2017 China Tour
A day at the Haining Number 1 High School today.
First things first the student hosts turn up again and our kids disappear again. Wonderful system that. The teachers get together with the Haining official greeting party and sit down for a series of short welcoming speeches, technical problems with the microphones not withstanding this was a pleasant and friendly experience in keeping with the official purpose of our visit. Short, sharp and sweet (yep – Andrew promised a maximum 3 minute speech, and kept to his word).
The students meantime got to spend time in a variety of classes and see what happens when you try to deliver to 48 students at a time, certainly a different feel to our classrooms.
Liam and I were called on to deliver a lesson as well which provided a bit if interest to our day to say the least. I had carried a large map of Australia through several sets of customs, flights and bus changes specifically for the lesson on Australia I had planned, imagine how upset I was to find it missing from my room this morning. I suspect a cleaner had thought this plastic wrapped ‘stick’ was a piece of rubbish and had nicely thrown it out for me, very disappointing. But nothing I couldn’t overcome with a piece of chalk. I showed the students various Australian animals and had them guess where in Australia they came from, lots of fun. I also decided to introduce them to the great Australian delicacy – a thank you for all the Chinese delicacies we have enjoyed. Vegemite – a caterers slab each, eaten straight. Not entirely convinced they all appreciated the national significance of this great dish, but some of them were game to try it anyway. (Not many took me up on the offer of a second slab though – might be a bit of an acquired taste I guess). Still, they all seemed to have enjoyed the lesson and may know a bit more about our wildlife now. Liam took a more serious approach and taught a lesson about wave science and was happy to report that the Chinese students appear to have learned as much from his lesson as most of his Australian students generally do – then he laughed hysterically. (getting a bit worried about Mr Smith).
Continuing our tradition of not giving anyone a chance to breath too much, from the school it was straight to the train station (a major chance to experience crowds) and on to the overnight train to Beijing. This was always going to be a major tester of stress levels. The train station is a challenge in itself between crowds and distance, most importantly when the train pulls in you have a three minute window to get on, then doors close and it leaves, no if – buts – or whats. OK if you are on your own, but getting a group of 37 students, with luggage on, that’s a tester. But with the wonderful cooperation of our great students, we made, relatively intact.
Next challenge – Chinese ticketing procedures are challenging at best, adjoining carriages, turned out to be several carriages apart, virtually none of the ticket numbers matched what we had been originally told, and so on. It took Angela an our guide Rebecca about an hour to sort it all out but the train staff were very understanding and helpful so all was well in the end. Some had a great night’s sleep, some not so good, but all came away with a great experience in their memories.
Tomorrow, the nations capital city. Beijing awaits.
Long time no hear, sorry about that. Internet here is difficult to access. More importantly we have all been so busy having a fantastic time that we have rarely got back to the hotel before 10pm, by which time energy levels have dropped to insignificance. Non the less, here is a bit of catch up as to what we have been up to over the last few days.
The fun continued in Haining today with a visit to the old town of Yanguan. A walk through 14th century China where every effort has been made to continue many of the craft traditions of past times. The kids enjoyed the sights sounds and flavours of the area and attracted plenty of attention. Lots of them being asked to pose for photos with locals, naturally the overly shy nature of our guys made that a bit of a problem (he thinks not).
Missed out on the tidal bore this year due to other items on the menu but kept busy anyway. The chant of “shop – eat – travel – experience” became
SHOP – SHOP – SHOP – SHOP
for a little while when we visited the Haining Leather city, leather being a central feature of Haining this is literally a city, we focussed on one of about five major centres; four storeys containing hundreds of shops all selling leather goods. I got talked into buying another air of shoes, I think the Deputy Principal Haining considers it his job to take me to his friends shop to get a good price on a pair of shoes, so far, three visits three pairs of shoes. This year provided a little extra entertainment as the shop owner spent most of the time on the phone apparently talking to a workman whose work had been, shall we say, below par. He made his displeasure very clear, very loud, very animated, and still managed to sell me a pair of shoes I didn’t really want, but it kept everyone happy so all is well.
2 hours later we were all nicely shopped out for a while. Then off to the new International Campus of the Zhejiang University. This campus is designed to cater for a complement of 8000 students from all over China and the world, all subjects will be covered and students attending will need to achieve an entrance level equivalent of 97 ATAR – welcome to your future competition kids. Most significantly, while we at MRSHS have spent over 2 years planning the new classrooms and are looking forward to a two year build. The entire campus here was planned and built in, you got it, two years and is now up and running. I won’t repeat Andrew’s comments on learning that, this blog may be read by those too young to understand some of the words.
Next stop, another small shopping precinct featuring local crafts, more importantly the students got to meet the Haining students they will be teaming up with tomorrow for our formal visit to the school. This proved a great hit, within minutes of meeting their hosts we adults were forgotten and forsaken, kids are the same the world over I guess. Host students showed our guys around, we got a chance to wander in peace. As the evening drew to an end we gathered in a small community square area where a group of people from the local community ethinic group had met to practise their form of dancing – a sort of aerobics meets square dancing. Predictably our kids weren’t happy to simply sit and watch, they joined in much to the delight of the dancers and onlookers. I’m not sure if we did much to improve the quality of the cultural dancing but we attracted a hell of a crowd almost instantly. Interestingly, aside from giving a lot of photo opp’s, we noticed the instant presence of a police SWAT team. I guess they are not too keen on sudden unexplained crowds gathering here. They were however very pleasant and clearly realised that an innocent cultural exchange was taking place and just kept an eye on everything.
A great way to finish the day. But yet another 10pm finish.
After overcoming the internet issues at Haining long enough to get Day 2 report home, they came back again, so the next few days worth of reports will probably turn up in a rush once we get to Beijing and from memory a more accessible internet service. The service here is slower than we are used to and there are a number of restrictions that make linking with our Western systems difficult at times – not to worry, normal report services will be resumed asap.
Day Three has a bit less meat on it as far as reporting is concerned, but a fun time had all the same. Our first task was all up, packed and ready to get onto the bus. Our wonderful group of students managed that task easily – and no, I am not being sarcastic – they really were up and about, on time and ready to go as requested. Then the gremlins of technology lent a hand, two of the four lifts in the 21 storey hotel decided not to work. Students waited for up to 20 minutes to get a lift. I managed one after only 15 minutes but from the 15th floor I then endured an experience only ever seen in comedy movies. With a full complement of 13 passengers the lift stopped at every single floor bar one on the way down. Ah well, every experience is a good learning opportunity eh!
Shop – eat – travel – experience I hear from our resident optimist
First visit, the Volkswagen factory, very interesting but not a souvenir shop in sight (the chant diminished)
Shop – eat – travel – experience (we had just had brekki, ‘eat’ wasn’t really an issue.)
At least it meant the boss was much quieter (not really; now I am being sarcastic)
It was good to see the modern robots doing their thing in this massive industrial complex which produces some 2 million VW’s a year.
Next visit a stop at a rice museum, here we got to see the history of rice agriculture as well as a large number of items of historical equipment, a pleasant one hour interlude, again no shops, and they didn’t feed us any rice at all.
Shop – eat – travel – experience
On to lunch – we are getting to expect the over-supply of food, can’t say we got used to it yet though. Every meal we promise ourselves we will take it easy this time and every meal they offer something different and too good looking to ignore. Ah well, there is always the gym when we get back.
A quiet 2 hour bus ride and we are in Haining. The hotel here is a step or two up from the Shanghai experience and at least the lifts work. Slight change of plan however, the formal welcome to Haining is to be tonight, not tomorrow. Quick shower, and change, (Andrew still manages to sneak in a 30 minute walk (read shopping expedition) around the block to orient ourselves; overview of the rules of engagement for what is a highly formal event at Haining’s top hotel and we are on the road again, at least this time a short distance.
Dinner was a very fancy affair, same style as we have become accustomed to but a distinct level up in choice and quality. Andrew discussed high policy matters with the great and powerful (Deputy Major; Principal; District Commissioner and so on) the students outdid themselves for good behaviour, tried a few new dishes and generally shone as school representatives; Angela provided the essential services, translation, cultural trap avoidance advice etc, Liam and I smiled, nodded and ate.
‘Home’ after that and straight to bed. Few arguments, tiredness is beginning to bite and some of the kids are starting to realise that the advice of sleeping when you can may actually be worth following.
Tomorrow we have our full day in Haining, lots to do and see.
The chant will resume.
Shop – eat – travel – experience
Went to bed, blinked, morning already. Welcome back to the daily report from all the Margaret River Sinophiles.
Today was our first full day in China and I do mean full – with the
“shop – eat – travel – experience” of course.
Buffet breakfast to start the day and our guys again excelled in their willingness to try a wide range of foods. One thing we don’t do so well is share tables. The dining room was very busy but here it is perfectly acceptable to sit at any table with a vacant seat, no friendly conversation expected. We tend to be used to having our own private table and most found it very disconcerting to have a perfect stranger sit in the seat next to you but ever adaptable, all coped.
First stop of the day was the Shanghai Museum; a fabulous collection of Chinese history, currently hosting the British Museum’s “History of the World in 100 Objects”. A great exhibit in its own right, for us its greatest value was that it was so popular people were lined up for about 200 m to get in, leaving most other galleries virtually deserted for us. Getting in however was not so clear, we waited around an hour in line, but it was worth it, all the kids found something of interest be it “Minority cultures”, “Ancient Ceramics”; “Currency Through the Ages” even a collection of coins from the Ancient World that had made it across the historic Silk Road. An hour well spent, but in truth only a taster of what this 4 storey museum had to offer.
Next the Zhujuajiao water town. This remnant from the Medieval times is the best preserved of its kind, fabulous alleyway shopping, traditional foods and a veritable cacophony of odours. We enjoyed a very traditional meal here along with a pleasant small boat ride in what has, according to our guide, been called the Venice of the East. Students were let off the leash for an hour of shopping and exploring, some parents could be getting some interesting ‘gift’ from the orient here.
Back to central Shanghai and a walk along the foreshore to see the famous Bund. This amazing collection of building (photos soon I promise) has made Shanghai perhaps the fastest growing commercial centre in the world. When last we visited the 2nd tallest building in the world was still being built, now complete the Tower is an awesome looking piece of modern architecture.
Hitting the water again we cruised the river alongside the Bund, amazingly learning that this entire feature is in fact man made, a relaxing way to finish the day.
Did I say finish??!! Sorry, I meant ‘start the evening’, we let the kids loose on the Nanjing Pedestrian Road for an hour of fabulous shopping and sensory experience. Not sure what was bought here, this is the high end of town for the most part, although Jodie B and a few others visited a toy shop where Jodie won first prize in a scratchie competition 80% off Jewellery in the store. The shop keepers were all excited, but couldn’t believe it when Jodie said thanks but no thanks, not in the market for any jewellery. How’s that for fortitude. Well done Jodie.
Must mention, before finally finishing for the day. What may become the most memorable moment of the trip (apart from the Wall, Beijing, the Warriors, the food, the museums and the cultural experiences of course). Our guide decided to treat us to some of his Karaoke skills; a highly entertaining few songs later we were still undecided as to how serious he actually was. Andrew was happy to note that contrary to his belief, he was not actually the worst singer on the bus, unfortunately we did end with the sneaking suspicion that Snow was in fact quite seriously proud of his talents. At least it stirred the kids up who then took over the microphone and did in fact produce some quite enjoyable numbers.
For those wondering – yes – the chant has continued unabated.
“shop – eat – travel – experience”
It has now been added to with a little challenge: Andrew is so convinced of his shopping ability that he has thrown down the gauntlet to any student who can get a better finishing price as a proportion of the starting price than Andrew can manage. Early days yet, I know Griffin has managed a 50% reduction on a significant item, but it’s too soon to tell.
Another late night, we didn’t see the hotel again until past 10pm. Tomorrow it’s an early start, the Volkswagen Factory, then off to Haining, formal dinner and a relatively relaxed evening to charge up for the days to come.
Until then: “shop – eat – travel – experience”
Once again the experiential offerings of Margaret River SHS have taken to the skies in search of international opportunities for both staff and students. 37 highly excited students from Year’s 9 and 10 have left behind hearth and home for the 12 day chance to get away from the rigors of traditional school learning to enjoy the chance to learn through physical immersion in an alternative culture (read – ‘when do we get to go shopping”); 3 equally exited staff members- Angela (“can’t wait to try all the great foods of China”); Martin (“loving the chance to travel”); Liam (“cultural experience junkie”) and Andrew – who arrived at the airport chanting “shop –eat – travel –experience/ shop – eat – travel- experience” and hasn’t stopped yet.
Step 1, getting to the airport was achieved easily, Liam, Griffin and I went by car to Bunbury, train to Perth city and taxi to the airport arriving a good hour and a half earlier than the 7.30 deadline – to be greeted by Angela who had been sitting there for some time already. Remy won the student arrival pool, but all participants were there well on time and eager to start. Airport staff got us through in good order at 8.30pm; parents were duly farewelled and the trip had begun. Students got to know their groups, received their third version of the complete itinerary and set up a new chant “when do we leave –what do we do first – what next – what next – what time do we get to the hotel” etc etc. Next time I am voting we save ourselves at least 200 hours of preparation time and several hundred trees, don’t produce any itinerary documents, which clearly are never read (a bit like Microsoft instruction books) and just record the whole thing to an ‘instagram’ message played on a repeating loop. Over the top of all this of course was the inescapable chant “shop – eat – travel – experience”; we didn’t need to record that, I suspect it will continue to play by itself for some time yet.
Flight was reasonably uneventful, most grabbed some shuteye, those who stayed up watching movies will pay for that in due course.
Arrival was followed by the organised chaos that is Chinese immigration/customs – a seemingly endless series of security steps that drove us nuts then – ended. We were through to the terminal, and on to the domestic terminal for a second flight from Gangzhou to Shanghai. A fraction shorter (2.5 hours) and a bit less paperwork and security and we were out on the streets of China and on to our bus for a bit more travel. We met our guide for the Shanghai leg, a character named Snow (more on him later) and reacquainted ourselves with Rebecca, our Beijing guide last time who will be with us throughout our trip this time – good news for us. Not sure if that is because she understands us but at least she has the experience to know what she is in for.
“shop – eat – travel – experience” (damm now it’s stuck there)
On to lunch – for the students at least, their first experience of a Chinese restaurant in China. The food was good, the kids willingness to dig in and try everything, was great and bodes well for the success of this great adventure.
A tour guide of the Yu Garden followed, satisfying the cultural aims of the trip for day one, much busier than last time but the students handled the crowds very well. Our red caps for id were resisted by a few at first but by the end of this venue most had realised the advantages of being readily found by the group. A trip around part of Old Shanghai and on to dinner, another banquet, and then on to the Shanghai Circus for an acrobatics display; despite having now been on the move for well over 24 hours this exciting show kept everyone awake and on their toes (although one managed to stay apparently awake and excited, while having eyes close and making noises that sounded suspiciously like snoring- he denies falling asleep, so who are we to suggest otherwise.
Finally – 10pm plus – on to the hotel. A fairly orderly process followed to get everyone into rooms and address all important questions:
What are we doing tomorrow? – A. Read your itinerary.
Didn’t bring it !! – A. Read the one given at the airport.
Didn’t see it/can’t find it – A. Look
Can’t you just tell us? – A. we did – it’s called an itinerary – goodnight
Rooms are ok but we have some teething issues. First hotel that won’t accept 2 pin plugs, lots of flat phones. A significant number of room phones don’t work. (walking to each room for final checks but OK) fridges are locked. What the heck, it’s nearly 11pm.
Phones have again proven to be a problems, some work most don’t or have connection phones – my Year Leader phone works, as does Angela’s phone, the boss has a working number and several kids. A list will follow soon and all parents will be contacted over the next day or so as soon as I can get a minutes space to do so, with all working contact numbers.
All kids settled well – no issues or problems that can’t be looked at in the morning. Tomorrow, for those not privy to the itinerary – Zhujiajiao Water Town, Shanghai museum, the Bund, Nanjing Pedestrian Road and a river cruise. (another 10pm back to hotel day)
And above it all:
“shop – eat – travel – experience”
The excitement continues to build as Friday quickly approaches.
The arrangements for Friday the 15th at the airport will be:
- Parents and students meet with staff at 7.30 at the front of the China Southern check in counter. Staff will already be there and will be in MRSHS green jackets.
- Students will collect their passports from Angela McCoy on arrival.
- The students will be divided into groups of 13 and have their baggage checked in and receive their boarding tickets.
- Once the boarding tickets have been collected and baggage checked in we will move with the students upstairs.
Parents are most welcome to stay with their children, if they wish and we will take the last set of students through immigration at 9.30pm.
- Students who are dropped off by parents will be taken through immigration as soon as we get upstairs.
A reminder that students will be required to wear their black tour tops and have their red caps with them.
Once we arrive in China, staff will check their mobile phone for usage and we will send an e-mail to all parents with the most up to date mobile contacts on Saturday the 16th.
I hope students are getting as excited as the staff and we look forward to catching up with you all at the airport.
Angela McCoy; Martin Keen; Andrew Host and Liam Smith