Blog: China Trip

March 20 Last Full Day in China!

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This morning, the group woke up in our various guest houses, and each of us was cooked our very own made to order breakfast. Some of us dined by windows that looks right on the canals, and could watch the boats go by. We spent the morning exploring Wuzhen, joining in with all the other Chinese tourists who clearly love the place. Narrow streets, romantic bridges and picturesque water views abounded, as did shops and cafes! It was still a little rainy, but very beautiful. We finished our stay in Wuzhen with our last hearty lunch in China, then walked back to the bus parking lot. Imagine our surprise that we could walk out, even though we took a boat to get in!

It was a long bus ride back to Shanghai, but there was always something interesting to see out the window for those who didn't nap. The agricultural fields often come right up to the houses, and there were many patches of rapeseed blooming a glorious yellow. Rapeseed is used to make cooking oil. Once we arrived in Shanghai, we freshened up for our farewell dinner, kindly sponsored by Middlesex families of Shanghai. We traveled one last time to Pudong and ate at a restaurant on the seventh floor of the International Convention Center. The families of Emily, '18, Leo, '19, Thomas, '19 and Kevin, '20, Phoebe, '20, Hannah, '20 and Lyn, '19 joined us for this dinner with a view of the river and misty city skyline. The students also managed to call ahead and arrange for one last order of bubble tea! It was wonderful to connect with Middlesex families and a great way to end our trip.

I hope you all enjoyed your virtual tour of China! It truly was an experience that engaged all our senses, and helped us understand the country and our students who live here in a new way. There are many stories left to tell - make sure you ask us about them when we get home!

   
   

 

March 19 Suzhou

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It was a very rainy day today, but this in no way dampened our spirits as we explored the canal city of Suzhou. As we drove into the outskirts we were greeted by a sky scraper technically called the Oriental Gate, but what locals call the "Pants Building." Shanghai may be one of China's number 1 cities today, but only 150 or so years ago, Shanghai was just a small village of rice paddies and Suzhou was number 1! Our first stop was Tiger Hill. An old king is buried in the hill somewhere, but these days the hill is famous for its garden of 500 bonsai trees and leaning pagoda (a la Pisa). We took a tour of the garden and met with a bonsai master who not only showed us how to shape the bonsai, but allowed a couple people to try it themselves! The bonsai he was working on is 100 years old, but not as old as Middlesex! Many other trees in the garden were hundreds of years old. After a trip to the top of the hill to view the leaning pagoda, we made our way down and back to the bus for the next stop. Only after we started driving away did we discover that Kelly Marchand had stayed behind to meditate among thr bonsai! The bus driver quickly pulled over and our guide rushed back to the hill to track her down. After some minutes of suspense, she was located and we continued on our way.

We next visited a silk factory. Suzhou has been the center of the silk industry for thousands of years. Our tour took us from the life cycle of the silk moths to the creation of silk thread and filling. The tour emphasizes the noble character of the catepillers who sacrifice their lives to give us silk! Of course there was a shop full of silk goods at the end of the tour which we enjoyed very much! Our final stop in Suzhou was the Suzhou Museum. Full of important cultural artifacts from across several dynasties, the museum building was designed by famed architect I.M. Pei. Suzhou is his hometown and he loves it so much that he designed the building for practically nothing. I. M. Pei also happens to be the grandfather of MX grad Anna, '16! It is a beautiful building, full of fascinating items which gave us a glimpse into China's and Suzhou's past.

After a full day in Suzhou we had a long drive to our overnight stop - Wuzhen, the "little Venice of China." The drive gave us the opportunity to see a less urban China, and we shared the road with trucks carrying all manner of goods, including pigs and cows! The area of Wuzhen where we are staying is car-free. It is a re-created riverside town designed to give tourists that old timey China experience. We parked the bus and walked in to a "village" of narrow streets and water ways. Our group had to go through a visitor's center and take a quick ferry ride to dinner and our sleeping quarters. No big hotels here. Instead, we're divided up into several quaint guest houses. Tomorrow we'll take a tour and probably get to go shopping again! Those Yuan won't spend themselves!

 

March 18 Modern Shanghai II

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We started off our second full day in Shanghai visiting Yu Garden, a nature complex from the 19th century. Enclosed by bamboo chutes and stone walls, Yu Garden is home to a number of classic Chinese landscape features, including ponds with giant koi fish, cherry blossom trees, and animal sculptures. 

 Yu Garden exits right into Shanghai's Old City Market, which is a bustling (read: insanely crazy) area full of stores that sell anything and everything: food, tourist collectibles, gadgets and gizmos galore. The Old City Market also includes some welcomed global brands like Starbucks, Dairy Queen, and McDonald's. It's funny because we've learned as a group that the best meeting spots are the places we recognize, which is why we keep assembling at Starbucks.

Before lunch, we also stopped by Shanghai's City Planning Museum. It boasts a lot of cool technology, with virtual simulations that take you on a tour of different parts of the city and experience what it will be like to ride future subway and train systems in Shanghai.  The museum also has a historic preservation area with pictures and models of Shanghai from the past. This exhibit was mirrored by a section that detailed what urban planners anticipate Shanghai will look like by 2040. The highlight of the museum was definitely the giant model of the heart of Shanghai, which encompasses almost the entirety of one museum floor.

After we spent some quality time with lazy Susan, the group split up into two subgroups: the adults and their families went back to the Old City Market to continue shopping, while the students exercised their speaking and bargaining skills by participating in an Amazing Race-esque competition. The eight students were divided into four groups of two, and each group was paired up with another student native to Shanghai (one of them was Middlesex student Leo!). Each group had to use their language skills to purchase three items: a Chinese balm, a spicy Chinese condiment, and a Chinese decorative knot. They would be judged on the speed in which they finished and how large of a knot they could find. Because two groups finished in a tie for first place, Mrs. Ku decided to extend the  competition, so stay tuned for the winner!

The adults also got to experience Chinese feet and body massage at a local massage parlor, as well as ride the subway, the first use of public transportation for the group during this trip.

Tomorrow we make our way to Suzhou! 

 

March 17 - Modern Shanghai

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This morning we had the privilege of visiting Shanghai Foreign Language School. Our own Middlesex student, Emily '18, is a former student of the school and helped set up a great cultural exchange. Teachers taught Chinese students in their respective fields, and faculty and students from MX and SFLS were able to chat together, discovering what was the same and what was different about our respective schools. It was a really special experience which everyone in the group will remember for a long time!

After a (you guessed it) hearty lunch, where Yih-Jen and Minh introduced everyone to their obsession with bubble tea, we traveled across the river to the Pu Dong side. The east side of the Huangpu River is considered the Manhattan of Shanghai. Just when you think you've seen one outrageously tall building, another appears. We got to go to the top of the tallest one in Shanghai, which is also the second tallest skyscraper in the world. A super fast elevator whisked us up to the 118th floor of Shanghai Tower where we had incredible views of the city. As we drove back to the city center, our bus driver helpfully left the radio on so we could enjoy some Chinese pop music as we gazed out the bus windows. Our final stop for the afternoon was Tianzifang. This warren of alley ways is filled with shops and restaurants, and is fun to explore. You can buy anything from tea to sunglasses to Chinese stamps to what looked like tiny, fake bowls of food. Something for everyone! Just wandering around is an experience for the senses.

Our evening activity was a spectacular river boat cruise. Shanghai really shines at night, with creative lighting on most of the buildings. The river was the perfect place to see them all. Colors run up and doen the buildings on both shores in all sorts of creative patterns. Shanghai Tower and the TV tower know as "the pearl" are particularly amazing, but every building had something eye catching. The students enjoyed a never ending photo shoot with the Pu Dong skyline in the background. In fact, they may have taken pictures of each other for the entire 45 minutes! All in all, it was a great way to end the day in Shanghai.

   
   

 

March 16 - Terracotta Warriors

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Nihao from Shanghai! We sadly only had a day and a half in Xi'an, but we made the most of today day. Just east of Xi'an is the archeological site of the Qin dynasty terracotta warriors. Thousands of life like, larger than life soldiers were created 2,200 years ago to guard the tomb of the first Qin emperor. They lay hidden for thousands of years until some farmers digging a well discovered them. Now they are a national treasure, and archaeologists are slowly unearthing them. Before we went to see the actual warriors, we stopped in at a government sponsored fsctory/gift shop. This factory produces souvenir copies of the warriors, using the same clay from which the originals are made! You can buy a life size warrior of your very own and they'll ship it home for you. Or you can just buy a small table top version.

After doing some shopping, we went to see the real thing. Our guide explained how to identify the different ranks of the soldiers. He explained that besides wearing his hair a certain way, and the clothes he wore, you could tell if a warrior was a general if he had a big belly! Then he proceeded to compare the general's belly to Rob Munro's! It's no wonder though, as ALL of our bellies have expanded thanks to the feasts we receive at every meal! The warriors were incredibly impressive and a little eerie. You can see where some of them are just beginning to be excavated from the pit. Their expressions are very life like! From the warriors, we had to rush off to our last lunch in Xi'an. We dined at Qin Restaurant of Reallove, which served us food that people may have eaten during the Qin dynasty. After that it was off to thr airport to fly to Shanghai. A couple students almost left their laptop and camera behind as a "gift" to the security checkers, but all items were ultimately retrieved and we flew to Shanghai with no problems.

As we drove to dinner from the airport, the lights of Shanghai lit the night sky. It is a very cosmopolitan city with more of a western cibe thsn other Chinese cities. Our dinner was in a restaurant that looked distinctly European, although our hearty meal was Shanghai cuisine. We were also treated to a little stage show of music, opera and dance while we ate. Now everyone is settled into our really lovely hotel on the bund for the night, resting up for tomorrow's adventures.

 

March 14 and 15 - Last Day in Beijing, First Day in Xi'an

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Greetings from Xi'an! We've seen and done so much in the last two days that it feels much longer! Our last day in Beijing began with a visit to the Temple of Heaven. Built in 1420, this temple complex served as the location for Ming and Qing Dynasty emperors to make annual sacrifices for a good harvest. While enjoying the beauty of the temple and the surrounding park, our group had the opportunity to learn Tai Chi. We learned several moves and the philosophical ideas behind Tai Chi, which is actually a type of Kung Fu. Ask someone from the group to show you some moves when we get back!

After a hearty szechuan style lunch we visited the Tsinghua International School. We took a tour, then students had a chance to learn calligraphy and teachers met with their Tsinghua counterparts to chat about what it's like teaching at an international school. We found it very enlightening and came away with a few new ideas to try at home. Instead of yet another gigantic meal for supper, we opted to find our own food to bring on the train. Shopping at WuMart Hypermarket was a fun challenge, and nothing like grocery stores at home. Everyone managed to find something and we made it to the train station on time to board the night train. Our group took up almost an entire train car. Each little (and I mean LITTLE) berth slept four people in bunkbeds. We had to get really creative stowing all our luggage in these tiny spaces. It was a unique ride, and everybody managed to sleep at least a little bit.

Disembarking the train, we met our new tour guide, then joined the throngs streaming out of the station into the city of Xi'an. We had to walk a good 10 minutes to where the bus was parked, and got to experience morning rush hour in full force. Xi'an was once called Chang An and was the capitol of China during the Tang Dynasty, a good 1,300 years ago. Our first stop exemplified the nature of China during the Tang. We visited the Great Mosque. The Tang had strong economic ties with Persia which led to Islam establishing itself here. One particular ethnic minority, the Hui, are muslims to this day and the Great Mosque is where they worship. The mosque was very Chinese in style, and the streets surrounding it have an interesting vibe that is both Chinese and Middle Eastern. The kids tried some street vendor food from the bazaar, and we bought a few souvenirs from shops in tiny alleyways.

Another hearty lunch, and we visited the Wild Goose Pagoda. The monk who brought the teachings of Buddha to China built the pagoda to house the Chinese translations he made of the original sanskrit buddhist texts. The place still functions as a temple, and we saw plenty of people burning incense there. Kelly Marchand and Katie Herter were not satisfied with all the steps they climbed on the Great Wall, so they went ahead and climbed the seven story pagoda as well! They were rewarded with some lovely views and it warmed them up for our next activity. Xi'an's city wall is still completely intact. The city has outgrown its original borders, but the wall still stands proudly, and is a great place to take a stroll. Or better yet - ride a bike! We rented bikes and bumped along the cobblestones. The entire trip around the wall is about 7 miles, and a group of teachers, plus one intrepid student - Luke, made the whole circuit! Not suprisingly, biking around the top of an entire wall works up an appetite, so everyone was ready for dinner and a show. We feasted on an assortment of over 25 different types of dumplings, then watched a music and dance stage show of traditional the Tang Dynasty arts. The dancers were fantastic, and the musicians played on instruments that defied description. What do you call something the looks like a set of pipes from a pipe organ, but has a mouthpiece like a horn?

Tomorrow we visit the famous Terracotta warriors, then fly to Shanghai! Due to the ever present technical difficulties of the Great Firewall, no pictures for now. I promise if I can't get them in here during the trip, once we're back stateside I'll load pictures galore.

March 13 - Dumpling School, Great Wall and Karaoke!

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Hello friends! It is after midnight and technology is being finicky so this will be brief. You will have to ask your friends/family on the trip for all the exciting details!

Today we earned certificates of achievement in Chinese Dumpling Making and Great Wall Climbing. The Beijing Jinsong Vocational School actually gave us certificates after we made and ate our own dumplings! (Although Senor Fagundo is still wondering who made the dumpling that turned up on his plate devoid of filling...).

 After a hearty lunch (there is ALWAYS a hearty lunch) we climbed the Juyongguon section of China's Great Wall. 97% of us made it to the top and back, conquering thousands and thousands of steep stone steps of varying heights, while stopping along the way for photos with Chinese tourists who find western tourists something of a novelty. It makes one feel like a celebrity! All three Bishop kids made it all the way up and back, and Jack is only 7! Quite an achievement. But Mao Zedong says anyone who climbs the Great Wall is a hero. So just rememebr that when we are back on campus! All the students, plus Kelly Marchand, Katie Herter, Emily Jones, Chantal Jordan, Zaiga Alksnitis and Yih-Jen met up with Beijingers Harry and Renee '17 for some evening karaoke to celebrate our new hero status. Everyone sang their hearts out, Minh and Yih-Jen fulfilled a quest for bubble tea and we now know Kelly Marchand has some serious dance moves!

Tomorrow is our last day in Beijing, and we will be traveling by night train to Xi'an tomorrow evening!

   
   

March 12 - Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Summer Palace and a duck feast!

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Greetings from Beijing! We are so excited to be here! After a long but uneventful flight, and a good (?) night's sleep, our group of 8 students (Hyun '17, Luke '17, Idalina '18, Olivia '17, Isabella '18, Jaden '19, Sean '19, Minh '17) 10 teachers (Rob and Sarah Munro, Katie Herter, Eduardo Fagundo, Chantal Jordan, John Bishop,  Emily Jones, Kelly Marchand, Annie Ku, Zaiga Alksnitis) and 5 assorted family members (John Bishop's three children Grace, Finn and Jack, plus Eugene Ku and Yih-Jen Ku '12) hit the ground running this morning. It was a gorgeous bluebird sky day and we saw some of the most important historic sights in Beijing. Those of us who use pedometers easily hit the 15,000 step mark today, with all the walking we did! First stop was Tiananmen Square, one of the biggest city squares in the world. Home of Mao Zedong's mausoleum and the Hall of the People, we gazed at the square from across the street as it was closed to the public due to the fact that a major session of congress was going on. It looked like they were using the square for a parking lot!

Right next to the square is the Gate of Heavenly Peace - the entrance to the Forbidden City. Originally the residence of the emperor's family, the Forbidden City has been around since the 1400s. It is made up of a successive series of gates and squares, each area getting more and more exclusive the closer you get to the emperor's residence. The compound is built on what is known as the Dragon Line, which is the North-South axis of the city and represents power. Every detail of the city's design from carvings to scuplture to paintings is symbolic and meant to manifest all the power and qualities and emperor would want. Although the innermost sanctum was once restricted to the emperor, empress and assorted concubines, visitors may now walk through the entire compound and out through the imperial gardens full of fascinating limestone sculptures.

After a hearty lunch, we pressed on to the Summer Palace. This beautiful lakeside residence was once the summer home for the emperor and his entourage. It almost burned to the ground in the late 19th century, but the Emperor Dowager Cixi rebuilt it (unfortunately with the navy's money!) in honor of her 60th birthday. When her nephew the emperor failed in a plot to kill her, she imprisoned him at this palace until his death 10 years later. Kunming Lake translates to Peach Lake, and thr lake is indeed the shape of a peach. This is very fortuitous, as a peach represents longevity in China. Cixi was already older than the average Chinese of the time, and hoped living by Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill would prolong her life even more. 

Having completed such a full day, we definitely earned a feast of Peking Duck, one if Beijing's specialties. Besides the delicious feast, this meal was made extra special as our group shared it with several Middlesex families who live in Beijing. Students had a great time reuniting with friends on their home turf and teachers got a chance to get to know some parents better. We really enjoyed from Beijingers about what they love about their city. Some of them also gave us a tutorial on how to eat Peking Duck (it involves thin pancakes, duck meat AND duck skin, and assorted unique fillings like crabapple jelly and cucumber)! The restaurant also featured a variety of entertainments including how to make long noodles (they are REALLY long) and traditional Chinese opera. Something for everyone!

Tomorrow we try our hands at making dumplings and climb the Great Wall!

 

Middlesex Goes to China!

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Hello Middlesex Community! If you are interested in following the Middlesex Spring Break trip to China, this is the place! A mighty group of 23 students and teachers will be flying to Beijing today. With the time difference between Boston and Beijing, our official adventures in Beijing will start March 12, so stay tuned.

(Temple of Heaven, Beijing)

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