Complete Blog from China Capstone - updated 3/25/09

(Capstone is the study-abroad program where TIS 5th grade students go to a country of their adopted language and culture. They do a home stay or boarding school stay for approx. one school week, then tour historical & cultural sites. These blog entries were written by parent chaperones.)

Just after the trip, from Jared, 5th grader
It's hard for me to decide my favorite part of my capstone trip because I enjoyed doing every thing. It was pretty in the Jade Buddha monastery and all of the other religious temples, and it was very cool watching all of the performances. For example, Shanghai was very modern and fancy. I liked it there. My dad and I started and ended our trip there. It was really fun in Shanghai our last day in China. First we went on a Maglev train. The train floats above the tracks on magnets and went 432 km/hr. It was very cool. After that we went on an subway downtown to Peoples Square and had a really good lunch. On the way back, the subway was cramped. It was very fun.

Suzhou was fun. We didn't sight see there because the day after we got there, we went to the boarding school. I had a great time at the boarding school. The teachers were really nice to me and they taught me a lot of things. The food was good and the cafeterias were big and clean. I made great friends who helped me a lot. The dorms had comfortable beds and were warm at night, and the welcomes and goodbyes were very kind. The students at the boarding school sang a song for the welcome and did a performance for the goodbye. Some of our Chinese classmates even cried in the end.

Our home visit was fun. I went with Kimber to the house of the girl I sat next to in class. We went to the Suzhou museum, where we saw Richy. Richy found steps leading into the water. Richy wanted to step on one of the steps .The first step was not in the water, so he stepped on it and slipped into the water, and every time he tried to get back up on land, he would slip again. It was so funny. When we were done, we had a snack and went to the student's house, where I lost a tooth. Their house was really nice and the dinner we ate was great. I had a great time there.

When the school week was over, I got back with my dad. I was really excited to see him again, but also really sad to leave my new friends. After the goodbye, we all went to the train station to board the sleeper train that would take us to Xian. It was really cool being on an sleeper train, and I had a great time with my friends on it. I shared a room with my dad, Trystn, and his dad. I had a fun time in Xian. It was really fun going on the city wall and riding a tandem bike around it. We got back first. The drum and bell towers were really pretty, too. But what I think what I liked best in Xian was shopping in the Muslim quarter. We bartered so much and it was funny when as you walk away they keep shouting prices and chasing after you.

Beijing was really fun . We went to a shop there too. We went to the Forbidden City. That was my dad's favorite place. It was very pretty there. We went to the Olympic stadium, which was really cool, but it was kind of sad that it was in a bad state. We went to the Summer Palace the same day as the North Korean prime minister, but we didn't see him. At the Summer Palace we also went on a boat ride and saw pretty rooms. We also went to Tianamen Square. It was nice there, too. The Great Wall was beautiful. You can see a pretty good view, but it was really steep, and I didn't feel too well, so I didn't make it that high. All of the hotels were nice, too.

I enjoyed my trip to China, and I hope I can go back again one day.

Friday, March 20, from Jared's dad
Some final reflections on the unexpected:
(1) I had no idea the food would be this good. People who have been to China told me, with an unfamiliar and distant longing in their eyes, about the food in China. Truly ignorant of what was in store for me, I merely replied that I was looking forward to the food. I was so naive. I've realized that after cooking for three children for so long, I had forgotten what spice really tastes like. Or very very fresh food. If you haven't been to China, imagine a cuisine before freezers and microwaves. This is China.

(2) The pollution is worse than billed. Like the food, it's something you have to experience first hand, and even then it is difficult to fully grasp the blanket of brown that covers the country. I've lived in LA and Houston, two cities that are not slouches when it comes to smog. They are amateurs, though. One parent described Beijing as how Hollywood depicts the atmosphere in a post-nuclear apocalyptic world. The recent sandstorm in Beijing hasn't helped matters, but even so it's hard to imagine living like this.

(3) The celebrity of being American. Or at least non-Asian. At many tourist attractions our students have been as interesting to Chinese tourists as the attractions themselves. We've grown accustomed to strangers taking our children's pictures--and we've come to expect requests to pose with our children. And this is before onlookers know the children can speak Mandarin. Which leads me to . . . .

(4) The celebrity of being American and speaking Mandarin. The students get a lot of attention from passers-by when they are being led by a Mandarin speaking tour guide. How strange it seems for a group of foreigners to be listening to Mandarin at a museum or temple. How even stranger when the children respond in kind. Again, our students become the attraction, and many Chinese are not shy about intruding into our group to ask the students questions and converse with them. Of course, the students have been speaking Chinese to one another and their teachers at TIS for years. They honestly don't know what all the fuss is about. Us parents, of course, can't get enough of it!

(5) The scale of China. I've lived in places that pride themselves on being big. But I've never experienced anything on the scale and expanse of China. We felt as if the downtown skyline of Shanghai would never end. When we thought we'd found the busy center of Xian, a taxi took us to another section equally busy, and then another, and then another. And I imagine there is no Chinese character for the word "subtle." The buildings are huge. Grand. Majestic. Think Las Vegas on steroids. But we've adapted. We look back on our stay in Suzhou, a city of about 6-7 million people, and think about how "manageable" and "personal" it was.

(6) Kentucky Fried Chicken is to China as Starbucks is to the USA. No hyperbole.

(7) Driving in China. Have you ever played a driving video game like Grand Theft Auto? Driving in China is about as close as a person can come to experiencing what it must be like to inhabit a video game car. There are no rules to the road. It's what our tour agent calls organized chaos--if someone follows traffic laws, it would unbalance the whole. And have you seen old video footage of China streets crowded with bicycles? The bikes have been replaced by mopeds and scooters. The roads are jammed with buses, cabs, and mopeds. Chinese cab drivers would be great in NASCAR.

(8) The necessity of a great agent in China. So much of our trip's success has depended on the expertise and considerate nature of Frank, our tour agent. We can't count the numerous times he has smoothed the way for us, found what we needed--no matter how unique--and did the little things that made us feel not apprehensive in the slightest at being so far from home in a country that little resembles our own. One special attribute of Frank is his connections in Xian, his home town. We were often treated like VIP's. For example, at the dumpling house and performance theater, three birthday cakes with fiery sparkling candles were presented to all of our travelers celebrating birthdays. And then at the end of the performance, a giant banner reading "Welcome International School" unfurled from the ceiling.

(9) The dire need for a permanent parent chaperone on capstone, someone who goes every year to assist the teacher. I humbly volunteer! =-)

Something expected: How much Hong, our teacher, cares for our children. We've come to expect a loving faculty in the Chinese track. It's been especially gratifying watching Hong with our students these past two weeks. Xii Xii, Laoshi!

All of us parents have had an amazing experience in China on our capstone trip. We've enjoyed traveling together, We've especially enjoyed experiencing this with our children. I couldn't be more proud of what my son has accomplished at TIS--and I can't thank him enough for giving me the opportunity to experience China and capstone.

Wednesday, March 18, group blog!
From Nina's Dad
The Chinese 5th Grade Capstone parents, after having scaled the greatest of walls, the Great Wall of China; after having been tempted by the purest of Chinese jade at one of the largest jade factories in the world; after having dined on yet another fine Chinese meal; after visiting the tombs of emperors of ancient China; and after seeing amazing feats of acrobatic legerdemain, are now mellowing out on a 70 degree night in the heart of Beijing, with our scholarly children nearby, enjoying a few local libations, chinese fire water, and looking forward to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square on the morrow.

From Reed's Mom
Amazing...never before has a group of parents, not knowing one another much even after 8 years at TIS, had so much fun after climbing 4000 plus stairs on The Great Wall of China, sat around our Hutong courtyard drinking beer and Chinese fire water, eaten Pizza Hut pizza and laughed, shared, teased and reflected. Our children are playing cards, arm wrestling, surfing the net on free is 10:02 PM, the air is warm...we are sitting outside in only a light weight shirt. Hong is with us...trying to follow our jokes and craziness. All is well in China and we will forever be touched by what we are experiencing.

From Trystn's Dad
This trip is better than I would have ever thought. Frank the guide is absolutely the best part of the trip. We were extremely apprehensive about the trip, but after spending two weeks with him I am not sure that coming back here without him would make any sense. I had no idea my 4th grade and 2nd grade kids spoke such good chinese and every parent should look forward to this trip as the absolute highlight of the immersion process. This has been a great two weeks!

From Jared's Dad
I wish we could send photos of our current hotel because I doubt I can do it justice in words. We're writing this group blog in a cobblestoned Chinese courtyard lit by red lanterns . . . a cool breeze blowing through our rooms and common areas. Pizza was a real treat for the kids tonight--although we were a bit surprised that Pizza Hut would turn out to be our most expensive meal. This meal was made possible by Frank, our guide, who ran to the Pizza Hut to get 14 pizzas while we were enjoying the Chinese Acrobat performance. What a show! The kids were mesmerized. It's hard to believe that the day began with us climbing the Great Wall, although I'm sure it'll hit us all hard in the morning. The kids are almost settled down, leaving us parents to continue our fun. Since we've taken over the entire hotel, we don't have to worry about disturbing any neighbors. We can be loud, ugly Americans and not offend anyone.

From Peter's Mom
What a group to join coming in to the TIS family just 1 1/2 years ago. Traveling with 28 other people can be challenging at times, but now in the 11th day of the trip together we are all becoming quite accustomed to each other and knowing when it's time to find time alone. The sights, sounds and smells of China are common to some of us and new and startling to others, but the kids' ability to communicate with the locals and get us around and bargain with the vendors for the myriad of trinkets for sale on every corner is incredible to watch. Hong has been taking her responsibilities so seriously; Frank has been taking great care of us; the rest of us try to keep some humor in both of their jobs. Great times and great memories being created!

Tuesday, March 17, from Nina's dad

It is 9:28 PM on St. Patrick's Day in Beijing, and I just got through watching Irish dancers ring in the day on China's nightly news, shamefully shilling to get people to plan their vacations in Ireland. My two kids are slumbering, despite their best efforts to play cards and hang out with their peers in the common room of our quaint little hotel. Our schedule has been rigorous and packed, with virtually each activity cumulatively adding value to the journey.

I have learned more about China and the Chinese, as well as the strength and independence of my own two talented African American children, in the 11 days we have been away than I ever anticipated, and it is very gratifying. Perhaps the better way for me to impart what I have seen and learned is to go through a (very) loose chronology, as best as I can reconstruct it, to let you fellow TIS folks how valuable I believe this culmination of study truly is.

Our scholars were enjoying their last day at the Blue Tassel School in Suzhou, having spent the previous evening visiting with a specific student/peer family's home. Our students got to interact on a very personal level with a Chinese family, they each shared gifts from America, and learned firsthand that, at the end of the day, people are people. More about the scholars later.

Our day also included a visit to the quintessential silk factory in Suzhou, a key stop on the Silk Road, a road which was pivotal in the spread of knowledge, ideas and culture for over two thousand years. I find it apropos that we visited there because our children, through their schooling and this capstone process, are germinating the very seeds of progress that the Silk Road did thousands of years ago. They are our own Silk Road, broadening the world for themselves and for their Blue Tassel School peers. Neither school's students will ever be the same again.

We met our children at the school, had a heartwarming closing session and video of their week, gave more presents from America, took a few pictures and videos, and began to make our way to the train. We had a 16 hour train ride ahead of us.

We had a tolerable experience on a basically functional (not many luxuries, more squat toilets, tight quarters, but things could be worse) sleeper car. We mixed and matched children and parents to accommodate the 4-person-to-a-sleeper-cabin limitation following the rubric of gender. The train was tight, sometimes uncomfortable (at one point my 9 year old son joined me on the approximately 4 inch wide pallet upon which I was sleeping; I do not recommend this), and the train was occasionally, as the Wizard said to the Tin Man, a "clinking, clanking, clattering collection of caliginous junk". That said, we and the kids generally had fun, visited each others cabin until lights out, enjoyed the motion of the train and saw much of the Chinese landscape as we rolled by city and country. For me, it was pleasant.

(These transitions, from airport to hotel to train to bus, are truly exhausting but provide opportunities for our children (and us parents) to share moments, and kindnesses, and collegiality, seldom possible on a typical day at TIS.)

Xian was a tremendous and exciting blur. We were bathed in culture, and learned of both historical and current harsh realities. I was pleased that we continued to learn, as I was worried that after their school session ended, our kids would go back to being the video automatons that some have become. My worries were not well founded.

We saw the Drum Tower and the Bell Tower, heard traditional music, learned the history of this incredible city, rode bikes on the very walls that for years and years both protected the city and symbolized its greatness.

We, of course, visited the site of the Terra Cotta soldiers, the epitome of art and craftsmanship and the capturing of an historical moment. We also learned of the brutality of the emperor who commissioned the work, the revolt of the long suffering common folks, and why the site was essentially buried for decades upon decades.

We visited folks who lived in both simple housing and, incredibly, caves. These caves have been used for years and generations, and speak to the realities that few in Portland, and fewer still at TIS, ever have to consider. (It makes me convinced that one element of our students' capstones going forward needs to include an element of service, even a day or an event, that imbues our children with a palpable value lesson that reminds them how lucky they are to have this opportunity for learning and sharing, and their great responsibility going forward to do something important for society with that gift).

We toured a mosque in the Muslim Quarter, bargained and haggled, saw water shows and epic fountains, an incredible opera, of sorts, and had many great, quiet, individual moments.

One of my moments was walking with my kids and the highly competent Capstone Coordinator and his son after dinner one evening, and chancing upon a sliver of real estate where people of multiple generations were playing badminton, exercising, ping pong'ing, playing board games: just being themselves of an evening, chilling out. They observed us, of course, but engaged us in conversations and seemed open to interaction. Good for my kids to see.

Another of my moments was enjoying walking in the Muslim Quarter alone with my children, having them translate and converse with shopkeepers and people; eating goat on a stick, watching my 11 year old bargain in Chinese, experiencing this irreplaceable moment together with them.

Tuesday, March 17, from Reed's mom

We arrived in Beijing to the most quaint hotel accommodations in one of the many ancient Hutong areas of the city. Hutongs are alleys formed by lines of siheyuan, traditional courtyard residences. Many neighborhoods were formed by joining one siheyuan to another to form a hutong, and then joining one hutong to another. As I write this email, it is dark, the parents are doing email or preparing for slumber and the kids are outside in the courtyard playing cards. The weather is glorious and warmer than any of us expected!

Our capstone adventure is fabulous...we are so proud of our children's Chinese language skills and are in awe! Each day is a new adventure filled with stares after stares of fascination as we walk the streets. They are stares of curious wonder, from the locals, as they hear Frank, our guide, and Hong, our Laoshi (teacher), speak to the children in Chinese and hear the children reply! The looks on their faces are that of pure amazement...they gather and watch and listen and smile. There are often words exchanged between our children and the curious spectators. Never has so much joy been experienced as we, as parents, witness the exchange.

I am not sure what else we could ask for...we are seeing many cities, many sights, and experiencing a lifetime of pictures and stories which we will take home as unforgetable memories. The biggest gift of all is witnessing our children speak with ease and communicate with all the many wonderful people of this country.

Tuesday, March 17, from Jared's dad
It's our first night in Beijing. We're staying at a bed and breakfast type hotel called a hutong courtyard hotel. These courtyard hotels are converted from numerous homes that shared common courtyards in the alleyways of the city. To reach the hotel, we walked down a narrow alley. There is a market about the size of a large closet across the alley; a barber shop is next door. Each room is unique. There are common tables and chairs in the courtyard, as well as two turtles that are sources of endless fascination for some of the younger siblings on the trip. We ate at an amazing Korean restaurant around the corner--and yes, there really was dog on the menu. We didn't try any, though.

One of things we were often warned about before the trip was illness. Unfortunately, albeit predictably, our trip has turned into a version of Agatha Christie's "And then there were none." We're mostly dealing with 24 hour bugs, but we're well supplied with pharmaceuticals and we're giving one another lots of support. The bumpy flight into Beijing didn't help some, but this is the price we pay for such glorious weather.

Tomorrow we're off to the Great Wall, the Jade Museum (although we've discovered that museum in China is code for really big gift shop--not that we're complaining), the Ming Tombs, and an acrobat show. If Beijing proves to be half as great as Xian was, we're in for a terrific week.

Tuesday March 17 early, from Katie's dad
Planes, trains and automobiles:

There were more than a few tears shed when our kids left their classmates at the Blue Tassel School. By the week's end our kids had exchanged email addresses and promises of future correspondence. Sweet sorrows. Our daughter also reported that she was beginning to forget her English. Mission accomplished!

The train trip from Suzhou to Xian was Woody-Allenesque. Most of the native Chinese spent the 15 hour ride in exhausted frozen animation in cramped quarters. Our convivial group enjoyed sleepers that were small but clean and adequate. I slept intermittently through the night, waking periodically to the cacophony of snores from my mates and the sound of the tracks.

Traveling by taxicab in China is not for the faint of heart. If there were rules of the road they were scarcely enforced and almost never obeyed. Drivers seemed engaged in a perpetual game of chicken and passenger seat belts were rarely available.

The city of Xian is a bustling metropolis of roughly 4 million people (though their number seems much higher), and the capital of Shaanxi Province, which is the home of the Terracotta Warriors. I cannot possibly do justice to their visual impact: simply put, if you travel to China you must see them.

Xian is also one of the few cities in China with intact City Walls. They are 12m high, surrounded by a moat and form a rectangular perimeter around the city center. We all seized the opportunity to ride bikes atop the walls in the cool albeit hazy morning sunshine. Our "critical mass" (unlike the West coast variety) of cycling children and their parents had the roadway almost all to ourselves. No confrontations required.

Not far from the city center the expansive Pagoda Square was the site of a beautifully choreographed water fountain ballet with musical accompaniment. Our kids and parents, along with thousands of Chinese, thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle. The warmth of the Chinese people we've encountered is palpable. For me, I can't get enough pictures of bundled up Chinese babies with their split pants and the memories they evoke.

While shopping is not my favorite past time I have permitted myself a few indulgences--I bet you don't have a genuine Chinese army multipurpose pocket knife. Our children under the tutelage of Naomi and Sydney (TIS alumni) are beginning to master the art of negotiation and there is no better place to practice that skill than the Muslim quarter conveniently close to our hotel (New World Hotel).

Health issues, mostly of the GI variety, have been relatively few, aside from the sniffles that the children are sharing. We feel fortified to deal with any more serious concerns thanks to Dr. Jill's handy notes and pharmacy.

Today we travel by plane to Beijing...

Monday, March 16, from Jared's dad
What a day today. At 8:30 AM, we left for our bike ride on top of the Xian city wall. Jared and I (and some others) rode tandem bikes, which was interesting. The weather has been incredible. Some of us even have sunburns. High 70's today. Of course, there hasn't been a blue sky in China for quite some time, but the sun feels good (don't be jealous!). We rode halfway around the city wall and then turned back. Unfortunately, we couldn't ride all the way around because of a construction site on the wall. But it was far enough!

After our bike ride, we went to the Stone Tablet museum, which is on the site of a former Confucius temple. It was a very peaceful site. It's amazing how you can stand in these gardens and temples and not hear all of the traffic and noise that pervades every street in these large Chinese cities. The Stone Tablet museum features very old stone tablets on which the Chinese language was recorded.

After the museum, we had a group hot pot lunch. The kids enjoyed it, and no one burned themselves--so we consider it a rousing success. Some of us wish the food was a little spicier in this region of China, but we're doing our best with extra orders of chili pepper sauce.

From the museum we went to the Bell Tower and then the Drum Tower. In each tower, we watched a free show---bells or drums, of course. Terrific. And the views from the tower of modern China spread out in all directions are incredible to behold. After the towers, we went to the Muslim Quarter--first the mosque and then the market. The children loved bartering in the market. It will be interesting to see them try to barter in Target when we return. Of course, we all will have some sticker shock when we return to Portland. We've had incredible meals for very little money, including sodas and beer. Five of us last night had a terrific five course dinner for $35.

So, as you can see, this has been a long day. All of our days are filled with incredible sights and sounds and tastes (especially tastes). But our spirits our high. We're tired but always enthused about what the next day will bring. And, of course, we are so awed and proud of how well our students are doing. They are truly linguistic and cultural citizens of the world.

Thursday, March 12 am, from Jared's dad
Today we received the most awesome phone call from Hong at the Blue Tassel School. She says that our host school is thoroughly impressed with our students' Chinese proficiency. The students take part in class just like their Chinese classmates. But get this--the Blue Tassel School has been asking Hong about the TIS math curriculum b/c they can't believe how advanced our students are in math. We're blowing their kids away.

Wednesday, March 11 am, from Nina's dad
Without the foresight and suggestion of my wife, my children would never have been in the Chinese Track, and would never have had the rich experience they are enjoying at the Blue Tassel School here in Suzhou. I hope and believe that my beautiful children will be better persons and citizens of the world because of their studies and exposure to something larger than themselves.

It is about five days into the 5th Grade Chinese Class's Capstone Trip, and I have already evolved from a detached but hopeful dad/traveler looking for reasons to justify a two week escape from Portland that could be ill afforded from a work and economics standpoint, into a proud and humbled parent of two wonderful TIS students who are acquitting themselves ably in as foreign an environment as one might imagine. My daughter Nina is a 5th grader, and my son Hughes is a 3rd grader who tagged along for the trip but who is also spending time at the Blue Tassel School with his own 3rd grade peers.

My fears about their respective ability to truly communicate with Chinese students, my doubts about their adaptability, and my worries about The International School experience not being competitive with education in China all evaporated on the first day we went to the school and they began their five days of interactions with their fellow students.

This trip, already, has been nothing short of illuminating and inspiring. Our kids can compete. Our kids have learned enough to function in this society.

From watching my own children to observing former graduates of TIS (siblings of my daughter's classmates), TIS is doing a good job with its students.

I have countless other observations, but I will just share a few with you now:

  • As sustainable as Portland believes itself to be, the Chinese (at least in the cities I have seen so far) do an incredibly credible job of conserving electricity (because of cost, but they do so nonetheless) and re-using, recycling, rehabbing and re-lifing virtually everything they use; we should learn from this;

  • On my day trip (today) from Shanghai to Suzhou by train, I was taken to and from the train station by two separate female cabdrivers; I wouldn't have suspected that there were that many of them;

  • I have never seen this many KFC restaurants in a single place in my entire life and, as someone who worked at the KFC on Rodeo Rd in Los Angeles as a teenager, I cannot fathom why that is so;

  • Every day this week I have had to take my son by cab to the Blue Tassel School (as this is not HIS Capstone, he does not get to stay overnight at the boarding school, even though my 5th grade daughter does); I also get a chance, instead of running straight to my job, of taking a bit of time to reflect on this amazing experience here in China, and what it could mean to our students.

  • I have met with the new Head of School for TIS, and was thoroughly impressed;

  • I have shared conversations with the parents of my daughter's classmates with a candor and depth that wasn't always routinely available at TIS in the normal hustle and bustle of getting our kids through the program;

  • I have shared my thoughts, and heard the thoughts of others, that will help make TIS stronger and better for many years to come.

It is late and I am tired, but I will try to send a few more communiques over the next week or so.

Tuesday night,  March 10 from Jared's dad
Yesterday, we took our students to the Blue Tassel boarding school for their week of school. So far, according to (teacher) Hong, it has been a great couple of days for them. And while they are experiencing a true Chinese school week, we parents get to tour and play on our own.

Jared's capstone trip is something I've been looking foward to ever since we started at TIS. I can tell you enthusiastically that so far it has exceeded my expectations. The kids speak Chinese so well that they are virtually celebrities. And I've had this wonderful opportunity to explore China with my fellow parents while the kids are at the boarding school.

Tuesday, March 10 from Reed's mom
All is well in Suzhou China. The students are completing their second day at The Blue Tassel Boarding School. They are all doing well and enjoying their time. The first day began with a tour, a bit of chinese calligraphy and meeting their pen pals. Their dorms are comfortable and the chinese 5th grade students very welcoming and excited to meet their new friends. Our 8 students are split between 2 5th grade classes. They have many wonderful activities throughout the day. Parents are thoroughly enjoying the sights of Suzhou which is nicknamed China's Venice and it is true!!

Monday, March 9, from Katie's dad
Katie (fifth grade) and Hughes (third) just returned from spending their first full day at the Blue Tassel School in Suzhou. Both were brimming with excitement and stories about their experience...and both crashed as soon as they hit the sack. The other kids--Jared, Kimber, Nina, Peter and Richy--spent the night at the school.

On our first day we were greeted at the closely guarded gate by a cadre of teetering pre-teen girls in blue plaid skirts and their teachers. The school itself is palatial, housing roughly 2500 students, most of whom spend the week at the school and return to their family homes on weekends. The buildings are quite modern and the grounds are impressive with hugh sports fields and wide thorough-fares. There is no heat and all the children wear winter clothing in the classrooms.

All the TIS kids received carnations and were introduced to their penpals in the school auditiorium. The school administration presented a collage of images of our TIS and sang songs in Mandarin and English to welcome them.

The squat toilets have provided quite a challenge to our daughter but otherwise the day has been a booming success. More later...