We have bid the group farewell and they are making their way back to LAX. We are sad to see them leave but hope they have learned a lot and had some fun. We will remember them all! Brantley, Ann and Peter – The Brentwood trip China Prep Team
Our last day started with a buffet breakfast at our hotel to fuel for the day ahead. We made sure to set out with our umbrellas, maps and Hong Kong Octopus cards. An extremely convenient system in the city, Octopus cards are stored value cards that allow you to take 8 different forms of public transportation and buy things from a broad range of stores including Starbucks and 7-11. We have been expecting rain for the whole trip but save for the morning of our Shanghai departure we have been incredibly lucky with the weather. Although it has felt humid and warm in Hong Kong and was very hot on our first day in Beijing, the China Prep guides have assured the group that this was the best weather imaginable for June.
Today was an all subway day and the group did a great job navigating the many line changes and entering/exiting of the train. Getting around Hong Kong by subway gives a good sense of daily life and the layout of the different sites. Our first stop was the cable car to the Po Lin Monastery and Tian Tan Buddha. The ride is beautiful and was made particularly exciting because there was a lot of fog today on Lantau Island and we spent half the ride up in the clouds. Arriving at the top of the mountain we were all shrouded in fog and had a mysterious climb through the mist to the Buddha. The Tian Tan Buddha is the largest seated copper Buddha in the world and although we couldn’t see it clearly it was pretty mystical hovering in the clouds.
The small Po Lin Monastary was similar to many other temples we have seen although there was some very large insence burning that we haven’t seen in other places. Although we thought we were going to have a vegetarian lunch, which is the norm in temple restaurants, Ann was able to find a place with meat and some local treats like steamed buns with condensed milk and the group was happy to have a hearty lunch after a lot of walking in the morning. After coming back down the cable car in slightly less fog, we hopped on the subway to the Hong Kong History Museum.
The history museum is very well done with small and well designed exhibits started from the geological formations that started Hong Kong through the return to the mainland in 1997. The group has done a great job piecing together the puzzle of China and Hong Kong history and given they haven’t had a lot of Asian or British history in school, they have been thoughtful in their analysis of the historical factors that have shaped people’s lives in the region.
Walking from the museum to the Star Ferry we walked down the Avenue of the Stars, which is kind of a knock off of the Walk of Fame, but offers a great view of Hong Kong Island. After a quick ride over on the historical Star Ferry, we arrived on Hong Kong Island and took a break at the IFC Mall. Located in the tallest building on the island, it was packed with people shopping, particularly at the Apple Store. Hanging out in the mall gave us a chance to cool down and some of us recharged with a snack.
Back on the subway to Temple Street Night Market, we had our last group dinner and made a video sharing our favorite moments from the trip. The Great Wall was a big winner but everyone shared different reflections and all enjoyed getting to use their Mandarin in the field. After the night market, where everyone agrees the bargaining was much more challenging than on the mainland, the group had a last chance to use some of their language skills and spend their last HK$.
Everyone is settled in the hotel where every night they have enjoyed playing cards together. Tomorrow starts early for the trip back to LAX via Beijing. The China Prep Team will be very sad to see everyone go but look forward to seeing everyone again in China!
This morning started early….but the group was positive and lively as we boarded our bus to the airport at 6am. A very basic breakfast of two buns and one egg held us over until we could load up on some snacks at Beijing Airport. The flight to Shanghai was quick at 1:40 minutes and we arrived by 10:45 this morning.
The group remarked right away that Shanghai has a different urban feel than Beijing. Although both cities are large, populated and modern, Shanghai is more compact and dense providing a good viewing experience from the bus. Large, elevated highways snake through the city leading to tunnels and bridges connecting the two parts of the city, Puxi and Pudong. Through some lively descriptions by China Prep program leader Ann Liu, the group will definitely remember that the river the flows through Shanghai is called the Huangpu and that Pudong is “East of the Huangpu” and Puxi is “West of the Huangpu”. We are staying in Puxi near the Bund, with great views of the modern Shanghai skyline and the river.
After lunch at restaurant People 7 with a mysterious coded door and tricky bathroom configuration, the group headed to Pudong to ascend the Oriental Pearl Tower with 360 degree views of Shanghai. With over 16,000 buildings taller than 11 stories, the city is impressive, especially from 263 meters above ground at the Pearl Tower. Although we had a busy morning with travel, the group really kept their energy up and seemed to enjoy looking at the buildings and getting the lay of the land. In the basement of the Pearl Tower is the Shanghai History Museum which tells the tale of Shanghai through engaging, often life-sized exhibits with wax figures and displays. From Shanghai before the Western Imperial powers arrived through its heyday in the 1930’s, the featured vignettes are well done and well maintained. We spent time discussing the way that the city was constructed prior ¬†and post being opened as a treaty port and we were able to set the stage for understanding more about the city in 2012.
After 2 hours of in -depth history, we had a late afternoon respite with a foot massage – not surprisingly the group has decided this should be a daily activity for the rest of the program!¬†After many big and scrumptious meals, we decided it was time to let the group try their hand at cooking their own dinner. Broken into teams of a dumpling making team, a spring roll wrapping team and a series of wok cooking teams, the group whipped up dishes such as kung pao chicken (spicy chicken with peanuts) and eggplant. We hope that they all bring their new culinary skills back home!
The group is now on the way to check into the hotel, we are looking forward to a good nights sleep as the Shanghai Museum and many other activities await us tomorrow.
(Note: we have been having some Internet speed issues with getting the blog posted online, we will be putting pictures and text up each evening as soon as we can get connected)
Day three started with a visit to the Forbidden City, the former imperial palace of the Ming and Qing dynasties, currently known as the Palace Museum. On the way we started a game looking for diplomatic license plates and identifying the different countries that they represent.
We arrived at the Forbidden City via the East Gate which gave us a good view of the moat which surrounds the outer wall. We entered through the Meridian Gate and although it was quite crowded we were able to navigate the crowds and get some good pictures of the beautiful buildings. Most of the buildings are made of wood and were very vulnerable to fire. The other materials used were ceramic tiles and marble. Although there are not treasures left in the palace (they are largely in the Palace Museum in Taiwan), the buildings are impressive. We walked through the different sections which are political, residential and leisure. We talked about the number of animals on the rooftop eaves designating the rank of the building as well as other key elements of the design. The political section was designed to emphasize the absolute power of the Emperor, the residential to accommodate the large families and the leisure section for enjoying relaxation, a setting in nature and traditional pastimes such as calligraphy and poetry.
After about 2 hours we got back on the bus for more of the diplomatic license plate game. We headed to the US Embassy where we had arranged in advance to receive a briefing by Josh Halpern, a foreign commercial service officer. We learned about the kind of work they do in the commercial service and more about the Chinese economy and US business interests in China. The group did an excellent job listening to a detailed briefing and had some good questions for Josh. We were all excited to experience being on US soil, complete with Marine guards, after passing through Embassy security. The Beijing Embassy is the largest US Embassy in the world without a military base.
After a great lunch at a northeastern style restaurant, Dong Bei Ren, we went to the Lama Temple, Yong He Gong. The temple was once a small imperial princes palace where 2 Emperors were raised. Lamaism is Tibetan Buddhism and the temple is still active. The highlight was seeing the 18 meter tall standing buddha statue which is carved from a single sandlewood tree. After lighting some incense and learning about the different buddhas and heavenly guardians, we hoped back on the bus to head to the Capital Normal University Attached High School.
We met with a group of tenth graders at the school to play some pick up basketball and soccer and to learn about life at school in China. The students that we met are all in a special program at their school, which is one of the most competitive high schools in Beijing. They are in a unique division where they receive 2 diplomas, one for completing a US high school AP curriculum with at least 5 AP exams and the other for completing the Chinese National curriculum. They have chosen to be in this program because they all want to go to University in the US. Toward the end of our visit with were rewarded with an impromptu performance on the Chinese instrument, the Gu Zheng, by one of the students.
After a trivia game on the bus for things learned on the trip to date, we had a large dinner with the local specialty Peking Duck. Tomorrow we head to Shanghai and although we will be sad to leave Beijing behind we all agree we can return again in the future.
After a much needed sleep, we gathered at breakfast to fuel for our trip the the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. The beds are hard in China, which is preferred and considered good for the spine here, and the group agreed they felt rejuvenated by the rest.
The drive was about 1.5hrs and we spent some of the time discussing some current aspects of China’s development including rapid urbanization. China is set to have an urban billion by 2025 as cities spread and more people move from the countryside into the cities. With urbanization comes increased consumption fueling consumer markets but also impacts the environment due to the heavy construction and industrial pollution. From the student’s perspective it is interesting to think about what their lives and China in their lives will be like when they are 30 years old. Given that 15 years ago none of the skyscrapers that we see today in Beijing were here, it is difficult to imagine what the future holds.
The Great Wall was started in roughly 221 BC and completed over the course of many dynasties and primarily served as a defense system and signaling system to protect against Mongol invaders from the north. The group did an excellent job climbing to the top of the wall and got to enjoy good views and slightly cooler weather than yesterday. Yesterday when we all shared what we were most looking forward to about the trip, many students said the wall and by all accounts it lived up to or exceeded expectations. After walking along the top of the wall and getting some good pictures, we all got to toboggan down. We spent about 30 minutes bargaining for gifts and souveniers at the bottom of the wall and then headed to lunch. The group is getting very good at getting good prices and everyone enjoys getting to use Chinese in the process.
After lunch, where we generally sit 10 to a table for a total of 3 tables, we got on the bus to drive back into downtown Beijing to visit the Dashanzi Art Visit, otherwise known as 798. Located at a former munitions factory site, the 798 area is a great setting for contemporary art galleries, cafes and shops. ¬†We first wound our way as a group through the different buildings, the majority built in the Bauhaus style, and then we split up into smaller groups to explore. Everyone appeared to enjoy the edgy feel of the district and agreed if living in Beijing it would be a cool place to come and to hang out more.
The early evening included a stroll down trendy hutong lane street Nan Luo Gu Xiang, where small tee-shirt ¬†and handicraft shops have sprouted in a traditional Beijing lane. The group takes to new experiences well and approaches casual neighborhood walking with enthusiasm. We learned about the lanes 500 years of history and look forward to visiting the Forbidden City palace that once ruled the lanes tomorrow. At the end of the lane we hopped in pairs into bike rickshaws and wound our way through the neighborhood to have dinner at a local home in the shade of the drum tower. It’s amazing to think about sharing a wall with a majestic centuries-old structure that was once used to mark the time of day for the city. As almost every lane in Beijing has been destroyed and replaced with shining glass towers it is special to get to experience something of the last days of old Beijing even if the experience lacks some of the authentic flavor of the past.
It’s hard to say if the highlight of the day was the morning and the wall or the evening and the acrobat show but a 2 act acrobat show is certainly a great way to end the day and to fight jet lag. From astounding acts of balance to daring feats of bravery, the acrobat show kept the group gasping and clapping. Today a good time was definitely had by all.
The group from LAX has arrived and we have jumped right into the day with breakfast and a walk through Tian’An Men Square. We will update more later when back at the hotel. The group is tired but in good spirits!
Stay tuned for updates about the upcoming 2012 trip….