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"YingHua in Beijing" Summer Program Announcement

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by Liao,Bonnie on 2010-07-04

July 1, 2010


Greetings from Beijing,


Day four of our program dawned cloudy and cool, and many of us realized we had not yet purchased umbrellas for the forecast rain.  This was our first day of an all-day field trip, and as we gathered at the bus for an 8:15 departure we had backpacks slung on backs and gear on our minds.  Some of the students had to run back upstairs to grab their yellow program books produced by YingHua which include information about our site visits and activity sheets to keep the students focused on important questions and themes.


The heavens had opened by the time we arrived at our first destination.  Fortunately there were vendors who rushed to our bus door and sold some of us umbrellas reasonably priced at 10 yuan.  This first stop was the new China Science and Technology Museum: a beautiful and impressive museum filled with exhibits on the China’s contributions to the history of science and technology, as well as interactive exhibits on themes such as the galaxies, the science of fragrance and smell, and paleontology.  Our students began in the hall dedicated to Chinese scientific contributions where they moved at their own pace, guided by their individual interests and their workbooks.  They were able to engage with exhibits about the history and science behind such things as Chinese bronzes and porcelain, Chinese medicine, astronomy, maritime achievements, ancient time-keeping devices for both seasons and time. We had a full two and a half hours at this museum, but it flew by!  The students were all responsible in returning to our meeting point at the designated time (11:30) but many felt they could have happily spent a whole day there. 


From there we braved the rain and returned to the bus, which then took us to lunch at a restaurant that features a special cuisine from Shanxi Province:  daoshao mian (knife-cut-noodle).   Bonnie and I both sat at a table that happened to be all boys:  Max, Tristin, Jack, William, Benoit, both Philips, and Victor.  They are all hearty and healthy eaters, and soon realized they had to exercise their Chinese skills with the staff in order to get all their eating needs met.  Some were missing bowls and utensils at their settings, others simply wanted more ice water or tea to drink.  We were happy to see them diligently learning the names of the dishes that were brought to the table, as well as successfully getting their needs met by the very busy restaurant staff.  It is one thing to learn Chinese food vocabulary from a textbook in a classroom situation; it is a whole other challenge to use this vocabulary successfully with the appropriate sentence patterns in a bustling and loud restaurant!  We were happy to be there for this learning moment with these students.  And did I mention they are hearty eaters (and hydrators!)? But they were also grateful guests.  At one point Max noted, “We’re eating like kings!” and Tristin quickly corrected, “No, like emperors!”  Philip O. observed he might be at risk of losing his boyish figure, and at one point Will noticed that we had actually drank through the restaurants chilled water supply.  One thing that particularly moved me during this meal was the sweet sibling relationships between some of our students.  We had two sets of older-younger brother sets at our table (William and Jack; Philip and Victor).  Their parents should be proud to know how well these big brothers look after their little brothers: always sitting with them, helping to serve their food and including them in interactions and conversations.  It’s clear they are growing together as siblings, but this is a wonderful enrichment in all of our group experience to have such a caring dynamic of mixed age students.


After lunch we went to the Olympic site of the Birds Nest and the Water Cube.  We did not enter either of these buildings (which aren’t currently open for public tours), but we walked around them and visited the official souvenir shop where some students took the opportunity to practice their Chinese with the sales staff there.  The prices for Olympic-themed souvenirs were surprisingly reasonable.  I won’t give away any of the secrets of their purchases as I suspect some of these were gifts. 


Our next stop was the Drum Tower, on which Beijing residents used to depend to know the time. We saw a drum performance at the top of the tower and then stepped outside the view the Dragon Line of the old city stretching from the Bell Tower through to Tiananmen Square.  This provided a nice preview for our visits to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen on Saturday.


From here we went on amazing excursion through the hutongs in the area of the Drum Tower, carried by pedicabs (also called “rickshaws”) to three different courtyard houses.  At our first courtyard house the students were introduced to the structure of the entrances and learned how to determine the rank of the resident family by the external beams.  At the second home the students met with an amazing man who is a champion at raising crickets: a fascinating and little known subculture of imperial China that has continued in interesting ways into the modern era.  Many of us had no idea the amount of time and energy and supporting materials that are used to raise champion crickets (for fighting).  We got to meet a few prized crickets (who only live to be 100 days old), see their little houses and instruments (such as tiny shovels to scoop their droppings and tiny baskets to pick them up).  We heard hilarious stories about the joys and woes of raising and training these sensitive creatures and witnessed the passion and eccentricity of this one particular cricket expert.  Ask your children about their impression of the cricket man and about his stories: I am sure they will never forget him!


We ended our hutong tour at the courtyard house of an artist who does intricate paintings in tiny bottles, somehow managing to skillfully manipulate his brush with minimal space and strokes.  The students were fascinated by his technique, and appreciative of his allowing them to try their hand at this art form.  Half of the group remained at this artist’s home dinner and the other half went to another nearby home and ate with a family that specializes in martial arts. We ate a variety of vegetable and meat dishes, and finished the meal off with pork dumplings. The students were touched by the generosity of their hosts and their attentiveness to making sure all of us were well-fed. 


We returned to our campus near 7:00, and gathered for reflection at 7:30.  Once again, after 10 minutes of reflective writing, every student had something to share, with many students volunteering to go first.  Students were particularly moved by their experience of our generous hosts at both the lunch restaurant and at dinner; by the efforts and arduous lives of the rickshaw pullers; and by the passion and charisma of the cricket man.  During this gathering we also welcomed a new member of our group, David, who just arrived from London, Ontario, after completing his final exams. 


As I write this now, we are into our 5th day, and students are on campus (currently learning Chinese painting). The weather has cleared: it is beautiful and sunny. We look forward to tomorrow’s outing.


All the best from Beijing,




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