By Tsung Tsai
Germantown Academy Chinese Language Teacher
Germantown Academy's Confucius Classroom was established in 2009 and since then it has grown into a thriving program that spans from Lower School through Upper School. Many of the students in the Chinese language classroom have been studying Chinese for over five years, and have developed a keen interest in visiting China to learn about different cultures and customs, to exercise their Chinese, and to tour famous scenic spots and historical sites that they have heard about throughout their time in the Chinese language program. This summer, with Hanban's support and Capital Normal University's arrangements, 15 Germantown Academy students along with two teachers were able to travel to China from June 12 to June 23. Within these eleven days, the group visited three cities: Shanghai, Xian, and Beijing, and also visited the headquarter of Hanban, and GA's partnership school, Capital Normal University High School.
The first city our group visited was Shanghai where our first stop was "The Bund." As the bus shuttled us from the plane, looking out the window, we were able to watch dense skyscrapers passing by and became amazed by the modern architecture that appeared before us. We strolled along the Bund and saw the historical European-style architecture along ZhongShan Road, which has stood to bear witness to the magnificent changes in China since the beginning of the nineteenth century. Our group took a photo at the most popular spot in front of the river side, recording our first stop in China, with the famous and spectacular Pudong skyline as the background. We stayed in Shanghai for three days, and visited many other attractions. We were able to see Shanghai's landmark, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, where we gawked at the breathtaking sight of Shanghai once again from a bird's-eye view. We also took the Huangpu River Night cruise, and enjoyed the lit-up night view of Shanghai. Later, we visited Nanjing Road, a common tourist spot where you can experience the lively atmosphere of Shanghai city life, with many shops and high-end brand stores. Having seen the modern side of Shanghai, we also saw many traditional relics of Shanghai, such as Yu Garden, which is a classic Chinese garden with rich history and culture, and the Venice of Shanghai, Zhujiajiao. At Zhujiajiao, students toured the ancient water town, and practiced their bargaining skills at the local traditional small shops. Before heading to the next city, our group visited one of the best museums in China, the Shanghai Museum, and had a chance to see a diverse collection of artifacts which recorded China's history stretching far into the past. Shanghai is a fascinating city, where you can find old China mixing with new China. The students were not only able to see the modern thriving China, but also revel in the footprint of history in museums and preserved buildings. Shanghai was a magnificent starting point for our journey throughout China.
Xian is the second city we traveled to. This city has a wonderfully rich culture and carries thousands of years of history, making it a fascinating tourist destination. Perhaps most importantly, it houses one of the most important archeological discoveries in the world, the Terracotta warriors. Our group visited all three pits where the Terracotta Army was excavated, and we were in awe by the massive underground army which was discovered not too long ago in 1974. Through the remains, students genuinely felt connected to the rich history and legacy of Shi Huangdi. During our stay in Xian, our group also visited other famous historical and popular tourist sites, including The Forest of Stone Steles Museum (Beilin Museum in Chinese), where we marveled at the sprawling collection of age-old stone steles and tablets, and observed the interesting process of rubbings (copies) there. We also went to see the iconic Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, where we learned about the history of this Buddhist temple and admired the architecture. Students experienced the ancient city walls, which were built during the Ming Dynasty. They walked and biked along it as they looked out over the modern-day city of Xian. In addition to these prominent historical sites, our group spent time wandering the lanes on the city's famous Muslim Quarter, and had fun bargaining for goodies such as silk, handicrafts, curios, and yummy regional food. In Xian, students enjoyed the dumpling banquet that Xian is famous for, and the wide assortment of dumplings with different flavors, shapes and colors was impressive, and a delicious and entertaining treat. Before we left Xian, we watched the Tang Dynasty music and dance show, and students not only watched in awe at the fabulous performance, but also learned about the Tang Dynasty and the story of Wu Zetian, the first and only female Emperor of China. The tour in Xian was inspiring, and immersed the students in the depth of Xian's culture, people, foods, entertainment, and the First Chinese Empress.
The last destination city of our China journey was Beijing, the capital city. Instead of traveling by air, we had the opportunity to take the high-speed train from Xian to Beijing. We were shocked by the incredible speed and comfort of the ride, and also enjoyed the sights from the window of the rural parts of China. Beijing is a modern metropolitan city, filled with skyscrapers and massive high-rise apartments. With its towering skyline without any Chinese signs, you would think that you never left the U.S. However, there are also a lot of scenic spots and historical sites to discover in and around Beijing, such as the Temple of Heaven, Forbidden City, Summer Palace, the Hutong, the Olympic Park, the Tiananmen Square, the Capital Museum, and the Great Wall, which we visited all in a brief six day span. The first historical site we visited was the Temple of Heaven, which originally served as a place where emperors paid homage to heaven and prayed for a good harvest and prosperous year ahead. The architecture of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (Qínián diàn in Chinese) is in a circular shape and built on a square yard which symbolize the connection between Heaven and Earth, since the Chinese use a square to represent Earth and a circle to represent Heaven. It was incredible to learn that this 118 foot (around ten stories tall) building was constructed completely out of wood and without using any nails or cement. The surrounding park is commonly used by Beijing citizens to hangout and exercise, especially in the morning, and our students had the opportunity to interact with the local people and to experience the daily life of Pekingese. We then visited Hutong; Hutong is the old part of the city, and an area with zig-zagging narrow alleyways, and is a great place to grasp the traditional Chinese lifestyle. In Hutong, we visited a local family in one of the traditional courtyard houses, had lunch there, chatted with the families, and learned to make Chinese dumplings. We also had a quick tour by rickshaw, and took a deeper look at the Hutong area. This was indeed a unique experience for all of us.
The Great Wall was one of the students' must-see historical attractions, and on our trip we were able to visit the Mutianyu section. As soon as students got off the bus, they were thrilled and eager to climb up to the highest point of the section. Walking along the Great Wall of China was surely the greatest travel memory for all of us. On the way down from the wall, we took the toboggan ride, which was unique and made the journey even more fun.The Summer Palace (Yíhéyuán) is another Beijing site that is a "must" for any visitor, and it was built for Ci Xi, the last Dowager Empress. Once serving as a summer resort for the imperial family, it is more of a park than a palace. The Summer Palace complex includes all the elements of a traditional Chinese garden, including a huge lake with waterlilies covering the shores, a long corridor connecting pavilions, a temple on top of a hill, and the famous Seventeen-Arch Bridge. With a tight itinerary, we only had time to walk on the embellished corridor along the lake side, and climbed up to the pavilion on top of the hill. As we enjoyed the picturesque scene unfolding in front of us, we tried to imagine how extravagantly the imperial family must have once lived.
The Forbidden City, also known as the Palace Museum, was our last stop in Beijing and a fascinating historical site to visit. Before we entered, we first arrived at Tiananmen Square, which is a huge open plaza in front of the Tiananmen Gate ("Gate of Heavenly Peace"). The square is world famous for holding important ceremonies, such as the flag-raising ceremony every morning, etc. Once past the square, we entered the Forbidden City by passing through two gates, Tiananmen and Wumen (Meridian Gate). Behind Meridian Gate lays the Gate of Supreme Harmony (Taihemen) which is the entrance to The Hall of Supreme Harmony (Tài Hé Diàn). Emperors of China's past used to use this hall to handle national affairs. Students were impressed by the sheer scale of The Palace Museum, and were in awe at the massive, exotic and lavish buildings that they had only seen before in movies. Students enjoyed strolling around looking at the ancient architecture and sculptures, and learning about its rich history and culture.
CAPITAL NORMAL UNIVERSITY
Besides tourism, one of our other missions for this trip was to visit our partnership school, Capital Normal University High School. On the first day of the visits, students introduced themselves in Chinese. Even though GA students have taken Chinese classes and have made plenty of classroom presentations for many years, they never have had a chance to speak in front of a group of native speakers. This experience in particular was a great learning experience, and truly motivated them for future learning. We paid two visits to the high school, and attended a variety of culture classes, which included Chinese painting, calligraphy, and tea. Students also joined an English class and worked with Chinese students in a group setting. Our visits were fruitful. Students not only had a chance to be close in touch with Chinese peers, but they also experienced Chinese school life. They also served as cultural ambassadors, bridging and strengthening the friendship between the two schools. Afterward, we visited the headquarters of Hanban in Beijing, the organization that has been continuously providing support for GA's Chinese program, and also the sponsor of our China trip. We took photos in front of the Flags of All Nations inside the building, and at the Cultural Experience Center, students extended their knowledge of Chinese culture by trying different kinds of multimedia activities. Students tried on the costumes of the Beijing Opera, experimented with different Chinese musical instruments, practiced Chinese Kung-Fu through a multimedia game, learned about the development of Chinese characters through an interactive screen, practiced the art of Chinese Calligraphy on a touch screen, and made paper cuttings. Everyone had a wonderful time, and this educational excursion also motivated students' interests in Chinese language and culture.
The 11 days we spent traveling throughout China and exploring the best of each city were a magnificent and life-changing experience. Each destination was bursting with unique discoveries and full of culture. Students were able to experience authentic Chinese culture and revel in ancient Chinese history, all the while learning about the modern and prosperous side of the new China of today. Even beyond the beautiful tourist destinations, students were pleasantly surprised and stunned at the genuine friendliness and helpfulness of the people we encountered in China. As one of the students said before we headed back to America, "This trip changed my perception of China greatly. This country is modern, spacious, and every Chinese person I met was delightful, friendly, and kind, which made me want to come back again." We are so thankful for Hanban and CNUHS's hospitality, and I am certain that this trip will be an experience that the attending students will forever treasure.