Greetings! I am glad that you could join me in my travels to China! Follow me daily to see what adventures I and my fellow administrators from Pennsylvania are encountering as we travel through the countryside and cities of China.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Friday April 22 and Saturday April 23

Friday April 22 and Saturday April 23
The Pennsylvanians met up at the Shijiazhuang airport to fly to Shanghai. After checking in to our lovely rooms (more modern than the hotels in Xi'an and Xingtai yet still no wireless capability), we met up with the other administrators from New England, Ohio and Indiana. This was our debriefing, and we shared our thoughts as best we could about our experiences with our Chinese hosts, and plans for future exchanges between Chinese and US students and teachers. Those of us from Berks and Lehigh Counties will be doing a presentation on May 6 during the Asian Studies Collaborative, and we took some time to formulate our plans. Then it was off to explore Shanghai! And explore we did! Shanghai is the most beautiful city we had ever seen! Loaded with architecture both old and new, it looked spectacular especially at night, when all the buildings are lit with colorful lights. Very modern too in many places. There were more Westerners (as the Chinese call us non-Chinese) than in any other city we visited, even Beijing. And the shopping! Silk and pearls, pearls and silk, and lots of bargaining and negotiating with the vendors on the prices (that was the fun part).

Sunday April 24
Easter Sunday. Several of us were able to find a Catholic Church to attend Mass. We took a taxi to the beautiful cathedral that quickly filled to capacity with Chinese Catholics, all celebrating Easter Mass with the Bishop of the Diocese of Shanghai. This goes to show how much China has changed over the years. We had seen Buddhist temples many places on our trip, but I had no idea there would be so many Catholics. We were told by an Australian couple who accompanied us that while the government allows the practice of other religions, they only allow the Protestants to congregate as one rather than allow separate denominations. Interesting.
We left the hotel for the airport, crossing over the river into Po Dong, the site of the 2010 World Expo. Amazing! As we neared the Shanghai International airport we were told that the entire area was built on the sea. Talk about use of the available land (none). After saying our goodbyes to Ryan and Peiwui from CEI in Massachusetts, we left the beautiful city of Shanghai for Chicago, promising each other we would stay in touch.

I have met some of the most remarkable people on this trip. The administrators from the US were a caring group of people who always helped each other in any way we could. Traveling to a strange world where you cannot communicate with anyone who lives there forces you to depend on each other in the group, and we bonded more than I ever imagined. I made some wonderful friends during our stay in China, and we shared some experiences that most people can only imagine. We were all educators before the trip, but both our professional and personal lives were enriched because of the exchanges we had between ourselves and the Chinese. For that I am most grateful.

Thursday April 21

Wednesday April 20
After spending a period with a group of seniors in the Sino-Canadian program, who were unattended because their teacher called off sick, we headed off to Xingtai #4 Kindergarten school which was started in 1981 (don't ask me about the number thing, after repeatedly asking about it myself, I still do not understand what it means). In China children may attend kindergarten for 3 years, from ages 3 to 6. This school has about 800 kindergarten students, there are 40 or so children in each class but it is taught by 2 teachers. The children arrive at 7:30 am and stay here until their parents come for them at 5:30 pm. They eat 3 meals here, and take naps in the afternoon in tiny beds (see pictures - how cute!). The curriculum is focused more on socialization and free-play in the early years, but then has a more academic focus at ages 4 and 5, when they begin to learn English, reading, writing and math. I especially liked the area behind the school, where the teachers and students have planted a garden. The students water the plants and measure the growth. Then they learn what they can do with the plants when they harvest them. Most of the area was planted with wheat. Inside there was also an area on stage that displayed many of the teacher and student projects, many of which were made with recycled materials. It was a great visit!
In the afternoon we visited 2 other schools - a government (public) school and a private one. The first school, Xingtai No. 23, is one of 32 junior - middle schools in the city. It is made up of 800 students from grades 1 through 9. There are 24 Chinese teachers of English, and I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with several of them. The school is headed up by a head mistress as well as a party secretary.
The second school, Yinghua Education Group School, is a huge complex that houses (literally) 3300 students. The children as young as grade one live in the dormitories in rooms with bunks and little else. The primary and middle schools are separated by some distance, so after showing us the elementary campus the principal drove us to the middle school buildings. The school is quite progressive compared to the public ones we have seen. Students are learning English very early. All of them have a laptop. Every student must learn a musical instrument, take dance, learn to play chess, draw, learn calligraphy, etc. We did see, however, the strong ties to the Communist party in the room displaying all of the memorabilia and in the scarves of the Young Pioneers that all of the children were wearing. The principal was an extremely gracious hostess - she appeared very young, and yet she has been in this position here for 10 years. All indications were that she is very bright, and she, like all of the other teachers and principals I have met asked me to evaluate them and their schools. Mindful of the fact that I am a guest in their country, I always found complimentary things to say, and I always meant them. This principal, however, was so grateful for my words that she gave me a large Confucius silk scroll right off her office wall!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tuesday April 19

Tuesday April 19
I was able to sit in on three different English classes. The teachers were given no prior warning; I felt badly that I was interrupting their schedule, since I think they have to stay on task. But I really wanted to have an opportunity to speak with the students and to give them an opportunity to practice speaking. The first class was a grade 11 class; it was very regimented. The teacher wore a wireless headset (in fact they all do since the classes are so large), and it was mainly teacher question, teacher answer. For most of the class, the students only answered chorally, and none asked questions, unless the teacher said, "This answer is open for discussion." The majority of this lesson focused on grammar and dictation.

The second class was grade 10 English with Ms. Chen. I found her style to be delightful, she introduced me as a special guest, and told the class that she would be changing her plans to accommodate my visit. She used this time to review geography, especially of Canada, and she randomly called on students to give responses that not only demonstrated their understanding of the question, but also freely expressed their ideas. She also used a turn and talk method with the students, and although it was a bit noisy (picture 65 or 70 students all talking at once) it was very effective. She then asked me to come upfront, and I welcomed the opportunity to have the students ask me any type of questions they liked. It was so fun! They all wanted to get their picture taken with me, and several of them wanted a hug at the end of class. One boy asked me for my email, another asked me if I brought him a present.

I also visited another grade 11 class, and this teacher was using the topic of California to discuss what things you would want to know about a country or place. The class then began paragraph reading first silently then aloud (all at once), and they were asked to find the main topic, etc. This class used a textbook that emphasized cultural knowledge, yet Ms. Chen and I discussed that there is a disconnect between the text and the examination the students must pass.

After yet another long lunch break with Mr. Lu and some of his friends, we picked up Mr. Li and drove 1 1/2 hours to a mountain village west of Xingtai City. What a drive! The mountains are so high, and the 400 people who live here in Yin Tan are so poor. They make their living on farming the mountainside, growing potatoes, raising chickens and goats, and making anything and everything they can. This village has a very old history. It was built around 400 years ago, and in the 1940's when the Japanese invaded China it became a place where the Chinese hid. There are 2 schools in the village; we visited the primary one. It reminded me of the schoolhouse in the movie "Not One Less." Unbelievable poverty. After meeting with several of the villagers (Mr.Lu called them peasants), we set off on a treacherous road to another village site - the home where Mr. Lu was raised. His mother now lives in the city with his brother (he is one of 6 children), and occasionally he comes back on the weekends to stay in the countryside. We drove through a small town to see the junior middle school where students from both villages attended school (about 10 km away).

Monday April 18th

After a Chinese breakfast of dumplings, tea, congee and hard-boileds eggs in my hotel room, Mr. Lu and I set off for school, accompanied of course by his driver. While he attended the weekly principals' meeting, I spoke to some of the teachers who speak English. They explained the school, the Sino-Canadian School, that is housed within Xingtai No. 1 High School. This school was started by a private individual from Beijing. The purpose is for students who attend and graduate will graduate with both a Chinese and Canadian diploma, and will be able to apply to universities in the US and Canada. There are 5 teachers in this international school - 3 from Canada and 2 from the US, and they work for the organization, not the Chinese school. Mr. Lu acts as liaison between the organization and the school, but according to the teachers he is just a figurehead. There are 94 students in this program, and it is competitive to be accepted. The students pay a much higher tuition rate as well. This school has been operating in Xingtai since 2008; this June will be the graduation of the first class, and I was told that all graduates will go abroad to continue their studies in either Canada or the US.

There are 8,000 students in Xingtai No. 1 High School and about 500 teachers. Class sizes are large - the classes I visited had 60 or so students in each. The students pay tuition to attend, and the amount that they pay is determined by their grades in 9th grade. Students who have the highest grades pay 800 yuan per year, while others pay 6000 or even 6600 yuan per year. The average teacher's salary is only 3,000 yuan per month, and it varies according to their performance, which depends mainly on how well the students perform academically. Each teacher is evaluated by the principal, their colleagues, and the students. Mr. Lu gave me a copy of the scantron sheet that the evaluators complete. I need to have it translated in order to understand the categories.

After what is a normal lunch (2 hours in length), we picked up Mr. Li and the driver took us to Bixiang County. Here is where the famous Han Dynasty peonies can be found. I was told that these 12 plants are the only ones remaining from that time period, and what makes them unique is that they have different flower colors on one plant. Also, they were at one time stolen by the Japanese, transplanted in Japan, but they died. In fact, they have never been successfully grown anywhere else. By the way, did you know that the peony is the Chinese national flower?

After the walk through the beautiful gardens (well, they would have been more beautiful if we would have visited 2 weeks from now when the flowers will be blooming), we stopped at the construction site of a new temple. I donned a hard hat to see how the workers were building the temple around what is the 2nd largest Buddha found in China. The Buddha is from the Tang Dynasty.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Monday April 18th

After a Chinese breakfast of dumplings, tea, congee and hard-boilers eggs in my hotel room, Mr. Lu and I set off for school, accompanied of course by his driver. While he attended the weekly principals' meeting, I spoke to some of the teachers who speak English. They explained the school, the Sino-Canadian School, that is housed within Xingtai No. 1 High School. This school was started by a private individual from Beijing. The purpose is for students who attend and graduate will graduate with both a Chinese and Canadian diploma, and will be able to apply to universities in the US and Canada. There are 5 teachers in this international school - 3 from Canada and 1 from the US, and they work for the organization, not the Chinese school. Mr. Lu acts as liaison between the organization and the school, but according to the teachers he is just a figurehead.

Sunday, April 17th

The Administrators from Pennsylvania were to be picked up by our counterparts at 9:00 this morning. I guess Mr. Li couldn't wait to see me, because as I was getting ready, my door bell rang (Chinese hotels do have door bells), and who was standing there but my old friend, Li Jianxong, accompanied by Mr. Lu, the Vice Principal for International Affairs, who was to be His interpreter for the day. After loading my suitcases in the car (which was humorous in itself- an act of Chinese ingenuity), we set out for Xingtai City. The school provided Mr. Li with a driver, and as drove I was amazed at the vast amount of land that was used to farm wheat. The majority of the flowers and plants I have seen so far are the same ones we grow back home in PA.

       After checking into my hotel, we walked through a park just behind the hotel, where children were doing crafts, playing small games of chance (I could have won a live rabbit, but what was I going to do with it?). There was also a flea market along the side of the street. Mr. Li used very little English all day, but Mr. Lu took every chance he could to learn a new word or two.

       We and lunch at a nearby restaurant, and several other people met us for lunch, including Mr. Gao, the new principal of Xingtai No. 1 High School. School administrators take 2 hour lunches (even on Sunday they were "working"), and, let me tell you, it is nothing like our American lunches. Much toasting!

       After lunch we walked through various parks throughout the city, visited a place where the government is undertaking a massive project to bring water from southern China to the north via hug channels. This area is so dry and dusty, my shoes were covered with brown dust. We also visited the largest park, in which there was a museum in honor of Guo Shoijing, a very famous Chinese scientist, who is mist noted for his contributions in the fields of water conservancy, astronomy, and the Chinese calendar. After a quick trip back to the hotel, I accompanied Mr. Li to his apartment for dinner. There were many people there, a friend of Mr. Li's who also works for the Bureau of Education and his wife, a cardiologist, a neighbor and his teenage son and wife, and Mr. Li's teenage daughter and his wife. The dinner was, what else, dumplings, but this time I was the cook. Mrs. Li was very patient with me as I tried to make them, but more of them looked like ravioli than dumplings. We all sat down and ate, but at that point I was too exhausted to eat much of anything. After much discussion about American Universities and teaching Chinese is our schools and the teaching requirements, Mr. Li brought me back to the hotel, where I soon fell fast asleep.

Saturday, April 16th

First stop today, the National Ping-pong Training Base. Actually, thus is a school where children from the age of 5 come from all over China to learn the sport of table tennis. There are currently 160 children, 2/3 of them boys, who live in the dormitories here and receive their education while trying to make it on the National team. The National team also trains here each year, preparing for the Asian games as well as the Olympics. All told, the athletes who trained here have won 52 world championships, 18 Olympic gold medals and many more. There are 3 full-sized gyms, each equipped with lots of tables. I got a chance to play against one of the boys (I am sure he took it easy on me), and afterward, we checked out the museum and other facilities.

Taking on the competition

       Next stop - Longxing Temple. Located in Zhengding, it boasts some of the top relics of Buddhism in China. Of course, everything we have heard has been the Best, Oldest, Grandest, etc. But nevertheless, the statues of the different Buddhas housed in the temple buildings were beautiful, and the gardens were beginning to show their beautiful blooms of peonies and flowering trees.

Longxing Temple

       In the afternoon we visited the Hebei Province Folk Museum and the Geological Museum. At both places we were treated kindly and greeted warmly (we may have even been the only guests there, I think they may have opened the places just for the Americans).