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"YingHua in Beijing" Summer Program Announcement

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by Liao,Bonnie on 2010-10-15

The students began their day gathering at 6:55 in the morning in the parking lot on campus.  They were expecting to go for a run and then do martial arts, but were pleasantly surprised when they were each handed a Chinese yo-yo of their own to learn to play with (and to keep!).  These are not easy toys to use (though we hear from Elaine, that her mom is quite good at this!).  The students will have plenty of opportunities to perfect their yo-yo skills during the remainder of our time here.
After our usual buffet, we gathered at 8:20 to walk a short block over to the Beijing International Academy of the Arts and Sciences (BIAAS).  Two of our Chinese teachers, Zong Laoshi and Gong Laoshi, led the pack.  They tried desperately to get our group to line up in two lines, according to height (one line of boys, the other of girls) and have us walk over and arrive in an orderly fashion the way that Chinese children would.  Can you imagine how that went?  You can probably guess, knowing each of your own children and having your own experience herding them now and again, sometimes with their peers and siblings, into cars and off to scheduled activities!  American (and Canadian and French) children aren’t really easily herd-able—for better or worse, depending on one’s perspective, they don’t spend a great deal of time walking in orderly lines.  So they were quite the sight walking this brief block, looking so handsome and scrubbed in their matching yellow t-shirts and so luan (that is “chaotic”, from a Chinese perspective) in our misshapen mass.  We had some students walking on curbs, some avoiding gutters by walking to one side, others jumping over puddles, some tossing their water bottles in the air and catching them.  Like so much of our day-to-day living, it was a good opportunity to observe cultural differences.
The Beijing International Academy of Arts and Sciences (http://www.biaas.cn) is a private school for the performing arts with both Chinese and international students.  Today they had a performance planned for members of one of China’s political parties, the Zhi Gong Dang (composed mostly of Chinese returned from overseas and their relatives), and we were invited to join this performance by Pan Laoshi, who is a member of this party.  Your children have been practicing one form of wushu (martial arts) for this event.  When we arrived we were led to a large dance studio set up for the performance.  Our students sat on stools along one wall and watched a group of kindergarteners dressed in ballet and tap dance attire practice a very well choreographed dance.  These children were so small, so adorable, and so GOOD!   Your children starting getting quite nervous, and when asked if they also wanted to practice they readily accepted the opportunity.  Led by Shannon and Benoit, who know the form best, they practiced it twice, which I think helped to reduce their nerves.  We then sat quietly to the side as the other performances began.  Your children were performing last, and they had a long wait!  Luckily there were fabulous performances to keep them entertained.  The BIIAS students range from kindergarten through high school and we saw some amazing talent performing international dances that included ballet, tap and hip-hop and dances from India, Thailand, Mexico, Spain, and Japan, and the Uighur minority group within Xinjiang, China.  You’ll be happy to hear that your children know how to line up when it really counts!  When it was our turn to perform they stood up and formed nice lines on stage and stood straight and attentive watching for Shannon’s signal to begin executing their form.  They did terrific and their performance was met with applause.
After this outing to BIAAS, we boarded a bus for a field trip to Jiazhuanghu Village, the location of the tunnels used by villagers during the War of Resistance.  The village is located in the Shunyi district of Beijing, but was quite a drive because our driver had to make a detour due to a road being closed.  Some of the students have begun to use flashcards to memorize vocabulary, and there were a few who were reviewing these on the bus (others claimed they get car sick, and so they chatted with their friends or looked out the window and the scenic street scene).
When we finally arrived at the village it was lunchtime, and we went first to eat at a restaurant within a home that specializes in nongjia cai (peasant cooking).  The tables were set up under fans in the courtyard of a family’s home, and almost all the food (including the tofu) was grown by the family that cooked for us.  We were treated with freshly picked apricots as we waited briefly for the dishes to arrive. We ate an incredible meal: cool marinated fresh cucumbers; chicken (freshly slaughtered) with mushrooms; green beans with pork; tempura-style fried wild green vegetables; an omelet made with eggs from chickens roaming freely in the yard; steamed pumpkin; mutton sausage; stir-fried greens; tomatoes topped with sugar; raw scallions dipped in bean sauce; yam noodles with pork; potatoes and beef; family style tofu (made on location); baked yams; cornmeal buns stuffed with yecai (wild veggie); a triangle-shaped bun filled with brown sugar ("sugar triangle"); and mung bean soup.  Yum.  Your children loved it.  David and Andrew went wild over the yams, and came scavenging to our table for leftovers.  Victor and his brother, Phil, weren’t thrilled with the cornmeal buns stuffed with yecai, but they happily ate the stir-fried greens, loved the "sugar triangle" (who wouldn’t?), and drank bowl after bowl of mung bean soup; Max was also a big fan of the soup and a great appreciator of the potatoes; Rebecca’s favorite was the omelet, and her brother Jonathon, ate serving after serving of the mutton sausage; Tristan devoured multiple servings of the yam noodles with pork; and Haoran did great marketing for the scallions dipped in bean sauce (raw scallions being a favorite of his father).  And that was just the table where I sat; others were eating heartily at tables with other teachers.  I was also delighted to look up and see that upon finishing his meal, Jack was completely engrossed standing on the side, practicing with a yo-yo he’d brought along on the outing.  He was focused and determined.
We departed with happy and full bellies.  The day was beginning to feel warm: perfect timing to enter the tunnels.  On the bus, Liao Laoshi asked the students to bring their notebooks with them to the site itself.  If you’ll recall, earlier in the week the students saw a film about the tunnels of Jiazhuanghu Village and have some background about the war and the role the CCP played in this area in resisting the Japanese.  In order to further develop skills in observation and inquiry, Liao Laoshi asked the students to note at least 5 observations as they were going through the tunnel and 3 questions that occurred to them that they would like to know the answers to.  The tunnel network itself is 11.5 kilometers in length, and we would only be going through a short 800-meter (or half a mile) loop of tunnel open to the public.  But believe me, it did not seem like such a short loop when walking through a narrow passage dimly lit with bulbs, climbing up and down stairs and ducking through narrow entries.  Along the way there were various strategic points to observe: small openings to insert the barrel of a gun for defense, larger caverns used as meeting rooms; smaller hollows carved out for the storage of weapons or for hiding to surprise an invader; hidden entryways and exits disguised above the ground under stoves, wells, or feeding troughs.   The younger girls were a bit scared and openly communicative of this, and stuck close to me for reassurance.  In retrospect, I think the older children were scared as well—who wouldn’t be, this was a horrific period of history, and many tragedies happened here, even with the heroism of the tunnels.  But the older children could fight their fear by making jokes (and ghost sounds), filling the tunnels with laughter rather than letting themselves feel the tragedy of this place.  Afterwards, we had a chance to debrief the experience with the students on the bus.  Everyone (including the younger ones) said it was interesting and they wished they could come back again!  And despite our encouragement that they note observations, not one student had written anything in his or her notebook.  Liao Laoshi and I realized they were probably so scared, despite their excited demeanors, that they neglected to actually take a few moments to make concrete observations.  We realized the ideal for the older students might be for them to go through the tunnel twice (as they themselves said they want to do): once to satisfy their curiosity and get over their fear; and the second time to actually observe their surroundings.  That said, it is wonderful to have this experience with the students that left them hungry for more—a great foundation for inquiry-based learning.
When we exited the tunnel museum site it was almost 2:00.  From here we went to a porcelain workshop to learn about Jingde Zhen porcelain and practice some basic skills in its production.  We watched a DVD showing the process of molding, painting, glazing, and firing porcelain and then moved to another room where we looked at a painting from the Song Dynasty showing the stages of porcelain production from start to finish.  The students learned that porcelain begins with the cultivation of rocks from the mountains that is then ground to powder, mixed with water and sifted and filtered until it becomes a very fine and smooth clay (gao-ling-tu).  It is then molded and shaped on a potter’s wheel (lapi), avoiding the creation of bubbles so the pottery does not crack when it is fired.  In our present age, porcelain is fired at 1350 Celsius for 11.5 hours, but before modern ovens the temperatures were cooler in the kilns and this process took three days.  The students also learned the difference between the processes of making blue-painted porcelain (qing-hua-ci) and porcelains of other colorful patterns.  We also learned from Liao Laoshi that the name for the country of “China” comes directly from the importation of porcelain manufactured in Chan’nan to Europe (ask your child about this story). Chan'nan was later named by the Jingde Emperor of the Song Dynasty as "Jingde Zhen."
We then had a chance to try our hand at the molding and shaping of clay into vessels using a potter’s wheel.  We stepped into a workshop and each student was given an apron, a seat at his or her own wheel, and several mounds of clay to work with.  I have never seen them so focused and determined.  Spinning clay on a wheel is not easy work, and many found they were near completion of a finely-shaped vessel and suddenly it would begin to cave in on itself or become asymmetrical at the final stages of completion. Fortunately there were some skilled potters there from the workshop to help us all through our frustrations.
We left the porcelain factory at around 5:00 for a long ride back to dinner: an hour and a half to Korean BBQ.  This was a huge hit with students, and everyone was great about practicing their table manners while waiting their turn to be served from each table’s shared grill.  Shannon and Andrew were the master chefs at my table, and Jonathon, Fei Fei, Rebecca and Elaine were master eaters!  We arrived home at 8:30 and sent the students right to their rooms for homework and bed.  No reflection gathering after this long day, as they will be rising early for morning exercise.
All the best from Beijing,

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