This will be a marathon post, so prepare thyself!
Here a couple of students and I posing with stuffed midget-sized Beijing 2008 mascots. From left to right: Bei bei the whale, Jing jing the panda, James, Ying ying the Olympic torch, me, Jing jing the goat, Hugo, and Ni ni the swallow. Yes, that's a grand total of 5 mascots for the next Olympic games. And, very cleverly, when read together in the correct order (Beijing huanying ni), their names mean "Beijing welcomes you." Brilliant!
We arrived in Beijing around noon on Monday, and after a quick lunch, went straight to the Forbidden City. All those figures with blue tracksuit pants and T-shirts that you can see are my students. 31 twelve to fourteen-year-olds + 3 teachers = good times
Here's one of the 10 students that I was personally responsible for. As a teacher, I usually try my best not to have favorites... but I just had to make an exception with Lvin. Lvin is a really friendly kid, and on the trip he soon became best friends with our tour guide. Throughout the week, the tour guide kept refering to him as "my favorite fat kid," which I found slightly offensive, yet secretly amusing. He was my favorite too, but mainly because of his name.
Dinner on the first night was delicious -- we even got Peking duck!
Here's my very excited student, Jessica, using one of the tortilla-like wrappers for the Peking duck to wrap other food. Yes, that is a wedge of watermelon in there.
Beijing traffic was pretty bad, especially at rush hour. Our tour bus was enroute to Tiananmen square in this picture.
A shot of Tiananmen gate. We were all waiting for the PLA soldiers to march out and lower the flag in Tiananmen square.
Soldiers marching out to lower the flag at sunset. I wonder how many sunsets can actually be seen in Beijing. As you can see from this picture, the air isn't exactly pristine.
After the flag ceremony, we walked through an underground walkway to get back to our bus. Suddenly, in marched a few dozen soldiers. I unintentionally had my flash turned off for this picture, but I like the effect and the feeling of movement that it has.
On Wednesday we visited quite a famous local school. The school seemed to have a pretty nice campus, and in some ways it was even quite high-tech (see the billboard in the previous post). But there was one part of their campus that I just couldn't understand. This is a shot of the courtyard that can be viewed from the school's underground library. You'd be right if you wondered how they can grow palm trees at such a high latitude. They can't. No less than all of the foliage in this picture is fake.
After the school visit, we went to see an acrobatics show which was pretty crazy. At times it was quite painful to watch because of the unnatural contortions that some of the acrobats had to assume for extended periods of time. No pictures of that... just a nice picture of students stimulating the mainland economy after the show. I scream, you scream, we all scream for mashed snow cream!
On Thursday morning, students had a 3-hour Mandarin class, so my friend and colleague, Carmen, and I took the opportunity to head out to some old hutongs ("alleys") for some sight-seeing and shopping. Here I am in front of an old building that is now a cafe.
Surprisingly, the hutongs were a pretty hip place. There were artsy little coffee shops and boutiques everywhere. We decided to get some coffee at a cafe that doubled as a photo gallery (note the photograph of the male nude hanging from the ceiling -- impressionable individuals, look away!). The coffee wasn't very good, but the ambiance was nice and homey.
This is Carmen posing with my fake Y50 note. I obtained it last summer from Brian, who received it as change from a street vendor in Beijing. I had kept it with the rest of my Chinese money and had forgotten that it was fake. Well, at the first store I tried to use it at, I was quickly reminded that it was in fact not genuine. Unfortunately, it is no longer the only fake Chinese money in my possession. I wish I'd gotten a picture of the lady who switched my real Y100 note for a fake at the Summer Palace! She had a whole routine down for cheating people. Actually quite genius, when I think about it now. I didn't have Y10, which was the price of what I wanted to buy, so I gave her Y100. She told me she could make change, but gave me two notes that weren't even Chinese money! I thought I was clever in exposing them as fake RMB. She then said that she had no other change, so I borrowed Y10 from another teacher who was there, gave it to her, and she gave me back what I thought was my Y100. I was a little suspicious that maybe she'd switched my bill, but wasn't sure that it was fake until later, when I compared it to a real one. Oh well, one more lesson learned.
On a more positive note, here's my favorite northern Chinese dish -- di san xian, or as I once saw it translated so memorably, "three shreds on earth"-- which I was lucky enough to get to eat twice while in Beijing!! It's the best combination of eggplant, green pepper, potato (and of course a lot of oil) imagineable!
On Friday we went to the Summer Palace and the Great Wall before heading to the airport to fly home. Here's our whole group in front of the Great Wall. There's a big basketball on the banner because our group traveled to Beijing under the guise of being a sports trip. This wasn't completely false, because the students did play basketball on two different afternoons. I got some playing time in as well, which was fun... especially because most of the boys I played against are still shorter than me!
Me and three Form 1 girls that I hung out with a lot during the trip. Out of the 31 students, that went to Beijing, only 5 were girls. I'm assuming that's mainly because of the basketball "focus" of the trip.
Here are students and teachers enjoying some ice-cream after hiking up and down the Great Wall.
To finish the Beijing story, we arrived at the airport to find that our flight was delayed. We ended up landing in HK just after midnight (about an hour later than planned). I was very happy to hand over my student-related responsibilities to the group of parents that were waiting for us so eagerly in the arrival hall. One of the fathers looked especially pleased to see his son back safe and sound. I said, "You must be happy to have him back." He replied, "You look exhausted!" Somehow that conversation made a lot of sense to me at the time.