About the China Exchange Initiative
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Just wanted to let you know that I completed my posts. The pictures will be coming early next week - they take some time to upload to the internet and transfer over, but I promise they will be worth the wait. Thank you for joining me on this adventure - it has been life changing!
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Today we spent our morning in Shijiazhuang Foreign Language School (SFLS), a kindergarten through 12th grade school focusing on Foreign Languages (English, Japanese, and Russian) as well as physical education and the arts – namely painting and instrumental music. K-8 are private, 9-12 is public. Young children are admitted through a process that includes academic screening, an interview with the child and parents, and exploration of their area of interest. For the HS students to be considered for entrance, they need to pass the HS entrance examinations and an audition process. Tuition for the private years runs about 9,000 Yuan per year (plus some smaller expenses and boarding costs where appropriate) a much lower tuition rate is charged for those enrolled in the public portion (HS – 9-12). This school is one of only 16 in the entire country that enjoys a privileged policy – 20% of their students do not need to take the national college entrance exams – rather they can be recommended by the school faculty and move directly into one of China’s top universities.
In this school they have a bi-lingual (Chinese and English) program at the kindergarten level. This school is also an experimental program where teachers engage learning as we do in the United States using more of a constructivist approach where the students discover the knowledge – question, challenge, and problem solve – and the teachers’ roles are that of facilitators, redirecting and probing as needed. Learning pyramids are posted everywhere reminding teachers how students learn best and to strive to not engage in more than 10% lecture within the instruction. The instructional approach seen in their robotics, science, and aerospace engineering classes was evidence of this change. The school, established in 1994, has only been a part of this curricular and instructional reform since 2009 so they are still learning and eager to improve their practice.
Like in America, their vision and mission are very visible – teachers embrace the philosophy that is summed up as “Never Underestimate the ability of your students”! and posted everywhere as a reminder.
After lunch – I know – more food – I don’t even want to think about it – we visited the Shijiazhuang Art School, a public school with an emphasis on the performing arts – dance, music, voice, drama. And let me tell you the talent is just exploding here. We were invited to sit in on many classes and watch the students rehearse for their performances. (Performance is also a requirement). Students may elect to attend this school for 4 or 6 years and they must audition, interview, and pass the academic examinations to attend. There is also a cost associated with the school (in China, even public schools require some degree of parental contribution). In this case it is 4,600 Yuan per year. However, because the government is placing an emphasis on technical and career training, each student who attends is offered a stipend of 150 Yuan per month from the government to offset living expenses. Students who graduate from this school may go to college (namely the Beijing colleges of Art, Music, or Drama) and continue their studies if they choose (and they pass the national exams and college auditions) or they may go directly into the work force joining theaters, dance troupes, opera, or symphonies – for example. This school has produced several famous Chinese actors and performers.
The students’ day is divided with ½ of it spent on academics and ½ devoted to their arts and performance. Teachers here, too, also train and compete in their area of passion – their skill and talent transfers to their students.
This school is evidence that it’s not the facilities and resources that make a difference (it was old and needed much repair unlike this morning’s school which was obviously a show place of the Hebei Province) – rather it’s the level of instruction, student commitment, teacher dedication, and student and teacher expectation that can move mountains.
Later we were treated to a live performance by the students and it absolutely blew me away! I think it was much better than the professional performance we saw earlier in our visit at the Beijing Opera House. These students didn’t just sing or dance – they felt what they were doing, deeply, and in turn, the audience was moved too. If we could only bottle what I saw today - Phenomenal! (my biggest regret is I didn’t have the video camera with me as I wasn’t expecting such a magnificent experience – lesson learned).
And, of course, we rounded out the day with more food – ughh!
I have rarely seen so many people in one place; we arrived early at the Forbidden City to get a jump start on the crowds – we thought. Despite the fact that the Forbidden City is the largest Imperial compound in the world, it didn’t take long for the grounds to become overrun by people curious to glimpse the remnants of a long and rich history. An interesting fact about the buildings within the city – and many that you will see throughout China – if you look closely at the roof line you may see small carved characters adorning the building. These characters indicate the importance of the occupants – the Emperor’s home will have nine characters – everyone else will have a fewer number dependent upon their importance – the Empress, for example will have seven on her dwelling (although people joke that really, her rooms are the most important in the Forbidden City).
Tian’anmen Square, too, is a very busy place. Surrounded by many of China’s most famous buildings – such as the national opera house and the national museum of Art, it is a focal point for many of China’s people. Tian’anmen Square is the sight of a significant event during the ‘Cultural Revolution’ – do you know what occurred there and why it remains a sore spot in China’s history? There is a daily flag raising ceremony that takes place at sunrise and a guard stands silently near the flag – ready to protect what his flag symbolizes. In fact, there are numerous guards circulating about the square, plain clothed personnel too, making sure everything is in order and no one is ‘ill behaved’. Many young families come to the square for a walk and there are toddlers seemingly everywhere. The parents are so proud of their children; they love to have their pictures taken and several times a baby has been placed in our arms for a quick snapshot.
(Side bar: As far as pictures go, I’m told, I’m sort of a ‘celebrity’ over here with my blonde hair and blue eyes – something the Chinese people do not see much of. I’ve been asked several times to have my picture taken by curious onlookers – perhaps the most funny incident was the group of teenage girls that followed me for quite a distance until they got the courage to come up to me and ask if they could snap a photo with me).
Today a second flag flew next to the Chinese National flag on the street posts – it was the flag of South Korea displayed to indicate that the president of this country was visiting. In fact, when we were in the Forbidden City, a section of the one square was roped off as the dignitaries arrived and made their way to the Imperial Palace.
After leaving the Square we grabbed lunch at a restaurant near the station (the largest train station in the world) and took the train from Beijing to Shijiazhuang; we paid extra to have our luggage taken to the boarding area and I’m glad we did. There were several flights of stairs that stood between us, the luggage, and the train (it is unusual for Chinese people to travel with so much luggage). The workers that handled our luggage piled them high on two luggage carts, strapped them down, and balanced the carts along a narrow strip parallel to the stairs. The men couldn’t have even weighed half as much as the overflowing carts. They braced their bodies against the front of each cart and leaning into them slowly left the momentum of the grade and weight move the carts down the strip. For a split second I thought at least one of the men would succumb to the speed and weight of the rolling cart and be crushed – thank goodness there were no little children at the bottom of the ramp!
Our evening was complete only after a welcome reception from the Hebei Education Department at the Peking Duck, perhaps China’s most famous restaurant. Our hosts were very gracious and couldn’t seem to do enough to ensure we were happy. But let me tell you, there is way too much food; I think it’s a form of torture (smile) - no sooner than we’re done with lunch, they seem to be ushering us off to dinner. The food is very good, but even so I’m beginning to cringe at the thought of eating one more thing!
Thursday, April 14, 2011
They say the best souvenirs are those you carry with you in your heart and in your head; I couldn’t agree more. It seems the photographs we take can’t even capture the magnificence of what we’ve seen – the depth of meaning, the context - and nothing can capture the interactions we’ve had with others. Today we began our journey with The Great Wall (the pictures that will follow will never do what we experienced justice – but they’re a start).
We began our ascent with a cable car to the foot of the wall and then climbed the Mutianyu section of the wall – said to be one of the most beautiful pieces. This section of the wall is located in the Huairou District of Beijing and was built under the supervision of General ZuDa of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang early in the Ming Dynasty. It is dotted with numerous watch towers and passes and was built upon a steep section of the mountain with the north west portion of the wall on a 1,000 meter high ridge (and let me tell you, as I neared the peak of the wall (top) of this section I could really feel the elevation). Two of the sections of this part, the “arrow node” and the “lying eagle” were laid on a precipitous cliff. Many say, because of the winding nature of this part of the wall, it looks like a flying dragon. In the towers, during the time it was used as protection for China from its northern neighbor, Mongolia, a guard was posted at each window – they could see for miles, and enemies could be spotted long before they could do any damage.
The climb was at times a stroll, more often however it was a slow process as we pushed ourselves to go on, meandering up steep passages. As we neared the top, it became very difficult and was mostly a mental game – but, hey, when you come this far and you’re that close to reaching the top, nothing is going to stop you! Only a few of us made it all the way to the top, we’re told that when climbing the wall, to make it to the top is to be a hero – well, I’m not so sure of that, but I am sure the people who climbed this wall on a regular basis, who guarded their cities, they had to be tough in body and mind!
We finished our day with a rickshaw ride through the Houtong village and then dinner at what is said to be the best Noodles restaurant in China. I don’t know if it is the best, but I do know it was very good.