China is a country that has grown rapidly, both economically
and technologically. It has come all the way from the warring
states to the dynasties, from Cultural Revolution to Reform
and Openness, and from Ping Pong Diplomacy to the Beijing
Olympic Games. Learning about those topics in our China elective
certainly broadened students’ knowledge of China, but nothing
is better than real experience with a country. A Chinese saying
goes, “It is better to travel ten thousand miles than to read ten
thousand books,” And the China trip is a perfect start for our students’
‘ten thousand miles.’
We began our trip exploring Shanghai, a city very much like
New York, in terms of its population, skyscrapers, and its extraordinary
economic position worldwide. We visited the Bund Area,
which is the epitome of the city’s modern history, and Pudong,
literally “the East Bank,” which was built in the last 30 years.
During our stay in Shanghai, we visited Southwest Weiyu
Middle School, our sister school for the last nine years. They
showed us great hospitality and welcomed us to their English,
ping pong and music classes. Our students engaged in various
group activities and played ping pong with the Chinese students.
We took an afternoon to visit NYU Shanghai with a few juniors
from Southwest Weiyu, and visited an elementary school where
we made bamboo crafts with the younger students, and a kindergarten
where kids showed us their work and gave us handcrafts
and their drawings.
The hospitality of the host families was wonderful. They provided
our students with authentic Chinese food, showed them
around Shanghai, and even hand washed their laundry. Our students were surprised to
learn that the Chinese students have at least ten hours of school
every day, with piles of homework every night and testing almost
daily. Their tight schedules helped our students understand the
unique competitiveness in Gaokao (China's college entrance
Next we traveled to Suzhou and Hangzhou, two cities that are
less known but worth a visit. Suzhou is famous for its silk and
classical gardens, and Hangzhou and its beautiful West Lake have
been immortalized by countless poets and artists. Highlights
included walking along the Grand Canal, a World Heritage Site in
Suzhou, and hiking in the Longjing tea plantation in Hangzhou.
Our visit to Beijing introduced us to the city and its more than
3,000-year history. We walked around the Forbidden City and
learned the history of Ming and Qing dynasties, and the special
lives of the emperors. By touching the bricks and learning the
structure of the Great Wall built in the mid-6th century, we could
begin to understand how the Han defeated the North Hun. The
best part was the toboggan ride where we slid down from a hill
adjacent to a section of the Great Wall.
While many students have traveled to other countries before,
the experience of living with a host family with a Chinese teenager of the same age allowed students to immerse themselves in Chinese culture and experience a life that is very different from
their lives in New York. For many of the students, it was a great introduction to an entirely new perspective.
These two weeks of adventure had to come to an end. But the warmth we received from our host school, the new friendships we established with the host families, the delicious Chinese food we
had everyday, and the excitements we experienced at the places we visited will last a long time. We are truly grateful for this fantastic opportunity that has enriched our high school life and will
have a profound impact on us in the future.
- Xueyang Gong, Mandarin
Excerpts from the Travel Blog
March 13: China Here We Go
Today is the big day. We are leaving for China! Everyone is excited. China here we come!
March 14: Landed in Shanghai
We landed in Shanghai after 14 hours of flight. We had authentic Shanghai cuisine tonight --soup dumpling, bean curd, and mushroom noodle are the most popular dishes.
March 15: Meeting the Host Families
Today we went sightseeing in the Bund Area and People's Square. On the Bund you have a whole view of Pudong, just like seeing Manhattan's skyline from Queens or Weehawken.
After lunch, we rode the bus to Southwest Weiyu, where students met their host families. The host students seem very easy going and kind, some of whom have already started to engage our students in conversation. We will be living with our host families for five nights.
March 16: Class Observation and Sightseeing in Pudong Today we observed classes at Southwest Weiyu Middle School. In the English class, our students engaged in the newspaper reading activity with the Chinese students. They helped them with English vocabulary and pronunciation. In PE class, our students played ping pong with the Chinese students. And Mr. Diveki had a ping pong competition with the PE teacher. In the music class, we observed the students playing the Chinese style harmonica and it was fun to see how they played it.
After lunch, we went sightseeing in Pudong and enjoyed Shanghai's old skyline from the view from the other side of Huangpu River. On the subway back to school and noticed that the subway train in Shanghai is not divided into cars. They are all connected.
March 17: Today we visited an elementary school and a kindergarten. We saw all kinds of bamboo crafts and observed a music class, where everyone is good at playing dizi, a typical bamboo instrument. Our students played happily with the young kids and received small gifts from them.
After lunch, we gave a presentation to the 9th grade. We talked about NY and NJ, GCS, American sports, performed dance, and harmonica. Lastly, we sang two well-known Chinese songs for them.
March 18: One Day Tour in Zhouzhuang
We spent today in Zhouzhuang, China's No. 1 water town, which is two hours away to the east of Shanghai. For lunch we had local dishes, such as A Po's (Granny's) Vegetables, Mapo Tofu, Chicken Braised with Special Soy Sauce, Noodles with Rich Soup.
March 19: Yu Garden, Shanghai Museum, and Farewell Dinner
This morning we visited the Yu Garden, a classical garden featuring typical scenery of the southeastern part of China and Taoism culture. In the afternoon, we visited Shanghai Museum, and saw its large collection of bronze, porcelain, coins, ancient sculptures, and clothing of the minority tribes.
Tonight, our last night with host families, we had a farewell dinner with all the host families at school. This year will be the ninth year of the China exchange program. Many teachers and students from both schools have visited each other, lived in each other's homes and developed great relationships.
March 20: One Day Tour in Suzhou
In the morning, we left for Suzhou, and visited the Humble Administrator's Garden, one of the most beautiful traditional gardens in the southeast part of China. We also visited the No. 1 Silk
Factory, where we learned how to pick good cocoons, saw the machines that make the cocoons into thread and learned how to stretch the silk. We strolled along the Grand Canal which connects
Hangzhou and Beijing. Along the way, we met some older people exercising in the park. Some of us joined them and tried the "pushing hands" activity.
March 21: Morning Exercises, Tea Plantation, and Dragon Boat Ride
Early this morning we walked to the bank of West Lake, where we had a Tai Chi and Kung Fu class with a martial arts teacher and his students. After breakfast, we visited the 300 year-old Longjing Tea Plantation, 30 minutes outside of Hangzhou. With a great view and fresh smell of the tea leaves, we hiked about an hour.
March 22: Lingyin Temple in Hangzhou
Today we visited the Lingyin Temple, which is more than 1,700 years old and the biggest Buddhist temple in China. One hall displays 500 different buddhas. Outside the hall, people light incense wishing for good luck. Some of us tried and made a wish.
March 23: Tian'anmen Square
This morning we flew to Beijing on a sunny day. The weather has cheered everyone up . The students sang AND danced along the way, and took a lot of pictures and videos.
Tian'anmen Square is the biggest square in the world. Because we got there in the afternoon, we were able to get very close to the side and took a picture in front of the building
where Mao Zedong's portrait is hanging.
March 24: Forbidden City and Panda Zoo
We visited the Forbidden City in the morning. The architecture is marvelous, and there are thousands of halls and rooms, half of which the emperors never visited in their entire life. You can tell how important the hall is by counting the animal spirits on the top of the roof. Lunch was in an uyghur restaurant --very different from traditional Chinese food. We had lamb meat buns, lamb
kebabs, chilly chicken with tomatoes and noodles. In the afternoon we visited the Panda Zoo where we saw two pandas sunbathing and having a bamboo lunch. We went on to the Chaoyang Theater to watch an amazing acrobatic show.
March 25: Olympic Stadiums and Great Wall
This morning we visited the Olympic Stadiums: Bird's Nest and Water Cube. Later we headed to Great Wall, one of the seven wonders in human history. We took the cable car up to the top then hiked for about an hour. The view was just breathtaking. We then took the toboggan ride and it took us about five minutes to slide down the hill.
March 26: Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven and Pearl market
Today was our last full day in China. We visited Summer Palace in the morning. We walked along the bank and took a boat ride. After lunch we went to Temple of Heaven, where the emperors prayed for a better harvest year or to thank God for a great year. Then, shopping in Pearl Market and ice cream after that.
March 27: 798 Art District and Bye China
We took a stroll through the new 798 Art District and had lunch before heading for the airport. Our China trip has come to an end but the great memories will stay forever!