A Travellerspoint blog

The Final Entry...

In my last entry, I told you all about our adventures in Beijing.... as it turned out, Xi'an was even more of an adventure! Wednesday night we boarded, yet another, overnight train, to go to Xi'an (pronounced Shee-ann). This time, the train was not nearly as nice as we were in the "hard sleeper" section, which meant six people to a room. However, it wasn't really a room, more like having a room minus one wall so anyone could come and go from "room" to "room". We made the best of it though, as several Chinese students came by to talk to us, which was a lot of fun.

In the morning, we arrived in Xi'an, found our new guide, Peter, and headed out for breakfast. Two things stood out to me about Xi'an - one was that the air is much cleaner here than in Beijing (although still much worse than back home) and the other is that this is a much more "historical" city, which I'll get into later. We checked into our hotel, which, if this were the US, we would have complained and stayed somewhere else. All of the rooms smelled like mildew and had massive stains all over the carpet where who knows what happened. As soon as you opened the door, the scent overpowered you, much like the scent of a boys' locker room or very old grandmother who wears way too much perfume. Needless to say, we vowed to spend as little time as possible in that room!

We then headed out to the old part of the city and visited the drum tower end of the city wall. (All cities here, historically, had two towers, a bell tower and a drum tower, to tell people when it was time to get up and when to go to sleep.) We walked up the city wall (about 40 feet high) and had a spectacular view of the city. Unfortunately, we did not have time to ride a bike on the city wall around it's perimeter (about 9 miles). We did get a quick lesson on all of the different types of jade and, of course, were offered jade at their "very best prices". Afterwards, we hit the agricultural market, which was a unique experience in and of itself. I've never seen so many fruits, vegetables, spices, and yes, dead animals, just lying around for sale. Think of it as a giant farmers' market. One member of our group decided to buy a banana which turned the heads of several Chinese shoppers. A translater later told us that they were in awe that white people eat bananas just like they do! (It's always nice to find common ground between different cultures!) From there, we ate a quick lunch and headed off to the Terra Cotta Warrior museum.

Along the way, we stopped off and saw how the Terra Cotta soldiers were actually made. The only difference in how they are made today, as replicas, versus the orginals, is the type of molding used. This was one stop that I actually didn't mind, because I was able to pick up a few authentic replica warriors (check my desk out in the near future). They even sold life-sized warriors for about $2000 (that includes shipping and insurance!). I thought about petitioning the Symposium committee for some funds, but decided not to! Then it was off to the actual Terra Cotta Museum. For those of you who don't know, the Terra Cotta army was created by an emperor during the Qin Dynasty, I think, in the 3rd Century A.D. It's purpose was to serve and protect the emperor in his afterlife. Prior to this, the Chinese buried live soldiers and servants to serve the emperor. However, this particular emperor found this method to be "more humane". The museum is unique because it's really just an archaeological dig site with a roof over it. You can look down and see where scientists dug up these remins and how they have set up the figures in a manner that they believe they were originally set in. It was really facinating! (Sorry, Rob, that you didn't get to see this one.)

From there, we headed back to the hotel to change quick, and then it was off to the Sunshine Theater for a dinner show. We sat with a woman from New York who was working with Visa for the Olympics in Beijing. As it turns out, this is the 5th Olympiad that she has worked at. (I'm seriously in the wrong line of work!) The show was absolutely spectacular. It closely mirrored a show that would have been done during the Tang Dynasty (about 600-900 AD) for the emperor and his concubines. It was nothing short of amazing. There were various dances, songs, and acrobatics which were truly amazing. The acrobats, by far, stole the show, as they did their routine using an apparatus known as a diabolo. (Basically, it's two sticks with a string tied in between and you use this to toss and catch a device that looks like a yoyo, without a string attached to it. If this is too confusing, google it.) From there, it was back to the smelly hotel for a night's rest (notice the absence of the word "good" here!).

Friday morning, we had breakfast at the hotel. While there, I heard that those who went out in the morning found all sorts of activities that people do together - tai chi, table tennis, other stretching exercises, etc. Apparently, our crew held their own against the Chinese in ping pong, which is nothing short of a moral victory! Then, it was out to Mount Hua, about two hours east of Xi'an. At first, many of us were not really excited about hiking some mountain, but once we got there, the mood changed instantly. To get to the base of the mountain for a gondola ride, you must take a bus that goes through this winding road, which, if you're not careful, could easily result in a head-on crash! Then, you take a gondola up to the main peak from which you can hike to other peaks. The gondola took a group of six up the mountain (more than one mile in elevation) in just 10-15 minutes. It was so high that you could not see the end of the gondola because it was lost in the clouds! On the way up, we learned that this was a stop during the 2004 season of the Amazing Race! (They had to unlock a key on the North Peak.) Traditionally, people lock padlocks to the chain that surrounds part of the mountain peak as good luck. The views from this mountain were absolutely breath-taking. By far, it was a much better view than what we saw at the Great Wall. (Check out my Facebook page in the near future to see this.) This time, we were both very well-hydrated, and thus, able to navigate much of the mountain with relative ease. Again, words will not describe this view adequately. Hands down, this was my favorite site of the trip, despite my fear of heights. At the mountain, we also had "rock star" status as many of the people here had never seen a foreigner. I don't know how many pictures I was asked to be in. Of course, Jamie and the other girls were asked to be in many more than me! Oh well... After a couple of hours, it was time to head back to the van and take the two hour drive back to the hotel. Not quite ready to head back to our stinky room, several of us hit the Starbucks across the street as a much-needed diversion before going to sleep.

Saturday was our final day in Xi'an. We woke up somewhat early to go to two historic sites within Xi'an. The first was the Islamic Mosque, which was founded sometime during the 8th Century AD. I found it very interesting that there is a significant Muslim population in Xi'an despite the restrictions on practicing religions in China. After that, we went to a large Buddhist temple in Xi'an, which is also rather old. Until recently, people were allowed to climb the pagoda which is at least 10 stories high. Unfortunately, it sustained some cracks during an aftershock of the earthquake in the Sichuan Province and is now closed. However, there were still several other places to look at and walk around. Again, the architecture is so amazing. It's sad how today, we don't put as much time into creating beautiful buildings that will last for centuries like people did back then. From there, it was time to head to the hotel for a quick lunch before seven of us headed for the airport to fly back to Shanghai. It was sad to see the team finally have to part ways, but the time had come.

After a brief flight on Deer Airlines (which I'm sure none of you have ever heard of), we landed in Shanghai and went back to the hotel to enjoy one last meal at our favorite restaurant in the hotel. It was so nice to be back in a hotel that we knew was very clean and eat our favorite foods - peanut chicken and a beef pepper stir-fry. We then were able to catch a few hours of sleep before having to leave for the airport at 5am.

It is now about 5:30 pm on Sunday afternoon. We've been back in Minneapolis for about five hours now. As much as we love being back home (the clean air, much safer driving, lower humidity, etc.), there are things that we will truly miss about China. (Yes, using silverware is very awkward. I'm actually more comfortable with chopsticks!) There are so many of you that we would love to get together with and answer questions, share stories and pictures, and just catch up with. Feel free to email us and let us know what you're up to. (Don't call for a few days - who knows what times of day I'll be sleeping while I recover from jet lag.) It's been a blast writing down all of our thoughts and experiences and I hope you've truly enjoyed sharing our trip with us!

Posted by djwood 14:39 Archived in China Comments (1)

Relaxing in Beijing... sort of!

Internet access has been rather spotty the last couple of days. I'm taking advantage right now of the fact that everyone who has a laptop on our trip is hitting the Beijing nightlife to finally update you on the last few days.

We left Shanghai on Sunday afternoon and took an overnight train to Beijing - about a 12 hour train ride. It was actually a lot nicer than what I expected. (I was envisioning something that was incredibly dark and dingy, sort of like the trains they have to take on the Amazing Race.) Aside from people constantly smoking on the train, it wasn't too bad. For 11 members of our group, the train ride did not allow for a good night's rest, but with the help of Unasom, I slept like a baby (no, they aren't paying me to write this, but maybe they should).

We arrived on Monday morning in Beijing at 7:15 am and pretty much hit the ground running. At the train station, we met our guide, Cecelia (don't ask me how to pronounce her Chinese name), who took us to a hole-in-the-wall place for breakfast. Normally, Jamie won't eat the food if the quality and cleanliness of the place is a bit sketchy, however, this was so bad, that well over half of us barely touched anything given to us! Right outside the restaurant, we could see dead pigs that had just been slaughtered being brought into the restaurant in plastic grocery bags! Yuck!!!!

From there, we visited Tianamen Square which is full of history, mostly dealing with Chairman Mao, however, it was actually set up during the Ming Dynasty (several hundred years ago for those of you who aren't Chinese historians). Immediately behind that was the Forbidden City. This area covered several square kilometers, and yes, we walked all of it! The architecture was absolutely amazing, with all sorts of elephants and dragons painted on to the buildings. (After awhile, it started to feel like we were just seeing the same things over and over.) However, it was very interesting just to see the place. It's just so cool to see a country that has had numerous kings and dynasties and thousands of years of architecture to see! After that, it was off to lunch and then, the Summer Palace.

The Summer Palace is set on a massive lake with all sorts of beautiful buildings surrounding it with a massive Buddhist temple at the top of a hill. (We didn't go in there because it cost extra - we're cheapskates, I know!) There is a massive overhang that you can walk under that spans the North side of the lake and each cross beam has a different scene hand-painted on it. With over 8000 beams (yes, I counted them...just kidding), somebody must have really been paid well or had too much time on his or her hands! This was where the emperor during the Ming Dynasty would come and, well, spend the summer! The only downside was that the lake was incredibly gross. Apparently, the powers that be have cleaned it up quite a bit in recent years, however, it was still incredibly nasty looking!

From there, it was off to dinner and then back to the hotel to crash, well, the 11 who didn't sleep well on the train!

On Tuesday morning, we got up early and thought we were headed to the Great Wall. (Quick story about breakfast though: there were probably 30 people in the restaurant for breakfast, and our group was the only one to use chopsticks to eat which made us feel a lot less touristy. Then of course, we followed our guide, waving a big yellow flag so that we would not get lost, and got on our coach bus to head north!) Instead of hitting the Great Wall, we stopped off at a place that made authentic vases out of copper. It was really cool to see how they were made, which I can tell you about later, but to be honest, most of us were pretty frustrated that we had to stop because, after all, the Great Wall had only been around for several hundred years and we were afraid that it might disappear in the next 30 minutes! Finally, we arrived at the Wall!

For some reason, unknown to me other than the fact that it was the closest to us, we picked the most difficult part of the wall to climb. (First of all, let me say that the arrival itself was incredible. The land looked completely flat until you were about 5 miles from the wall and then, all of a sudden, we were amidst this massive mountain range.) I take pride in being in pretty good physical shape, however, the wall humbled me. First of all, the weather was hotter than Shanghai, although, a bit less humid. Secondly, the first portion of the wall was about a 60-70 degree grade (yep, almost straight up). Third, the stairs are all of varying heights, widths, and are not anywhere near being level. Finally, I hadn't drank any fluids all day. The combination of those factors led to my demise on the wall. I let a small group of people get ahead of me and planned on catching up to them... that didn't happen! I made the first climb up to the first watch tower, the steepest part of the wall, and felt sick/dizzy/any other gross feeling you can think of. As it turns out, I was severely dehydrated. After resting there for almost 30 minutes (mind you, it only took me 8 minutes to get to that point), I attempted to make it to the second watch tower. I never did.... I made it to a look out landing halfway there, and decided that since my body was shaking, I'd better quit and drink some liquids. While I was incredibly frustrated that I couldn't do more physically, I did enjoy the incredible views (look for ouChristmas card, coming out this December). I started to climb back down (now finally drinking water and feeling a bit better) to the first guard tower and climbed up for a look there. At the top, I smelled something like the toilet at school when a kid forgets to flush. I then peeked around the corner and my smells were confirmed! I was told later on that farther up the trail, there were piles of vomit from people who couldn't deal with the elements! My words are so inadequate to describe what I saw here and my pictures won't do it justice. It was simply amazing.

After lunch, we headed off to the Ming Tombs where 13 out of the 16 Ming emperors are buried. We liked this one because it was mostly underground and a lot cooler! We then hit Hutong and got to experience life for the normal Chinese citizen. We took a rickshaw ride around a neighborhood that most tourists don't get to see and actually got to see a traditional Chinese home from the early 1900s and sit down and talk with the people who live there (as it was passed down through their ancestors). We didn't get any really great stories out of it, but it was just facinating to see how people live. By American standards, they are definately in poverty, but they were just so happy. The grandpa, a 92 year-old man, was so excited to have company and wanted desperately to be in pictures with us! It was so cool! Afterwards, we did a little bit of driving and saw, from a distance, the "Bird's Nest", or Olympic Stadium, which will be in use very soon!

We then visited a tea shop and became educated on the five different types of Chinese tea and sampled them all,which was a lot of fun. Then, we had dinner and then came back to our hotel, which we've decided is, um, a bit sketchy. (Since there are several people under the age of 18 who read this blog, I won't go into details.) Don't get me wrong, it's a fancy place and definately isn't a "hole in the wall", there are just some questionable aspects to this place.

Beijing is so incredibly different from Shanghai. I feel like I've seen more of Beijing's history in 2 days than I saw of Shanghai in 3 weeks. It's definately not as commercialized, however, the pollution is much worse. At the Great Wall, the mountains in the distance were incredibly hazy and at the Summer Palace, you could not see the temple on the island, just a few hundred yards off of the shore. The city is doing many things to clean up the city, however, it's still pretty polluted. I can't imagine what it's like during normal times!

Tomorrow is our last day in Beijing, then it's off to Xi'an to see the Terra Cotta Warriors, among other things. I'll try to update this again in a few days. Keep emailing us! It's fun to hear how you're all doing!

Posted by djwood 06:49 Archived in China Comments (0)

Camp is over!!!


Well, the final two days have come and gone. To be honest, the last 36 hours seem like a blur, but I'll do my best to recall the events of the two days!

On Thursday, we had a "wedding" theme. Throughout the two weeks, we had an ongoing skit where two travellers, played by Bryce and Kylie, would travel throughout the country and today was the day that they got married. It was especially exciting for the kids because, with the exception of one child, they had not been to a wedding. In China, children are not allowed to go to weddings. The girls, especially, were rather enthralled. Jamie and I had to play the role of a bridesmaid and groomsman respectively. The highpoint of the ceremony was definately when Justin, playing the role of the minister, ad libbed the vows big time. I won't repeat what they all entailed here, except for promises that the wife had to make in regards to housekeeping and sorts!

Today was also the last day that we had to spend with our small groups for teaching English. For me, especially, the experience was somewhat bittersweet. There were several students that I will miss working with dearly (well, maybe only two of them) and the rest can be little terrors at time. The worst is when they do something incredibly funny and I'm not supposed to laugh, but can't help not doing so! (Good thing I don't teach 8 year olds!) For example, today we learned how to measure using the English system of measuring (inches) and we measured our feet. Of course, mine were, by far, the largest. My students then told me that I was a dinosaur, because my feet were so big! (I hope it wasn't because I'm so much older than them!) They then developed this game where they all grab onto my shirt as we walk around as "my tail", so I told them if I'm a dinosaur, then they are a dinosaur tail, which they really seemed to get a kick out of!

The rest of the day was spent preparing for the big parent program tomorrow which I was in charge of. I've come to the conclusion that any sort of parent program like this, or in schools, is truly from the pit of hell. Teachers, by and large, don't like the stress that goes into preparing them. Parents, for the most part, are bored out of their mind except for the two minutes that their child is actually on stage. Kids hate rehearsing them. They'd much rather be outside playing (or in the case of my students, playing "Bingo" or "Oh Bo Shi Naten Taten"). Everybody has an opinion as to how things should be done and when you're the person coordinating it, it's difficult not to offend others. I truly think that the only reason that we continue to have these programs is because we haven't learned from those who have gone before us and analyzed this pointless American tradition! Okay, enough ranting about that.

Friday was the aforementioned program. I was rather stressed out all day. (Jamie would say that's a gross understatement, but she's not writing this blog, I am!) I had to redo the programs several times due to various printing errors, some by my own doing, and some becasue I can't read the Chinese instructions on the computer that I was using! I prepped the portion that my small group was supposed to do rather quickly. To be honest, I resorted to bribery, but it worked beautifully. (I just told them that if they hurried up and practiced well, they could play games the rest of the morning. I've never seen such motivated 8 year olds in my entire life!) Prior to the full-blown dress rehersal, we had our Olympics, which were a lot of fun. The little kids doing the tug of war using a giant tug of war rope was so funny! Some of the poor kids were being dragged across the field and refused to let go of the rope, even though they were getting rug burns from the astroturf on the ground! Talk about dedication!

That afternoon, we had our dress rehersal which could not have gone worse. The kids were bouncing off of the walls (I can't imagine what they would have been like if we would have given them sugar at lunch!), and everyone seemed to have a different idea of how to do things. Two hours later, we got through the entire ceremony, which by my estimation, was going to take about 45 minutes. Needless to say, I was pretty nervous about the ceremony!

Finally, the parents started to arrive. I was under the impression that not many parents would show up, but I would estimate that there were about 60 parents or so there, which was rather impressive, but only made me a bit more nervous. Anyway, we got things rolling with my two little terrors, Sean and John, playing their violins. It was amazing to me that they were so incredibly focused and serious while playing their violins. They were actually quite good at it too! Well, the ceremony began and went extremely well, even though it was rather long for those little kids to be sitting for so long. (Jamie was physically restraining some of the youngest so that they wouldn't go flying out of their seats at the end!) They all did so well, especially when they were dancing to "YMCA" and singing their songs. At the end, one of the high level executives from IBM got up and said how pleased he was with the students and what they learned about the camp, which made all of us feel really good about the job we had done. Finally, I breathed a sigh of relief for the first time in well over a day!

We then got to meet the parents of most of the campers, which was a lot of fun. Fanny's father informed me that she was quite the martial artist which didn't really surprise me. However, she seemed very embarrassed by the fact that I now knew this about her! For the most part, the end of camp was rather bittersweet. On one hand, time had definately run its course and we all needed a break. However, we'll definately miss the kids and seeing some of them go was sad.

Afterward, we worked incredibly quickly to reset everything in the school back to the way we found it and cleaned up, took inventory, and got things packed away for next year. With only a brief break for Papa John's, we got everything done that we needed to do within three hours, which now leaves Saturday and Sunday for fun and sightseeing in Shanghai before we leave for Beijing on Sunday night. I hope to post again about those adventures before the 12 hour, overnight train ride, which should be an experience in and of itself. Until then...

Posted by djwood 05:48 Archived in China Comments (1)

Valentine's Day in China...


Today was quite possibly one of the most fun days we've had at camp thus far, especially for Jamie! That's because we got to celebrate Valentine's Day, her favorite holiday, with the campers. (We also tied in Homecoming with this venture as well.) We had all of the campers make Valentines which were delivered at our Valentine's Party at the end of the day.

We've noticed that the kids are extremely shy around members of the opposite gender. It's difficult to say whether this is a cultural thing, or something that is universal among young kids at this age. My guess is that it's the latter, not the former, but in all honesty, I'm not really sure. In my small language group, I had a couple of girls who were deathly afraid of writing a letter to a boy in the group, so I had to let them write to each other.

It also turns out that there is a young eight-year old girl who has developed quite the crush on me! Earlier in camp, she insisted on holding my hand whenever we walk from the auditorium to the language group. Then yesterday, this individual sent me a note, saying that I looked like her father, I'm a very good teacher, and she loved me! (It was rather cute!) Thankfully, Jamie wasn't jealous. After all, when teaching preschool in the US, she gets flowers from little boys all of the time!

In the afternoon, we crowned our Homecoming court. It was funny to see their reactions when we did so. The girls really got into it and were very excited when the queen and princess was announced. For the boys, it was almost a symbol of shame as the ones who lost were far more happy than those that won. (The "queen" was not nearly as excited when she found out that she had to dance with the king for the first song of the night, though!)

Afterward, we were rather exhausted, however, six of us (actually, it was the same six that were stranded together in Tokyo just a few weeks ago), decided to venture downtown to People's Square rather than go straight back to the hotel. People's Square is very similar to Times Square in New York, except much larger and there are way more people trying to sell you immitation watches and DVDs! We ate at McDonalds, which was quite the experience. In many ways, it reminds me of McDonalds back in the 1980s, when they didn't sell salads, grilled chicken, and the other "so-called healthy stuff" that ours sell today. (Thankfully, the prices were also in line with what they were back in the 80s in the US!)

Next we ventured a little farther down the street and finally came across a place called The Underground Market. The best way to describe it is that it's similar to a market where all sorts of immitation and knock-off products are sold. Nothing there is authentic, but then again, the people shopping there don't really care, they're just looking for cheap souveniers. It's amazing how many people wanted to be "my friend". It's amazing how "friend" was pretty much the only word that the majority of the shop owners knew in English! As we were walking around, Justin and I were led into one of the shops (no bigger than six feet by six feet) and the owner pushed back a wall to show us another room with all sorts of immitation purses. Why he insisted on showing us these is unknown to us, but it was somewhat weird how he basically threw us in this "secret room". At any rate, it maked for a wonderful story.

The best part of the whole experience was negotiating with the shop owners. We had been told earlier to offer 20-40% of what they were asking. The shop owners will never accept a price below what it cost them for the product, so on several occasions, our prices were accepted as we were walking away because they desperately wanted our business. I felt really good about getting a t-shirt for 50 RMB when it originally cost 120 RMB (about $7 instead of $16-18), however, I found out that Bryce and Jonathan each went to a different shop and got similar shirts for 20-30 RMB. Oh well, it was still a deal for me. The highlight for the women in the group was fake purse shopping as they both got "Coach" purses and wallets for about $9.

This was exactly what we needed after a long day. It was so nice just to get away for a couple of hours, away from the hotel, and just experience a different aspect of camp life! Tomorrow, we're all gearing up for the camp Olympics and wedding celebration. Chinese children are not allowed to attend weddings, so many of them are really looking forward to what a wedding looks like! I'll tell you all about it soon!

Posted by djwood 20:11 Archived in China Comments (0)

Week Two of Camp - Monday and Tuesday


I apologize that it has taken me so long to update the blog lately. The amount of work that needs to get done around here has increased greatly. Recently, I've taken on responsibilities for editing the official Concordia blog for the camp and planning the parent program at the end of the week. Jamie has added on the responsibilities of planning the next two all-camp evening programs. Between those things, we've been rather busy and exhausted, but still loving life here in Shanghai.

On Monday, we had a Western theme and taught the students about Native American culture along with the Wild West. It was a lot of fun to see the kids get into singing "Home on the Range", complete with cheesy western accents! (A Chinese kid trying to impersonate a Western accent is rather funny! I guess it's one of those things you just have to hear to appreciate.)

Jamie spent a large amount of time having her students make totem poles while I worked on the all-camp program, which included making bandanas, square dancing, and a campfire program. (Our campfire was a picture projected onto a screen, after all, who wants to be outside roasting marshmellows with the sun blazing on you and the temperature is in the high 90s.)

That evening, we tried a new place for dinner called the "Herbal Garden", which was a lot healthier (i.e., not so much fried and greasy stuff) than traditional Chinese cuisine. I really liked the place. It was a good thing that we had Flex with us because he was able to negotiate a lower rate for the bill (almost half of what they were going to charge us!). One thing that we've really started to notice is that China is not a very healthy country. There are not nearly as many overweight people as in the US (and I don't think I've seen anyone who would qualify as "obese"), however, looking at the food they eat all the time, I'm surprised that there aren't more heart attacks! Dental care is also something that seems to be lacking big time here. It could be the lack of floride in the water, but we see several young children that have rotting teeth. There was one boy complaining of a tooth ache and, as it turns out, he had the root of a tooth exposed through his gums! Combine that with the number of chain smokers that we've seen, and it's no wonder that their overall health is lower than ours as a nation.

On Tuesday, the camp focused on Los Angeles and Halloween. In the morning, we taught the students about different careers that they could have. Interestingly, every female camper that I talked to said that she wanted to be a teacher when she grew up, which is probably cultural. In the afternoon, we had the students make masks, decorate bags for trick or treating (going to different classrooms and getting candy) and took them through a haunted house. The haunted house was one of the most time-conusming ventures that we've undertaken to this point, but it went really well. The majority of the campers, in my opinion, had never been through a haunted house, based on their reactions. Some of them were terrified just to crawl underneath a table. Three of the younger campers started to cry during their venture through the haunted house. (For the record, this is the first time that I've been involved, directly or indirectly, in making a camper cry. Considering the number of students at lunch back at school that I've made cry, I'm probably doing pretty well here! And, this time I actually consoled the kids who were crying during the haunted house rather than just leave them be!)

One element of the haunted house had students going through a ball pit, similar to Chuck E. Cheese. One boy lost his sandal during this part and it took six counselors over 20 minutes to find it after the camp had ended for the day! (The poor kid, in the meantime, had to walk around camp with only one sandal on!) However, this was a kid who was starting to give some of us some grief, so we didn't feel too sorry for him.

After a quick meeting, we were able to get out of there and have a few hours of downtime back at the hotel. Wednesday will have a Valentine's Day and Homecoming theme as we travel through Texas. (Jamie is very involved in the Valentine's Day preparations, as you can imagine.) Hopefully, I'll tell you all about it tomorrow.

Posted by djwood 17:27 Archived in China Comments (0)

A Weekend in Shanghai Part II


Sunday was supposed to be a rather leisurely day but wound up being somewhat chaotic as our group became seperated and we began to search around Shanghai for each other!

The day started off with the majority of us going to a church that Brian and others had found, roughly one mile from our hotel. Jamie, Kate, and I walked there (I was soaked due to the humid conditions by the time I got there!), only to find that the rest took a cab later because it was already so hot at 10 am! It was very much like an American church, in a lot of ways, except for the fact that there were two services in seperate buildings - one for Chinese worshippers and the other service in English. We were led to a room upstairs, which had me concerned because it was already so hot, however, the 12 or so air conditioners in the room made it rather comfortable. The pastor, in a lot of ways, was a Chinese version of Pastor Ivan, including how he combed his hair, his glasses, clothes, mannerisms, and how he carried himself as well. (He was incredibly passionate about the Word of God as well, just like Ivan.) It turned out that the man was of Chinese origin, but had lived in the US permanently up until 7 months ago. There were about 200 people at the contemporary service, which surprised me. I had heard in the past that churches were hunted down by the communist regime in China and that if one wanted to attend an international church, he or she had to show a foreign passport to get in. Perhaps the rules are more relaxed in Shanghai because they want to encourage Western business here so much.

Afterward, we took a taxi to the subway station and headed off for the Shanghai Zoo. In some ways, the zoo was an incredible experience, but a rather sad one as well. They had, by far, the largest variety of animals that I had ever seen at a zoo. Of course, the highlight was the three giant pandas that we saw. They would just sit there, eat some bamboo while staring at the crowds, walk to the front of the glass, and then lie down for awhile and repeat this over and over. The landscaping, with all of the trees and ponds throughout the zoo, was also incredible. On the downside, the animals all looked rather depressed and the areas that they had for them were rather small. (The elephants were in oversized horse stalls that were maybe large enough for them to take 2 or 3 steps, but no more. One of them had its legs chained together, for some reason unknown to us.) Furthermore, many visitors would throw trash and other food in the cages for the animals to eat, which was rather disturbing. I highly doubt that potato chips are part of a giraffe's normal diet!

When our leisurely stroll through the zoo had ended, it was back to the taxis again to go back to the hotel. Unfortunately, we had another bad experience with them. We needed three taxis and they all took us to the wrong subway station. One arrived well ahead of ours, and when they didn't see us, they went to the correct subway station, got off there, and searched all over for us (but of course, we were not there yet!). The other two taxis also got dropped off somewhat near the wrong station, but our cab drivers told us to walk in the wrong direction. After searching for three blocks and seeing some rather authentic (a.k.a. gross) foods being cooked on the sidewalk, including chicken feet and snake, we found a police station that pointed us in the right direction. We then went to the correct subway station as well to find the first group, only to no avail, as they had left the station to look on the streets for us! About 90 minutes after we left the first subway station, we all made it home safely, but it wound up being rather stressful. (The situation was made more difficult by the fact that none of us had our cell phones with us. We could use them here, but it would cost over $3.00/minute.) Finally, we were back at the hotel, enjoyed a wonderful dinner and were greatly relieved to see Flex, our fearless Chinese leader, return from Beijing, where he had been for the previous week, getting trained in as an Olympic volunteer.

Monday marks the start of the second and final week of camp. We are all feeling refreshed and ready to go, which is a good sign. To this point, we've been blessed with good health (no illnesses, allergies, etc.) on the trip and a pretty good group of kids. Tomorrow, you can read all about our journey, teaching the kids about the Wild West.

Posted by djwood 23:39 Archived in China Comments (0)

A Weekend in Shanghai... Part 1


Today was one of our first days without too many obligations, which really freed us up to enjoy Shanghai. We started out our day by spending a few hours at the school to prepare for some events during the upcoming week. I'm in charge of planning a Western Day for the kids which will include a campfire, among other activities (I'll write more about that in Monday's edition of the blog.) Jamie got to work on planning the Valentine's Day/Homecoming festivities which will commence next Wednesday. After our time was up there, we headed back to the hotel to enjoy some food. We've really become dependant on this hotel for food. It seems like whenever we go elsewhere, we really don't know what we're ordering and thus, get stuck getting something really spicy and completely unidentifiable.

After a brief nap, we decided to take in a soccer game at Hongkou Stadium, which was used in the 2007 Women's World Cup and will be a site for games in the 2008 Olympics. Thanks to Haifeng, who wrote us certain key places in Chinese, we were able to successfully navigate the Shanghai subway system to get to the stadium, after just 40 minutes. The mood outside the stadium was somewhat chaotic as there were street venders selling all sorts of tourist-trap type souveniers. There were also a lot of very pesky ticket scalpers. After telling one of them no (I had him talked down from 200 RMB to 50 RMB per ticket, or $29 USD to about $7.50 USD), he put his arm around me and continued to walk with me for about one block until he finally got the hint. Over the course of the next hour or so, Brian and I negotiated with various ticket scalpers and tried to find a restaurant that took Visa! Finally, we tracked one guy down who sold us 9 tickets for 350 RMB, which was about $6 USD per ticket, which wasn't too bad. It just sounds like so much more money when it's in foreign currency! (We needed 11 tickets, so two in our group decided they were going to wait until after kickoff to see if they could get a better deal.) After Brian and I bought these tickets, we were informed by others in our group that a British man had just tried to get into the game after paying 50 RMB to a scalper, only to be informed that his ticket was a fake and he could not get in. I was a bit nervous at this point, but we figured if they were forgeries, we were only out about $6 USD per person and could get tickets from the box office for 50 RMB. At this point, 9 of the group went to Pizza Hut to eat while Jessica and I did not want to miss a second of the game, so we went in. As we walked up, I was getting more nervous because everybody else's tickets were very shiny and ours looked rather worn. Thankfully, though, we were admitted in without any problems and we both breathed a huge sigh of relief.

After finding a Shanghai Shenhua FC jersey and a restroom, we made it into the stadium just in time to see the kickoff. I was rather surprised by several elements of the stadium and game. First of all, the field was incredibly hazy, due mostly to the humidity in the area, but also the constant smoking taking place in the stadium. At times it felt like I was sitting directly in the middle of an ash tray! The field looked rather worn and was in terrible shape. There were huge chunks of sod that would fly up anytime someone slid. It may have been due to the massive thunderstorm that we had earlier in the day, but I'm not sure. Finally, the stadium was, at most, 1/3 full. I couldn't believe that with tickets this cheap, there were not more people here. (As a side note, after the game, I ran into a Chinese man who was a huge soccer fan, but said not many people go to games because, as he said, "Chinese football sucks".) But on the positive side, the atmosphere within the stadium was absolutely electric. There were rather large sections of "supporters" behind both goals who sang, played drums, and yelled the entire game. Many of the songs they sang were to the tunes of popular US songs, such as "The Battle Hymn of the Republic". In many ways, the atmosphere resembled that of a European match. When Shanghai scored their first goal about 20 minutes into the match, the place just erupted. It sounded like there were at least 50,000 fans in the stadium, not 10,000. Shanghai's second goal, just one minute later, was an absolute beauty (about 30 yards out, one-time shot just inside the upper corner, far post). At half, the score was 2-0, in favor of the home team. (Somewhere in there, I lost my voice after screaming so long!) The score could have been 3-0 very easily, as a Shanghai player hit a beautiful bicycle kick from about 15 yards out with the keeper and a defender right on his back, only to hit the post!

Finally, the rest of our group finished their meal at Pizza Hut and joined us in the stadium. We noticed that as long as you were in the right section, nobody really cared where you sat, which is good because our tickets wound up being all over the place in that section. The pace of the game slowed down considerably in the second half with lots of fouls and deliberate play. Shanghai added a third goal (which made everyone in our group happy that they got to see a Shanghai goal), which was followed by a Dalian goal, which made the final score 3-1. Shanghai hasn't lost a game all year at home, which is rather impressive. Dalian, a team from Singapore, is typically very good, but is having a bit of a down year this season.

After the game, we found out that Bryce and Kylie never bought tickets, but were just let in for free with about 10 minutes to go, so they saw the final goal of the match. We then walked around Shanghai trying to get back to the subway station to get back. (Because of the number of people at the game, the authorities shut down the station outside the stadium to help keep order.) After wandering the streets aimlessly for about 45 minutes and realizing that we probably would not be able to take the subway back, we broke into three groups to take cabs back to the hotel. On numerous occassions, we'd try to flag down a taxi, only to get passed by and see the cab pick up some Chinese people further down the block. It was such a frustrating experience! Finally, after numerous failed attempts and everyone being drenched in sweat, we started to get in a taxi while others were getting out of it. I felt as though I'm losing my skills in flagging down a Shanghai taxi, but oh well.

The driver seemed really nice and wanted to practice his English with us and was driving us down the Bund, along the river, back to our hotel. He was laughing with us and wanted to play American music for us (some mix of the Backstreet Boys and other cheesy American bands). Finally, he dropped us off and told us the bill was 153 RMB (a little over $20), which in America would not be bad at all. However, Haifeng was waiting for us at the taxi and before I could pay, he began arguing with the taxi driver. Apparently, he had taken us for a ride, literally. He took us on a very round-about way of getting back to the hotel and a previous group had only paid 60 RMB, or about $8.50. (A travel book warned us that taxi drivers like to take advantage of foreigners like that, and given that we don't blend in very well, we're rather susceptable to this. Another note - taxis here pay by distance travelled only, not by number of passengers, and are strictly regulated by the government, meaning they all must charge the same amount.) Apparently, Haifeng threatened to call the authorities on him and started to write down his license number. Not wanting to get in trouble, the driver accepted payment of 80 RMB. We were incredibly thankful that Haifeng was there to help us out, otherwise we would have been ripped off big time!

So now we're just about to crash at our hotel. I'm still all giddy about seeing my first soccer game in a foreign country. Hopefully, it will be the first of many! It's time to get some rest and gear up for an adventure at the Shanghai Zoo tomorrow, among other things.

Posted by djwood 08:00 Archived in China Comments (1)

Week one of camp has come to an end...


Today, we wrapped up the first week of camp. While we're all exhausted, we're incredibly happy to be here and just excited for a little bit of time off this weekend. Today we celebrated Christmas in Minnesota. (I lobbied profusely that we should have told the kids that due to a blizzard, we got stuck in Wisconsin and couldn't make it to Minnesota, but that idea did not make it very far.) We taught the villagers to sing Jingle Bells and Joy to the World which, I must admit, was extremely odd, considering that the sun was out and it was, once again, very hot and humid outside, however, these kids really like music and I think it's been pretty helpful for their understanding of English.

While in our language classes, Santa Claus (Brian) came around and gave the children candy if they said that they were "nice". Amazingly, they all said that they had been nice even though some of them are the most disobediant children I've ever seen! We asked a few of them how this compared to normal Chinese school and they all told us that Chinese teachers never smiled and were way more strict. Most of them do not like going to school. However, they did tell us that they are learning more at camp than they did in school. I'm not sure if that's really true or if they were just trying to be polite!

We're trying to show them some traditional Christmas traditions. We made a paper chain and decorated a tree with that, which the kids really enjoyed. We also showed them mistletoe and Jamie and I showed them what people do under the mistletoe. Oddly, none of the children wanted to be caught under the mistletoe then! In our English lessons, our groups focused primarily on the difference between needs and wants and how that related to Christmas presents. I was suprised, although maybe I shouldn't have been, at the things these kids considered to be "needs" (toys, etc.). Then again, it was pointed out by several staff members that these children are, predominantly, all going through the "only child syndrome" (getting everything they want, having their parents' undivided attention, etc.) and almost all come from rather affluent backgrounds. Perhaps that also offers some insights into their behavior as well. (As an aside, our Chinese leaders informed us that China still has its "one-child policy", however, there are certain scenarios in which families are allowed to have more than one child based on if they were only children, if they are farmers, etc. Furthermore, any family, may have a second child if they wish, however, they have to pay a rather large fine to do so.)

In the afternoon, we put on a Christmas program for the kids, with carols, decorating the Christmas tree with ornaments made during arts and crafts, reading "The Night Before Christmas" and also a visit from Santa. We let all of the kids have their picture taken with Santa, although many were afraid of him (just like in the US, right?). Then we took "family pictures" (an all-camp picture), which, of course, the kids hated, and then had a snowball fight (using balls of newspaper instead of snow). The kids absolutely loved that, but by this point in the day (and week), they were so squirrelly that it took almost 15 minutes to get them be quiet in order to explain things! I guess they were as burnt out as the staff.

Finally, we sent the kids on their buses to go home. In all honest, it was somewhat sad to see them go. These kids have really started to grow on us and we're starting to build some good relationships with them. Our plan is to get as much work done in preparation for the following week on Saturday, so that we can spend more time just hanging out with the kids next week while they are here. Currently, we're planning on having some fun on the weekend as well (soccer game, Shanghai zoo, etc.). I'll let you know the beginning of next week how that all turns out...

Posted by djwood 20:30 Archived in China Comments (0)

Day 4 of Hometown China


Today, we celebrated the 4th of July with the villagers at Hometown China. The weather was incredibly hot and humid, so at least that was consistant with what it is in the US on the 4th! We were hit with a brief rainstorm early in the morning, which normally would release some of the humidity from the air, however, here it just seems to make things more humid once the rain has stopped! A few of the Chinese students told us that they can tell when it is about to rain because the dragonflys are flying very low (due to the high humidity, they cannot fly very high) - today they were flying quite low which gave the kids a good scare!

Some of the highlights from today included trying to give them picnic foods at lunch, such as little hot dogs, which the kids loved. We also sang "My Country Tis of Thee" which the kids really didn't get into. I suppose when it's not your country you're singing about, it's difficult to be passionate in singing about it. They have really taken to some of the other songs that we're teaching them, such as "Yankee Doodle" and "Take Me Out to the Ballgame". We also had various picnic-type games for the kids to play, such as a water balloon toss, the human knot game (all people hold hands with people not standing directly next to them and then have to untangle themselves), and a hula hoop relay. I was with the 8 and 9 year olds and they were the only group to untangle themselves from the human knot. It was hilarious to watch them play the water balloon toss. A few of them acted as if they had never seen a water balloon before! One girl started to cry when the balloon broke on her, but I think she was more upset that her team lost than the fact that she got all wet. The other unique part of this was that we did this on an astroturf soccer field, and the balloons were nearly indestructable on this surface. (I had one balloon bounce off the turf up to my knee without breaking!)

Jamie and I have noticed that when we are teaching the language groups, these kids are deathly afraid to sit on the floor! Even when we are playing Memory or Go Fish, the majority of the kids will squat rather than sit on the floor! Today, several kids brought newspapers to sit on rather than sit on the floor of the classroom, which we found humorous. Oddly enough, the kids have no trouble sitting on the sidewalk outside for other games, which is much dirtier than the classroom floor!

The kids have also really taken a liking to playing "Ships Across the Ocean" and other tag-style games. I was with a group playing the "Color Game" yesterday, in which the person who is it, calls out a color and if you are wearing that color, you have to run across the room without being tagged, or else you are out. The last person remaining gets to be "it" for the next game. Anyway, there was one boy, named "John" from my language group, who was playing with us. The person who was it called out "yellow" as the color. A few people ran quickly, while John had a mischevious look on his face. Nobody paid much attention to him, until he started to laugh (kind of a kiddish-evil cackle, if you will). A few started to wonder what was going on. (As an aside note, he was wearing a green shirt with black shorts.) He then pulled his underwear well past his waistband (thus, probably giving himself a pretty good wedgie) revealing his yellow underwear, and then ran across the room laughing at the top of his lungs! (For those of you from my school, this is somewhat similar to Jamie's "race car" story from preschool.) And for those of you wondering, he did make it safely across the room! Someday, I'll write a book about all of the memorable things students have done in my presence and this story will definately be at or near the top of my list!

We also continue to be amazed at how cheap somethings are here. Last night for dinner, we ate at a Chinese buffet in our hotel that cost 15 RMB (a little more than $2 USD). Jamie bought an umbrella, in case it rains again, or to blend in with the local women who use them to shield themselves from the sun, for 12 RMB (about $1.75). We've found so many other things that would be so cheap to bring back, but we'd probably have to buy more luggage to bring back everything we've thought about buying!

Tomorrow, we get to celebrate Christmas in Minnesota. There seems to be something terribly wrong with singing Jingle Bells with the kids in 100 degree weather, but I'll let you know how that all goes!

Posted by djwood 20:10 Archived in China Comments (0)

Day 3 of Hometown China


I apologize for those of you who were confused by my previous entry... we studied Boston, the city, not Boston, the 1980s band. Day 3 of Hometown China had the students studying Washington DC and had an Easter theme as well. Thankfully, we had a bit of a reprieve from the heat here, as there was a constant breeze. However, the heat index was still well over 100 degrees.

In our language lessons (ages 6-8) we taught our students how to play games such as "Memory" and "Go Fish". It seemed amazing to me that these kids had never played these games before, but they caught on quickly and really seemed to enjoy them! Trying to keep my group of five very energetic 8-year olds from speaking in Chinese is quite the challenge, but as they become more confident in their speaking abilities, hopefully their use of Chinese while at camp will diminish. Other highlights from today included showing a portion of Lilo and Stitch to the students which they really seemed to enjoy. (We had to put the subtitles on the screen so that they could read along because many of these students are very proficient in their reading, but not as good at listening and speaking.) We also had an Easter egg scavenger hunt where we planted eggs with clues around the school for the kids to find. My group was so excited for this adventure! At the end, we gave them Starburst, which I don't think many of them had eaten before as the students just stared at them for a bit, wondering what it was, until one brave soul at his and then the all followed. Of course, they all wanted "more" at that point, but I didn't make any available to them. (Isn't it funny how "more" is one of the first words they learn? They're also really good at using the word "no" as well!)

Today was also Matt's birthday, so we celebrated with birthday cake (okay, so it was a type of coffee cake from the breakfast buffet) singing, and dinner at our favorite restaraunt in the hotel. Afterwards, several members headed up to the rooftop for an extended celebration for those "25 years old and younger", per Bryce's request. Since I'm offically part of the "old" crowd now, Brian and I headed off for an intense game of cribbage before bed.

China as a nation continues to facinate me in so many ways. The cities have a reputation for being extremely dirty, which I have not found to be true at all. Furthermore, I am always seeing workers out on the streets picking up trash, sweeping, etc. Granted, every now and then we see some rather odd sights, such as a guy transporting an entire dead pig (which had been gutted earlier) on the back of his bike, or someone with trash bags filled with who knows what on bike, but the pile of bags is roughly 3-4 times the height of himself when seated on the bike! I still haven't gotten use to the way people drive. Jamie and I were comparing notes and it seems like the only place where there is some resemblence of order when driving is in the US. Despite people constantly ignoring traffic signals, right of way, lane markers, etc., we have yet to see an accident here, which is pretty remarkable.

Tomorrow, we'll be celebrating the 4th of July with the students and studying Chicago (the city, not the band). It should be another exciting day. If you want another perspective on the specific happenings at camp, check out our "official" blog at: http://blogs.cord.edu/CLV/HT/Shanghai/.

Posted by djwood 20:38 Archived in China Comments (2)

(Entries 1 - 10 of 20) Page [1] 2 »