Monday, February 25, 2008

First day of school

Today was my first day of classes at the Jingshan School and quite and exhausting experience. I had to get up at 6 am so that we could leave the house at 6:45. At home it doesn't take me nearly this long to get ready but my family here insists that I eat a full breakfast before I leave so that takes up extra time. I ride my bike to school which is an adventure in itself. All the streets in Beijing have bike lanes but there are so many bikes it's sort of like driving in heavy traffic. Motorcycles were banned a few years back so now people have motorbikes, bicycles that have been outfitted with motors so you can faster that pedaling speed. Once we get to school, my brother and I go up to class and then have to line up and walk to the auditorium. During the assembly all 2,000 students stand in rows by class. Our exchange group then had to introduce ourselves in front of the entire school in Chinese. Usually I don't get nervous speaking in front of large groups, but it is an entirely different experience when using a foreign language. After we present our gift to the school, we go back to class.

The day is scheduled so that we have five classes in the morning, with morning exercises between the third and fourth classes. Then we get an hour break for lunch and recess, after which we have two more classes. My exchange group has extra classes after school many days because we can't understand the regular classes. Some of the classes satisfy requirements for our high school and others are just to enrich our experience. Overall, it's a really good set up. Problem is, the extra classes don't start until our second week of school, so we got very bored during the day. Couple that with the stress of not knowing what to do during gym class and morning exercises and I was very tired by the end of the day. There's nothing like making a mistake in which was to turn when you are marching with the entire school, every student standing in straight lines in full uniform.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Vacation in Yunnan Province

We've been back about a week now from our superb vacation in Yunnan province and school will be starting tomorrow morning. I'm going to post the itinerary with some comments but there's almost too much to talk about.

February 9: We flew from Beijing to Kunming.
February 10: Sightseeing at the Golden Temple and the Stone Forest. The Stone Forest was one of the more spectacular things I have seen in my life. It was literally miles and miles of towering rock formations unique only to China.
February 11: Sightseeing at Western Hills (took cable cars), Dian Chi Lake, and Daguan Lou Pavillion. The end of the day was probably the highlight when we went to the Dr. Tea teahouse and tried lots of different teas. It was, of course, a retail opportunity, as if practically everything we have done in China. We also went to the model village which was very interesting. The government built a town specifically for show. They legitimized it by saying the money came from a workshop that exported the local womens' embroidery. Now the guy who owns the workshop teaches all the village children English and French. It's pretty much a win-win except for the surrounding villages that are dirt poor.
February 12: Fly from Kunming to Li Jiang.
February 13: Sightseeing at Black Dragon Pool Park and Dragon Well Village. The only exciting thing from this day was that Christian fell asleep on a bench in the village and no one noticed so there was a bit of a panic. Mr. G and Bob found him no problem and after a piece of chocolate he was feeling better.
February 14: This was probably the highlight of the trip. We did a six hour hike up to nearly 11,000 feet at Tiger Leaping Gorge. It was one of the most intense things I had ever done and the views of the Yangtze from the top of the gorge were mind-blowing. We ate our best meal in a village unreachable by car halfway to the top. The hike ended with 28 switchbacks at an altitude where we could literally walk about 5 steps before needing to catch our breath.
February 15: We just chilled in Li Jiang because everyone was sore and tired from the hike. That night Suzannah got sick with food poisoning.
February 16: Around 3 am it was decided that Suz needed to be taken to the hospital. Jasmine and Ms. Holzheimer went with her. We spent the day sleeping and waiting for her to be released and then once she was we took turns staying with her so Jaz could get some sleep.
February 17: We flew from Li Jiang to Kunming, had a seven hour layover, and then flew from Kunming back to Beijing. On the second flight Caroline got really sick and was taken to the hospital as soon as we landed. The last few days ended up being way more eventful than we'd hoped.

Overall, it was an awesome trip despite two people getting sick. It was really good to have some warm weather and fresh air. The scenery was quite incredible and we were literally hiking in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Daily Life in Beijing

Everyone has been asking me a lit of questions about what daily life is like here so I figured I would post up some pictures of the apartment. We live in Dong Si, which is a fairly central part of China. Our apartment is fairly nice, and very convenient. There are three bedrooms, a bathroom, a living/dining room, and a kitchen. There are also two sun porches. One is for hanging laundry and the other is for food preparation and storage. The bathroom also has the laundry machine and the shower is over the sink. There's no shower stall or tub, just a drain in the floor.

The last couple of days have been spent exploring the city. We went to Silk Road which is this huge building with lots of stalls that sell everything and you can bargain for the prices. Everything is pretty much a knock-off, but the whole thing is kind or cool. Some of the other kids bought some stuff, but it was fun to walk around. My host mother walked me to the subway stop so I would know where it was. The subway is extremely convenient and allows me to go pretty much everywhere. The day after I went to Wang Fu Jin Street with a friend. The street is essentially the equivalent of Newbury Street or Fifth Avenue. We walked around a bit, went to the international bookstore, and then went to a cafe to have baozi. They had some good vegetarian ones which I enjoyed.

Tomorrow is New Year's Eve which is a really big deal. We'll feast in the evening and then stay up all night watching the New Year's special on TV and then watching the fireworks at midnight. The next day we are going to a hotel for the night so we can swim and play sports. My host father told me last night that the night after we might go see a performance of Swan Lake.

Monday, February 04, 2008

First few days in Beijing

I've been getting settled in with my new family in Beijing and exploring the city a little bit. Thought I would post up some pictures for everyone to see. So far we've been to Tiananmen Square and also out to do some shopping. Yesterday I managed to take the subway all by myself and met up with some friends to go to the free markets where we could bargain. Afterward we walked over to the area where most of the foreigners are to eat lunch.