Welcome to this week's Digest with our fearless leaders in China. I thought that while the cats (Lesley & Urs) were away, the mice (the teachers) would play. However, they've been all business as usual.
Anyway, today we received an update from the intrepid explorers regarding the Beijing leg of their trip so I'll copy it below to keep you up to date.
Our flights to Beijing were event free and quite pleasant. Urs and I both managed to balance sleep with watching some movies. I sat next to a really lovely Chinese lady who has lived in Auckland for many years but was on her way home to a university reunion. She shared her reading glasses with me when I had trouble reading the tiny print on the arrival card. They worked perfectly! I will be visiting the optometrist when I get back. We managed our way through the various airports and security systems without setting off bells etc. However, I am so grateful to be travelling with a companion. I think it would all be quite stressful on my own.
I didn’t know it, but the accommodation I booked for Beijing was in old Beijing and in a local neighbourhood (Hutong) where few tourists go. It is called Happy Dragon Alley Hotel due to it being down a long narrow alley. When we first went down the alley in the taxi we wondered what on earth kind of accommodation I had booked, but when we finally got to it, it was actually very nice – very comfortable and good service. We enjoyed our stay there - discovering the good local eating places. Fortunately, I had organized a Hutong Food Walking Tour with a guide who took us to quite a few of the local eating places so that we could try different foods. It was great fun and we tried things like pigs lungs and thousand year old eggs and finished with Sichuan Hotpot. The guide was great, the food was delicious (mostly!) and we now knew where to go for good, cheap food.
However, we certainly had some hairy moments travelling down the alley way. One evening we were being taken to our accommodation by a parent of ETU School in a really big, new SUV type car and we strongly suggested he drop us off at the beginning of the alley. But he insisted on driving us down. What a trip! He manoeuvred through gaps that did not exist – he must have had only a millimetre to spare on either side. One time he got out and lifted a motorbike out of the way so he could get passed. Urs and I spent a good part of that trip with our eyes closed, just waiting for the crunch! We just about danced with relief when we were safely deposited at our accommodation. I gave him a big hug!
China is incredible and overwhelming. Everything is on such a huge scale. We complain about Auckland, but Beijing and Shanghai are cities of about 24 million people each! It took forever to get through Beijing when we went to the Great Wall. And the people! There were 60,000 people booked to be on the Great Wall the day that we went and 80,000 at the Forbidden City which we visited the next day. Apparently visits to these historical wonders have increased by 30% this year. I think this is because more Chinese are going on pilgrimages to these places. It was humbling to see very old Chinese men and women climbing the great wall – even walking down unbelievably steep stairs with no hand rails. Also, it was very clear that young people are very engaged with Chinese history and culture. A number of young people have started wearing traditional Chinese clothes when visiting these historical sites.
We were very fortunate to be escorted around the Forbidden City by three students of ETU School. They shared their knowledge and their snacks with us. Their parents also looked after us incredibly well (didn’t stop me from getting lost though!). Dr Yinuo Li, a social media influencer who came to Amesbury School (also owns ETU Schools and is director for China for the Gates’ Foundation), also spent the day with us at Forbidden City. Her driver picked us up and dropped us back at the entrance to the alley.
We spent a very long but enjoyable day at ETU School where they had put together a very crammed agenda for the day. As well as speaking to different faculty members about possibilities for collaboration on a number of fronts including student exchanges, teacher exchanges, teacher training, international students, the development of IT tools etc., we did a workshop with some of their teachers and then in the evening we spoke to over 100 Chinese parents and our talk was live streamed to a further 400 plus people. The visit went really well and they feel we have a lot to offer them particularly in terms of personalization of learning. Their only mode of teaching is still whole class. They are very keen to have us back to work with their teachers.
However, we were very jealous of the number of staff they have. The school is only 400 students but they have over 100 staff members, including a software engineering team, PR team etc. etc.
Anyway, that is all I have time for now. Sorry, no time to include photos.
Lesley, & Urs (who didn't contribute anything to this update - maybe next week?)