Our last hours in Hangzhou were bittersweet. Sure we were sad to say good-bye to the beautiful city and to Jack, but we were all excited to be going to China’s capital city, Beijing. But before our 4pm plane, we still had some precious time left in Hangzhou that was pretty well spent.
In the morning, we had an early breakfast and brought all of our luggage down to load onto the bus. From the hotel, we drove to the No. 14 Middle School, which basically meant that the students who attended this school were high school aged (ages 15-18). There are three grades in what is called “upper middle school” in China and that was basically what this school was. Although it was a large school with more than 2,000 students and two 4 and 5 story buildings, the students there commented on how it was actually one of the smallest schools in the area and that they were still expanding it to add a wellness center by the next school year.
Oh yes, the students.
The point of our visit to this school was to see what a Chinese high school was like and to interact with some of the Chinese students. We were first ushered into an air-conditioned conference room where our group sat around the tables and the Chinese students sat on the sides. They gawked at us when we entered, but nevertheless looked excited and happy that we were there.
Most of them were wearing their school uniforms – a white blue-trimmed polo and long pants – while only a few were wearing different shirts. For example, there was one who was wearing an Optimus Prime ( Transformers ) t-shirt. Although some of the boys seemed to have different styles and personalities, I felt as if most of the girls had a little bit of a nerdy side to them (but definitely in a good way), and they all had short hair. I wonder if they have to cut it short of if it’s a new style.
I sat between Chris and Crystal on the table right next to the row of the students. Optimus Prime and his friend, Eric, immediately started talking to Chris, but their conversation was soon interrupted when the principal of the school began her welcoming remarks. The principal was a small woman who wore glasses and spoke pretty good English. She was very happy to have us, and answered any questions we had for her about the school and student life. We then watched two films about the school that showcased its
local, national, and international achievements. They have many distinguished clubs and activities including sports, chorus, dance, orchestra, and language. They also have a very strong biology curriculum and have had past students win the National Biology Olympiad. They have a couple of English clubs, and of course, an English language class in their school taught by Joe, an ESL teacher from Brooklyn, NY. He had decided to stay in China after the economic crisis. He is a funny guy and the students seem to really like him.
We then introduced ourselves to the students and them to us. Their English was surprisingly good! It made me remember that my Chinese was not as good as their English was, and that I kind of regret that. Anyway, when we took a short break, many of the students interacted with us. I was talking to Crystal when I felt a light tap at my arm and I turned around to see a boy about my age. His name was Steven, and he was indeed 18 years old. He first asked me about what I did on my free time, so I happily explained to him about my extra-curricular activities that I did in Cumberland High School, and what I do when I’m not working.
Steven swam, played soccer, played chess and badminton, however, he usually didn’t have much time to do a lot of those things because he had to focus on his school work like all Chinese students.
I find it interesting that in China, in order to get into a good university you need good grades, come from a good school and get a high score on the college entrance exam. In America, good grades are only part of the admissions decision that he had heard that American students were more laid back in their studies. Compared to Chinese students, that was certainly true, but if Steven got this idea from watching American movies and TV shows like American Pie, Gossip Girl , or The Secret Life of the American Teenager , then I think it is unfair to classify all American students as party animals. I think that Hollywood exaggerates the American spirit of youth since extra-curricular activities, community service, awards, essays and recommendation letters are all part of the application process as well. Another difference that Steven pointed out between American and Chinese students was and it sheds a bad light on the young people’s reputation in America. Certainly all of the students on this trip are not wild partiers.
Steven and I talked for a good twenty minutes about so many topics – where he wants to go to university (Zhejiang), what he wants to study (international business), his favorite movies (High School Musical… it’s a big thing in China), and books he likes to read (fiction, but not non-fiction, history, or romance). When I asked, he told me that romantic relationships in school were not allowed and if there was any found then the violators would be punished. I definitely thought that was stricter than America and totally different, since I cannot recall a day in CHS where I could walk through halls without seeing some form of PDA. Steven also introduced me to his cousin, Jacqueline, who was in her 2 nd year of the school. She wants to study film in the US, so Tim, one of the teachers on the trip, suggested that she check out UCLA or NYU. I pushed for NYU, of course.
After our pleasant talk, we exchanged gifts – I gave Steven a t-shirt with an American flag on it (thanks so much to Maria Curtin who had extra gifts to let me share). Then we went out of the room to go down the hall into the auditorium.
The air-conditioning in the auditorium was off for the summer and it was hot. The room was huge – twice as big as my school’s auditorium which fit about 400 people. We took a group picture – Chinese and American students and teachers alike – on the stage. We then walked over to the next building to take a look at some classes.
We visited a physics lab and a biology lab. Both looked like normal lab classrooms, if not cleaner and with more technology (4 computers and 2 microscope per table in the bio lab) than my school’s labs. Inside one of the classrooms everybody also sang “Happy Birthday” in Chinese and English to Liz Teitz and the Chinese student, Eric (Optimus Prime’s friend). Both were turning 16 years old, coincidentally enough.
When we finished looking at the classrooms, our group bid a sad farewell to the Chinese students. I exchanged e-mail addresses with Steven and Jacqueline and we shook hands good-bye.
Next we went to lunch at the Lily Hotel where we toasted to going to Beijing and to thanking Jack, of course. Then we went to a Carrefour, which is a French based
It took 30 minutes to drive to the airport. When we got there, we checked in our luggage and said our final good-bye to Jack. Then we went through security and… realized that our flight was delayed an hour. This was typical, because apparently every single flight the group has had has been delayed.
For the next three hours I wandered around the airport with others, people watching, talking, and buying snacks for the ride. We eventually boarded the plane, and took off at 6pm. The flight was uneventful (because I slept). They did serve dinner, which was unexpected to us, but I barely touched my food. Not a big fan of airplane food.
We arrived in Beijing at around 8PM. There, our new tour guide met us, his name was Jackie. What were the odds?
Apparently his Chinese name means kung fu master, or something, because his father wanted him and his brother to be kung fu masters. Obviously that didn’t work out. But according to Jackie, it was because he had to study a lot in high school to prepare for the college entrance exam. Once again, studies take precedence over any father’s dreams for his children. In any case, Jackie is a cool guy. He likes to ski, and did so when he went to Wisconsin some winters ago. His English is better than Jack’s and he likes to talk about
pop culture, such as movies. In fact, he got his English name from Jackie Chan because Jackie Chan and Jet Li are his idols (“Chinese idols, not American Idol, hehehehe” <--quote from Jackie). He introduced us to the bus driver, Master Wang, and told us a little bit about China.
It was founded by the Mongolians when they ruled their huge empire that stretched through most of Asia. During the Ming Dynasty, Nanjing was China’s capital, until it was moved to Beijing in the middle of the dynasty. Beijing is HUGE. It would take 1.5 hours to drive through it, and if one was at the top of the tallest building in Beijing, he/she would still not be able to see the edges of it.
We went to dinner at a hotel, and for dessert we sang for Liz one last time. Then we had delicious cake! Yum yum!
Then we drove to our hotel, called the Xiang Da International Hotel. It’s really nice, as the other hotels have been. The hotels are something I really have to compliment on this year – they are a great pick and they’ve been in a great location. I’m really excited for all of the sites in Beijing. Tomorrow is the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.
Hello Beijing! And hello my bed!
by Emily Yang, NYU '14