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"YingHua in Beijing" Summer Program Announcement

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by Liao,Bonnie on 2010-10-15

Dear Parents,

Today we braved record-breaking highs (105 degrees Farenheit!) to experience Chinese history and culture on an all-day field trip.  Fortunately the skies were clear and a deep blue, giving us spectacular vistas of the city from the peak of Jing Shan (Prospect Hill, also called “Coal Hill”). 

Our bus departed at 8:45 a.m., all of the students wearing white program T-shirts and new white hats to protect us from the sun.  Our driver and guide also provided a cooler of water bottles at the front of the bus, and we reminded our students of the importance of staying hydrated in this hot weather.  Our first stop was Jing Shan, an artificial hill that was formerly a part of the imperial city and which gained its nickname of “Coal Hill” from rumors that the imperial coal supply was stored below. This was also the place where all the ashes were dumped from the imperial cooking and sacrificial fires.  The hill, dotted with Ming-era pavilions, offers a substantial view of the meridian line of the imperial city.  The students were instructed to bring their program workbooks and answer questions concerning Jing Shan, successfully locating the tree where the last Ming emperor hung himself as his dynasty fell.  The students were remarkably energetic climbing the hill, despite the heat, some of them carrying newly purchased parasols as protection against the increasingly blazing sun.  We had quite a bit of shade on the ascent, and the students appreciated locating now-familiar sights from the peak: Tiananmen Gate (the Gate of Heavenly Peace), the numerous halls within the Forbidden City, National Theater, and the Drum Tower.

From Jingshan Park, we boarded the bus again and headed south to the Temple of Heaven (Tian Tan), the former site for imperial sacrifices to Heaven (and formerly, also Earth) during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The complex of buildings in this enclosed space is architecturally stunning (not a single nail or piece of metal was used in the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (Qi Nian Dian).  On this clear and bright day the azure tiled roofs really shown beneath the accompanying blue sky. It was now nearly 11:00, not the peak of the day’s heat, but with temperatures still rising.  The students found many shady oases along the platforms and buildings to consider the prompts in their workbooks.   Students learned that the emperor was considered the Son of Heaven and that Heaven itself was believed to be circular.  Considering the two circles of twelve pillars outside the Hall, they learned a bit about the division of the Chinese calendar and time into twelve months in the year, and twelve two-hour divisions in the Chinese day.  Students then passed by the platform where the emperor used to change into his ritual clothes and entered a walled enclosure where students could experiment with an interesting phenomenon:  two people can hear one another speaking if they stand at opposite sides of the courtyard against the wall.  Unfortunately the crowds were too large and the noise too much to hear this, but students still enjoyed standing on the “echo stones” clapping their hands and letting out shouts to see if they could produce the desired acoustic effects. 

By now your children were really feeling the heat, and we stopped in route to the bus for ice cream.  Those were some happy kids and happy vendors!  We lingered for quite some time in the shaded snack area, eating ice creams and popsicles, drinking cold bottles of water, watching other tourists coming and going.  After this refreshing break, we were all ready for the trek back to the bus and the ride to lunch.

No worries, the pre-lunch ice cream break did not seem to decrease your children’s appetites.  We ate lunch at a Dai Village restaurant.  The students had an opportunity to dress in Dai costumes and learn some Dai dance when we visited the National Ethnicities Park on our first day in Beijing.  The performance at this restaurant wasn’t nearly as spectacular as the one at the theme park, but the students still enjoyed the beautiful décor and the sampling of music and they ate heartily of rice, fish, chicken, pork and vegetable dishes.

The students were happy to hear that the rest of the day would be spent indoors at several different venues—no lingering outdoors during the most oppressive heat of the day!  But before proceeding, we passed out a round of small bottles of Chinese traditional medicine as protection against the possible health effects of the day’s heat.  Everyone but one student drank the medicine, and all said it no longer tastes as nasty to them as it did the very first time they braved to try it. (They took it on the day visiting the Forbidden City as well.)

Then to the pearl factory, where students were given an introduction to where pearls come from and how pearls differ in quality. Many of the kids picked fresh water pearls out from inside of a newly opened oyster (there were 25 pearls inside this one oyster!).  They also learned how to tell the difference between a real pearl and a fake (if your child gives you a string of pearls as a gift and you rub the pearls together and they are smooth and don’t produce even the slightest bit of pearl dust, well, your child gave you a fake!).  We had about thirty minutes to shop at the factory store, where shoppers could buy pearl jewelry and other products with certificates guaranteeing their authenticity.  Some of the simpler jewelry was on promotion for reasonable prices, and a few of the girls did some shopping.  Both boys and girls made multiple trips to the restroom.  No worries, there weren’t any stomach woes (though they were well-hydrated).  The chief draw of the bathroom was the pearl lotion available to apply after hand-washing.  It smells terrific, and is incredibly smooth!  I never imagined it would be such a novelty, but well, it was.

There was also a bowl of candy at the snack bar available for samples.  The non-shoppers were each told they could sample one, and they sat on stools happily sucking on hard candy.

In route to the next destination—a cloisonné factory—we informed the students we would have to modify our schedule and not go shopping at Hong Qiao market.  There just didn’t seem to be enough time.  They were disappointed, but we promised we would find a time another day.  For the rest of the ride, our guide, Jane, and Liao Laoshi, introduced us to the process of making cloisonné.  I’ll confess, there were a few long faces.  But then….oh, no!  We arrived at the factory to discover that it has been closed for the past two months.  What, no tour of tiny enamel boxes?!  We teachers were crushed.  How do you think your kids felt when they learned we had to adjust our schedule again and we now had time for Hong Qiao Market (where they might, by the way, purchase, toys and clothes and books and electronic games)?  Yep, you guessed it.  Smiles (and yelps?) all around!  We had a full hour at Hong Qiao market, and the students were required to stay in their small groups (4-6) as they navigated the stalls.  They had a fabulous time bargaining with vendors or watching their friends bargain.  Not everyone bought something, but there was plenty of stimulation and people-watching to keep them entertained.

From there, we hit rush hour traffic (it was now 4:30) to head to our 5:15 show of Chinese Acrobats at the Chao Yang Flying Acrobats Theater. What a show!  I haven’t seen acrobats since before the Olympics and I can say that the choreography is on a whole other scale now. The show was an hour long and involved elaborate sets, costumes, and special effects, while still maintaining the classic acts of acrobats. The highpoints included: the young man who balances on a see-saw board and catches and stacks catapulted bowls on a pole balanced on his forehead; the young girls doing a choreographed dance with Chinese yo-yos that begins with them standing firmly on the ground and culminates with their standing on each others’ shoulders; the string of young men leaping through hoops that are progressively raised higher and higher; and the pair of men walking on and within a set of rotating wheels, while doing things like juggling and jumping rope.  What a show.

We had huge appetites when we exited, and headed to a fabulous dumpling restaurant, called Bai Jiao Yuan (Hundreds Dumplings Place), where we could watch the dumplings being made behind a window while we waited for our dishes.  Dumplings are traditionally served at the end of the meal, and we had a great assortment of dishes that preceded this grand finale.  The tofu with mu’er mushrooms was particularly tasty (some of your kids are now tofu fans!).  Your kids at two of the three tables hardly touched their green veggie plate saving their appetites for the dumplings. Liao Laoshi then told them that the dumplings would only be served after the green veggie plates were empty. Suddenly everyone started to eat the green veggie! In no time, the veggie plates were completely cleared with no trace of veggie left. Then came the mother load of dumplings, both steamed and pan-fried.  We got to sample ten different kinds of dumplings (Liao Laoshi calculated we must have been served at least 100 dumplings per table!).  What a feast.

We pulled up on campus at 8:30 p.m. and urged the students to make haste to their rooms and complete any remaining homework and get a good night’s sleep.  The hallways were loud, and we had to ultimately shoo students to bed (they are really enjoying each others’ company!).  Today we have a full day of classes on campus, and the forecast is promising to be cooler.

You might ask your children about their experience taking Chinese medicine, about what their favorite acrobat act was, about how they think the Temple of Heaven compares to the Forbidden City, and about their experiences bargaining in Chinese markets.
All the best from Beijing,

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