This summer I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to China with a group called EF Tours(Education First). I am a teacher and I first heard about this tour through a county email. You see, this tour wasn't only about site -seeing, but also about growing as an educator. The tour included a class that required pre-tour course readings and discussion boards, on tour analysis on topics of interest, and a post-tour survey, reflection, and final project composed of creating lesson plans based on what I had learned (The point is to bring knowledge back to the classroom and increase student global competency).
The tour was better than I could have imagined. First, the price for this ten day tour was fantastic. $3,000 bucks included the flight from the U.S to Beijing, Beijing to Xi’an, Xi’an to Shanghai, and Shanghai back to the U.S as well as all hotel accommodations, bus transportation, breakfast and dinner, and entrance into main attractions. I paid an extra $150.00 to upgrade the class to a three credit graduate course to go towards my staff development, and because this tour was part of a class/furthering my education, I can write part of it off on my taxes.
Our tour guide was amazing. He was charismatic, knowledgeable, and organized. He never missed a beat. His English was great and so was his sense of humor. Would I travel with EF again? Most definitely!
It is hard to fully describe everything that I ate, saw , and learned in China, but I will try....
Beijing is a large city with a population of 21 million. About 5 million own and drive cars on the road. Compared with traffic in the U.S, lights, signs, and crosswalks seem to be mere suggestions in China. Though I feared we were going to hit cars and pedestrians on several occasions,there were no accidents and apparently their accident record is low given the number of drivers in the city. One thing I learned: pedestrians NEVER have the right of way. I did note that if the middle class continues to grow and purchase cars, Beijing will need to have a makeover in order to sustain all the additional traffic- one of the many problems that China will face in the future.
This was one of the most crowded places we visited. There were people everywhere, many were lined up to pray to the portrait/shrine of General Mao, the old Chairman of China who died in the 70s. The older generation gives thanks to Mao for liberating China and uniting the nation under the Communist Party. People will wait in line for hours just to pray to him. The younger generation doesn't seem as interested in Mao, but the country honors him in many ways via portraits, monuments, and printing his face on all their currency. I saw a lot of military presence at the Square, which I didn't see much elsewhere. It is also rumored that spies are prevalent on the Square; they will walk around and listen to citizen and tour group conversations. I visited the Square about a week after the 20 year anniversary of the student deaths, an incident that was not talked about in Chinese news. In fact, I used this example of censorship as one of my topics to analyze and bring back home to my journalism class. The Square is a wonderful piece of history, but I wouldn’t plan on spending more than 30 or so minutes there, as there is not much to see.
The architecture was beautiful and symbolic. For example, a lot of the roofs were yellow, a color reserved for the emperor. Yellow/gold represents power.If a citizen wore or decorated with yellow, they would be punished for crimes against the emperor. Of course, times have changed and now yellow is just....yellow. A red roof indicates good luck. Green is the color of nature and the Earth. Blue roofs are typically reserved for temples, as it represents heaven in the sky. Most temples that I saw used these four colors, and only these four colors- as they have much symbolic meaning in Chinese culture. I loved how open the Forbidden City design was. I imagined people bringing gifts and dances to the old emperors. I saw the emperor’s chambers, gardens, and his concubine’s rooms (many, many concubines). The city was also pretty crowded, but it wasn’t an overbearing crowd, for which I am thankful.
The Summer Palace:
The Summer Palace is beautiful and ornate. The same four colors capture a simple, but elegant beauty. The summer palace is in a nice location. The land is surrounded by a body of water,and there are hills and pagodas in the distance. It was serene. The Summer Palace is also the location of the world’s largest corridor, all of which is painted with beautiful pictures that each tell a story. The entire corridor is painted in great detail. Watch your step, it is hard to walk and take it all in simultaneously.
The Temple of Heaven:
The temple is located inside a park. The park was quite large and full of people. It was a great place to people watch. I loved it. People were practicing Tai Chi and other morning exercises. Folks were also participating in “matchmaking”. Much of the older generation will go to the park and sit on the ground with a sheet of paper. The paper will include their name, their family’s name, their occupation, their age, and a few interests. Others will walk around and scout out each person based on looks and the information on the paper. I saw a large group of about 100 participating in this matchmaking. Most looked to be in their 50’s or 60’s. I tried to take a few pictures, but that didn’t seem appreciated, so I observed from a distance. It was a sight to behold. It was like a pre-internet version of match.com.
Below are pictures of the Temple of Heaven
The Great Wall:
For me, the highlight of Beijing was The Great Wall. Luckily, our guide took us to a less populated portion of the Wall. When we arrived we walked up a steep path. The path was full of vendors. There were tents and tables on each side where vendors set up shop. The vendors here were fairly aggressive. DO NOT MAKE EYE CONTACT. If you want a cheap souvenir, this is a good place to get it. Do not be fooled by any tricks- there is no real jade here. There is no real silk here. However, this is a great place to bargain. There are T-shirts, dragon relics, Buddha statues, “silk” scarves, and other knick-knacks. If you do strike a deal, be sure to count your change and double check that it is Chinese money , not Russian or Taiwanese.
Once we made it through the vendor street, we had to take a cable car up the rest of the way to the wall. The ride was about 2 minutes and offered a pretty cool view.
When I reached the top , I was thrilled...I was on the Great Wall!! The view was amazing. There were mountains and trees in all directions. I could hear birds, insects, and silence, something I hadn’t heard in a few days due to the incessant honking and beeping that so well describes a large Chinese city. It felt so peaceful.It felt so big. I am thankful that there were so few people on the wall- this allowed me to walk around and explore in peace.
-Peking duck dish= wonderful
-all the food = so great
- a bit smoggy in the city
- met Chinese students at a school. The high schoolers spoke decent English. They were preparing for their exams. If they do not pass their college entrance exam (a grueling experience), then they cannot go to college. This is why Chinese students are so competitive. It seems they have two possible paths. The first is college. The second is blue collar work. It all hinges on their scores. About 60% of students get into college, so only a little over half their population.
-Chinese students must also take high school entrance exams. Scores determine two things: A) If they get into a good high school and B) If they get into high school at all. If they fail, they must go to vocational school for two years. They will not be able to attend college.
- The tap water in China is not drinkable, not even to the citizens.
Below are pictures of the Great Wall:
The excavation pits were awesome! I learned that the warriors were constructed because the first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, thought that he would have many enemies in the afterlife, so he ordered an army to be buried with him. The clay warriors are very detailed and each soldier has unique facial features. There are thousands of them, many still yet to be unearthed. As of now, the government is holding off on excavations until they can find a way to preserve the natural color of the warriors. Now, the warriors are a rust color (due to oxidation once they are unearthed). Apparently German scientists are working on a spray/chemical that will be able to preserve the blues and purples that are said to be on the armor of each warrior. I even saw the farmer who discovered the warriors. (He shows up every now and then to sign autographs in the gift shop- purchase of book required :) )
The Wild Goose Pagoda:
I like the shape and style of Chinese pagodas. While I was fascinated with the information about monks, Buddhism, and the ideas of fortune, I couldn't help but feel dirty (for lack of better word). This happened at several temples while in China. See, there we were, a group of tourists, surrounded by other Chinese tourists,inside the home of Buddhist monks and sacred relics and I’d be taking a picture and then notice someone walk by, light an incense, bow down and pray. Then I’d look to the left and see a gift shop. It felt wrong.
This was also the second time I saw beggars. The first time I saw beggars was as we were leaving the Forbidden Kingdom in Beijing. In Beijing, the beggars were across the street. Here, they were up close and personal. As we approached the gates to the pagoda, there were several beggars asking for money. Now, my experience with beggars in the U.S typically consists of a guy with a beard asking for money on a street corner. In China the only beggars I saw had afflictions (missing limbs, dwarfism, large growths on neck and face, contorted bones..etc).In fact, the only time I saw folks with afflictions, were when I saw beggars. As it turns out, China usually rejects those with afflictions. There isn’t any type of disability program either, and with the one child policy, well, those children are given up in hopes to have a healthy child. Outside the gates = the rejected and the suffering. Inside the gates= a sanctuary for those to pray and give thanks for good fortune.
It also felt strange to walk out of a pagoda , turn the corner, and see a Starbucks.. As it turns out, the temples and Pagodas in the city are government owned. So basically they need to make money in order to stay in existence, and I could feel that while I was there. Don’t get me wrong,it was educational, beautiful, and a good experience, but I wish we could have visited a remote temple high in the mountains.
-Hot pot dishes here = amazing. I have craved this ever since I got back home.
-One of the oldest cities in China. The old city wall is still in tact. We only got to see it from the outside, but I would love to go inside.
-Lots of factories in this city- this is starting to affect smog/air quality
Below is a picture of the Wild Goose Pagoda:
Shanghai is a very modern city with a beautiful city skyline. The shopping districts include upscale stores such as Rolex, Gucci, Prada, and Apple. The prices here are more expensive than in other cities. You can find knock offs of all the nice brands, just be careful as some of the knock off vendors want you to follow them into an alley to look at their merchandise.
Sites of interest: The Bund ( a sort of New York Harbor boardwalk with a view of the cityscape), Yu Yuan Garden ( A serene garden with ponds, rocks, and flowers), Nanjing road (A bustling shopping and eating district), The World Financial Center (currently the tallest building in Shanghai and it includes a 100th floor skywalk), and the Jade Buddha Temple (Includes a beautiful statue of Buddha carved from jade).
-Try Karaoke. Your group gets their own private room equipped with couches, disco lights, a large T.V screen, 2 microphones, a computer for song selection, and instruments such as maracas and tambourines!
- You can order beverage and snacks
- Not expensive
China is a very large and beautiful country full of history and culture. The people are nice and the food is incredible and affordable. I would love to go back to China and continue my journey in learning about this fascinating country.