a mixture of sight seeing and business. We started with a short walk down a ancient shady street to a temple honoring the Chinese political thinker Confucius. For me, this experience really illustrated what is happening in China's biggest cities post-reform. In amongst the construction, super-highways, and business of a city with 14 million souls exist these enclaves--literally separated by walls sometimes--that attempt to preserve and elevate China's history and culture. The Confucius temple we visited is surrounded my modern Beijing but is shaded by juniper trees that range in age from 300 to 700 years old. I know this because they are marked by colored plates to designate their age range.
Our second visit of the sight-seeing portion of the afternoon occurred very shortly after the Confucius temple. Our guide acquired tickets to the Lama Temple a few blocks away and we proceed un-impeded through the security gates of this operational Tibetan Buddhist temple. Yes, I said Tibetan. But this was the next interesting clash. People had to pay to offer honor to the various representations of Buddha.
This visit created the most humorous moment of the day also. Anyone familiar with Buddhism--particularly the Mahayana school of Buddhism--may know Maitreya, the Happy Buddha. Maitreya is all about laughing away all of Life's problems. Very simply, he is able to deposit all of the frustrations of existence into his belly, its huge, and laugh. Every representation of Maitreya is a man with a large waist-line and huge smile. Okay the funny part:
Paul Smith could be a boddhi tree and a lotus blossom away from nirvana. If anything he is ISA's Maitreya.
After the visit to the two temples we spent an hour at the headquarters of Hanban. This is the primary Ministry of Education organization responsible for coordinating the experiences of the Chines Bridge Delegation program. Their efforts focus on nurturing Chinese Language programs in the United States.
Following our vist to Hanban's headquarters we ended our sight seeing afternoon with a visit to Tiananmen Square. There is one reason why this place is familiar to everyone, but this is also the sight where Chariman Mao announced the New China and signaled the beginning of the cultural revolution. To walk in Tiananmen Square is to feel incredibly insignificant as a single being. Our guide claims that it can fit 1 million people, and I can see that this is totally possible. Tiananmem Square is sandwiched on one side by the old entrance to Beijing to the south and the Forbidden City to the north. It was from the balcony of the palace of ancient Chinese emperor's that Chairman Mao announced the beginning of a new China to the people. As China began to move beyond its dynastic history in 1949, it also, slowly began to allow the infusion of market economics structures to seep into the fabric of its identity. These enclaves of entrepreneurial spirit are not separated by walls as are some of the ancient sights I saw today. Rather, they are front and center in the city or near the square. It was not hard to find McDonald's and KFC. In fact, our guide made a point of identifying these spots as we drove past in our air conditioned, modern tour bus.
The day's experiences prompted this comment from a colleague, "Everytime I get off the bus I have to remind myself that I am in China."
June 21 and 22, 2010
It started as a simple 3:30am wake up to get ready for the trip of my life time, and the day ended about 40 hours later with this post. However, the day has been filled with excitment that has consistently battled back the exhaustion.
The entire ISA group met up at JFK and enjoyed our last meal state-side at the Panini Express just beyond the security check point in JFK's international terminal.
Once we boarded Air China flight 982 we enjoyed 12 hours of humid, tightly packed bliss. The flight crew was very responsive to everyone's needs by frequently circulating the cabin with offers of water and tea. The in flight entertainment proved to be a pleasant mixture of Chinese and American cinematic ventures. Most of us tried to sleep a bit early in the trip and stay awake during the later stages of the journey to avoid jet lag. I am not sure how well it worked, but I will try to articulate this tomorrow. I will also attempt to get some pictures posted soon. Picasa is having an issues.
Tomorrow's day is full of orientations, welcomes, banquets, and visits to the emperor's palace, the Confucius temple, Hanban, and Tiananmen Square. It should be cool!
It is go time! I am packed and ready for a night of partial sleep. I am too excited to really get any worthwhile rest so I hope that I can sleep a bit on the flight to JFK.
The good byes to the family are nearly complete, one more awaits at the airport tomorrow morning. I had a great Father's Day with Grandmas, Grandpas from both sides of the clan, and in-laws. Next stop, Beijing.
I look forward to sharing everything I can from this experience.