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"YingHua in Beijing" Summer Program Announcement

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by Liao,Bonnie on 2010-07-04

July 3, 2010

Hello again from Beijing,

My goodness, summer has arrived.  The high reached 99 degrees Fahrenheit on day six of our program, and this was a field trip day so we would be moving about in this heat.  We departed at 8:30 on a very comfortable tour bus with a powerful microphone and air conditioning system.  The AC helped keep our students alert while I gave an overview of the political and historical significance of Tiananmen Square and the Gate of Heavenly Peace.  I was delighted to see how much the students knew of Chinese history.  Jason Q. is like an insatiable sponge when it comes to learning the historical context behind what we are experiencing here.  He is always hungry for details, which delights this history prof! Haoran helped feed Jason’s appetite for stories by filling in some of the details of the Opium Wars and the role that imperialism played in China’s modern era.  I focused our discussion on the presence of students in front of the gate and in the square itself during three important historical events: May Fourth, the Cultural Revolution, and Spring 1989.  I had warned our official tour guide that I would be talking about 1989 and I took it as a sign of the changing times that she didn’t flinch a bit, “Ah, the student movement,” she said, “Yes, ten years ago you couldn’t have talked about this, but now I think it is o.k.”  Later, Haoran shared with me that his parents had been students at Bei Da in 1989 and had been in the Square during some of the events of that spring.  I was happy to hear that he had an understanding of some of the complexity of that historical moment and that he was cognizant that there were many different reasons students were in the Square, and that this wasn’t a singularly focused democracy movement as the Western media understood it at the time. 

Before arriving at the Square we stopped at the National Theatre: an amazing architectural accomplishment that had been controversial in its construction, but is stunning to behold. The students were divided into small buddy groups of four to six students and they were free to walk at their own pace through the exhibit halls, opera house, and concert halls.  Many students were drawn to the costume displays on the third level, and some students really appreciated sitting and listening to several opera singers perform, wearing their beautiful gowns, on the second level. 

From the National Theatre we walked to Tiananmen Square and the students were stunned at the size, even on a day like today, crowded with tourists.  In the wake of my discussion on the importance of the Square as a place of political expression and protest, many students scanned the crowd, trying to guess who amongst them might be secret police.  We were also impressed with the number of Chinese who were visiting this site from all over China, some of whom were interested in taking pictures of our students.  We took a group picture of our own (see yhls.yinghuaschool.org/phpalbum/photos/YiB2010/20100703TianAnMen.jpg), shoulder-to-shoulder, smiling and squinting under the hot, high sun.

Feeling the heat (and it was not yet 11:30 am!), we surprised the students and allowed them all to get ice cream before ascending the Gate of Heavenly Peace.  There are exhibits at the top, and some students watched a video of last year’s National Day celebration in the Square.  Some students were surprised to discover that students standing in formation had actually formed the characters for Guo Qing, which could be seen from an aerial view above the Square.  They were also interested to hear that the clear blue skies of that day were reportedly created with the help of human and state intervention, as rockets had been fired into the heavens to disperse the clouds and chemically induced rain had cleared the skies in the days before. 

We had to pass a security point to enter the Gate, and no one was allowed to carry drinking water. The exhibits were a cool respite from the outdoor heat, but students were soon beginning to feel parched despite being indoors. Some of the younger girls (Rebecca, Fei Fei, Yvonne and Elaine) cooled themselves off at the restroom at the top of the gate by wetting their faces and necks with the cool running water.  Their smiles and laughter at this sink were in marked contrast to their wilting demeanors before we had entered that restroom.  They commented to me that they would never look at water in the same way again, as they had developed such an appreciation in this heat for it’s cooling and hydrating properties. I felt a deep satisfaction for the multiple lessons they are all learning in their day-to-day experiences together.  Stripped from their normal lives and given the opportunity for reflection, they are able to see things anew and focus on details that they might take for granted in their everyday lives. 

We entered the Forbidden City after a family style lunch of vegetable and meat dishes at a restaurant between the Duan Men (Upright Gate) and the Wu Men (Meridian Gate).  We proceeded as a group through the progression of gates and halls, under the care of our terrific guide, Kelly.  One highpoint was the exhibit about the emperors’ wedding clothes (the students felt they could view these clothes forever, but I might add this also happened to be in an air-conditioned room!).  Another highpoint (literally) was viewing the artificial mountain (Jia Shan) within the Imperial Garden, a “high point” which included a pavilion that imperial ladies used to ascend annually on the ninth day of the ninth month of the Chinese lunar calendar.  And perhaps the “highest” point was being allowed eat their second ice cream of the day within the Imperial Garden!

From here we went to the Yuan Hou Silk Factory.  In route to the silk factory, Fei Fei and Rebecca (our youngest girls, aged 8 and 9) began playing a hand-clapping and rhyming game on the bus.  This quickly caught on, first with Philip O. and ristan joining in, followed by some of the other older kids.  Again, it was such a pleasure to see these kids of different ages playing together, not trying to be too cool and distance themselves from the younger ones.

At the silk factory itself, we had a tour of the entire process of making silk, from the raising of silk worms to the weaving of fabric.  The students got to examine bottles of specimens of worms in their various stages of development, and some even braved to shake their cocoons.  We also saw some worms eating mulberry leaves, and clusters of moths on leaves that had emerged from their cocoons. I quote Tristan: “What is this?  A mating ground?” (He was correct).  We saw silk being pulled into thread and learned that a single caterpillar produces a thread one kilometer in length.  Some of your children also purchased silk and silk products.

The heat didn’t seem to suppress appetites, and your children ate enthusiastically at a restaurant featuring zha-jiang-mian.  Liao Laoshi encouraged Rebecca to try the sweet and sour shrimp despite Rebecca’s conviction she doesn’t like shrimp.  Rebecca took a risk and tried it and, viola, she liked it!  This gave her the encouragement to try the cherry tomatoes, which she did not like. To quote Rebecca, “I’ve never had tomatoes that were so sweet!” Liao Laoshi, never missing a teaching moment, was right there to congratulate Rebecca on her open-mindedness and risk-taking. Rebecca in turn expressed that she would always keep and open-mind and try new things.

We ended our evening at the Peking Opera (we went to the Li Yuan Juchang).  Before the show students watched the actors carefully apply their makeup, clear markers of the characters they would be embodying, a great prelude for the next day’s hands-on lesson in mask painting.  The performance itself featured two shows, one involving a woman searching by land and water for her admirer; the other, an action-filled performance of Xiao Qing fighting government soldiers to get the money to save the life of her master, the White Snake.  Believe it or not, even after such a long day, the students remained attentive throughout the show, but were ready for bed when we arrived back at campus at 9:20. They were pretty relieved that there would be no group gathering until the classes at 8:45 a.m. next morning.

However, some relief in their schedule didn’t stop some students from getting up early!  The group of youngest girls showed up for breakfast at 7:00 am (!) eager to see the other campers (and disappointed others had slept in).  By 7:30, Lauren, Vicky, Victoria and Jessika were all sitting together at one table, forks or chopsticks in one hand, books on the Summer Palace corridor paintings open in the other as they talked, animated, about the stories in these paintings.  When I encountered Benoit somewhere near the beverage buffet I asked him what he thought of last night’s show.  He beamed back, “Fantastic!”

Today has been another day on campus with a full day of classes.  Stay tuned.

 Cheers from Beijing,



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