Seeing the ‘real China’

Tensions were running high at LAX; anxious parents stood muttering in groups while overstuffed luggage sat in a pile. Sixteen students (one eighth grader, 11 freshmen and four sophomores) along with the two Chinese teachers, Qinru Zhou and Binbin Wei, were about to leave for two weeks on the spring break China Trip.

“This will be the real China experience,” Zhou said.

We had heard this before at the trip meeting a few weeks before, but once we were standing in the middle of a subway station with our luggage in Shanghai, we realized he was serious.

After our luggage was taken to the hotel, we wandered the streets taking pictures of everything we saw, overwhelmed by the size of the crowds and the city.  We spent the next day in Suzhou touring a silk factory and gardens and left for Hangzhou the morning after.

We spent two days touring Hangzhou and even getting a view of a hospital due to my sudden illness. While the rest of the group toured Hangzhou’s parks, pagodas and temples, I went to Hangzhou’s number one hospital. Since we were leaving on a sleeper train that night, the teachers wanted to make sure I wasn’t seriously sick before we left Hangzhou.

The hospital was thoroughly modern and any doubts I had went away when I saw the inside was almost identical to UCLA’s.

I had no qualms until a man came in holding an unattached finger in one of his hands. After getting my temperature taken and my blood drawn, I was given pills and tea and we departed. Talk about the real China experience.  

The next day we spent in Qufu, Confucius’ home town, looking at his houses and graveyards.  We left for Taishan Mountain the day after that.

Since the day was rainy and cold, we took a bus halfway up the 1500 meter high mountain and walked the rest of the way up.

Though the next day was cloudy, our position at the top of the mountain allowed us to watch the sun rise over the clouds. We arrived at Beijing later that night where Zhou announced that Beijing was “where the real learning process would begin.”

The first morning there we saw the Olympic stadium, fields and dorms. The city was bursting with excitement and enthusiasm for this summer; vendors on the sidewalks tried to sell us paperweights, hats and shirts all reading Beijing 2008 while restaurants posted hygiene ratings in an effort to entice more foreign customers. 

We woke up early the next morning to watch the National Banner Rising. Though we arrived at Tiananmen Square before 6 a.m., we still had to wrestle with the crowd to watch the monthly banner raising.  We spent the rest of the day touring the Forbidden City, having an imperial lunch and touring Behai Park.

The next day we spent the morning at the Panda exhibit. After lunch that day, we were told we could go shopping in Beijing ourselves.

In order to get to the destination, we would have to use our bus passes and knowledge of the city to go shopping and return at the designated time. Miraculously, we were all in the hotel on time ready to go to dinner with Adam Presser ’05.

Presser took Chinese during high school and continued to study Chinese when he went to Yale. After graduating last year, Presser is spending a year in Beijing.

“The great thing about China is that they take young people seriously,” Presser said.
Our last day in China was a bittersweet one. We spent the morning climbing the Great Wall and then made our way to the School Year Abroad School.

We met kids from all over America who are attending school in China and living with Chinese families.

 Once we spent the afternoon at their school, we were split into groups to eat dinner with one SYA student and that student’s host family.

Each Harvard-Westlake student was presented with a different dinner.
Some prepared dumplings with their host families, while others were served homemade Chinese food.

Watching the host student switch between English and Chinese in order to communicate with both sides of the table was the perfect ending to our trip, demonstrating exactly how American and Chinese culture can come together.

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