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"YingHua in Beijing" Summer Program Announcement

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by Liao,Bonnie on 2010-10-15

Today we had another terrific all-day field trip.  We gathered at 7:45 am for an 8:00 departure.  The forecast was for cooler temps and possible showers, and the sky was indeed thick with clouds.  We made certain the students all brought umbrellas and/or rain gear.


Our destination was the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, which is a bit further from more popular sections such as Badaling or Simatai, but well worth the thirty minutes extra driving time.  It would be a total of two hours of transit, but we broke this up midway with a brief stop at a jade factory.  At the jade factory, students saw the various stages of jade production.  We were able to see what the raw jade stones look like when they are first mined, before they are cut with crystal blades under streams of cooling water.  Students saw (and felt) the differences between “hard” jade ("jadeite") and “soft” jade ("nephrite") and learned the significance ascribed to different colors of jade: green represents longevity; lavender represents happiness; yellow represents wealth.  We also saw variations in the cloudiness of the polished jade, learning that the more translucent jades are found in rivers.  We were then brought to a room filled with some finished products traditionally carved out of jade.  Many students had seen the concentric carved globes, one nested within the other, but did not know that these represent the wholeness, happiness, and interconnectedness of the Chinese family.  Many had also seen images of the Laughing Buddha, often carved from jade, but did not know that it is believed that rubbing the Buddha’s protruding belly in the morning will bring good luck.


Perhaps most importantly, students learned how to tell real jade from the fake varieties often sold in tourist markets. Our guide clinked two jade bracelets together and we heard a clear vibrating ring, like the sound you might hear if metal rings hit one another:  the clearer the ring, the higher the quality of jade.  Students were also taught to look for occlusions in the jade under a light: if a piece of “jade” is too clear and does not have interlocking snowflake-like crystals within it, it is probably made of plastic or glass.  Jade is also heavier and cooler than its imitators.  We had a bit of time to look around the accompanying factory store before boarding the bus again for the Wall.


The Mutianyu section of the Wall is set in a hilly and wooded area north of Badaling, filled with beautiful old pines and plenty of birds, including orioles.  There is a quite a hike to get to the Wall itself from the parking lot and rows of stalls with vendors hawking everything from “I Love Beijing” t-shirts to fake (!) jade bracelets and Buddhas.  There is a cable car that goes up the side of the hill for those visitors who don’t wish to climb, but we all hiked up together, huffing and puffing under a comfortable grey sky.  The hills and forests surrounding us were shrouded in mist, as were some of the more distant guard towers, visible as we reached the wall itself.  We hiked together between three lengths of towers, then took a group photo before splitting into two groups.  One group descended from the Wall with Liao Laoshi via another route. This group of hikers included Shannon, Lionel, Haoran, Jason Q, Vicky S., David, Andrew, Lin Lin, William and Jonathan. The others descended the Wall with Mei Laoshi via toboggans.  The toboggans were fun, but a little pricey (the price has risen in the last year, from 40 yuan to 50).  Each student had his or her own toboggan, which went relatively slowly down a shoot through the woods, and they could control their speed with a handheld break.  All of the toboggan riders said it was exhilarating!


We had worked up quite an appetite by now and went next for a late lunch at a beautiful restaurant set in a space that felt like a greenhouse, with windows all around and high vaulted ceilings.  There we ate a delicious meal of all-organic vegetables and fresh meats. Our dishes included a Northern Chinese specialty of eggplant, tomatoes and potatoes (disanxian); spicy chicken with peanuts and vegetables (gongbaojiding); bokchoy and mushrooms in oyster sauce; chicken with onions and peppers; fried egg and tomatoes; dongfennoodles with eggs, scallions, greens, wrapped in pancakes; Chinese cabbage/rape leaves (youcai); fruit; and, of course, rice.  Can you guess that your children ate heartily?


We broke up our ride back with a stop at a cloisonné factory, where the students were able to enter one workshop after another to observe the five steps of cloisonné making.  First we saw the copper body of the vessels being hammered.  Next we saw how tweezers were used to shape copper wire onto the body of the vessel or sculpture to create patterns.  Then we saw how water was mixed with mineral pigments to create vividly colored paints that were then applied with droppers into the hollows of the designs.  Then we saw how the products were fired for five minutes in a kiln multiple times, shrinking the coloring mixture with each firing.  Finally, we saw how artisans polished the products using various stones, such as ebony and charcoal.  The last step, kept secret by the factory, is the process of gilding the final product.  Again, we had a bit of time to explore the factory store before boarding the bus again.

Unfortunately that on this trip we learned that the workers had mostly been working for over 20 years and would retire in foreseeable future. It is believed that in 30-40 years (or sooner), there would be no one creating cloisonné since no young people are willing to do the repetitive and tedious work for the current market salary. It may be a good time to stock up on these beautiful products. 

Our next destination was Beihai Park, a formal imperial garden that dates from the Jin Dynasty (1179).  Lakeside parks are pleasant, cool locations during the heat of summer, and although today wasn’t particularly hot, we still enjoyed this relaxing spot.  We rented rowboats and went out on the lake in groups of five people per boat (including teachers, interspersed among the boats).  What a blast!  It was an interesting leadership experience for students, trying to figure out who should row and how. 

There were varied levels of expertise in each boat, and few had ever rowed a boat with this many people in it. Many of the boats initially floated aimlessly near the dock or turned in slow uneven circles as our student rowers yelled orders to one another, trying to strategize how to best navigate their vessels. One of our older campers, Max, took over the oars of his boat and nearly effortlessly and efficiently steered his companions to open waters while the other boats continued to bob on the water with flailed turns.  Then Fei Fei, our second-youngest camper in a boat of other younger campers shocked the other boats of students by being the first rower to successfully turn her boat towards the open lake and glide smoothly and quickly in the desired direction.  She and her companions had figured out that it was more efficient to have one person command both oars than share the burden with two rowers.  Once she hit open water, she shared her rowing tips with two of her shipmates, Elaine and Rebecca, who also quickly became master rowers.  It take long for Fei Fei and Rebecca to realize they could row together as a team, seating one in front of the other, both hands on both oars in unison, doubling the strength of their pool and their speed.  How exhilarating for them to discover that they could more than make up what they lacked in size (as two of the smallest and youngest campers) with teamwork and a coordinated effort! Our hour on the lake flew by and soon it was time for dinner: Peking Duck!


But first a note on your children’s increasing curator skills.  While waiting to be seated in the lobby of the restaurant the students stood around a large porcelain urn, admiring the blue painted design and noting the size and shape of the vessel.  But, oh no…what is this??? Philip O. discovered a bubble, right at the top of the vessel.  Did the restaurant get this large urn, and its mate at the other end of the lobby, at a discount? They could certainly tell how many pieces the vessel was made of and how the blue painted design had been created thanks to the trip on July 9.


Our dinner was delicious, and all the more meaningful since the students had studied the history of Peking duck and the various ingredients.  They had to wait (and eat) through a full meal before getting to the duck, as dish after dish arrived, the duck being the end of the meal.  When the ducks were finally brought out, the students clustered around to watch the carving, have a greater appreciation for this culinary art now that many had experienced trying to carve duck themselves. 


We returned to campus at 8:45 at night.  No group reflection this evening, just in time for curfew and a good night’s sleep before a full day of classes.


Our next day is another day on campus; the forecast is again cooler and overcast. 

One note to all of you ... please notify any authorized visitors of your child NOT TO bring any snacks and soft drinks. Most of the snacks and drinks would increase their "internal heat" and tend to weaken their immune system in this hot and humid weather. We have a no soft drink and no snack (with a few exceptions) rules. Thanks for your understand.

All the best from Beijing, (attached are three photos taken at the National Ethnic Culture Park.)




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