When people warned me that it was a long flight to Beijing, they weren’t kidding. Our group of ten left the Cedar Rapids airport at 7 a.m. Friday, spent the morning in Chicago and climbed aboard a 777 around 1 p.m. Friday. Fourteen hours, three meals and several short naps later we arrived in Beijing. Unfortunately, the economy seats were the same size as those on a regular airplane, which meant there was no room to get comfortable for a good sound sleep.
The best part of the trip was being able to track our progress from the video monitor mounted in the back of the seat ahead of me. The map showed the location of the plane, the altitude, temperature, speed, flight time, etc. My boss had told me that we would be flying over the North Pole and I didn’t believe him, but he was right—we went straight north from Chicago, over Thunder Bay and Siberia. We flew just west of the North Pole, where the air temperature was -92F!
The Beijing Airport is huge—it is the largest airport in Asia, built or remodeled in 2008 for the Olympics. Flat Classroom Conference co-founder Julie Lindsay and her husband John met us at the airport, and we met Steve Madsen at the hotel. It took a little while to get checked in at the Zhejiang Hotel—there’s a severe language barrier to contend with—and then we went directly to the Chinese Acrobat Show. It was amazing, but I must admit to nodding off now and then in spite of the noise and action. Looking around, though, I wasn’t the only drowsy one in the group. Vicki Davis brought a group of seven students and another teacher with her from Camilla, Georgia, and they were looking pretty droopy too. The 14-hour time difference is taking its toll.
Today, Monday, was our first full day in this country. I ate things at the hotel’s continental breakfast that I’d never seen before but most things were surprisingly tasty. We then left with the Georgia group for a tour of the Sacred Road and the Ming Tombs. The long walk down the plaza flanked by larger-than-life sculptures made for great photo ops--unlike historical sites in the US, there were no ropes or warnings barring us from touching or climbing on the sculptures. The area will be even more beautiful when spring arrives and the grass and trees wake up from their winter hibernation.
We had lunch in a private room in a restaurant, practiced our chopstick skills and experienced restroom facilities quite different from those in the US. We then toured THIS School (Tsinghua International School), which is in its second year of operation. Martha Ortiz, the secondary school director, did a wonderful job of explaining things and showing us around the school. It’s an English-speaking school with mainly Chinese students whose parents want to prepare them for higher education in the United States. Classes are quite small and the teachers use a constructivist approach with mainly project-based learning.
THIS is small, progressive K-12 government school; on the same grounds is a 3000-student more traditional high school. We toured a portion of that school and stepped into a classroom briefly. The 40-student class was led by a petite young woman who didn’t look that much older than her students. This school is associated with Tsinghua University and is attended by the children of the faculty and staff who work at the university.
This evening we took in the Kung Fu Show at the Red Theater, which was very enjoyable. Our tour guide, Vincent, is a charming 26-year-old with excellent English, and we’re enjoying learning more about China from him. He is an exception to China’s one-child standard since he has twin older sisters.
Since we had no specific plans for supper, I walked to a nearby McDonalds. The menu was more limited here but it was pretty confusing with only pictures to go by. The clerk took one look at my confused face and pulled out a Chinese/English menu from behind the counter. I have a new appreciation for signs, menus, labels, etc. that are in more than one language—it’s a very considerate thing to do for visitors like us!