"A Journey to Confucius' Hometown"
Where: Beijing, Jinan, Qufu, Rizhao
When: July 16 to July 29, 2008
Who : 11 students and 7 teachers
After weeks of a very interesting and worthwhile study at Bryant University we were ready and anxious to experience China! I believe the study program at Bryant was well planned enough to give us a solid introduction to Chinese History and Culture. The program included expert lecturers, language study, and hands on experiences like Chinese calligraphy and painting. But, you can only learn so much from a classroom and actually being there was amazing!
I would describe China as ancient and elegant. At the same time it is brand new and exciting! I loved seeing the architecture with the traditional Chinese roofs and all the Chinese calligraphy. All of this seems in perfect harmony with sky scrapers shaped like Olympic flames, brand new 5 star hotels and a modern downtown with all the "high end" exclusive stores built along a walking mall! It's this seamless blending of old and new that makes Beijing so unique! It was great to take a tour around the city to see where the Olympics would be held. We saw the Bird's Nest Stadium, and the Water Cube, and in the distance the Olympic Village. Everywhere there are people, wonderful friendly people working and riding their bicycles and motor scooters fearlessly from one place to another. We had never before seen a city that had a separate lane for bicycles, even on the freeway!
That first week we could hardly believe that we were walking through Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City with its rich history of Emperors and Dynasties. The Forbidden City was fabulous, seven gates, all dressed in gold and marble! They even had a palace just to celebrate the Emperor's birthday! It really was a city inside a city.
Visiting the Great Wall of China was an experience we will never forget! Walking on the wall makes you feel that you are a part of history. It's one of the wonders of the world! You can imagine what it was like to be building it or how it was used in ancient times. You try to remember all you've learned about it and yet you can't stop asking yourself, How?
That afternoon we left Beijing and had our first experience on taking the train to Jinan. It was wild but everyone made it! In Jinan we saw the Baotu Spring Park and Jinan Old Ave. The park was beautiful but I think that Old Ave. was one of the highlights of the trip. It was like going back in time and experiencing a traditional part of Chinese culture which is probably disappearing more and more. We took lots of pictures and the people kept staring at us (and smiling) because I don't think they have seen many people from the west.
The next day we visited Mount Tai. We took a 20 minute tram ride and walked to the top. At the top we had a wonderful lunch and the view up there in the clouds felt like being in heaven.
Our next stop was Qufu. There we stayed at the old campus of the Confucius Institute in the home town of Confucius! Here we heard many wonderful lectures about Confucius and his life, family and his philosophy of Benevolence. We had many experiences with traditional Chinese folk songs, painting and calligraphy. We really enjoyed staying on the campus because we felt immersed in the day to day culture there. Just going to the local store or Post Office was a fun experience!
For some of us the most memorable part of our trip to Qufu was visiting Confucius's Cemetery, Temple, and Mansion. It was a wonderful spiritual feeling to be there. We saw where his son and grandson were buried too. It was quite surprising how large the cemetery is! Over 100,000 descendents of Confucius are buried there! Only the sons and their wives can be buried there - no daughters so far. The Temple and Mansion are still in use today for special dinners and meetings.
What turned out to be equally unforgettable was the trip to a local village where we got to experience everyday life. This was a very organized and hard working farming community. The Mayor came out to greet us and the people were so friendly. We went into the Mayor's house and it seemed very big compared to other small homes we had seen in the city. We saw their fields where they grow corn, grapes, wheat, apricots and some apples. We also saw where they keep fish and harvest that fish to sell. The children followed us around and it was a wonderful feeling to meet this community. This is why we came to China!
On that same day we visited a local elementary school! It was very impressive. The students and the teachers had work displayed on the walls. They are all very talented in Chinese writing and painting skills. We saw their classrooms that were very neat and clean and looked a lot like ours only with lots more desks! The school was very well equipped with a large library, a modern science lab, and a huge computer lab with about 35 new computers. We showed the principal Smithfield's web site and he showed us his school web site. It was very informative! There was a question and answer period and we learned that Chinese students are a lot like our students. Sometimes they even end up in the principal's office. The big difference is they don't have any differentiated instruction! They were preparing for their 100 th anniversary so a large group of young girls performed a dance for us that they had been learning for the ceremony. The girls were so excited that they screamed when we arrived! The dance charmed and impressed us all. We took lots of pictures. They made a big impression on our hearts!
The next morning we took a 3 hour bus ride to the beach! We went to the Yellow Sea and it was a beautiful day. We had lunch at a well known sea food restaurant over looking the sea and the view and the food were impressive! We looked out at ancient style fishing boats and there seemed to be a 1,000 dragon flies that looked like tiny oriental birds dotting all around. The water was warm and clean and a beautiful blue color. Everyone went swimming or walked along the beach with their feet in the water. This was a very special day.
Two days later we were back in Beijing in the beautiful new 4 star hotel again! We felt very fortunate to visit the incredible Summer Palace there. This was a place where the Emperor went for a vacation! Something like Camp David. It was so beautiful and relaxing. The story is the Emperors could not go out into the city because of safety reasons so they built this whole make believe city just for him (and his girl friends) to stroll around and shop. And his girl friends could buy whatever they wanted with fake money. The shops are still there and you have to purchase special "fake" money to shop there. We took a private dragon boat ride around the palace. Most of us could have stayed there forever!
In the afternoon we had a very important visit to the Confucius Institute Headquarters. We met some of the people who sponsor this trip, thank you! They had a lot of interactive technology there. It was a very impressive building inside and out. I was thrilled because on a wall display there was a picture of Ying Zhang and students in the after school Chinese program from my school in Smithfield, William Winsor. I was there helping Ying when they took that picture so it was fun to see that it was there in China! We went downstairs and they opened the book store for us and we got to see and buy some great children's books to bring home!
Almost time to go home so nothing left to do but go shopping, Chinese style!! The Silk Market and the Pearl Market were an electrifying experience. Everyone calling out to you, bartering for a good price, it's all a fun game almost like a sport. Our wonderful guide Gerry gave us a crash course in how to shop. We got some great bargains or at least we think we did. Buying pearls on the fourth floor of the pearl market in Beijing will make them a treasured possession forever. We also had a chance to spend some time in the beautiful downtown Beijing shopping mall.
Now that we are home the trip seems like a beautiful dream. These are just a few of the highlights. There were many more museums, parks, special dinners, and endearing people. Everything went very smoothly. It was so well organized and well planned. The students on the trip were excellent. The teachers had a learning experience that can't compare to any other. As an ESL teacher I had a little taste of what it is like to be in a country where you are just learning the language! I feel very grateful for this experience and I intend to share it with many teachers and students in Smithfield this year! I believe the Olympic slogan "One World One Dream" will always stay in my heart.
By Ann Short, ESL Smithfield School Dept.