Excerpts from the last China blog entries

For the complete blog from the China Capstone trip, click here.

Just after the trip, from Jared, 5th grader (excerpts)
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. We went on a Maglev train. The train floats above the tracks on magnets and went 432 km/hr. It was very cool.

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.

When the school week was over, I got back with my dad. I was really exited 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.

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

Friday, March 20, from Jared's dad (excerpts)
Some final reflections on the unexpected:
(1) 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. One parent described Beijing as how Hollywood depicts the atmosphere in a post-nuclear apocalyptic world.

(3) The celebrity of being 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. We 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. 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.

(7) Driving in China. 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.  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.

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 WIFI...it 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 (excerpts)
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.

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.

(After the school visit) 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. 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.

For the complete blog from the China Capstone trip, click here.